In studying for a recent sermon on the 85th Psalm I spent a little time refreshing myself on the Sons of Korah. This group wrote lyrics for Psalms to be used in the national worship of Israel. 11 of their compositions survive scattered a bit through the 150 Psalms of the Biblical book. They are scattered because the Sons of Korah operated over a number of successive generations. The story is a little complex and best understood by backing up to the beginning – or at least – a beginning. Moses and Aaron were Israelites from the tribe of Levi. Aaron and his descendants were appointed to be the high priests and larger priesthood who would perform the services in the tabernacle – and later – the temple. The rest of the Levites served as helpers of one sort and another according to the line of their descent from Levi. To sharpen that up a little, Levi had three sons – Gershon, Merari, and Kohath. The descendants of Gershon tended the fabric tent of the tabernacle itself. Before the tent was set up permanently at Shiloh, it had to be taken down, folded, packed transported, and set up again in the new location every time the Israelites moved (40 years plus worth). The fabric would also need mending and parts of it would need replaced from time to time. The descendants of Merari tended the wooden frame on which the fabric was suspended. It also had to be taken down, transported, set up, mended, parts replaced, damaged carvings looked after, etc. The descendants of Kohath tended the implements used in the ceremonies – the ark of the covenant, the menorah, the big brass bowl, smaller bowls and pans, tongs, shovels, knives, incense- dispensers, lamps etc. used by the priests in the various ceremonies. There was also firewood to be chopped, water to be fetched, blood and ashes to be disposed of, etc. All these chores were also divided among the Levites but the three ancestral groups had their main tasks originally in reference to the tabernacle. All well and good.
Early in the course of things, a Kohathite named Korah became the leader of what is called the ‘grumbling rebellion’. Korah spread discontent among the people and eventually got the ear of enough followers to feel emboldened to call for the stoning of Moses and Aaron, an abandoning of the entire promised land project and a return to Egypt – this would include a return to the gods of Egypt in favor of Yahweh. God caused the earth to open up and swallow Korah and a couple hundred of his associates. But – the text specifically notes – the sons of Korah did not perish with him. We presume they were not caught up in the rebellion. They lived and continued to serve as they had been called. Scripture hints and the rabbinic writings assert that they did a little more than this – that they set out as group to overcome the negative legacy of their father. More on that in a bit. Some generations later we come across a descendant of Korah you would recognize. His name was Samuel. Among other things, Samuel would anoint David as the king to replace Saul and be the next link in God’s ongoing covenant with Abraham. David would do a lot of things. Among them, being something of a musician and composer himself, David would take thought for the worship music of Israel. He, of course, wrote many Psalms. David also appointed Asaph (a descendent of Levi through Gershon), Ethan (a descendant of Levi through Merari) and Heman (a descendant of Levi through Kohath) to carry on and expand the worship music project. In this generation, the Kohathites under Heman officially organized themselves as ‘The sons of Korah. (Another group of the ‘sons of Korah’ took up military like operating as something like what we call ‘Special Forces’ but that doesn’t really come in to the present narrative). The Sons of Korah under Heman were top- flight lyricists. Check our the first few verses of Psalms 42 and 46 as familiar examples of their craft. Or, look especially at verse 10 of Psalm 85 at the part about mercy and truth meeting together and righteousness kissing peace.
I specially note two things about all this.
Pastor and Author Terry Bailey, Senior Minister of Indian Run Christian Church