Question: Who are the "sons of Korah"?
Psalm 42 is the first of eleven Psalms in the Bible authored by the “Sons of Korah” (42—49; 84; 87; 88). This Psalm opens with the beautiful words that have often been applied to new music over the centuries, As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God. But this longing testifies of a time when the Jewish people were cut off from their homeland (v. 6) and abused by their captors (v.3, 9-10). Leading worship in the temple was a memory for the psalmist (v. 4); and it was this painful reality that brought forth the words, My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God? (v.2).
Who are these Sons of Korah, writing during one of Israel’s long periods of captivity, long after king David’s reign? How did they come to the privileged place of composing psalms under the inspiration of God’s Spirit that would minister to future generations from the pages of God’s Word?
Korah was a descendent of Levi. The sons of Korah were Assir, Elkanah and Abiasaph. These were the Korahite clans (Ex. 6:24). Korah, like his brothers, Rueben and Simeon, wrestled with a strong rebellious streak all his life. It cost him (and his brothers) their inheritance (Gen 49:3-8), and the tribes descending from Rueben and Simeon eventually became absorbed by the other tribes.
Levi’s descendants faced this same prospect as well. However, by God’s grace, the tribe of Levi was appointed by Moses to assist Aaron in his duties as Israel’s priest, and ultimately became Israel’s priesthood clan, entrusted with overseeing the worship and the care of the temple. Even so, Korah abused this position of trust by organizing a rebellion against Moses in the Wilderness, for which he and his followers were all killed (Numb. 16). That might have ruined any future ministry for his Sons. But they had not engaged as a clan in the uprising. Once again, God’s grace intervened and they were allowed to continue serving the Lord in the sanctuary.
As Israel’s worship leaders, the Sons of Korah would bring more to the worship experience over the years than simply guiding thousands through the rituals of worship in the Temple services. God used the often trying life-experiences these descendants of Levi endured to bring from the depths of the heart a hunger for God’s presence that resonate in our own hearts to this day.