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King's Singers—Learning Joy in Service

Seven hundred years earlier in the Exodus Era, God had assigned each tribe its camping space around the Tabernacle—Judah to the east, closest to the Tabernacle entrance, with other tribes arranged in armies, clockwise in order (Num. 2). None of the tribes lived in direct contact with the Tabernacle, however; God reserved that honor for the Levites. The sub-tribe of Gershon camped to the west (3:23), behind the Tabernacle; Kohath to the south (3:29); Merari to the north (3:35); and the sons of Aaron to the east, in front of the entrance (3:38).

Each Levite group had a distinct area of service as the Israelites carried the Tabernacle from place to place in the desert of Sinai. Before breaking down the Tabernacle, the sons of Aaron would enter and cover the articles inside the Tabernacle with special wrappings, to protect them from being seen or touched, so that the Kohathites, who would carry them, would not die (4:1-15, 17-20). The Kohathites carried the holy things on their shoulders (7:9). Outside of these duties, the Levites were to serve and assist the sons of Aaron in the duties of the Tabernacle (18:1-4). In return, they would receive the tithes of Israel and special cities and fields throughout the land of Canaan.

The Levites’ work may not have been glamorous, but it was necessary, helpful, and honorable—except according to Korah. Numbers 16-17 records his attempt to usurp Moses and Aaron’s positions before God. Korah, a Kohathite, rebelled against Moses’ authority, claiming that all Israelites were equally holy and worthy to lead. In a miracle of judgment, God opened the earth to swallow him and the men who had joined his mutiny. “Nevertheless,” God’s Word says, “the children of Korah did not die” (26:11). According to 1 Chronicles 9:17-19, they served as gatekeepers to the Tabernacle and later to the camps of the children of Levi living in Jerusalem.

Four hundred or so years later, recorded in 1 Chronicles 25-26, as David was arranging for the building of the Temple, he also assigned duties to everyone who would serve in the Temple. Guess who became gatekeepers? The sons of Korah (1 Chron. 9:22-31; 26:1)!

Now, around 716 BC, Hezekiah reigns. He has had the Temple cleaned and repaired for service, and he has reestablished the service of all of the Levites in the same responsibilities David had assigned them. He has re-established the Passover, which has not been celebrated since the days of Solomon (2 Chron. 30:26). He has returned to his roots. 

Hezekiah’s passion for God also includes compiling the Scriptures. Proverbs 25-31 represent a collection of Solomon’s sayings that Hezekiah’s scholars have put together (Solomon had spoken 3000 proverbs and written 1005 songs—1 Kings 4:32). Hezekiah also returns to Israel’s songs—which include psalms of the sons of Korah.

The Sons of Korah have come a long way from their father’s legacy. Seven hundred years after Korah’s rebellion, his sons still aren’t priests—but they have never mutinied. Instead, they have learned a holy perspectivea habit of prayer, and a heavenly promise. Their psalms ring out with their joy in serving God. As they served God faithfully, God indeed brought them near to Himself, and He touched generations through them—we sing their songs today.

A Holy Perspective (Ps. 84, 87).Korah could not grasp the beauty of serving God in the duties God had given him. He missed out on so many blessings! His sons, faithful in their duties, experience something Korah could never have fathomed. 

  • A hunger for God: “My heart and my flesh cry out for the living God” (84:2). These men see God’s house from the perspective of gatekeepers. God’s tabernacle is “lovely,” and His courts are worth fainting over—but the best thing about God’s house is God himself, and these men practically hurt for His presence. They call blessings on those who dwell in His house, because they get to praise Him (4). They call blessings on those who come as pilgrims to experience God’s presence in Zion (5-7). As gatekeepers, all of the people who come to meet with God in the Temple pass by them. They have a unique perspective on the worship of God as they see the joy of His worshippers and the beautiful atonement provided in His sacrifices.
  • Identity based on God’s love: “The LORD loves the gates of Zion more than all the dwellings of Jacob . . . and of Zion it will be said, ‘This one and that one were born in her; and the Most HighHimself shall establish her.’ The LORD will record, when He registers the peoples: ‘This one was born there’” (87:2, 5-6). What is so special to the sons of Korah about Zion? God’s love. What better place could there be, to be born and to live, but in the place of God’s love? To the sons of Korah, this is better than to live anywhere else in Jacob (2), and it is something to be boasted of before the nations (4). The sons of Korah could identify themselves by their jobs, as many people do, but their deepest foundation of identity is that they are loved by God.
  • Deep contentment in God’s presence: “For a day in Your courts is better than a thousand. I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness” (10). Korah and his fellow mutineers dwelt in the tents of wickedness in the desert. How much better, Korah’s sons reflect, to spend just one day in God’s house than any three years elsewhere. The presence of God has added a phenomenal richness to their lives. They have also learned something of God’s character: “For the LORD God is a sun and shield; the LORD will give grace and glory; no good thing will He withhold from those who walk uprightly” (11). Because God does not withhold good things from those who follow Him, the sons of Korah can trust Him when He lets them be gatekeepers instead of priests. They experience His goodness as gatekeepers, and they can assert, “O LORD of hosts, blessed is the man who trusts in You!” (12).

A Habit of Prayer (Ps. 42-44).One of the beauties of the Psalms is the sheer range of emotion they express. These writers were real people; they shared struggles common to us all. And what did they do with these struggles? They learned how to pray:

  • In times of discouragement (Ps. 42-43) - The refrain of these two psalms is, “Why are you cast down, O my soul? And why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him, the help of my countenance and my God” (42:5, 11; 43:5). Psalm 42 records several aspects of discouragement: a parched soul (1-2), a mournful spirit (3a), others’ misunderstanding or lack of sympathy (3b), and a loss of joy in worship (4). The writer also expresses common questions: “I will say to God my Rock, ‘Why have You forgotten me? Why do I go mourning because of the oppression of the enemy?’” (9, emphasis added). He learns to dwell on what God has done in the past (6), though he experiences a deep inner desolation, well past words (7).  As all believers do, the writer walks through the dark valley between feeling and promise. He speaks of the future, when “the LORD will command His lovingkindness in the daytime, and in the night His song shall be with me—a prayer to the God of my life” (8), and looks forward to the time when God’s light and truth restore him to glad worship (43:3-4). “I shall yet praise Him,” he concludes, for God is still “the help of my countenance, and my God” (43:5).
  • In times of doubt (Ps. 44) - the writers pray from the canyon between promise and deliverance. Psalm 44:1-3 records what the sons of Korah have heard from their fathers: God’s deeds in the past (1), His casting out the nations and planting His people (2), and His favor, evidenced by powerful action on His people’s behalf (3).  Verses 9-22 record severe confusion as the sons of Korah try to reconcile what they’ve heard that God has done with what is happening in their land. It looks to them like God has “cast [them] off and put [them] to shame” (9); they even accuse God of sleeping (23). This prayer does not end with a clear, sweet resolution, but it is desperately real in its interaction with God.

A Heavenly Promise (Ps. 45; Heb. 1:8-9). Had the sons of Korah shared in their father’s legacy of rebellion, they too would have perished in the wilderness. God spared them, however, because He intended to add them to a much greater legacy—people who had received promises about the redemption to come. Messianic promises tend to run along two tracks—the Suffering Servant or the Coming King. The wedding song of Psalm 45 beautifully records the latter in a joyful proclamation. “My heart is overflowing with a good theme,” the psalmist says (45:1). What rapturous joy he experiences as he begins to recite poetry about the greatest King the world has ever known. Not all descriptions of kings are good, but for this King, the psalmist sings, “My tongue is the pen of a ready writer.” How do we know that this is about Jesus? The writer of Hebrews quotes Psalm 45:6-7 when talking of the Son’s superiority to all of the angels: “But to the Son He says: ‘Your throne, O God, is forever and ever; a scepter of righteousness is the scepter of Your kingdom. You have loved righteousness and hated lawlessness; therefore God, Your God, has anointed You with the oil of gladness more than Your companions.’” What a privilege, to bear such a prophecy! (written by Jennifer May)

Posted by Iva May at 1:00 AM
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