For the music director. A Psalm of the sons of Korah.Psalm 49:1 (no number in English) NASB
Korah – It is a dark day for the tribes. Korah challenges Moses. “You have gone far enough! For all the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the Lord is in their midst; so why do you exalt yourselves above the assembly of the Lord?” (Numbers 16:3). In other words, “Who made you our leader? What makes you so special? I should have just as much authority as you?” Jealousy. Arrogance. Rebellion.
And how did God deal with this insurrection? Well, . . .
They all died.
Notice who died: “and all the people who belonged to Korah with all their possessions” (Numbers 16:32). That brings up an interesting problem. If they all died, how is it that David gives us a psalm of the sons of Korah? Perhaps you will say, “Well, it was a song from long ago. David just writes it down.” You might offer this explanation, but when we read the psalm, it doesn’t sound like the words of a rebellious group at all. It sounds like people who recognize their humility before God. So, let’s suppose that not all the lineage of Korah died. Let’s imagine that they continued to be part of Israel, and during David’s reign they wrote this praise song to YHVH. That’s possible, but it raises another interesting question. Everything about Korah, including God’s judgment, is bad news. It’s offensive to Moses, to the people of Israel, and to God. Korah is infamous. So why include anything attributed to his line? Why even mention his name? But there it is, right at the beginning:
לַמְנַצֵּחַ לִבְנֵי-קֹרַח מִזְמוֹר
לִבְנֵי-קֹרַח (le-be-nai korach). No avoiding it, even though about half of the English translations tend to put this in very small print as if it could be ignored. But it can’t be ignored. In fact, I would argue that the whole tenor of the psalm depends on this little phrase. Korah is associated with rebellion. The psalm says something very different. And that’s the point! Contrast is the theme of this song, as we shall see.
Tiny print matters. Be sure you have a Bible that doesn’t ignore it.
Topical Index: Korah, Numbers 16:1-40, Psalm 49:1