By Melissa McLaughlin
A Family Line
“You sound just like your mom!” Ever heard those words? As the years pass, we often see more of our parents’ habits and traits reflected in our own lives. From our favorite recipes, to our favorite hymns to our ways of mowing the lawn. How easy it is to follow in our parents’ footsteps.
Unfortunately, we sometimes pick up on the less than desirable qualities, as well. Squeezing the toothpaste tube at the wrong end, chronic lateness or dislike of broccoli.
Although passing down family characteristics may seem insignificant, this experience often leaves a deeper imprint than is seen at first glance.
If you have been blessed with Godly, Christlike parents, then this is a great gift. But what about those who have not been given this precious blessing? What about those whose parents struggle with drugs or alcohol, parents who are in jail for theft or murder, parents who abused or abandoned them. What about them?
Enter the grace of God.
Enter the sons of Korah.
Who were the sons of Korah?
The events surrounding the sons of Korah, found in Numbers 16 (and Numbers 26:9-11), offer a strong warning and ray of hope. This story involves terrible sin, resulting in fearful consequences. All of which is followed by God’s grace.
How the grace of God speaks so loudly.
How the grace of God echoes on and on.
To anchor our understanding of this Old Testament account, we must remember that God sees all and knows all. Therefore, His judgments are just and true. 1 Samuel 16:7b – People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.
Rebellion Against God
As the story begins, Korah and several other Levites, banded together with 250 other men from among God’s people, the Israelites. Korah and his rebellious comrades rose up against Moses and Aaron, claiming they were all capable of leading as priests. However, they primarily rose up against God who had appointed and established Moses as the leader and Aaron as the high priest of the Israelites.
The Lord had already set apart Korah and the other Levites, from among the 12 tribes of Israel. God separated the Levites and brought them near himself to “do the work at the Lord’s tabernacle and to stand before the community and minister to them.”
And Moses said to Korah, “Hear now, you sons of Levi: is it too small a thing for you that the God of Israel has separated you from the congregation of Israel, to bring you near to himself, to do service in the tabernacle of the Lord and to stand before the congregation to minister to them, and that he has brought you near him, and all your brothers the sons of Levi with you? And would you seek the priesthood also? Therefore it is against the Lord that you and all your company have gathered together. What is Aaron that you grumble against him?” Numbers 16:8-11
Is it too small a thing for you?
The Levites, descendants of Levi, were assigned holy duties attending to the Tabernacle and all its elements, according to their ancestral lineage. Levi’s three sons were Gershon, Merari, and Kohath. Each of their descendants carried on tasks in the Tabernacle according to their direct family line. Only the descendants of Aaron, however, were appointed to serve as priests.
The Kohathites were responsible for and carried the most sacred objects of the Tabernacle as the community moved from place to place. These objects included the ark, the table, the lamp stand, the altars, the articles of the sanctuary used in ministering, the curtain, and everything related to their use. Since the other Levites cared for objects like the frames, curtains and posts, these less sacred items were moved via carts. However, the Kohathites carried the holy objects, with no carts and no touching. These objects were carefully wrapped before being gripped in their hands and hauled over the miles. (Numbers 4:15) Korah was a grandson of Kohath and as his descendant, was among those wielding this heavy responsibility for the community.
Is it too small a thing for you?
However, in this story, Korah’s main demand was that he and the others should be granted the leadership and high priestly duties afforded to Moses and Aaron.
The arrogance of this thought is truly staggering. After Moses and Aaron led the people out of Egypt, through the Red Sea, met with God on Mt. Sinai and then experienced His Presence throughout the wilderness, it had to be evident that the LORD had appointed them to these high positions. For a mere man, after all this, to lift his meager voice against the LORD’s anointed ones, revealed a self-centered pride that defies logic. Who in their right mind would suggest such a thing?
God’s judgment against this overt pride was swift and terrifying.
The Most High God caused the ground beneath Korah and the leaders of the rebellion, to open up, swallow them, then close up once again. Fire then came out from the LORD and consumed the remaining 250 men engaged in this defiance toward God. (Numbers 16:28-33)
Interestingly, just a few chapters later, during a God-ordained census, we read that the sons of Korah were spared from God’s judgment and punishment during this event. (Numbers 26:9-11) God’s mercy prevailed for them.
The Sons of Korah are Saved
Scripture does not explicitly state why the sons of Korah were saved. Bible scholars infer that either they were too young to join the rebellion against God or they did not side with their father in his opposition. Personally, I wonder if these remaining sons were already grown, not part of the household and had made a decision to stand with the LORD and not with their earthly father, because the scripture stated (Numbers 16:32) that Korah and his household were swallowed up in the earth.
Perhaps the most telling point about these saved sons of Korah is the way the LORD graciously used them in His service in years to come. The prophet Samuel was a descendant of Korah (1 Chronicles 6:31-38). The Korahites were assigned the task of custodian and doorkeeper for the Tabernacle (1 Chronicles 9:19-21). Among King David’s military men were a group of Korahites commended for their expertise. (1 Chronicles 12:1-6)
The Sons of Korah in the Psalms
Yet most moving to me is that the sons of Korah were included among the writers of the Psalms.
The sons of Korah are credited with writing eleven different Psalms: Psalms 42, 44, 45, 46, 47, 48, 49, 84, 85, 87, 88. These Psalms include verses that express highest praise and devotion to the Lord. While other verses provide images of deep humility and recognition of our frail humanity before a Holy God. Glimpses of their forefathers’ dreadful past seep into some of these verses, as well. Take a look at these excerpts:
Psalm 42:1 – “As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God.”
Psalm 46:1-3 – “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling.”
Psalm 47:1 – “Oh, clap your hands, all you peoples! Shout to God with the voice of triumph!”
Psalm 48:1a – “Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised”
Psalm 49:20 – “Man in his pomp yet without understanding is like the beasts that perish.”
Psalm 84:1, 10 – “How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord of hosts! For a day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere. I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness.”
Psalm 87:3 – “Glorious things of you are spoken, O city of God.”
Psalm 88 – The humble cry expressed throughout this Psalm rings clearly with an aching understanding of their ancestors’ sins. Some believe this Psalm was the clearest example of the internal agony Christ endured on the cross. Knowing more about the sons of Korah, when I read this Psalm again, I hear the lament of their life story in these soulful cries.
What can we learn from the sons of Korah?
There are four important lessons to learn from the sons of Korah in the Bible:
1. Devotion to God, despite family failures – These men were devoted to the Lord, despite what they witnessed in their family lineage. We do not have to walk in the sins of our past or our forefathers. May we have the courage to stand with God, no matter what our family may choose. God is merciful to those who seek Him.
2. Obedience in the “small” tasks given by God – When this story began in Numbers 16:9, Moses said, “Is it too small a thing for you?” May we never consider ourselves too great to do the small things God has asked. For it is a privilege and honor to be included in His kingdom and in His kingdom work, no matter the visibility or accolades.
3. Humility – Though listed in passing in other scriptures, the individual names of the sons of Korah were not listed in the Psalms. They carried the shameful name of their forefathers and lived out their humble reverence and remembrance before God and others. One can only wonder if they kept this name at the forefront in order to keep themselves right before our Holy God.
4. Awe of God – The sons of Korah demonstrated an awe of God’s holiness and power, as expressed in their service to the Lord in the Temple and their poetic images lingering on as a legacy in the Psalms.
As it turns out, these insignificant, often unnoticed sons of Korah, with a less than noble ancestry, left for us profound and Godly lessons to learn. Lessons that echo on through the pages of the Bible and into our lives today. God extended mercy to these sons of Korah and their hearts were true to Him.
2 Chronicles 16:9 – For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show Himself strong on behalf of those whose heart is loyal to Him.
1 Peter 3:12 – For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer, but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.