“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 it’s waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling” (Psalm 46:1-2).
This poignant Psalm inspired Luther’s great hymn, A Mighty Fortress is Our God, and has comforted many suffering from fear and anxiety over the troubles of life. Our God can be such a strong refuge that even the earth giving way would not cause us to fear. It’s a powerful metaphor, however far-fetched it might sound.
The Sons of Korah
But such an event was not hypothetical for the authors of this Psalm. Numbers 16 tells the sad tale of Korah, under whose feet the earth literally gave way and swallowed him up because of the rebellion that he led. Dissatisfied with his Levitical role of guarding the tabernacle of the Lord, Korah led 250 well-respected friends to confront Moses and Aaron over their spiritual leadership of Israel.
“You have gone too far!” they tell Moses and Aaron. “For all in the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the Lord is among them. Why then do you exalt yourselves above the assembly of the Lord?”
Korah’s charge against Moses is laughable if you reflect back on Moses’ continual reluctance to lead (see Exodus 4:10-13, for example). Not only had Moses and Aaron not sought this role, God had chosen them against their will for a task they did not want and were completely inadequate to fulfill. As Moses points out, Korah and his followers’ complaint was with God alone (Numbers 16:11). It is a dangerous thing to challenge the authority of the Lord, as Korah and his co-conspirators discovered when the earth literally swallowed them up alive into their graves (Numbers 16:28-33).
Korah and his followers would be remembered throughout history for a rebellion marked by self-glorification instead of humility (Numbers 16:3), restless impatience instead of peaceful confidence in the Lord (Numbers 16:13-14), and the desire to approach the Lord on our terms instead of His (Numbers 16:36-49)—perversions of God’s revealed truth that even Jude would be warning New Testament believers against centuries later under Korah’s still-disgraced name (Jude 11).
Redeemed, How I Love to Proclaim It
“But the sons of Korah did not die” (Numbers 26:11).
God loves to redeem, reconcile, and restore, and from these disgraced families God chose to perform His redemptive work through Korah’s sons. During David’s reign as Israel’s king, some of the descendants of Korah were worship leaders that David “put in charge of the service of song in the house of the LORD after the ark rested there. They ministered with song before the tabernacle of the tent of meeting until Solomon built the house of the LORD in Jerusalem, and they performed their service according to their order” (1 Chronicles 6:31-32). They also held the same position that their ancestor had attempted to promote himself from, “keepers of the thresholds of the tent, as their fathers had been in charge of the camp of the LORD, keepers of the entrance” (1 Chronicles 9:19).
We celebrate the redemption of Korah’s legacy as we read, study, memorize, meditate upon, teach, and counsel from Psalms 42-49 and Psalms 84-88, the Psalms ascribed to the “Sons of Korah.” Through these Psalms, later generations of Korahites struggle through feelings of abandonment, fear, grief, anger, helplessness, depression, and despair—themes that may have related to their notorious family name. Of course, these themes can be found in most Psalms, but I find myself gravitating to these more frequently in my counseling.
And others have too. Martyn Lloyd-Jones exposited Psalm 42 in his classic, Spiritual Depression: Its Causes and Cure, and Jared C. Wilson used the same text in his chapter on “Depression” in his recent book, Gospel Wakefulness. Can we see in the psalmist’s desperation for God and yearning for His presence in Psalm 42 and Psalm 84 the redemption of Korah’s desire to exalt himself?
The massively despairing Psalm 88, which I will frequently assign to grieving clients to help them voice the sense of abandonment that they feel from God, ends with “You have caused my beloved and my friend to shun me; my companions have become darkness” (Psalm 88:18). There is no happy ending in this psalm, no turn of praising God—only despair and heartache in crying out to a God who apparently responds with only silence. Yet their continued pleas, day and night, reveal that the sons of Korah understand the need to continue to cry out to a God who is sovereign and is their only hope.
This quiet confidence in God is a radical departure from their forefather’s restless impatience with his lot in life. This writer does not want to perish under God’s wrath, separated from the covenantal love of God, as his forefather had: “Is your steadfast love declared in the grave, or your faithfulness in Abaddon?” (Psalm 88:11). Crying out in Psalm 44 for God to come to their aid, we see that the sons of Korah have learned that God must be humbly approached on his terms, and not our own.
God is relentlessly after His glory in our lives and in the lives of those we counsel. May God bless and multiply the lessons learned by the sons of Korah to make sense of our struggles and the struggles of those we counsel.
Join the Conversation
How does God’s affectionate sovereignty in the line of Korah apply to your life and ministry?