The Road Back: Psalms of the Sons of Korah, With Skill and With Understanding

Can you hear the joy in their voices? Perhaps Psalm 47 was written after a victory, or the recollection of a victory. Since some of the Psalms of the Sons of Korah have been proven to be prophetic, the triumph celebrated may be about a future event. We know that Psalm 45 is about Jesus, the King.

O clap your hands, all you people;
Shout to God with the voice of triumph and songs of joy.
For the Lord Most High is to be feared [and worshiped with awe-inspired reverence and obedience];
He is a great King over all the earth.
He subdues peoples under us
And nations under our feet.
He chooses our inheritance for us,
The glory and excellence of Jacob whom He loves. Selah.
God has ascended amid shouting,
The Lord with the sound of a trumpet.
Sing praises to God, sing praises;
Sing praises to our King, sing praises.
For God is the King of all the earth;
Sing praises in a skillful psalm and with understanding.
God reigns over the nations;
God sits on His holy throne.
The princes of the people have gathered together as the people of the God of Abraham,
For the shields of the earth belong to God;
He is highly exalted.

(Psalm 47 Amplified Version)

Can you sense the change in the hearts of these artists who once mourned and walked in discouragement and poverty of spirit as they carried inherited shame?

When God lifts the burden of shame, guilt, rejection, and self-loathing, he replaces it with a better identity. When we see ourselves in our heavenly father’s eyes, the way he created us to be, we also find our purpose.

Worshippers worship. It’s just what they do. Purpose is found in a restored relationship with God. Some people find their purpose when they worship. It fits. It’s what they were created to do, especially when it is expressed creatively. Whether they sing, or dance, or shout, or write, or play instruments, or take photographs, or design houses of worship, or prepare food for the hungry, their hearts are full when focused on God. They sense his pleasure. The connection motivates a desire to give praise with excellence, and more importantly, creates a deeper hunger for deeper understanding.

The Creator wired his beloved in different ways. Korah, as a Levite, was given a position in the place of worship. His desire for control and recognition abused the characteristic that would give his descendants purpose. In this psalm we see purpose restored in the sons once marked by rebellion.

I’m including links to four different expressions of Psalm 47. Some styles of music can be more accessible to us depending on familiarity and custom.  All are performed with skill. Like the Sons of Korah, having gained some understanding of the character and nature of God, I long for more.

Who are you? How does God see you? Do you know your purpose in life? What motivates you to keep seeking when pain is all around and nothing seems to make sense?

Ask him. Pour out your heart. There is more for you to discover.

The Road Back: Psalms of the Sons of Korah, Be Still and Know

Psalm 46 contains one of my favourite verses for meditation: “Be still and know that I am God.” (verse 10) It also contains a verse that, as a lover of nature, troubles me. “Come behold the works of the Lord, how he has wrought the desolations in the earth.” (verse 8 NIV)

I’ve seen what happens when a mountain crumbles. I’ve driven past Turtle Mountain in the Crowsnest Pass many times. The remaining mountain, standing there by the highway like a badly chipped giant tooth, has been carefully observed for movement since The Slide that destroyed the town of Frank in 1903. I don’t want to be on that road if another chunk comes down.

Translators have had a problem with this verse. The Hebrew word causing the problem is transliterated ‘shammah.’ Comparing translations, it can read: Come and see the desolations, or devastation, awesome works, amazing things, ruins, marvels of God, horrific events, wasteland, places he destroyed, breath-taking wonders… and that’s only in English. Jeremiah used shammah a lot to describe what he foresaw coming to Israel and Judah if they didn’t listen and make a course correction. It wasn’t good for them. “Shock and awe” might be an apt modern paraphrase. And yet, God sent many of his own to plead with the people to change because they were on a dangerous path of self-destruction.

I had a dream. I was in a huge banqueting hall where people had filled their plates with the kind of delicacies we see in advertisements for the finest in cruise cuisine. There was so much fine food that people were skipping nutritious food, taking one bite of each rich pastry and throwing the rest in the garbage. While in the hall, I received a phone call from someone who I knew heard God’s voice more clearly than I did. To make this short, I was arguing with him over the placement of a book in the Bible. Suddenly I heard a very loud gunshot over the phone. It stunned me into silence. I dropped everything and ran to this man’s house expecting to find him dead. He wasn’t. He was sitting in the kitchen. A shotgun leaned against a cupboard.

“You did that!” I exclaimed. “You shot off a gun in my ear. I was in shock! My ears are still ringing! Why would you do something like that?”

“Got your attention, didn’t it? Now are you ready to stop arguing and listen?” he said.

God got my attention too. (The rest of the dream can be found in “Esther in Ephesians” here.)

When I think about it, I remember walking my young son to school. His younger siblings and a couple of other children I was caring for came along, of course. Suddenly our younger son stepped off the sidewalk in pursuit of some distraction. Usually there was no traffic on that road, and he was careful to stay beside me with a hand on the baby carriage, but this time he stepped out on the road just as a vehicle came up behind us. I yanked his arm hard to get him out of danger. I hurt him. He cried, but he was on a dangerous path that could have killed him. A good parent takes that risk when they need a child to pay attention immediately. That was the moment when I realized recurring ear infections left him unable to hear properly and he needed an ear specialist in a bigger city. I went home and made appointments. He now listens for a living.

Recognizing this psalm is about acts of God in the context of national and international conflicts and terrifying battles, changes the way I see it. That it was written by the clan of Korah (identified with one of the most terrifying responses to rebellion in the history of the Children of Israel) means “Be still and know that I am God” (verse10) is not merely a nice platitude. It comes in the middle of a poetic song that remembers that if he needs to, God will open the earth, crumble mountains, make a whip and toss tables, or yank your arm so hard he could dislocate your shoulder to save you from a destructive path if he has to.

But there is another way. I see the assurances when we respond too. He is our help and refuge in trouble. There is no reason to fear (and doesn’t fear provoke us to make some crazy decisions?). There is a river of gladness where God dwells. His voice is greater than the gathered nations’ might. He is the one who stops wars –however he chooses to do it.

In this current time of upheaval, the message of Psalm 46 is vital. It says essentially, let God be God. It may not look like he is coming to straighten things out, but he is –in his time. If you try to usurp his place and take on the role of God yourself, doing things your own way in your own limited wisdom, you are only going to mess up on some essential foundational truths.

Be still. Listen. Stop striving and you will know deeply and intimately who God is.

God is our refuge and strength,
    an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
    and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam
    and the mountains quake with their surging.

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
    the holy place where the Most High dwells.
God is within her, she will not fall;
    God will help her at break of day.
Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall;
    he lifts his voice, the earth melts.

The Lord Almighty is with us;
    the God of Jacob is our fortress.

Come and see what the Lord has done,
    the desolations he has brought on the earth.
He makes wars cease
    to the ends of the earth.
He breaks the bow and shatters the spear;
    he burns the shields with fire.


He says, “Be still, and know that I am God;
    I will be exalted among the nations,
    I will be exalted in the earth.”

The Lord Almighty is with us;
    the God of Jacob is our fortress.

A song needs a singer. I love Marty Goetz’ version of Psalm 46.

The Road Back: Psalms of the Sons of Korah, The Wedding Psalm

Overflowing

Psalm 45 is called the Wedding Psalm because it describes a bridegroom and a bride. At first it seems like a flattering poem written by someone who is a bit over the top with enthusiasm.

Beautiful! Beautiful! Beyond the sons of men! Elegant grace pours out through every word you speak. (verses 2 and 3)

Then the praise seems to pole vault over esteem for any human I’ve heard of.

Awe-inspiring miracles are accomplished by your power, leaving everyone dazed and astonished! (verse4)

Wait. This is not about King David or King Solomon.

Your glory-kingdom, O God, endures forever,

for you are enthroned to rule with a justice-scepter in your hand!

You are passionate for righteousness, and you hate lawlessness.

This is why God, your God,

crowns you with bliss above your fellow kings.

He has anointed you, more than any other,

with his oil of fervent joy,

the very fragrance of heaven’s gladness. (verses 6&7)

Going back to the introduction, it appears the author/s were not merely exaggerating to gain political points. This was no meeting of a deadline to write something extra nice for a royal wedding. What the son or sons of Korah experienced here was a spiritual experience beyond what most people knew. I’m quoting from The Passion Version because it attempts to include emotional content.

My heart is on fire, boiling over with passion.

Bubbling up within me are these beautiful lyrics

as a lovely poem to be sung for the King.

Like a river bursting its banks, I’m overflowing with words,

spilling out into this sacred story. (verse 1)

I have no trouble imagining someone who limited their concept of God to intellectual debate accosting the singer/songwriters with the question, “Who is this king you are calling God? And where is this in the Torah?”

They might have been especially upset when the song mentioned this God-King marrying a pure and glorified bride.

And standing beside you,

glistening in your pure and golden glory,

is the beautiful bride-to-be! 

Now listen, daughter, pay attention, and forget about your past.

Put behind you every attachment to the familiar,

even those who once were close to you!

For your royal Bridegroom is ravished by your beautiful brightness.

Bow in reverence before him, for he is your Lord! (verses 9b -11)

Other prophets wrote about feeling overwhelmed when the Holy Spirit came upon them for a purpose. They called it fire in the bones, or an intense need to be purified, or falling as though dead. Sometimes they needed days to recover. The writer of Hebrews verifies that this psalm is indeed about Jesus, God’s son.

But about his Son, he called him “God,” saying,

“Your throne, O God, endures forever and ever

and you will rule your kingdom

with justice and righteousness, 

For you have cherished righteousness

and detested lawlessness.

For this reason, God, your God, has anointed you 

and poured out the oil of bliss on you 

more than on any of your friends.”

(Hebrews 1:8,9)

This was a glimpse of the future, but by itself the meaning of the psalm remained a mystery for a very long time. The writer of Hebrews explains:

Throughout our history God has spoken to our ancestors by his prophets in many different ways. The revelation he gave them was only a fragment at a time, building one truth upon another. But to us living in these last days, and now speaks to us openly in the language of a Son, the appointed Heir of everything, for through him God created the panorama of all things and all time. (Hebrews 1:1 & 2)

Psalm 45 is a prophetic word picture of an event that wouldn’t be explained until John, who wrote down his vision in the book of Revelation, told us about the great marriage celebration of Jesus and his bride, the purified, sanctified, glorified ones he came to redeem.

“Hallelujah!

For the Lord our God, the Almighty, reigns! 

Let us rejoice and exalt him and give him glory,

because the wedding celebration of the Lamb has come. 

And his bride has made herself ready. 

Fine linen, shining bright and clear,

has been given to her to wear,

and the fine linen represents

the righteous deeds of his holy believers.” (Revelation 19:6b – 8)

The Psalms of the Sons of Korah are probably not in chronological order of the dates they were written. That tends to be a western way of organizing things. It’s hard to tell where this ecstatic bank-bursting overflowing words experience occurred on the road back from shame that began with the rebellion of their ancestor in the desert, but I’m often surprised by God’s timing and who he picks to pass on these fragments that over millennia create a fuller picture of who he is and reveal his plan since the beginning of creation. I think one of the purposes of prophecy is not to give us a program with a list of events in order of appearance. A lot of prophetic words won’t make sense until the time comes to recognize that this thing happening now was foretold. This is that. Through prophecy, God gives his people re-assurance that he knows all about it. He’s been in it all along. He’s not surprised or anxious. He’s got this.

I’m very grateful he leaves clues for us like a trail of mysterious crumbs that urge us to find the one who left them there. Perhaps the Sons of Korah needed to get their eyes off the pain that is so evident in some of their psalms and venture out, taking steps of faith toward him by singing a song that must have made people at the time scratch their heads.

Encounters with God can be scary out-of-the-box events for which we have no grid, but they create a hunger that makes us want more.

And there is more.

The Road Back: Psalms of the Sons of Korah, Psalm 44

The road back from rebellion requires courage – emotional courage.

A child can exclaim, “I did it all by myself!” and we are proud of her. But now a lot of us who once exclaimed with pride, “I did it my way!” mumble and limp as regret pulls at our steps and turns us around.

In experimenting with ways other than God’s to sooth our pain and anxiety we have simply discovered alternate methods that work splendidly for a while. Then we realize that our thoughts and actions do affect others, especially the next generation.

In Psalm 44, the Sons of Korah remember the stories they were told of the great days of old. They recognize that those great victories were not just lucky breaks. They were God’s doing.

It was not by their sword that they won the land,
    nor did their arm bring them victory;
it was your right hand, your arm,
    and the light of your face, for you loved them.

You are my King and my God,
    who decrees victories for Jacob.

Through you we push back our enemies;
    through your name we trample our foes.
I put no trust in my bow,
    my sword does not bring me victory;
but you give us victory over our enemies,
    you put our adversaries to shame.
In God we make our boast all day long,
    and we will praise your name forever.
(Psalm 44:3-8 NASB)

But it’s complicated. Most of the rest of the Psalm is a cry for understanding. Why would God do this? Here we had things figured out and now he takes us into circumstances where the formulas of the old agreement don’t seem to hold up. The deal was this: we follow the rules and you, God, favour us and give us victory in everything. What are you doing? Where are you?

They protest their innocence:

All this came upon us,
    though we had not forgotten you;
    we had not been false to your covenant.
Our hearts had not turned back;
    our feet had not strayed from your path.
But you crushed us and made us a haunt for jackals;
    you covered us over with deep darkness.
(verses 17-19)

What if this is more than a trading relationship? What if God wants us to wrestle with him? What if the only way to go deeper into understanding his heart is to expose ours even if it means beating on his chest in frustration? What if the victory he wants us to experience is not just victory over our rivals, but victory over the enemy whose every moment is absorbed with schemes and distractions to keep us from our Creator — and the consequences of our choices to follow him. What if real victory requires real accounting and expression of real pain without defensiveness? What if God wants to root out the lies that separated us from him in the first place? What if he wants to rid us of self-reliance and pride?

What if facing those scary dark corners of our lives feels too much like being out of control? What if it feels like stepping off a plank balanced on the peak of whatever accomplishments we have gained in life and taking the risk of plummeting into the pit of despair?

But what if this dark night of the soul is the road to the light of his face?

Psalm 44 is a difficult read for those of us who want assurances and pretty promises of a healthy, prosperous life with perfect families, material wealth, and a great reputation to wave in the face of our detractors. What do we do with gut-wrenching cries like this?

I live in disgrace all day long,
    and my face is covered with shame
at the taunts of those who reproach and revile me,
    because of the enemy, who is bent on revenge.
(verses 15 and 16)

Dare we join the Sons of Korah who are also the Sons of Israel? God renamed Jacob (the supplanter) who had relied on sneaky ways to become a self-made man. After he dislocated his hip giving Jacob a permanent limp, the angel of the Lord told him his new name was Israel — “one who wrestles with God.” Dare we wrestle with God ourselves, crying out to him for help when nothing makes sense in any construct we can come up with on our own?

Awake, Lord! Why do you sleep?
    Rouse yourself! Do not reject us forever.
Why do you hide your face
    and forget our misery and oppression?

We are brought down to the dust;
    our bodies cling to the ground.
Rise up and help us;
    rescue us because of your unfailing love.
(verses 23-25)

What if, for some people, the way down is the way up?

The Road Back; Psalms of the Sons of Korah, Psalm 43


 

Have you ever experienced the cold judgment in this statement? “Oh. You’re one of those.”

The Sons of Korah knew what it was like to be maligned as descendants of a disgraced ancestor.

In Psalm 43, they plead for vindication. They have been falsely accused. They know what it is like to be misunderstood. When others rejected them, particularly people who carried religious authority, they may have felt that God rejected them too. When it happens often enough, the subjects of dismissal may start to question their own perceptions. Sometimes they may doubt their value and place in society. At other times they protest their innocence. It’s confusing. They need clarity on their journey to the place of worship. They write:

Plead for me; clear my name, O God. Prove me innocent
    before immoral people;
Save me from their lies,
    their unjust thoughts and deeds.


You are the True God—my shelter, my protector, the one whom I lean on.
    Why have You turned away from me? Rejected me?
Why must I go around, overwrought, mourning,
    suffering under the weight of my enemies?

O my God, shine Your light and truth
    to help me see clearly,
To lead me to Your holy mountain,
    to Your home.

Psalm43:1-3 The Voice

I wonder if this is why one of the first people to whom Jesus revealed his true identity as Messiah was a shamed, rejected woman from an ethnic group held in contempt by Jews – the Samaritan woman at the well. He told her that soon the place of worship would not be a physical location, but in spirit and in truth. What a difference that encounter made in the way she saw herself! That joyful moment instantly transformed her into a bold missionary. “Come and see!” she urged neighbours back in the town. She was no longer avoiding anyone.

Hiding is a characteristic of people who carry shame. It’s hard to be yourself among those who would judge you for your associations. Worship that is pure and holy requires a level of trusting candour. It makes us uncomfortably aware that others have said they don’t consider members of a shamed tribe as acceptable. It’s easy to subconsciously wear their judgment after years of disrespect.

Our mothers taught us as very young children that to be polite and considerate we need to keep some parts of ourselves hidden in good company. I am in no way advocating public nudity! I’m just saying there is no point to wearing metaphorical masks or costumes in God’s presence. It’s not as if he doesn’t know everything already. In a sense honest, humble prayer means praying naked (metaphorically!).

When we invite God to shine his pure clarifying light on our lives, it will expose things we need to acknowledge, confess and allow the Lord to clean up. It shows us how to change direction. That purifying light will also expose lies we have believed. It reveals the difference between false identity and true identity. We are not who the accuser says we are. We are who our Heavenly Father says we are. We have nothing to hide. This is freedom. It is a freedom the Sons of Korah long for. Verse 4:

Then I will go to God’s altar with nothing to hide.
    I will go to God, my rapture;
I will sing praises to You and play my strings,
    unloading my cares, unleashing my joys, to You, God, my God.

Psalm 43 ends with the same declaration as Psalm 42. I’ll leave verse 5 here in The Voice paraphrase.

O my soul, why are you so overwrought?
    Why are you so disturbed?
Why can’t I just hope in God? Despite all my emotions, I will hope in God again.
    I will believe and praise the One
    who saves me and is my life,
My Savior and my God.

The journey continues.

The Road Back: Psalms of the Sons of Korah, Part II

All your waves and breakers have swept over me.

Thinking about hidden stories to be found in the genealogies of the Bible that I once thought boring (Part I) made me think about my own. Unexpectedly, I discovered research that someone else had done on my family’s ancestry. What a thrill when I opened a page full of the symbols of royal heraldry! Some ancestors were leaders and innovators and heroes. Some were not. I also found despots, drunks, and deadbeat dads.

Children are more perceptive than we realize. I picked up a sense of shame when I was a kid. Over time, I gathered clues to the unspoken story that leaked out in photo albums, overheard conversations, and hints like the fact my grandfather forbade the mention of his father’s name. Recently, with the help of archived newspapers online, I discovered the family fortunes took a drastic downturn after an incident of criminal negligence that resulted in the death of mothers, children, a fiancée, and shop workers heading home on Christmas eve. My great grandfather failed to attend to a safety matter on a tram system in a large eastern city. He was drunk. The family lost their big house, their wealth, and their status. Old photos no longer featured my grandfather as the child dressed in velvet and ruffles. He became the dirt darkened boy clad in worn overalls. Instead of the elegant brick house, his mother stood in front of an unpainted shack. Her husband was not with her.

My great grandfather’s father was the illegitimate son of someone with money in England who paid for him to go away. Like many others whose mere existence was an embarrassment, he was given cash and passage to the colonies when he was old enough. He wasn’t a good father either. When his wife died, he gave his children to someone else to raise.

We all carry inherited shame since our first forebearers chose to believe the serpent’s lies. Some are more aware of rejection and the mark of shame than others. In shame/honour societies like the culture of Biblical times, being kicked out of the tribe is the ultimate punishment. Until recently, western culture has been based on guilt and forgiveness. A person who has broken a law can be redeemed after anything from issuing an apology, or making restitution, to a fine, or serious jail time. It’s possible to come back after “paying his debt to society.” In a shame/honour society, there is no forgiveness, no yellow ribbon ‘round the old oak tree. There is only shunning.

One way to tell if you are still operating under the guilt/forgiveness system is if you find yourself being dismissed or “cancelled” and respond with, “But I didn’t do anything wrong!” In a shame/honour society you don’t have to be guilty of breaking any law to suffer rejection; you merely need to have said or done something that identifies you with other rejects. In this system once a person has “lost face,” especially in public, there is no coming back. In this system the outcasts didn’t just DO something wrong; they ARE something wrong – and so are their families and their dog.

But God’s plan for the outcasts is different.

Sometimes victims of injustice form new tribes like David and his Mighty Men – re-echoed in the story of Robin Hood and his Merry Men. Those who band together often maintain a common sense of being shamed, but still long for vindication and restoration. Perhaps this is why the Sons of Korah still carried their identity as the descendants of a traitor. Perhaps David learned something from being on the run.  In the rocky terrain of the desert he took physically gifted rejects from society and turned them into a band of warriors fighting for justice. Perhaps this is why, after his vindication, he took a band of artistically gifted poets and musicians and gave them a public position back in the tent of worship.

But it takes more than a new job and fancy clothes to change how a person sees themselves. Psalm 42 reveals that the Sons of Korah still struggled with discouragement and shame and depression. This psalm is a cry of longing for personal revival. It begins:

 As the deer pants for streams of water,
    so my soul pants for you, my God.
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
    When can I go and meet with God?
My tears have been my food
    day and night,
while people say to me all day long,
    “Where is your God?”

Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Step one on the road back to a closer relationship with God is admitting that all is not well with one’s soul. It’s responding to the question “How’s that workin’ for ya?” with an honest assessment of, “Not very well. In fact, not well at all. I am consumed with longing to stop hiding in shame and walk with God again.”

Verse 4 says:

These things I remember
    as I pour out my soul:
how I used to go to the house of God
    under the protection of the Mighty One
with shouts of joy and praise
    among the festive throng.

We can be doing all the religious things but still feel like we’ve lost something. The joy of the Lord may feel illusive. We don’t want to stay like this.

Then the Sons of Korah take another step. They recognize their poverty of spirit but dare to hope. There is a moment between overwhelming waves of emotions of loss and despair when we start to take charge of them by declaring a truth we may not yet feel.

Why, my soul, are you downcast?
    Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
    for I will yet praise him,
    my Savior and my God.

But the struggle is real. It’s a life and death back and forth battle in the heart between old lies and new truths.

By day the Lord directs his love,
    at night his song is with me—
    a prayer to the God of my life.

I say to God my Rock,
    “Why have you forgotten me?
Why must I go about mourning,
    oppressed by the enemy?”

The psalm ends with an act of faith by choosing to do what God has made them for and a repetition of the declaration.

Then I will go to the altar of God,
    to God, my joy and my delight.
I will praise you with the lyre,
    O God, my God.

 Why, my soul, are you downcast?
    Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
    for I will yet praise him,
    my Savior and my God.

The journey back has begun.

By day the Lord directs his love. At night his song is with you, even if you can’t quite hear it yet.

The Road Back: Psalms of the Sons of Korah Part 1

I love the Psalms. I love them because they show us how to be real with our feelings, appreciate the colour they add to our lives, and still see self-governance (a fruit of the spirit) in operation instead of being ruled by them. 

I used to assume that most psalms were composed by David on the run, or David on the throne, or David in the tent of worship. It wasn’t until someone suggested I pay attention to the Psalms of the Sons of Korah that I started to notice other writers. The Sons of Korah have a story. Their psalms show us the way back from rebellion and an identity of inherited shame. How did these men move from sentiments like “I am counted among those who go down to the pit,” to “Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere?”

The story of Korah, and his co-conspirators Dathan, Abiram and On is hard for me to read. It messes with my theology and reminds me to keep asking questions. We find it in Numbers 16.

The Children of Israel had chosen to be more impressed with scary stories of giants than Joshua’s and Caleb’s good reports. Moses gave the grumbling people God’s message that although their children would see the promised land, they themselves would not. That’s when Korah and his friends (and the 250 men they convinced to join them) protested. They accused Moses of breaking promises and of wanting to make himself a prince over the people and use them like slaves.

Korah wanted a higher position, a greater place of honour than he had been assigned as a server in the tabernacle. Like satan, pride and ambition were his downfall. He argued it was not the people’s fault they were stuck in this desert. He insisted they were holy people and not disobedient complainers. Moses was wrong and it was his mismanagement causing the hardships and disappointments.

It’s not as if Korah and his friends had not seen God at work. The people witnessed the miraculous escape from Pharoah’s army, Moses’ face glowing after being with God, the shock and awe show on Mt. Sinai, a pillar of smoke by day and fire by night, miraculous provision of food and water, clothes that never wore out and many more events way beyond anything seen before. They had also witnessed the consequences of worshipping a golden calf and leprosy appear on Miriam when she and her brother Aaron tried to usurp Moses’ place as leader.  

Over time, people like Korah tend to shrug off such demonstrations of power. He wanted control. Moses accused the protestors of wanting to be priests like Aaron. There was a brief trial with God as judge. The consequence of the guilty verdict was that they and their families were separated from the others and swallowed by the earth.

I have questions. This messes with my picture of a God of love. All I’ll say about that for now is that Asaph, an associate musician who served one of the Sons of Korah, wrote this: But my people still would not yield to me, so I lifted my grace from off their lives and I surrendered them to the stubbornness of their hearts. (Psalm 81:11)

It’s recorded in Numbers 26:11 that “… nevertheless the line of Korah did not end.” Some must have separated themselves from Korah because there were survivors who, although perpetually identified with the shame of being descendants, show up later in a genealogy in 1 Chronicles 6:22-26. Samuel the prophet was one.

Samuel showed up at a time of transition in history and served in the tabernacle from a very young age. Eventually he was granted by grace the role his forefather tried to take by force. The era of judges was over. He anointed first Saul, then David as king.

David had a heart for God like few before him. He erected a tent of praise and appointed Heman, Samuel’s grandson and others from the Korah clan as musicians. They continued in that role when the temple was built by David’s son, Solomon.

Why would this group of poets call themselves the Sons of Korah? It would be like a contemporary praise and worship band calling themselves The Sons of Hitler in my culture. What were they showing us? Heman wrote the saddest psalm in the Bible.

In Psalm 88 we can read the words of a man raised in a shame/honour culture who still identifies with the rejection settled on his family line. It is an expression of their pain.

I am counted among those who go down to the pit;
    I am like one without strength.
I am set apart with the dead,
    like the slain who lie in the grave,
whom you remember no more,
    who are cut off from your care.

You have put me in the lowest pit,
    in the darkest depths
.

He ends with:

Your wrath has swept over me;
    your terrors have destroyed me.
 All day long they surround me like a flood;
    they have completely engulfed me.
 You have taken from me friend and neighbor—
    darkness is my closest friend.

In a shame/honour society (which many people in the west don’t realize ours is becoming) tribal identity determines destiny. He is rejected as one of those outsiders marked by the shame that labels his family. He cries to God for help, but his identity is still as a son of Korah.

This is the only psalm in which there is no expression of hope of relief at the end. That changes in other Psalms.

So why has my attention been drawn to the Psalms of the Sons of Korah? I believe we have come to another shift in history that requires a shift in mindset, a time of re-alignment. For some of us, that will require receiving a new identity and seeing ourselves as God sees us. It means exchanging shame for restoration and rejection for belonging in God’s family.

We can’t move on until we let go. The wilderness experience is about learning to change our mindsets and let go of the ways of Egypt. There is more to life in the Kingdom of God than we have known before, but it will take time and a willingness to cooperate in the process of letting the Holy Spirit change us.

We are about to learn, on a deeper level, how much Jesus Christ has done for us and how much we are loved as we travel the road back to where we belong.

My Heroes

The list of people I admire has changed. There are some names on that list you might be familiar with, but there are an increasing number who have escaped the hindrances of fame. Look-at-me people with great causes but shrill voices, are not making it onto the updated page. Obsequious, but prickly doormats remain where they dropped, still promoting and protesting victimhood in creative, but wearing passive/aggressive fashion. My current list is different than the list of approved heroes of my youth.

I admire strong but humble people, those who can both give and accept help, praise, and honour. I admire those who, enabled by God’s grace, can face their own weaknesses squarely, recognizing that the choice to act without grace is always there. Experience has taught them this. They have scars.

I appreciate those who can walk open-eyed into a mess with the vision of shalom peace, nothing missing, nothing out of place, and do it with cheerfulness. They smile before their tears have dried. Hope makes them fearless.

I am learning to listen to those who through consistent practice of the kind of risk-taking that faith requires, have gained an understanding of who to seek as their source of wisdom. They have a friendship with God that astounds me. They carry the scent of someone who has been in his presence.

I am amazed by people who are still stinging from a tongue-lashing yet respond with kindness on their own tongues. It’s not that they can’t come up with a witty but cruel response. Defensive words are probably still the first weapons to appear, but they know how to lay down Saul’s armour and go into the cache of weapons God designed for just such moments. Their weapons bear the characteristics of the Holy Spirit. They know how to wield patience and goodness. Power wrapped in soft gentleness makes it easier to hear their words of wisdom.

When I was young, I wanted to be like the famous people who had gifts and charms they had never earned, like beauty, and intelligence, status, and talent. I admired those who led their followers on to greater exploits. Now, when I grow up, I want to be like those heroes who lead from behind, who say with kindness, “I can see who you are becoming. Your own methods have given you some problems. Get back up. Keep your eyes on Jesus. You can do it. He’s calling to walk with him. He absolutely adores you, you know.”