In 1 Chronicles 15 and 16, we see a powerful scene of restoration for the people of Israel. The Ark of the Covenant, taken from the tabernacle of God in Shiloh during the time of Eli the priest  and captured by the Philistines, had spent a century in exile, first (briefly) in Philistine hands and then for decades in the city of Kirjath Jearim. The tabernacle, meanwhile, had languished away in barren areas like Nob, where the priests and Levites were subject to the whims of ungodly leaders like Saul. Now, however, we see the tabernacle set up in Jerusalem (where the Temple would later be built and dedicated in the reign of Solomon ), and the Ark of the Covenant brought to dwell in that Tabernacle in praise and worship of God, to show all Israel (and believers elsewhere) that God had placed His name in Jerusalem. And who were a key element in that Priestly and Levitical responsibility? None other than the Sons of Korah, who took their honored role with the remainder of the Levites in this religious extravaganza as as sign of faith and worship.
1 Chronicles 15:1-10: The Entrance of the Ark
We first read of this role in 1 Chronicles 15:1-10, which gives a detailed description of the Levitical participation in David’s effort to bring the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem to show God’s favor on the Davidic monarchy and on Jerusalem as His holy city. 1 Chronicles 15:1-11 reads as follows: “David built for himself houses in the City of David, and he prepared a place for the ark of God, and pitched a tent for it. Then David said, “No one may carry the ark of God but the Levites, for the Lord has chosen them to carry the ark of God and to minister before Him forever.” And David gathered all Israel together at Jerusalem, to bring up the ark of the Lord to its place, which he had prepared for it. Then David assembled the children of Aaron and the Levites: of the sons of Kahath, Uriel the chief, and one hundred and twenty of his brethren; of the sons of Merari, Assiah the chief, and two hundred and twenty of his brethren; of the sons of Gershom, Joel the chief, and one hundred and thirty of his brethren; of the sons of Elizaphan, Shemaiah the chief, and two hundred of his brethren; of the sons of Hebron, Eliel the chief, and eighty of his brethren; of the sons of Uzziel, Amminadab the chief, and one hundred and twelve of his brethren.”
Here we find out a few aspects of the often-neglected importance of the Levites in the administration of the tabernacle and temple worship. For one, we may note that the children of Levi (among whom were the Sons of Korah, as the largest portion of the Kohathites, from which branch the Aaronic priesthood sprung). David, in stating that there were some jobs that were only fit for the Levites to do, was giving the Levites the honor for their very special (and to us, obscure) place within Israelite society. Even though all Israel was to be a royal priesthood, just like the Church is today, they were to learn about how to behave as a priesthood from the behavior of the priests and Levites, who were to set a godly example of service and obedience for Israel. Israel never did get around to serving s a royal priesthood, and neither has the Church of God in nearly 2000 years of history, but the standard and the responsibility are still there for us to follow, requiring us to learn from the godly example of the priests and Levites where it may be found if we are to fulfill the divine mandate we have been given to be a light to a world in darkness.
From these first ten verses, we also learn much about David as a man. Despite being massively flawed, David was a man after God’s own heart. This cliche can often mask a much more profound truth–we often neglect to examine the ways in which the Bible shows his character as being after God’s own heart so that we may profit from the example and follow it ourselves. Here in 1 Chronicles, among the least familiar books of the Bible for godly examples for Christians today, we see a spectacular example of David’s concern for godly matters. He has built a tabernacle for the ark of God to dwell in the city of Jerusalem so that God may be honored in the capital city of Israel, showing the importance of godly religion as a fundamental aspect of David’s statecraft. This is a very important aspect of David being a man after God’s own heart, in that godly religious affairs were to be conducted as a key part of the central administration of his rulership. That which is important to God was important to him, and he wished to let all of Israel know just how important it was that the Priests and Levites conduct their exclusive domain of religious practice in the very center of Israelite affairs.
Let us note one other aspect of this passage that may escape notice because of its genealogical basis. The Levites themselves were made up of the sons of Aaron, the sons of Kohath, the sons of Merari, and the sons of Gershom (or Gershon, see Genesis 46:11). However, added to this were the sons of Elizaphan, the sons of Hebron, and the sons of Uzziel. It would appear, from the name Hebron (a Levitical city of refuge and also the former capital of Judah during the early part of David’s reign, but also a city whose native inhabitants were closely allied to Abraham from centuries before ) that these three families of “Levites” were from the native population of Israel (including the Gibeonites) who had been dedicated to service to God in lieu of suffering the fate of genocide by treaty .
1 Chronicles 15:11-24: The Purification And Performance of the Priests And Levites
Immediately after introducing David’s goal to bring the worship of God into the center of His realm, 1 Chronicles demonstrates the importance of the musical worship of the Levites (among whom the Sons of Korah are conspicuous in scripture), as well as the importance of the purity of the priests. As 1 Chronicles 15:11-24 reads: “And David called for Zadok and Abiathar the priests, and for the Levites: for Uriel, Asaiah, Joel, Shemaiah, Eliel, and Amminadab. He said to them, “You are heads of your fathers’ houses of the Levites, sanctify yourselves, you and your brethren, that you may bring up the ark of the Lord God of Israel to the place I have prepared for it. For because you did not do so the first time, the Lord our God broke out against us, because we did not consult Him about the proper order.” So the priests and the Levites sanctified themselves to bring up the ark of the Lord God of Israel. And the children of the Levites bore the ark of God on their shoulders, by its poles, as Moses had commanded according to the word of the Lord. Then David spoke to the leaders of the Levites to appoint their brethren to be the singers accompanied by instruments of music, stringed instruments, harps, and cymbals, by raising the voice with resounding joy. So the Levites appointed Heman the son of Joel ; and of his brethren, Asaph the son of Berechiah; and of their brethren, the sons of Merari, Ethan the son of Kushaiah; and with them their brethren of the second rank: Zechariah, Ben, Jaaziel, Shemiramoth, Jehiel, Unni, Eliab, Benaiah, Maaseiah, Mattithiah, Elipheleh, Milkneiah, Obed-Edom, and Jeiel, the gatekeepers; the singers, Heman, Asaph, and Ethan, were to sound the cymbals of bronze; Zechariah, Aziel, Shemiramoth, Jehiel, Unni, Eliab, Maaseiah, and Benaiah, with strongs according to Alamoth; Mattihiah, Elipheleh, Mikneiah, Obed-Edom, Jeiel, and Azaziah, to direct with harps on the Sheminith; Chenaniah, leader of the Levites, was instructor in charge of the music, because he was skillfull; Berechiah and Elkanah were doorkeepers for the ark; Shebaniah, Joshaphat, Nethanel, Amasia, Zechariah, Benaiah, and Eliezar, the priests, were to blow the trumpets before the ark of God; and Obed-Edom and Jehiah, doorkeepers for the ark.”
Let us note a few aspects of this passage in particular. First, let us note the importance of sanctification for the servants of God (the priests and Levites) to do the work of God. God had specific rules for the handling of the Ark of the Covenant. It was to be borne by Levites on their shoulders (see Exodus 25:14). A disaster had occurred during the first attempt to bring the Ark of the Covenant into Jerusalem because it had been done on an ox-cart after the manner of the heathen Philistines and not according to the laws of God which prescribed strict practice for the treatment of the Ark. In this passage, therefore, David is offering a rebuke to the Priests and Levites for their previous disobedience and also calling upon them to repent and make themselves holy and serve God according to His law and His righteous standards. The responsibility of servants of God (especially those with titles and public responsibilities, like the priests and Levites) to serve God as He commands and not as they wish or as the heathen nations of the world do is a lesson we could all stand to learn better.
Second, let us also note the importance of the musical service to God. I must admit, as a person who has long been deeply involved in musical service as a singer, violist, and even occasionally a director and arranger, I am biased in the matter. That said, in this passage we see a great deal of attention paid to the musical work by David. Included in the roster is a musical director (named Chenaniah), who is said to be chief of the Levites and skillful. Obed-Edom is listed as a musician as well as a gatekeeper. Heman (grandson of Samuel and member of the Sons of Korah), Ethan, and Asaph are noted psalmists, as is David himself. The extensive personal listing of second-rank musicians on stringed instruments, harps, and the listing of the priests themselves as trumpet players in the musical ensemble of the tabernacle service suggests that musical service (along with security, it should be noted) was a post of the highest honor within Israel’s worship system. We ought therefore to honor what God has honored in scripture, seeing musical service as a place for notable, honorable, and faithful service to God, rather than simply as the hired help, as is the case in many churches.
Third, let us note the importance of choosing faithful men for the musical service placed by God. In 1 Chronicles 9:22-23 we read that David and Samuel discussed (apparently long before David became an acting king) which qualities and which families were best suited for leadership. Perhaps Samuel saw that his young grandson Heman had a heart of obedient service to God. While it would be unwise to speculate on too many details, it is clear that David and Samuel had discussed an aspect of service that allowed David to choose wisely for these positions of honor and responsibility. This point is important to make in light of the contrast between David and Michal set up by the author of 1 Chronicles in the next passage.
1 Chronicles 15:25-29: The Contrast Between David And Michal
While David has been busy directing and organizing the celebration of bringing the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem to its place of honor in the center of Israelite life, not all is well in his palace with his wife Michal. As 1 Chronicles 15:25-29 reads: “So David, the elders of Israel, and the captains over the thousands went to bring up the ark of the covenant of the Lord from the home of Obed-Edom with joy. And so it was, when God helped the Levites who bore the ark of the covenant of the Lord, that they offered seven bulls and seven rams. David was clothed with a robe of fine linen, as were all the Levites who bore the ark, the singers, and Chenaniah the music master with the singers. David also wore a linen ephod. Thus all Israel brought up the ark of the covenant of the Lord with shouting and with the sound of the horn, with trumpets and with cymbals, making music with stringed instruments and harps. As it happened, as the ark of the covenant of the Lord came to the City of David, that Michal, Saul’s daughter, looked through a window and saw King David whirling and playing music; and she despised him in her heart.”
This is a very important passage with regards to the godly manner of leadership, and yet its importance is often neglected on account of an inability to understand the symbolic nature of David’s actions and Michal’s behavior. Let us therefore seek to uncover some of the more notable and pointed relevant aspects. Let us start with Michal’s behavior. Michal is described as looking out of the window at David, a phrase that occurs three times in scripture, all concerning women who oppose the will of God and are punished for it . The fact that she despised a man after God’s own heart in her own heart who was obeying God properly (rather than in being among the honored company of worshipers of God along with David) suggests that her faith, whatever it was, was not in God as defined in scripture.
Let us note as well David’s behavior in worshiping God. He performed as a musician, serving as an honorary Levite instead of as a glorious king. He was dressed as the Levites were, in the robe of fine linen and in a linen ephod, the clothing by which the Levites showed their obedient service to God. After all, Samuel himself had his linen ephod made year after year during his childhood by his mother as he ministered (served) the people of God in Shiloh. We can easily imagine that David was simply following the example of his mentor Samuel in showing himself as a servant God and God’s people, as an equal with the Levites who served also, rather than as a distant and glorious lord and king who is above such acts of service and worship.
We may therefore note that Michal’s hatred of David suggests that she and David had different ideals of leadership and kingship. While David’s passionate devotion to God’s ways and adopting the dress and behavior of a servant of God, a musician in a procession, showed him as a servant leader to the flock of God, Michal thought David’s behavior disreputable and disrespectful, thinking a king naked without splendor and majesty (see 2 Samuel 6:20-23). In short, while David was a servant leader showing himself as the equals of the servants (the Levites), Michal thought kings ought to lord it over their people like the kings of the Gentiles. Therefore, as Michal followed the satanic model of tyrannical leadership and David followed the godly model of servant leadership, Michal had no place as David’s principal wife or as a mother of the king’s children, and was put aside, to die barren.
Conclusion To Part One
Therefore, in concluding Part One of this examination of the role of the Sons of Korah in the celebration of the arrival of the Ark of the Covenant in Jerusalem, let us comment on some of the most notable aspects of their work. For one, the Sons of Korah were part of a team include the leaders of all of Levi, in a celebration planned by David to show Israel that the proper worship of God was at the very core of his kingdom and rule. Additionally, we see that the Sons of Korah (and the rest of the priests and Levites) were called to obey God’s standards of holiness and worship Him as He commanded. We also see that the musical worship was so important to God that the leadership of this worship service was planned by Samuel and David years before David reigned over Israel, and so important that God records the names of a large variety of obscure second-rank Levitical musicians mentioned nowhere else in scripture to show their place of honor in this ceremony. Additionally, we see the Sons of Korah set an example of godly service that David himself mirrored, showing the tyrannical and satanic model of leadership that was within Michal’s heart, leading her to despise the servant leader and shepherd king David, who had no qualms about being a servant to the people and being honored by maid servants, if despised by a haughty and ungodly queen. Let us therefore profit from the insight gained by a close look at an obscure passage of scripture that reveals profound truths about God’s ways to believers in all places and times.