There are several collections of psalms that contain a narrative flow and are part of a larger context, that are nonetheless smaller parts of the book of Psalms itself. For example, the Haggadah  is a collection of psalms (Psalm 113-118, 136) that is read every year by Jews at the time of the Passover Seder, celebrating both God’s work in the past to deliver Israel from Egypt as well as God’s present and future work in righting the injustices of the world and in opening up salvation to all people. Likewise, the Psalms of Ascents (Psalm 120-134) has traditionally been read by Jews (and others) as the three pilgrim feasts of the Passover, Feast of Weeks, and Feast of Tabernacles approach, as they move from the troubles a believer faces in a wicked world to an enjoyment of the unity and fellowship in the tabernacle or temple with fellow believers from all over the world. While each of the psalms in these collections can be understood individually, they also are part of a larger narrative in which each psalm has a specific role and part in the larger context. All too often we neglect this larger context in examining verses of Psalms in isolation without even the larger context of the psalm itself, much less its collection.
With that in mind, let us examine the collection of Psalms from Psalm 42-49, the first collection of the Sons of Korah series. While I have examined most of these psalms separately      , each of them is part of a larger context that deserves to be mentioned and examined as well, as there is a narrative flow within the entire series that might not be well known to believers (even those fascinated by prophecy) and that can serve to provide a greater depth of meaning to these psalms without contradicting any other layers of meaning that the psalms contain in isolation. Let us therefore look at all of these psalms and examine their place as part of the larger context of the first Sons of Korah collection, examining the importance of their order and the flow between them when they are all examined together in the context of end-time prophecy, which is but one (and a rarely examined) context of these hymns.
Psalms 42-49: The First Sons Of Korah Collection
In examining the prophetic narrative of the first Sons of Korah collection, it is handy to read the psalms in a larger flow. To avoid repeating what has already been written about them, and in the interests of space, the entire collection has not been provided here, though it is useful to read the psalms as a whole unit in order to follow along the argument and presentation that is provided here. In examining the prophetic narrative of the first Sons of Korah collection, let us briefly examine the part each of the psalms plays (Psalm 42 and 43 being treated as a single unit) in the larger whole, the parallels between different psalms in their language and perspective, and the overall message of which the psalms are a part.
Psalm 42 and 43 begin the first Sons of Korah collection. They are written from the perspective of a believer who deeply longs for the return of Jesus Christ, for God to enforce His justice on evildoers and the unjust, and to publicly worship with other believers in safety and joy once again. The believer feels rejected by God, in great mourning and torment as the heathen taunt him (or her) with the call, “Where is your God?” In the context of end times prophecy (coming from the point of view of a historicist or a futurist perspective on Bible prophecy, or both, as I happen to have), we can view this passage as either expressing a believer whose faith is mocked in a wicked and faithless and unjust world such as now exists or a believer in the midst of the suffering of the Great Tribulation, both of whom may feel rejected and cut off from God’s public worship because of either the division of believers (and corresponding isolation) or because the Great Tribulation has made public worship of God’s ways illegal and unsafe. As is often the case, both levels of application could apply simultaneously. At any rate, Psalm 42 and 43 reflect the gloominess of a believer who feels cut off from God and from other believers despite longing for the joy and brotherhood of believers and for God’s kingdom to come.
Psalm 44 speaks of a time when God’s people (and the nations they inhabit) face times of great national and collective humiliation. Seeing the hand of God go against them, they feel the curses of Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28 on their societies in the face of oppression and national defeat, as God no longer gives success to their (military) efforts, instead making them the laughingstock of the world. Again, even within the narrow context of end-time prophecy, this particular psalm could have at least two different meanings. It could describe a time like now where the Bible-believing nations of the world feel surrounded by enemies, are mocked and insulted by the world, and feel insecure about declining strength. We exist in such times right now in the nations of the West like the United States and other English-speaking nations and Israel. Also, such a lament could easily be given as well if the power of our peoples are completely broken in a state of abject oppression and foreign domination, such as is unpleasant to contemplate, and as many futurists expect to be the case by the beginning of the Great Tribulation. In either case, the end-time prophetic narrative of Psalm 44 appears to be one of national humiliation and defeat, with the historical memory of better times than now exist.
Psalm 45 presents an intensely beautiful account of a royal wedding, which in the context of end-times prophecy would appear to refer to the wedding supper of the lamb, when our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ marries the Church, after His return, and establishes His kingdom on earth. Whether in times before the Great Tribulation or during it, believers have always longed to attend this wedding as well as see Jesus Christ establish His rule over a rebellious earth. In the midst of sorrow and trials, both individual and collective, it is our vision of a better future that allows us to remain encouraged and hopeful and joyful, even as we recognize how unpleasant present reality is. Believers are often faced with the tension of being honest and open about the way things are while retaining hope and faith that they will get better both for us individually as well as for the whole world.
Psalm 46 expresses this hope and confidence in God’s ultimate good will (despite present troubles) by remembering that God is our refuge (our place of safety, to use other language) and that regardless of what happens in the world, what sorrows and tribulations we face, God will ultimately protect us and bring His believers into His holy city. Again, in the context of end-time prophecy this can either mean that in the midst of life’s trials we can find confidence and peace in His protection (such as I feel right now, since I feel that I have been personally delivered from trouble), or that those believers in the midst of the Great Tribulation can still feel God’s ultimate refuge and protection, knowing that they will enter into God’s City regardless of how the nations rage against the rule of Jesus Christ and refuse to submit themselves willingly to His authority. Either way, believers of God will find refuge and protection, whether it is from trials or through them. This can either be looking forward to that protection and safety or looking back on how God provided that safety and protection, or feeling its presence in the midst of life’s difficulties.
Psalm 47 looks forward to the establishment of God’s rule on this earth at the return of Jesus Christ, looking at Christ as ruler over all the earth and triumphant over all of the armies of the earth, who cannot successfully oppose his “alien invasion.” Here we see that both Israelites and Gentiles are here considered to be the people of the God of Abraham, pointing to the fact that the opportunity for salvation has been provided to all nations through Jesus Christ, a fact that is brought out long before it is written about by the Apostle Paul and others. By looking at the rule of God over all nations and peoples, as all are created in His image and all are His potential children, Psalm 47 helps us to examine the universal implications of Christ’s rule over us rather than being stuck in our own provincialism and nationalism, showing the implications of Christ’s rule over all the nations as He establishes His kingdom after His return.
Psalm 48 continues the theme of the establishment of God’s kingdom that believers look forward to. Examining the end-time attack of the nations on Jesus Christ, the psalm pictures a believer counting the towers of Jerusalem and rejoicing in the defeat of man’s armies and the establishment of Christ’s rule based out of Jerusalem. No longer fearful or doubtful about God’s justice and judgment on a rebellious and unjust world, the believer now praises that he (or she) has seen this justice and judgment with his (or her) own eyes. Again, like psalm 47, this psalm reflects on the universal reach of God’s justice and authority over all the earth, not looking merely at Jerusalem or the people of Israel. Nor does it only look at the present, but it looks forward to instructing God’s ways to the next generation, showing the legacy of righteous leadership and instruction that believers wish to leave.
Psalm 49 closes the first collection of the Sons of Korah by returning to the present state of trouble and tribulation by pointing out that in light of the previous psalms, that a believer has no reason to be afraid in times of trouble because God’s ultimate protection and salvation, regardless of what happens here and now. Since God will ultimately bring us into His kingdom, we do not need to fear what man can do to us. If we are killed or exiled or thrown into prison, God will still free us from slavery, raise our bodies from the grave, and place us where He wishes in His Kingdom, wherever we are the best fit. So even if the wicked look like they prosper here and now in a wicked world, the wicked will perish and the righteous can look forward to eternal life and eternal joy in God’s family. And such a reward makes present suffering of no importance. Therefore we do not need to be troubled or cast down in our present lives.
The Narrative And Flow of The First Sons of Korah Collection
Having briefly examined the psalms of the first Sons of Korah collection in isolation, let us look at several aspects of their whole context. First, let us examine the narrative that the psalms provide from start to finish. Then, let us look at the connections that exist in language and content between the different psalms that link them together as part of one story. Then, let us examine the implications of this narrative for our understanding of the Church of God in the end times. Of course, this examination presupposes the validity of the futurist view of biblical prophecy, and furthermore a premillennial view of the return of Jesus Christ and the visible establishment of His Kingdom on this earth.
First, Psalms 42 through 49 give a coherent narrative within the larger context of the Psalms as a whole. Psalms 42 and 43 begin as a believer in distress and inner turmoil ponders the injustice of the world and the insults of the wicked who attack our faith in times of trouble. Psalm 44 looks out beyond the personal to the state of our society and civilization and finds it downtrodden and ridiculed, as not only we ourselves but our nation faces God’s displeasure and times of great trial and tribulation. Psalm 45 looks forward to the return of the king, Jesus Christ, and his wedding supper, where His believers of all nations and tribes will honor and worship Him. Psalm 46 looks to God as a refuge and a place of safety in life’s troubles, and states confidence that God will deliver us into His city regardless of the ugliness of the state of the world. Psalm 47 points to Jesus Christ as the king over all the earth, having established His rule over the earth by force of arms against the rulers of the heathen. Psalm 48 looks at Zion, the capital of God’s kingdom, and looks back at the unsuccessful attempts of the nations of the world in resisting God’s rule, which has now been firmly established. And then Psalm 49, in light of these certain prophecies of the future, returns to the present troubles with confidence and assurance in God’s ultimate protection and salvation for believers, come what may.
There are numerous connections in the language and content of the first Sons of Korah collection that combine them together as part of a larger whole. For one, Psalm 42 and 43 are clearly shown to be connected by a common refrain, the first hint that Psalm 42 and 43 are part of a larger collection to the alert reader, who is subtly told that the psalms are not to be taken in isolation. All of these psalms are written by the same author, the “Sons of Korah,” which is another unity in the series. In addition, there are common themes of both individual salvation (compare Psalms 42 and 43 with 49 as part of the chiastic structure) as well as collective judgment and the establishment of the kingdom of God at the return of Jesus Christ (Psalm 44, 45, 47, and 48), bracketed around a hymn of confidence in God’s protection and our ultimate salvation (Psalm 46). The fact that the first Sons of Korah collection shows a chiastic structure only enhances its essential unity and its overall theme of trust and faith in God and hope of salvation and reward for believers in light of the promised return of Jesus Christ and the establishment of the kingdom of heaven, which then encourages us to deal with the trials and tribulations of life without discouragement and defeatism.
Finally, let us examine the two possibilities of the time context of this series as a whole. Psalms 42, 43, 44, and 49 point out that this collection is dealing with a time of trouble and tribulation. This does not require putting it in the time of the Great Tribulation, but the comments of the injustice of the world, the defeat and humiliation of Israel, and the declining fortunes of God’s people suggest that it is written for times of crisis and trouble. Dealing specifically with end-times, this would indicate a period shortly before or during the Great Tribulation, when the decline of the nations of Israel in light of God’s judgment of their sinful and corrupt cultures for violations of God’s covenants, including social injustice and the exploitation of others is obvious. If we view it as a period before the Great Tribulation, a believer would have confidence that God will provide us as ‘Philadelphians’ with a place of safety and protection from the troubles of the world, with ultimate salvation and eternal life in mind. If we view it as a period during the Great Tribulation, a believer would have confidence that despite whatever death and persecution we might face as a ‘Laocidean’ that we will ultimately be rewarded for our faith with eternal life, so that we can face life’s troubles bravely with faith and courage. The fact that both views are readily possible from the text suggests that we ought not to condemn and label others as ‘Laodicean’ and ought to work on building up our own confidence in God and love towards others.
Even though end-time prophecy is only one of many contexts for the first Sons of Korah collection, and we ought not to neglect or deny any of the other valid meanings and contexts of these songs, both in isolation and together, I hope that seeing this collection of songs as a coherent whole with application in the times of the end is both enlightening and encouraging to believers. We ought not to neglect, in such dangerous and discouraging times as we live in, any Bible prophecy (even in the psalms) that provides us with hope and encouragement and a vision of God’s kingdom. While we ought not to be dogmatic about the interpretation of scripture, especially in light of its many layers and applications, we ought to be encouraged by a set of Psalms that can only face the isolation and tribulation of our times and point us to God’s protection and reward of eternal life for believers, so that we can face our times with courage and bravery, standing up for God’s ways, come what may. We need all the encouragement we can get. Let us therefore celebrate the picture of hope and victory for God’s believers as pictured by the first Sons of Korah collection and be of good courage to face the challenges that life provides for us.