A maskil of the Sons of Korah. As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God. (Psalm 42:1 NIV)

Psalm 42 is one of the most beloved of the psalms, and has been so for many generations. The inspired author, nameless though he be, depicted his own soul like the female deer in the wilderness whose thirst drove him to drink at the streams, even though the act endangered her, for that was where the predators lurked. The imagery describes the soul of the believer that longs endlessly for the satisfaction that comes only from knowing God, from worshiping Him, from communing with Him in prayer and devotion times. Wise is the person who knows that only communion with the Lord Himself satisfies the souls.

The backstory of this psalm is intriguing, however. It was a “maskil” or a type of psalm, song, or religious hymn, from the “Sons of Korah.” The Korahites were a clan of the Kohathites, one of the main branches of the Levites, and some of them had rebelled against Moses in the wilderness (Numbers 16). They were unhappy with the task that God had given them – detailed in Numbers 3:27-32. Every priest was a Levite, but not every Levite was a priest. The Kohathites were to care for the articles in the tabernacle – to transport them, to clean them, and to maintain them. It was humble but necessary work, yet they desired something bigger in their eyes, not an opportunity of service, but power and control.

Some Reubenites also joined them. Reubenites were descendants of Reuben the first born of Jacob’s twelve children. God had by-passed Reuben’s descendants in favor of Judah’s descendants – Judah was the fourth born. So the descendants of Reuben had reason, in their minds, to complain and rebel against leadership. Like the Kohathites they were not satisfied with inclusion in the family of Israel, but rather they lusted after prestige and dominance over others. They wanted position and respect over their kinsmen.

They are examples of all those in the family of God, among the believers, who have lusted for power and position and have been discontent with the roles and the places that God has given to them. James wrote, “For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice” (James 3:16).

But somewhere along the historical timeline, there arose descendants of Korah with a different spirit, and this precious psalm came from them. The sons of Korah also wrote Psalm 84, with its memorable line: “I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of the wicked” (Psalm 84:10). They had learned that the true treasure of their souls was not power or dominance over others, but the Lord Himself. It does not matter who among the people of God is set before the family of faith to teach, or lead in worship, or lead in decisions. It is all done for the glory of Christ and for the spiritual benefit of God’s people.

We misunderstand spiritual gifts. We think that the greater gifts of teaching and prophecy are given because God loves those who receive them more than those who have the lesser gifts. That is precisely backwards from the true reality. God’s gift of a pastor to the church is not because God loves pastors, but because He loves His people. God’s gifts to us are not because He loves us, but because He wishes to share His love with others through us.

Whatever God has called us to do is important; whatever role He has entrusted to us is a precious one. Some gifts are greater than others in terms of their strategic value to the church, but no Christian is greater than another Christian. Whatever gifts and opportunities He has given us, we should do it with all our hearts, sincerely as unto the Lord Himself. “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might” (Eccl. 9:10).  “Whatever you do, work at it with your whole being, for the Lord and not for men” (Col. 3:23). Whether we receive any recognition from others or not, so long as it honors God and blesses the work of Christ, this is all that matters.


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