OF THE SONS OF KORAH Psalms 42–49
“My soul thirsts for God, for the living God” (Ps. 42:2).Temple musicians, descendants of a rebel priest who died at God’s hand, help us explore mysteries of our faith.
Most believe this second collection of psalms was assembled during the time of Solomon. While containing other authors it, features works of David. The sons of Korah. Korah rebelled during the Exodus and was killed (Num. 16). But his children were spared. One branch of his descendants became temple guardians (cf. 1 Chron. 9:17ff), while another branch served as temple singers and musicians (cf. 6:31, 33, 39, 44). These descendants of Korah contributed 12 works to the Book of Psalms, most of which may have been used in temple liturgy.
The sons of Korah probed deeply, to help us examine love for God (Ps. 42), divine vindication (Ps. 43), and the mystery of national defeat (Ps. 44). A wedding song conveys messianic truth (Ps. 45), while “God with us” is exalted as our fortress (Ps. 46). The last three psalms celebrate God’s rule (Ps. 47), His eternal city (Ps. 48), and redemption from this transient world (Ps. 49).
Understanding the Text
In Love with God. Love for God lifts the downcast spirit and revives hope. “My soul pants for You” Ps. 42:1–5. The image is one of a lover separated for a time from his beloved. He can think of nothing but her, and misses her terribly. This is the love-driven emotion of the temple musician, away for a time from Jerusalem, yearning to once again lead “the procession to the house of God.” His only comfort is the hope that soon he will return to praise God there again. “I will remember You” Ps. 42:6–11. The sense of separation is unbearable, yet the writer knows that the Lord “directs His love” to him. The separation hurts, yet the writer consoles himself that “I will yet praise Him, my Saviour and my God.” For this son of Korah, the temple symbolized God’s presence, and he wished to be as close to God as possible. How wonderful that you and I can simply close our eyes, shut out the world, and be immediately in the presence of our Lord. When your soul thirsts for God, go to Him. He is there, with you, only a thought away. Psalm 43: A Plea for Vindication. In the end, God will prove that our faith has been well-placed. “Vindicate me” Ps. 43:1. The psalmist envisioned God as Judge, taking his side in court against wicked men who had him in their power. The basis for his plea was that “You are God my stronghold.” “Why?” Ps. 43:2 Yet if God is ours, why must we suffer oppression? Why does He seem to reject us? Such feelings are common when troubles come. We wonder why, and even question God’s commitment to us. In fact, we can never understand the why. But the psalmist does have a solution. “Send forth Your light and Your truth” Ps. 43:3–5. God’s light and truth, images here for His Word, do not so much explain our troubles as lead us back to God Himself. “Then I will go to the altar of God,” the psalmist said, and praise Him. What we need most when hurting is not answers, or even relief. What we need is to come into God’s presence, there to find hope and to offer praise. Psalm 44: The Mystery of Defeat. History teaches that God gives victory when His people obey. Why, now that Israel remains faithful, has defeat come? “We have heard” Ps. 44:1–8. Scripture testifies of the victories God won for Israel during the Conquest. “But now” Ps. 44:9–22. Recent defeats puzzled the psalmist, for Israel had not forgotten God or violated His covenant. Why then did God not act? “Awake, O Lord!” Ps. 44:23–26 Puzzled and pained, the psalmist begged God to “rise up and help us.” The psalm does present a puzzle, yet a common one. Why does God sometimes permit His most faithful servants to suffer? While Psalm 44 offers no specific answer, there may be a hint in verse 22. “For Your sake we face death all day long.” Not all suffering is punishment. Some suffering may be the price we pay for remaining loyal to God in a hostile world. As Peter reminds us, to this we were called, “Because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in His steps” (1 Peter 2:21). Psalm 45: A Wedding Psalm. The celebration of a royal wedding shifts focus to offer triumphant praise to the coming Messiah. “At your right hand is the royal bride” Ps. 45:1–9. Many things in this world are shadows cast by realities to be found in the world to come. The joy of the wedding feast transports us to visions of the heavenly union awaiting God and Israel, Christ and His church. The New Testament quotes verses 6–7, making it clear that this psalm truly is intended to transport us from earthly to heavenly celebration, enabling us to sense something of the joy we will know when our Lord returns (cf. Heb. 1:9). Psalm 46: God Our Fortress. With God our refuge and strength, an ever-present help, we need never fear. Psalm 47: Celebrating God’s Rule. If you belong to God, clap your hands in joy, for He is the great King of all the earth. The stone ramparts of Israel’s walled cities rose high above the ground. Massive and secure, designed to frustrate any attacker, they conveyed an image of security to all who lived nearby. One needed only look up from his fields and see the nearby fortress to feel safe. Psalm 46 repeats this image, to convey to us the peace we can find through our relationship with “our fortress,” the Lord Almighty. “The great King” Ps. 47:1–9. In ancient times “great King” was a unique title which was given only to world conquerors like Nebuchadnezzar or Cyrus. A ruler who added “great” to his title would be ridiculed, unless his might was overwhelming. How right the psalmist is to title God the “great King.” He subdued nations, and gave Israel her inheritance. He reigns over the nations even now. All the kings of this earth are subject to Him, and He is greatly exalted. Remember this psalm the next time you feel discouraged or downhearted. Our God is the “great King.” There is nothing that He cannot do, or will not do, for you and me. Psalm 48: The Eternal City. Just beyond the earthly Jerusalem, the psalmist envisioned the citadels of the eternal city of God. “The city of our God” Ps. 48:1–8. As the psalmist walked the walls of ancient Jerusalem he saw more than mighty stones. The city God had chosen represented all God’s acts in history which revealed how precious Zion and Israel were to the Lord. “Within Your temple, O God” Ps. 48:9–14. The setting for the rest of the psalm is within the temple, at worship. There the psalmist in his imagination walked the walls of God’s eternal city, far more real and lasting, and far more splendid, than the solid rock of Jerusalem’s ramparts. The walls of the earthly city, unknown to the psalmist, were destined to be thrown down by conquering armies. But the eternal city remains, for “this God is our God forever and ever; He will be our guide even to the end.”
Sic Transit Gloria (Ps. 49)
Successful Roman generals were sometimes granted a “triumph.” They were permitted to parade their armies, with gangs of captives and wagons filled with loot, through the very streets of Rome. But in the chariot of the general, standing just behind him, was an officer whose duty it was to whisper constantly in his ear, “You are but a man.” Psalm 49 serves much the same purpose. It is God’s whisper in our ear, reminding us that no matter how much success we or others have, we are but men. All too soon we will die, and any worldly wealth or glory will pass away with us. As the psalmist said, “Do not be overawed when a man grows rich, when the splendor of his house increases; for he will take nothing with him when he dies.” And, “Though while he lived he counted himself blessed . . . he will join the generation of his fathers, who will never see the light of life.” Why such a dreary psalm here, among others that lift our hearts and stimulate us to praise? Probably because this is not a dreary psalm at all, but one vibrant with hope. Here, almost hidden among words of warning to the thoughtless who are captivated by the vision of glory or wealth in this world, is this promise: “God will redeem my soul from the grave; He will surely take me to Himself” (v. 15). Our hope is not in riches, or in anything that this world has to offer. The glory of this world passes away, for we are but men, and all too soon we leave its changing scene. Our hope is in God, who redeems our souls from the grave, and surely takes us to Himself.
Enjoy this world. But don’t become too attached to it.