The Sons of Korah

The story of Korah is a startling example of the judgment of God in the face of rebellion. 

Korah, Dathan and Abiram are infamously known for coveting the positions of Moses and Aaron (Psalm 106:16-17).  By stubbornly standing their ground, they met their tragic end when God opened up the earth beneath them.  Most people familiar with this story assume that the family of Korah died with him.  But this is actually not the case.  It is clear that all those who stood with Korah died.  This included a group of men as well as the households of Dathan and Abiram (Numbers 16:27, 31-33). 

But the children of Korah apparently did not stand with their father as the Bible clearly states that they did not die (Numbers 26:10-11).  Korah’s sons took a position against their earthly father in order to remain true to their Heavenly Father.  Let us take a deeper look and learn insights from a family line that, in the face of rebellion, chose to stand against it.

There is evidence in the Bible showing that the descendants of Korah were musically gifted.  King David was also musically gifted.  He contributed many psalms and his instrumental music was selected for its power to drive away the evil spirit possessing Saul (1 Samuel 16:14-23).  Such a man as this had discernment in selecting the best in Israel for the worship service.  When David was placing singers in the Sanctuary, one of the people chosen was Heman, the grandson of Samuel (1 Chronicles 6:31-38).  Heman was an important person as his genealogy is delineated all the way to Jacob.  From this we discover that Hemen and his grandfather Samuel were not only Levites, they were also in the family line of Korah known as the Korahites, or the sons of Korah (Exodus 6:24; 1 Chronicles 26:19).  This may also be the same Heman known for his wisdom among those of whom Solomon was compared (1 Kings 4:30-31).

The musical ability of the Korahites is highlighted in other parts of the Bible as well.  When Jehoshaphat goes to war in the name of God, the Korahites are singled out for their singing before the battle (2 Chronicles 20:19-22).  Further, there are a number of psalms specifically attributed to the sons of Korah (Psalm 42, 44, 45, 46, 47, 48, 49, 84, 85, 87, 88). 

In addition to their music, there were several roles that the Korahites held in Israel.  Some of them were mighty men with David and others oversaw baking in the sanctuary.  But more importantly, this family held the significant office of gatekeeper in the Sanctuary (1 Chronicles 9:19, 26, 31; 1 Chronicles 12:1-6).  As gatekeepers, or doorkeepers, they were entrusted with collecting and distributing the offerings, protecting the king when at the Sanctuary, assisting with the sacrifices and allowing only the ceremonially clean to enter the courtyard (2 Chronicles 23:3-7, 19; 2 Chronicles 31:14-19; 2 Chronicles 34:9-13; 2 Kings 22:3-7; Ezekiel 44:11).

With this knowledge in hand, we can now infer that certain passages in the Psalms of the sons of Korah were inspired by their experience during the awful showdown between their father Korah and God.

I am counted with those who go down to the pit…You have put away my acquaintances far from me…Loved one and friend You have put far from me, and my acquaintances into darkness (Psalm 88:4, 8, 18).

Psalm 88 is a psalm of the sons of Korah.  Within the verses of this plaintive hymn there are phrases that provide a glimpse into the emotions of those who stood in close kinship to the rebel.  There is the feeling that it is not easy to be someone who stands against a rebel who has a close relationship to you.  There is a feeling of being an outcast or rejected from society due to your association with the condemned.  Imagine what other Israelites may have said of these surviving sons, “Oh, you are the children of ‘that’ man.”  These men rightly took a stand for God against their father, yet they still experienced sorrow over the just judgment on parent, family member and acquaintance.

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.  Therefore, we will not fear, even though the earth be removed...The nations raged, the kingdoms were moved; He uttered His voice, the earth melted (Psalm 46:1-2, 6).

Psalm 46 is likely inspiration for the well-known hymn “A Mighty Fortress” and speaks of depending upon God in the midst of calamity and the clash of nations.  The introduction of this Psalm of the sons of Korah tells us that they drew strength and courage through their choice, and sets the stage for comparisons between the judgment of Korah and God’s judgment upon the nations to bring about eventual peace.  It is significant that the first figurative language is “even though the earth be removed” and uses the term “the earth melted” later on.  These similarities to the end of Korah cannot be coincidence.

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 (Psalm 84:10).

Psalm 84:10 is a well-known verse, but when put in the context of the story of Korah we can see its intended meaning.  It is a striking verse from their psalms as it represents the thought process of the sons of Korah when taking a stand in the face of rebellion.  Remember, this family had a role in the service of God that was special and important, that of a doorkeeper or gatekeeper.  Korah may have falsely accused his sons of breaking commandment five by not joining him at his side, yet they chose to rightly obey commandment ten by not coveting the position of priest.

What can we learn from this? 

First, it is important to understand that a family whose identity was forged in making a stand against rebellion is found at the center of the music service of the Sanctuary.  Their faithfulness qualified them to be entrusted with the holy responsibility of setting up songs and melodies that would be appropriate for worship, thus ensuring no forms of rebellion for the sacred service.  The story of Korah may raise questions about how God judges the children of the wicked.  Yet, the story of the sons of Korah supports the reality that God holds everyone responsible for their own actions, separate from the sins their parents (Ezekiel 18:19-20). 

Finally, as far as the Bible record is concerned, never again do we see these Levites seeking a position not given them.  The sons of Korah continued to be faithful in the responsibilities appointed to them and did not seek to go beyond their elected calling.  They would not be led to covet any other position.  If someone were to ask the Korahites, “Wouldn’t you make a good priest?”  I can almost hear their response being a tune from Psalm 84, “…I would rather be a doorkeeper…”


Daniel Buxton works at Kettering Health Network.  He and his wife Natalie live in Dayton, Ohio, and attend the Beavercreek SDA Church.