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The Fortified Palaces

“In her fortified palaces, God is made known to be a place of refuge.”

(Psalm 48:4 [verse 3 in English])

This the city of God…the palace that has been fortified and protected and situated on Zion, she is a place of refuge. While this was meant to be true in the most literal sense of the word — Jerusalem was walled in and protected — it is also clear from the context of this psalm that the sons of Korah have something even greater in mind. God himself is the ultimate place of refuge from those who will seek to destroy us, for indeed, “the sons of Korah did not die” (Numbers 26:11).

We have often reflected on the tendency of the believer to seek to find refuge in human works rather than in trusting God for refuge, but I wonder whether or not part of the problem is that the pattern of life and faith exhibited by the church as an institution in today’s era lends it to communicating that great truth. Allow me to explain. Jerusalem was a shadow of the greater Jerusalem that is to come just as the throne of God over the mercy seat was a shadow of the throne room in heaven. Similarly, Jerusalem was walled in — was referred to as the most fortified city in the Roman empire, though, again, these human walls were only meant to symbolize the greater truth that it was to God that we can run to find refuge.

Our churches, then, as shadows again of the worship in heaven and of the refuge of God’s presence (there is a reason we refer to the heart of the church as a “sanctuary”), what do they communicate? Do they communicate that God is a place of refuge or otherwise? And here I am not so much talking about the walls or the tower, etc…I am talking about the people. Is church a place to which people can fly when the winds of this life buffet them to and fro? Or, is your church a place where people need to hide their hurts lest someone seek to bring further injury. Sadly, I think that churches are often more the latter than the former…yet when that takes place, what are we communicating about the character of God? About his city? About his worship?

Loved ones, this is a principle that we must take very seriously, for what we do in this life and how we worship reflects what we truly believe about the character of God. If we believe that God truly forgives, then we must forgive. If we believe that God is a place of refuge, then our gatherings and gathering places also need to be places where people can find refuge from the ravages of this world. If we believe that God is love, then we must express that love to one another. And if we say that God is one way yet do not live it out, then we become hypocrites and our testimony will be rejected in our community and in this world.

Sons of Korah — Psalm 47

“For the Overseer: A Psalm of the Sons of Korah”

(Psalm 47:1 {superscript in English translations})

 

Once again we find a superscript in the psalm that directs us as to who wrote the work itself. As we have discussed when looking at these other psalms of the sons of Korah, their legacy is one of grace and mercy as well as one of God’s sovereign election. Korah rebelled against God (Numbers 16) and was judged for that rebellion. He and his family were killed by God’s mighty hand. Yet, though God would have been righteous in doing so, God chose to preserve the sons of Korah, and they did not die in that time of judgment (Numbers 26:11) and permitted them the honorable position of being keepers of the entrance to the Tabernacle (1 Chronicles 9:19). Though they might have been worthy of judgment, God spared them and reinstated their family in a place of honor — and it is from this setting of having received grace, the Sons of Korah add to the worship of God’s people words of praise and adoration.

Thus, the psalm is written and is presented to the Levite in charge of the worship in the temple. It is found to be good, inspired by the Holy Spirit, and has been kept by the Spirit throughout the generations as a reminder that the right response to grace is worship. How often we, more like spoiled children, fail to appreciate grace for more than just a few moments. How often worship is something that comes only after our situation has turned out in our favor. How rarely we often proclaim to others the good things that our God has done and call them to worship as well. How often we have failed to learn the lesson of the Sons of Korah that even in the midst of judgment there is a place for praise of an infinite and glorious God and it is right and proper to reflect that in our lives and in our words. May we model the wisdom of these Sons of Korah as we apply this psalm to our lives — day in and day out.

A Maskil of the Sons of Korah

“To the Director: A Maskil of the Sons of Korah.”

(Psalm 42:1 [superscript in English translations])

 

Psalm 42 begins what we typically refer to as the second book of Psalms. The psalm that precedes this one ends with the great refrain:

“Blessed is Yahweh, the God of Israel—

From eternity unto eternity, Amen and Amen.”

(Psalm 41:14 [verse 13 in English translations])

This refrain shows up in essentially the same form at the end of chapter 72, 89, and 106. Of course the entire psalm 150 carries with it the same kind of language of this refrain. These refrains have traditionally marked the end of one book of Psalms and the beginning of the next book. While book one contains Psalms that have traditionally been attributed to David, this second book also contains a number of psalms by the Sons of Korah as well.

We will discuss these Sons of Korah further when we look at Psalm 49, let it suffice to say that Korah was one of those who rebelled against Moses in Numbers 16, yet God, in his mercy, preserved Korah’s sons and set them to work in the Tabernacle. As we look at these psalms by the Sons of Korah, I think that it is worth remembering that sometimes people are resentful when they receive God’s discipline; yet these Sons of Korah recognize the grace of God in the discipline and what we have in these psalms are great words of praise, salvation, and trust in the Almighty God of Israel. What a wonderful testimony for us!

The term Maskil is probably derived from the Hebrew verb lkc (sakal), which means, “to understand.” Typically, this has been seen either as a liturgical term or a musical tune or beat to which this psalm would be sung. Some scholars have thus understood these Maskils to be memory verses and others have suggested that it is simply a designation for wisdom literature put to music (though there are certainly other wisdom psalms that are not described as Maskils).

However this psalm is to be sung or categorized, it is clear that this psalm contains a model for us in terms of how we approach God and his Word. Jesus said in Matthew 5:6, “Blessed are the ones who are hungering and thirsting for righteousness, for they will be satisfied.” Indeed, this psalm gives us a tremendous picture of what it looks like in our lives when we do hunger and thirst for righteousness. My prayer is that we are not only hungry for the righteousness that comes from God and is expressed in his Word—just as the deer pants for the water, may we indeed long for God and his Word.

 

 

A Proverb in a Song: part 1

“To the Director: From the Sons of Korah, a Psalm”

(Psalm 49:1 {Superscript in English Bibles})

 

While David is most well known for his psalm writing, the sons of Korah provide another block of psalms, 11 in all, that were used for worship with God’s people.  Korah was the Great-grandson of Levi, from whom the Priests would be drawn.  More importantly, Korah was the son of Izhar, who was the brother of Amram.  And while Amram is not an overly familiar name to us, his two sons are quite familiar: Aaron and Moses. 

Yet, the story of Korah is not one of the happiest in scripture.  Numbers 16 records how Korah rose up in rebellion against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness, seeking more prominence in the leadership of Israel.  Korah, Dathan, and Abiram allowed their pride to consume them and they rejected the authority that God had placed over them.  In punishment, God opened up the earth to swallow up these men, their immediate families, and those who directly followed them—in all, 250 people died that day.  What is worse, on the next day, the grumbling of the people against Moses increased and God sent a plague (a gruesome disease afflicted by God), which destroyed 14,700 more people who were rising up against Moses.  In the New Testament, Jude will cite the rebellion of Korah as a sign of God’s faithfulness to bring judgment upon false teachers and those “for whom the dark gloom of eternity has been kept.”  Hard words of Korah, indeed.

Yet, the sons of Korah were not destroyed in their father’s rebellion (Numbers 26:11)!  By God’s abundant grace, he spared them that they might learn from their father’s error and know the glory of God.  In turn, the Sons of Korah, would eventually be assigned by David and Samuel as those who would guard the entrance to the Tabernacle (1 Chronicles 9:19).  In addition, it would be given to the Sons of Korah to make the flat cakes of bread used for meal offerings (1 Chronicles 9:31).  What is more, eleven psalms would be written by these Sons of Korah for use in the worship of God’s people.

How often we expect the sons of the father to bear guilt with him, and that is the natural way in which nature works.  God has established a standard by which this happens in the natural order of things (Exodus 34:7).  At the same time, this psalm is a psalm about redemption and being kept from being swallowed by Sheol (something that these sons knew all about as Korah had been swallowed up by the earth himself).  It is a reminder to us that while sin has a natural tendency to wear down and destroy, God redeems.  Oh, what a wonderful God we have that would take the sons of a man who wreaked such havoc within the people of Israel and use them for his praise throughout the generations!  Oh, if he is willing to work like this in the lives of the Sons of Korah, what he may even be willing to do with a wretch like me!

Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound,

That saved a wretch like me!

I once was lost, but now am found,

Was blind, but now I see!

-John Newton