An Introduction To The Sons of Korah

I became interested in the Sons of Korah almost unknowingly. As a child of ten or eleven, in my first Bible, a red hardback New King James Version of the Bible, I wrote in the Table of Contents the page number for Psalm 88 with the heading “A Psalm of Depression.” Even as a very young person (admittedly, an unusually serious, moody, and depressed young person), I recognized a kindred spirit in an obscure man named Heman the Ezrahite who lived three thousand years ago and served as a court musician and counselor for David and Solomon, those glorious Kings of Israel. For a long time, I left the matter at that, and thought little more about the Sons of Korah.

Then, last year, events in my church forced a closer examination of the matter. The actions of people, some of whom downplayed the rebellious activities of others by pointing out that fathers and sons, and families in general, often tended to rebel together, brought the events of Korah’s rebellion in Numbers 16 to the forefront. And yet a close reading of this passage (and the rest of Numbers, to say nothing of 1 Chronicles) reveals that the Sons of Korah lived and did not die because they rejected the rebellion of their father and served, for the most part, very loyally for a thousand years of biblical history.

It was in untangling the mystery of the Sons of Korah, now that I was an adult and a historian, and not only a moody preteen, that I realized that the subject was far more important than I could have ever guessed. I began to look around seeking for books or even articles with a lot of information on the Sons of Korah. There was nothing to be found–hardly anyone seems to have done more than note them as the author of some psalms (more about that shortly) and then silence. And yet the more I looked into the Sons of Korah, the more they started appearing.

Being a fan of genealogy, one of the first places I looked for information about the Sons of Korah was 1 Chronicles 6:33-38. Here I found the genealogy of Heman the Ezrahite, the depressed but wise man who I first recognized as a kindred soul. I uncovered that he was the son of the corrupt Joel and the grandson of Samuel, the famous judge and prophet of Israel, and the great-grandson of Elkanah and Hannah, whose hymn of praise to God in 1 Samuel 2:1-10 echoes and helped inspire the Magnificat of Mary, mother of Jesus Christ in Luke. Clearly, there was a lot of material here. Further investigations of the Sons of Korah found them not only to be musicians, counselors, prophets, and judges, but also treasurers and gatekeepers and bakers of the showbread, responsibilities they continued to uphold even after the Babylonian captivity.

And yet no one knows about this family despite a thousand years of faithful service to God recorded in scripture (mostly in 1st and 2nd Chronicles, but not only there). The sons of Korah are listed under various names (Korahites, Kohathites, or sometimes just Levites, or sons of Heman or Shallum) in incidents including the bringing of the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem (an incident most famous because of Michal’s pride and hostility to the enthusiasm of David’s godly worship), the dedication of Solomon’s temple, the destruction of the armies of Ammon, Moab, and Seir while Judah stood still and saw the salvation of the Lord. Further investigation discovered their cities to be in Ephraim and Manasseh, and so quite possibly the famous Levite whose Bethlehamite concubine led to the civil war that nearly wiped out the tribe of Benjamin in Judges 19-21 was among their crew. The sons of Korah proved to be far more important than I had ever understood.

And yet the Sons of Korah were still amazingly obscure to others. Why had no one else bothered to dig up information about this family, which is listed by name as having written at least a dozen psalms (and probably more). And yet few people will have given more than half a second’s thoughts to the Sons of Korah if they are not fans of the Australian musical group by that name who sings adaptations of psalms, and who might be sons of Korah themselves, from among the Levites of the Assyrian captivity of Ephraim and Manasseh who lost their identity but not their curious gifts and areas of devoted service.

The question that makes most sense to ask at this point is why would anyone who is not a biblical student of obscure subjects (which is certainly true of me) be interested in the sons of Korah? Everyone must answer that question for themselves but the biblical record of the Sons of Korah provide many potential answers. Perhaps more than one of these will apply to you.

Do you struggle with overcoming a bad parental example or overcoming the bad reputation of your family name? The sons of Korah are obscure, but many people remember Korah as an infamous rebel (see the book of Jude). Heman the Ezrahite too had to overcome his father’s sin and corruption which was so serious it helped cause Israel demand a king because there was no one to take Samuel’s place as a judge. The Sons of Korah know all about having to overcome a bad name, as their over a thousand years of loyal service recorded in the Bible is still far less famous than their father’s rebellion in the wilderness against Moses.

Do you struggle against depression? So did Heman (and so do I, for that matter), and so did the author of Psalm 42 (more famous as “As The Deer”). If you have struggled with chronic depression from an early age, then perhaps you can find comfort in the fact that Psalm 88, which captures the sorrow and frustration of never-ending gloom, of sicknesses and feeling overwhelmed without any relief for years and years, is a part of inspired scripture. Other godly people have walked the same sad footsteps you struggle, not because of their sins, but because that was the cross they had to bear. You do not suffer alone, or without recognition by God that sometimes people suffer far worse and far longer than anyone should have to bear.

Do you struggle with not being able to have children? So did Hannah, teased and provoked by her rival, until she promised to give her firstborn son (the famous Samuel) for a lifetime of service to God as a Nazirite. The Sons of Korah even have something to say about the cruel way people treat the victims of rape, a subject of great importance to many survivors of that ghastly crime, a subject nearly impossible to talk about because it is too uncomfortable and unpleasant for many to even hear about, even as others are forced to relive nightmares for years and years without relief.

Are you a proud Protestant who loves the stirring “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God,” sings along to “Este’s Psalter,” or sings along with the Passion song “Better Is One Day,” (a title track to a cd I bought as a college student). Both of those songs are hymns of the Sons of Korah. So is “Glorious Things of Thee Are Spoken,” a hymn that, as written by the Sons of Korah, celebrates the glorious entry of believers of all peoples and nations into the nation of Israel upon their conversion to God’s ways. The Sons of Korah stood strong against racism as well–something that can give encouragement to many who struggle against it themselves. You are likely familiar with several psalms of the Sons of Korah, as I have mentioned here, and probably even fond of them, without even being aware of it. Now is an opportunity to become familiar with a family you may be vaguely aware of without ever having realized it.

And perhaps, like me, you may wonder if you too are a Son of Korah, if you are like them in so many ways that you cannot help but wonder if by reading about this family you are better understanding yourself and your own personal history. Especially if you struggle against a bad family history, and are trying to break the cycle of abuse or rebellion, you can take comfort in the following words which certainly apply to the Sons of Korah, found in Exodus 20:5-6 (ESV): “You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.” The curses of disobedience last to the second and third generation–and you (like me) may be among that, but the mercy of obedience lasts for thousands of generations–forever. May you find hope in that as you dig deeper into the story of the Sons of Korah. And may your studies bring you some measure of peace.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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4 Responses to An Introduction To The Sons of Korah

  1. Matthew B says:

    The Sons of Korah is also the name of a fabulous christian musical group that sings the Psalms — essentially verbatim. No lifeless hymns here, the have brought the Psalms to life for me; their music is full of feeling and musically interesting and complex. Google “sons of korah” on youtube for a preview. (They are from Australia, but their cds can be found in a few places in the US).

    • I have heard of this group–but I have not had the chance to hear their music (I have not been able to download a version of Firefox recent enough to see them on youtube.). That said, I am pleased that their approach to the psalms mirrors my own–in fact, they might be among the few other people I know of who have the same passionate enthusiastic support of the Sons of Korah as I do :D.

  2. Adrian says:

    This is a fantastic post. Recently, I have been trying to understand music in the Bible. I want to understand it so thoroughly that I have been reading everywhere for information on what the musicians and their instruments symbolize. And you know, I came across your blog and I have been reading here quite a bit. Then, I discover this…and I love it. The Sons of Korah were Levites.

    Incredible history and so deep! I really think this is going to help me a lot in my research. Christ replaced Levi, and I have a hunch, that if the Sons of Korah are Levites then in symbol the Sons of Korah maybe/ probably are a symbol of the first fruits saints of God – those born into the Family of God in the First Resurrection The fact that they are the ones who prepare the batches of bread every Sabbath (which I learned last night through one of your posts) reminded me of the plan of God and the Feast of Weeks – Pentecost.

    You see, in 2 Peter 3:8 it says that a day to God is as 1,000 years. So, that means 7 prophetic “days” would be equal to 7000 years. The first 6000 years (or 6 “days”) of God’s plan is part of the first prophetic “week” to save the first fruits of His Family – those born in the First Resurrection. Following the First Resurrection, then you have the millennium (a Sabbath of 1,000 years) which ends the first “week”. 7000 years total or 7 millennial “days”, or 1 prophetic “week”.

    So after the first 7,000 years, the next “day” in the plan of God would come after the Sabbath (the millenium) and it would be a Sunday, or the year 8,000! Another week! Another 7 days! Another 7,000 years to cook some bread! Seeing as how the Sons of Korah were the ones responsible for swapping out the loaves of bread each Sabbath, I think all of that might just be a symbol of the First Resurrection saints, preparing a new batch of bread (Second Resurrection people) to bake for another 7 days or 7,000 years until the NEXT SABBATH in God’s Plan!

    The reason I say this is because I believe based on Pentecost being called the Feast of Weeks, that there are Seven Resurrections spread out across a time frame of 49,000. Pentecost – the Feast of Weeks…well…WHAT weeks? The Seven Weeks of Years totaling 49,000 years counting by millenia!

    I also say this because Jesus told Peter, not to forgive His brother only 7 times, but 70 times 7! Which is 490 times! This is the exact same number pattern seen in Daniel 9:24-27. 70 weeks which is also 70 times 7. If you follow the pattern, it says there in Daniel that these 70 weeks were for “making and end of sins, and to make reconciliation for iniquity (i.e Second Passover in there somewhere) and to being in everlasting righteousness.” if we think about this in the prophetic sense.

    Everlasting righteousness would be when God Himself comes down to dwell with men, which is exactly what we see in every instance of Pentecost in types and shadows! And this after 49,000 years, seven Sabbaths (7 weeks) which we are supposed to count from Unleavened Bread, to Pentecost. Those Seven Sabbaths inside of 49,000 years would be each resurrection of a new loaf of baked bread, a new batch of saints prepared every “week”.

    And who knows…but maybe the Sons of Korah do symbolize the first fruits, who not only sang at Solomon’s Temple…but also sang at the building of Ezra’s temple, which was smaller but was said to have had more glory than the first temple.

    First Resurrection = 144,000 saints (First batch)
    Second Resurrection = Billions of saints (Second batch brought into the Family of God during the course of 49,000 years)

    The more I think about this as I am writing this, you mentioned that the Sons of Korah had a very long time of loyal service to God and the temple. I would say that is consistent with the idea of the first fruits’ long service to God in the very distant future helping to bring people into the Family of God. Instead of loyal, I would say that the Sons of Korah were faithful, just like the Bible says the first fruits are.

    Your blog is inspiring!

    • I’m glad that my blog is inspiring to you. As I have a great love of music and poetry (I both sing and play the viola and have written a fair amount of verse in my life), the poetry of the Bible has long been an area of personal study, and I am happy to share it with others who are interested. I am almost done with this particular project; there are only a few posts left to add, but they are large ones. In the meantime, I’m glad you appreciate this almost completed collection–I have another, more incomplete and more ambitious collection on the Psalms as a whole.

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