Then those who sing as well as those who play the flutes will say, “All my springs of joy are in you.”
There is something special about the city that King David loved. I didn’t expect my emotional reaction as we travelled up the hills to Jerusalem from Emmaus, but I found myself crying tears of joy that at last I would see this wonderful city for myself. I didn’t get to see the magnificent temple made of polished gold-toned stone that David planned and Solomon built and where the Sons of Korah sang and played instruments. I didn’t get to see Jesus’ triumphant entry into the city many years later. I do hope to see him return through those gates though.
The story of the Sons of Korah’s journey from the pit of shame to the heights of worship in the temple takes place over generations. It is a story of restoration and of grace. I hope to join them in singing my own song of restoration and grace one day too.
In the meantime, I include a link to a song of praise from my culture that I’ve often sung this time of year.
Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion. Behold Thy King cometh unto Thee!
I appreciate the candour expressed in the Psalms of the Sons of Korah. In Psalm 84 they are experiencing the glory of the Lord and the beauty of being in his presence and going from strength to strength. In Psalm 85 they recognize that a distance has crept into their relationship with God. They are again falling back into the old default position of relating to him as an angry God. They cry out for revival, a fanning of embers that seem to be slowly losing their fire.
I’ve been there. Have you? As I’ve been meditating on this Psalm, I believe I am beginning to see a kind of map for renewing the desire to get back to the place of passionate love for the Lover of our souls. It looks like this:
-Worship God by choosing to focus on who he is and remembering what he has done.
-Assess the current state of your relationship and tell him how you feel. Honestly.
-Ask for what you need.
-Listen to his heart and pay attention to his many ways of communicating insight.
-Learn from his advice and seek ways to let it change you.
-Declare the outcome of what he has shown you.
Here it is in Psalm 85:
Worship and Remember
You, Lord, showed favor to your land; you restored the fortunes of Jacob. You forgave the iniquity of your people and covered all their sins. You set aside all your wrath and turned from your fierce anger. (verses 1 to 3 NASB)
Assess and tell him how you feel
Restore us again, God our Savior, and put away your displeasure toward us. Will you be angry with us forever? Will you prolong your anger through all generations? (verses 4 and 5)
Will you not revive us again, that your people may rejoice in you? Show us your unfailing love, Lord, and grant us your salvation. (verses 6 and 7)
I will listen to what God the Lord says; he promises peace to his people, his faithful servants— but let them not turn to folly. Surely his salvation is near those who fear him, that his glory may dwell in our land. (verses 8 and 9)
Love and faithfulness meet together; righteousness and peace kiss each other. Faithfulness springs forth from the earth, and righteousness looks down from heaven. (verses 10 and 11)
The Lord will indeed give what is good, and our land will yield its harvest. Righteousness goes before him and prepares the way for his steps. (verses 12 and 13)
I wondered what was meant by the psalmists use of the metaphor of righteousness and peace kissing each other. (verse 10) That lead me to do a word study.
The word translated kiss here is nashaq. This kind of kiss means a great deal more than romance or affection. We have difficulty understanding this kind of kiss in that culture. It’s not a western custom. The Bible describes the kiss of restoration of relationship when Esau kissed Jacob. The word nashaq is used for the public mark of authority Pharoah granted Joseph to prepare the land for coming famine (Genesis 41:40). We read it again when Israel gave his final blessing to his sons and grandsons. It is used when Aaron went out to meet his younger brother, Moses, as a sign of recognition of, and submission to, his calling (Exodus 4:27). It is used when describing the prophets who refused to kiss an idol and refused to give Baal any acknowledgment of authority or influence in their lives.
A nashaq kiss can symbolize a fastening to someone. It can indicate a restoration of order in relationships. Sometimes it was symbolic of a formal equipping with authority that could include power or weapons. This authority is publicly conferred upon the person receiving the kiss.
When love and faithfulness meet, righteousness and peace kiss each other. They form a bond which is mutually empowering. Righteousness that comes from God the Father through Jesus Christ makes peace possible. The peace that Jesus gives is beyond understanding, but it enables righteousness to replace shame and guilt. Both, together, give us a place and a standing in the family of God, not by anything we have accomplished, but by God’s grace.
Faith-fullness (which also comes from God) gives us a means to receive and something to offer back to our heavenly Father. His response, his ‘anah (explained here), to our prayer made in faith that he will hear and answer, is the righteousness of Christ which came down from heaven. When we are born again, it is Christ’s in which we live and move and have our being. It is his righteousness which went before and prepared his steps and now goes before and prepares our steps toward greater intimacy with our Creator.
Because of God’s response to our earnest cries for his unfailing love to revive us again, we can declare with confidence, “The Lord will indeed give what is good, and our land will yield its harvest!”
I don’t know about you, but I have some talkin’ to do with the Lord. If you want to join me in worshipping, expressing, asking, listening, learning, and declaring restoration and revival for your own heart, for your family, for your household of faith, for your community or city, for your country and for the world, you are welcome.
For thousands of years, people who have had the most possessions have been in positions to buy power. That fact is obvious. We’ve seen evidence that “Money talks,” and, “He who pays the piper calls the tune.” We are all aware of evil around us that is financed by those who trust in themselves more than anyone else.
Before the Messiah showed up, not many people were in on the secret that God’s plan of salvation involved the poor and lowly people in this world. Young pregnant Mary was. One of my favourite pieces of music is her prophetic poem recorded in Luke 1, “The Magnificat,” which J.S. Bach set to music. It includes an aria for contralto with these lyrics: Esurientes implevit bonis et divites dimisit inanes. (The hungry he has filled with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty.)
The Sons of Korah understood before Mary did. After returning to the role intended for them, they spent their days worshipping in God’s presence in the temple. They were in a position to hear God’s voice. The introduction to Psalm 49 includes these lyrics:
My mouth will speak words of wisdom; the meditation of my heart will give you understanding. I will turn my ear to a proverb; with the harp I will expound my riddle:
The words of wisdom were these:
Why should I fear when evil days come, when wicked deceivers surround me— those who trust in their wealth and boast of their great riches? No one can redeem the life of another or give to God a ransom for them— the ransom for a life is costly, no payment is ever enough— so that they should live on forever and not see decay.
(Psalm 49: 4-9 NIV)
No one, even Solomon in all his glory, was rich enough to ransom a soul from Sheol. We all die, and our wealth is useless at the most important moment of all eternity. “This is the fate of those who trust in themselves, and of their followers, who approve their sayings.” (verse 13)
And yet the psalmists knew God had plans to pay the price and that someday they would see the manifestation of this promise: “But God will redeem me from the realm of the dead; he will surely take me to himself.” (verse 15)
I don’t know about you, but I get a bit scared when I see evidence of the days growing darker. Sometimes I feel helpless under the influence of evil people who do what they like and cover it over by buying good P.R.. But this is nothing new. I’m reassured by the Sons of Korah, who invite us to step back and see a bigger picture. In the end, material wealth and self-reliance fails spectacularly. Only God could pay the price for a soul. Only Jesus, who is both the baby crying in a manger, and the King of Kings who conquered death, could afford to give us eternal life.
“Esurientes” has a playful flute duet weaving around the sound of the voice. It feels like a dance of joy popping out in hopeful measures with the humour of an inside joke., “The hungry he has filled with good things and the rich he has sent away empty!”
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.”
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.
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.
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.