Have you ever heard of the rebellion of Korah? How about the Sons of Korah? The rebellion of Korah and the Sons of Korah have a connection with each other, and the connection is fascinating.
The rebellion of Korah occurred during the 40 years Moses led the nation of Israel in the wilderness following God’s miraculous deliverance of the people out of captivity in Egypt. Korah rose up during the wo year desert wandering and rallied a group of people to oppose Moses.
Korah was a grandson of one of Levi’s three sons (Kohath). He was a Levite, which meant that he was involved in the Levitical duties of caring for the tabernacle and the tent of the tabernacle where God’s “presence” resided in the midst of the people. The Levitical duties were sacred and honorific.
The Kohathites were specifically in charge of caring for the Ark of the Covenant, the table, lamp stand, altars, articles of the sanctuary and the curtain behind which the priests did their ritual thing. (Numbers 3) Unlike the other Levites who were allowed to transport their items in carts, the Kohathites were required to hand carry their items. The Ark of the Covenant was particularly sacred.
Maybe the Kohathites were jealous of the ease enjoyed by the other priests who didn’t have to hand carry the items for which they were responsible. We don’t know. The text doesn’t tell us.
The text does tell us that Korah and several others rallied 250 men to oppose the authority of Moses publicly. They claimed that all the people of Israel are “holy”, and they questioned why Moses and Aaron “exalted themselves” above everyone else. (Numbers 16:3)
Moses responded by challenging Korah and his followers to put the issue before God. He said, “This is how you will know that the LORD has sent me to do all these things and that it was not my idea.” (Num. 16:28)
As the story goes, they all gathered in front of the Tent of Meeting, each man with incense burning in censors. Moses and Aaron did the same, facing off with the contentious lot. God warned Moses, and Moses warned the larger crowd to stand back. When he finished talking, the ground opened up and “swallowed” the 250 men up alive. (Numbers 16)
The story stands as a warning to those who are not content with their place in the world and get jealous of others to whom God has given greater responsibility. God chose Moses and Aaron to lead the people. By opposing God’s chosen leaders, they were opposing God’s authority.
I assumed that Korah and his group were wiped out The text seemed to imply that his clan were included in the 250 agitators. It turns out that my assumption was wrong because the “sons of Korah” appear many generations later, and their place in the history of God’s people is truly an intriguing “rest of the story”.
The fate of Korah and his followers seems rather drastic to modern minds, mine included, but this was (perhaps) the most important 40-year journey in the history of mankind. God had a plan that He could not allow to be thwarted. He was orchestrating the placement of His chosen in the land He promised Abraham’s descendants through whom God would bless all the nations. The fulfillment of that promise was 430 in the making!
Lest we be tempted to compare that kingdom to the United States (or even modern Israel), the end goal of this plan was to provide the soil from which a root would grow up and become salvation to all men – the root of Jesse (Isaiah 11:10), father of David, who would become the Messiah (Rom. 15:12) – Jesus Christ, Immanuel, God with Us!
This was a one time event, and establishing Abraham’s descendants in the promised land was essential to the end goal. Jesus would later tell his followers that Moses (the Law) and the Prophets were all about him. (Luke 24:26-27) Thus, the stakes of the challenge to Moses in the wilderness were not so much about Moses, as about God’s universal plans for mankind.
(And, we shouldn’t get confused about the story of Korah’s rebellion and think that it has any specific application to leaders today, though it certainly has application, generally, to all of us. Fools should not rush in where angels fear to tread!)
The verse that piqued my interest about the rebellion of Korah this: “But the sons of Korah did not die.” (Num. 26:11) Though Korah and all the men who followed him in his rebellion were swallowed up and died, his sons (or at least some of them) lived on.
Why was that statement included? It begged for some investigation.
Many generations later (about 18), we read about the men King David put in charge of “the service of song in the house of the Lord after the ark rested there”, ministering with song before the tabernacle of the tent – the same ark the Kohathites carried. These men included Heman, a descendant of the great prophet, Samuel. Both Heman and Samuel were descendants of Korah, who led the famous rebellion. (1 Chronicles 6:31-38)
But there is more: other descendants of Korah were doorkeepers to the tent of meeting. (1 Chron. 9:19-21). Other descendants of Korah were expert warriors in King David’s army. (1 Chron. 12:6) But the Sons of Korah are best known for their musicianship and Psalms.
Yes, Psalms. Eleven Psalms are specifically attributed to the “Sons of Korah”.
The sons of Korah were descendants of the prophet. They were still faithfully caring for the ark many generations after Korah rebelled against Moses (and God). These great men of God were sons of Korah, the malcontent who was swallowed by the earth in his rebellion to God’s plans.
What an amazing turn of events! Perhaps, the most poignant thing I found is in the Psalms they authored. The following verses are all from the Psalms attributed to the Sons of Korah:
“As the deer pants for streams of water, my soul pants for you, my God.”
“God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble…. Be still and know that I am God.”
“Clap your hands, all you nations; shout to God with cries of joy.”
“Great is the Lord, and most worthy of praise, in the city of our God, his holy mountain.”
“God will redeem me from the realm of the dead; he will surely take me to himself.”
All of these are Psalms written by the Son of Korah. They include some of the most beautifully written expressions of trust in God, gratitude and humility in Scripture. Psalm 84, though, may be the most poignant of all the Psalms they wrote. Consider verse 10, in particular:
Better is one day in your courts
than a thousand elsewhere;
I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God
than dwell in the tents of the wicked.
This verse seems to suggest that a doorkeeper is person of lowly status in the scheme of things. Today, we might say, “I would rather by a janitor in the house of God, than dwell with the wicked.”
I don’t think it is happenstance that descendants of the malcontent, Korah, were doorkeepers to the tent of meeting. (1 Chron. 9:19-21). This verse was personal to them, given their heritage.
Korah served inside the tent of meeting. He and his brothers tended to the holiest of holy items, including the Ark of the Covenant. His sons served outside the tent of meeting as doorkeepers, yet their attitudes were different.
Psalm 84 (and the other Psalms they wrote) suggest that Korah’s descendants had embraced the opposite attitude of their ancestor, Korah. Rather than discontent, jealousy and arrogance, like Korah, because he didn’t like the position he was given, the Sons of Korah served in humility, gratitude and honor in whatever position they were given – even as doorkeepers to the house of God.
Their legacy is the penning of some of the greatest of all the Psalms.
This story also reminds us that, though God’s judgments seem harsh, He is not arbitrary. God could not have allowed Korah’s rebellion to succeed, but he spared Korah’s children the consequences visited upon Korah. Though Korah opposed God’s grand plan, his sons were grateful servants of it.
If we might collapse this “lesson” down to individual people, we might see that God may allow us to suffer the consequences of our rebellious attitudes and actions, but He is faithful to bless us when we turn to him. We might be at times like Korah, and at times like the sons of Korah during the course of our own lives.
We may have humble, even questionable, beginnings, but that doesn’t have to be the end of the story. Our God is a redemptive God. He desires mercy, rather than sacrifice. (Hosea 6:6) He is always there if we return to Him, even if we have wandered far away.
Most importantly, it is better to be a doorkeeper in the house of God than to be anywhere else. I am reminded of the poor man, Lazarus, reclining at the table with Abraham, while the rich man, who had his good things in life (but refused the give the poor man the time of day), was tormented in hell. (Luke 16:19-31) I am reminded that “[n]o eye has seen, no ear has heard, no heart has imagined, what God has prepared for those who love Him.” (1 Cor. 2:9)