In 1 Chronicles 9:17-34 we see one of the more full and more intriguing explanations of the responsibilities of the Sons of Korah. If you remember, among these responsibilities were the responsibility of gatekeeper and being in charge of baking the showbread, the responsibilities that Shallum the Korahite and his son Mattahiah were over during the time of David . However, let us examine these duties in greater detail to demonstrate just how notable and complete the service of the Sons of Korah was to the tabernacle and temple system, as that fact may be largely unknown.
Gatekeepers Of The Tabernacle And Temple
In examining the service of the Levite gatekeepers for the Temple and Tabernacle, one of the duties of the Sons of Korah, let us note three important elements. First, this service began very early on in Israel’s history during the early time of the Judges. Second, this service was confirmed by David according to the instruction of Samuel. Third, let us note the full extent of responsibilities the gatekeepers had. In doing so we will realize the great honor of the role the Sons of Korah had within the worship system of Israel.
1 Chronicles 9:17-21 gives the antiquity of the service of the Sons of Korah as gatekeepers of the tabernacle and temple of God: “And the gatekeepers were Shallum, Akkub, Talmon, Ahiman, and their brethren. Shallum was the chief. Until then they had been gatekeepers for the camps of the children of Levi at the King’s Gate on the east. Shallum the son of Kore, the son of Ebiasaph, the son of Korah, and his brethren, were in charge of the work of the service, gatekeepers of the tabernacle. Their fathers had been keepers of the entrance to the camp of the Lord. And Phinehas the son of Eleazar had been the officer over them in time past; the Lord was with him. Zechariah the son of Meshelmiah was keeper of the door of the tabernacle of meeting.”
Let us examine what this passage states. The service of the Sons of Korah as gatekeepers of the tabernacle and temple of God began during the time of Phinehas, the son of Eleazar, the grandson of Aaron. This is the same Phinehas whose godly execution of the a man of Israel who committed fornication with a Midianite woman in the sight of the whole congregation of Israel and for his act was granted the high priesthood by God through Moses (Numbers 25:6-18) and who later presided over the near-extermination of the tribe of Benjamin for their rape and murder of the Levite’s concubine (Judges 20:27-28). What this means is that the Sons of Korah began their service to God as gatekeepers for the tabernacle at the very beginning of Israel’s time in the promised land and kept that service going for centuries.
1 Corinthians 9:22-25 gives the elaboration and organization of this service in the time of David under the instruction of Samuel when Jerusalem was taken over and the Ark of the Covenant was moved there: “All those chosen as gatekeepers were two hundred and twelve. They were recorded by their genealogy, in their villages. David and Samuel the seer had appointed them to their trusted office. So they and their children were in charge of the gates of the house of the Lord, the house of the tabernacle, by assignment. The gatekeepers were assigned to the four directions: the east, west, north, and south. And their brethren in their villages had to come with them from time to time for seven days.”
This particular verse provides an aspect of the service of Samuel that is not recorded anywhere else in the scriptures. His advice to David concerning the kingship apparently included a knowledge of what people would be best to serve in trusted positions of the temple establishment. It is indeed possible that bringing the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem was something that David had planned for some time and had received advice about from Samuel, given the connection between the Ark of the Covenant, the establishment of the tabernacle (and later temple) worship in Jersualem, and the advice provided by Samuel about the personnel to staff that tabernacle (and later temple) establishment that is recorded here, though that is only a conjecture. It is also noteworthy that while there was a small group of the Sons of Korah (the chief gatekeepers) who served normally, during the pilgrim feasts of God their brethren from the villages came to Jerusalem to serve the overflow crowd that arrived during the time of the Passover, Pentecost, and Feast of Tabernacles. During these Pilgrim feasts the whole nation of Israel would see the Sons of Korah serving as the gatekeepers of the tabernacle and temple.
1 Chronicles 9:26-27 give some of the responsibilities that were entailed in serving as the gatekeepers of the Tabernacle and Temple: “For in this trusted office were four chief gatekeepers; they were Levites. And they had charge over the chambers and treasuries of the house of God. And they lodged all around the house of God because they had the responsibility, and they were in charge of opening it every morning.”
These verses indicate that the responsibilities and privileges of serving as a gatekeeper went beyond the duties that one would normally expect. The sons of Korah who served in this trusted office lived in the chambers in the tabernacle and temple near the priests, where they were responsible for opening the tabernacle and temple in the morning for the morning sacrifices, and presumably closing it after the evening sacrifice. They also were trusted in charge of protecting and monitoring the treasuries of the house of God, ensuring that the tithe and offering money was properly protected and accounted for. These faithful servants of God were given very serious responsibilities for the security of the house of God. Let us also remember that the Korahites who served as the tabernacle and temple gatekeepers were also responsible for enforcing the death penalty on those who entered the temple illegally . The responsibilities of the sons of Korah in the temple were indeed noble and trusted and honorable responsibilities.
Other Tabernacle and Temple Responsibilities
Nor did service as gatekeepers exhaust the responsibilities of the Sons of Korah in the tabernacle and temple of God. 1 Chronicles 9:28-34 give various other responsibilities of great importance that were also filled by the sons of Korah that are worthy of note. First let us look at the broad sweep of Levitical responsibilities mentioned briefly, and then let us examine in some greater detail the responsibilities over the showbread and the music service, which are mentioned in somewhat greater detail.
1 Chronicles 9:28-30 gives a brief overview of some of the responsibilities of the Levites in the tabernacle and temple service: “Now some of them were in charge of the serving vessels, for they brought them in and took them out by count. Some of them were appointed over the furnishings and over all the implements of the sanctuary, and over the fine flour and the wine and the oil and the incense and the spices. And some of the sons of the priests made the ointment of the spices.”
We see here that though the Levites (including the Sons Of Korah) had a clear and honorable position in charge of various items, including the serving vessels and furniture of the tabernacle, that some duties and responsibilities were reserved for the priests alone. There was a clear demarcation of responsibilities and and appointing of honorable men with a heart of service who could be trusted to handle the various tasks related to the tabernacle and temple worship. It is striking to note that so few Levites ended up returning after the exile, not valuing their service. While thousands of priests returned with Zerubbabel, only a few hundred Levites, of whom 139 were the faithful descendents of Shallum, the Korahites, the largest portion among the non-priestly Levites (Ezra 2:36-42).
1 Chronicles 9:31-32 gives the important responsibility of preparing the showbread: “Mattithiah of the Levites, the firstborn of Shallum the Korahite, had the trusted office over the things that were baked in the pans. And some of the brethren of the Kohathites were in charge of preparing the showbread for every Sabbath.”
This responsibility of preparing the showbread was not an insignificant one. Let us not forget that David and his men ate of the showbread themselves when they were fleeing from Saul into the wilderness (1 Samuel 21:1-9). This incident itself was later referred to by Jesus in justifying the disciples’ eating grain in the fields as they walked on the Sabbath (Luke 6:1-5), showing the importance of the showbread with regards to the Sabbath worship as well as the importance of being responsive to the needs of people rather than using religious protocol as a way of forcing believers to fast when food is available. This duty of the sons of Korah, therefore, serves as a quiet reminder of God’s mercy to believers through the provision of food.
Finally, let us note the responsibilities of the sons of Korah in the musical service of the house of God, in 1 Chronicles 9:33-34: “These are the singers, heads of the fathers’ houses of the Levites, who lodged in the chambers, and were free from other duties; for they were employed in that work day and night. These heads of the father’s houses of the Levites were heads throughout their generations. They dwelt at Jerusalem.”
Let us remember that in the time of David and Solomon that Heman the Ezrahite, the son of Korah, was in charge over the music service of the house of God . The importance of the musical service, a record of which we have in Psalms (of which a sizable portion are known to have been composed by the sons of Korah), as well as the rigor of that duty of singing before God day and night, was such that those sons of Korah like Heman and his sons who were involved in it were exempt from all other duties. These servants of God, like the gatekeepers of the sons of Korah, lived in the chambers in the tabernacle and temple complex because of the need for them to participate all day in the service of God from the morning sacrifice to the evening sacrifice.
From what we read in 1 Chronicles 9:17-34, the responsibilities of the Sons of Korah in the house of God were immense. These responsibilities included serving as gatekeepers, guardians of the house of God opening and closing doors, keeping account of the treasuries of the house of God, and enforcing the death penalty on intruders into the temple who defiled it. Likewise, other sons of Korah had noble and trusted offices in taking care of the showbread, as well as the serving vessels of God, and also in the music service before God. The Sons of Korah were therefore a highly visible reminder, generation after generation, of faithful service to God beginning at the very earliest stage of post-conquest Israel and extending after the return of the exiles from the Babylonian captivity. For many centuries the Sons of Korah served conspicuously and faithfully in the house of God setting an example of service for the people of Israel and Judah. Through the Bible, their faithful example of the service reminds to inspire us all, if we choose to heed it.
 In the Istanbul Archeological Museums, there is a stone taken from the Second Temple which this author has seen personally, that was once between the Court of the Gentiles and the Women’s Court, beyond which Gentiles were forbidden to cross on pain of death. This stone marked the solemn warning that the lives of those Gentiles who crossed beyond that stone was forfeit, and it was the responsibility of the Korahite gatekeepers of the tabernacle and temple to enforce that death penalty on those who trespassed into the house of God. The Apostle Paul was nearly killed by a mob under the suspicion of this crime of defiling the temple in Jerusalem (Acts 21:26-40).