Who Were the Sons of Korah?
Perhaps while reading the Psalms you’ve noticed the attribution “A Psalm of the Sons of Korah” or “A maskil* of the sons of Korah.” You may have wondered, just who were these mysterious “sons of Korah?”
But before I get to that, let’s clear up a common misconception…
Perhaps, like me, you assumed David wrote the majority of the psalms. Maybe, also like me, you pictured him serenely laying on a hillside, watching over Jesse’s sheep, the duties of shepherding done for the day as the sun gently began to set on the horizon. He picks up his harp and begins to compose…
Well, not so! In fact of the 150 psalms David is attributed with writing only, and exactly, half! 75! 73 psalms bear his name: 3-9; 11-32; 34-41; 51-65; 68-70; 86; 101; 103; 108-110; 122; 124; 131; 133; and 138-145. Psalm 2 is referred to as by David in Acts 4:25 and psalm 95 is given Davidic authorship in Heb.4:7. These psalms were written throughout the highs and lows of David’s life: while fleeing his enemies, after committing great sin, while contemplating life, or reveling in God’s majesty!
Asaph (one of the leaders of David’s choir, wrote 12 psalms: 50; 73-83. Heman, a grandson of Samuel, along with the sons of Korah, wrote 1 psalm: 88; Solomon, David’s son wrote 2 psalms: 72 and 127; Moses scribed 1 psalm: 90; Ethan the Ezrahite also penned 1 psalm: 89; and 48 psalms remain anonymous.
Eleven psalms are attributed to “The Sons of Korah”: 42, 44, 45, 46, 47, 48, 49, 84, 85, 87, and 88.
So who were they? Turns out there are three “Korahs” mentioned in the Bible. The first we find in Genesis 36:4,14. This “Korah” is one of the sons born to Oholibamah, one of Esau’s wives. In vs. 18 he is included as one of the “chiefs” among Esau’s descendants. The second is named in 1 Chronicles 2:34, identified simply as a son of someone named Hebron. Neither of these feature as prominently in the Bible as the third “Korah.” His story is found in the book of Numbers, chapter 16.
This Korah was a descendant of Levi, the tribe specifically set apart for the service of the sanctuary. He, along with two Reubenites, Dathan and Abiram, On, son of Peleth plus 250 Israeli community heavyweights decided to challenge the God-appointed leadership of Moses! (Num. 16:1-3). Their rebellion was really a rebellion against God!
For their transgression these men met a truely awesome and terrible fate:
“…the ground under them split apart and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them and their households, and all those associated with Korah, together with their possessions… the earth closed over them, and they perished… And fire came out from the Lord and consumed the 250 men …” (Num. 16:31-35).
The actions of this Korah were so well-known and evil that Jude names him in likening the wicked of his day,
“Woe to them! They have taken the way of Cain [the first murderer]; they have rushed for profit into Balaam’s error [being swayed from obedience by the prospect of personal gain]; they have been destroyed in Korah’s rebellion [challenging God by challenging His appointed representative].” (Jude 11).
But thankfully this evil heart did not continue throughout subsequent generations. Later offspring of Korah served as doorkeepers and soldiers under King David; three in particular, Heman, Asaph, and Ethan, excelled in music and contributed to the writing of the psalms.
* A “maskil” is a type of musical performance
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