Psalms of the sons of Korah
A lot of songs in popular music are not in the simple alternating verse and chorus form. One form is to have a third section as a bridge, another is to have two verses before the first chorus. Both of these forms have made it into contemporary worship songs, the first form is very common, but the second form occurs as well. A well known example of this is God of the Poor (Beauty for Brokenness), written by Graham Kendrick for the charity TEAR Fund. That form in worship has a much older history. Here it is in the psalms. Or is it?
The books of Psalms are roughly themed like this:
Book 1: Psalms 1 – 41: God is beside us.
Book 2: Psalms 42 – 72: God goes before us
Book 3: Psalms 73 – 89: God is all around us.
Book 4: Psalms 90 – 106: God is above us.
Book 5: Psalms 107 – 150: God is among us.
Psalms 42, 44–49, 84, 85, 87 and 88 are attributed to the Sons of Korah. Korah, was a cousin of Moses and Arron who led a revolt against Moses: Korah died in the rebellion. His three sons were named as singers in the Tabernacle and their offspring in the Temple. The sons of Korah who wrote these psalms are descended from Korah’s sons, not necessarily the sons themselves.
God Is Our Fortress
To the choirmaster. Of the Sons of Korah. According to Alamoth. A Song.
1 God is our refuge and strength,Psalm 46 ESV UK
a very present help in trouble.
2 Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way,
though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea,
3 though its waters roar and foam,
though the mountains tremble at its swelling. Selah
4 There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy habitation of the Most High.
5 God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved;
God will help her when morning dawns.
6 The nations rage, the kingdoms totter;
he utters his voice, the earth melts.
7 The Lord of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah
8 Come, behold the works of the Lord,
how he has brought desolations on the earth.
9 He makes wars cease to the end of the earth;
he breaks the bow and shatters the spear;
he burns the chariots with fire.
10 “Be still, and know that I am God.
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth!”
11 The Lord of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah
I had noticed the verse, verse, chorus, verse, chorus form a long time ago and that this form is still in use. The problem with that is that it is not a very Jewish idea, so I looked at what the Jewish idea was, I read Jewish commentaries, what do Rabbis think? They come up with two alternate structures which affect what the psalm means. The first is the one I noticed.
first stanza: 3 verses (vv. 1-3)
Selah (v. 3)
second stanza: 3 verses (vv. 4-6)
refrain + selah (v. 7)
third stanza: 3 verses (vv. 8-10)
refrain + selah (v. 11)
The alternate structure is more Jewish, the form of the second motif is that of the chiasm, a series of statements that are then repeated and developed in reverse order. In structure 1 the second stanza is split between God’s protection for the city in vv. 4-5 and God judging the nations in v. 6. Structure 2 splits the psalm into two motifs,the first about God’s protection and the second about God’s judgement.
begin first motif
first stanza: 3 verses + selah (vv. 1-3)
second stanza: 2 verses (vv. 4-5)
end first motif / begin second motif
third stanza: one verse + refrain + selah (vv. 6-7)
fourth stanza : two verses (vv. 8-9)
fifth stanza: one verse + refrain + selah (vv. 10-11)
end second motif.
The first motif can be sunned up in v. 1 which sets the scene for the whole psalm. A Jewish translation says, “God is for us a shelter and a strength, a help in troubles; He is very accessible.” Not only is God the powerful protector of the people and the city in its two stanzas, which are separated by a selah, thought to be a pause or instrumental break.
The second motif is the chiasm:
- A – vv. 6-7 God judges the nations.
- B – v. 8 Look at God’s marvels.
- B’ – v. 9 God bans war and establishes world peace.
- A’ – vv. 10-11 Stop fighting and know God.
The chiasm makes statements and then develops them. The point being made in the development of the first point, which is in verse 10. Jewish translations say, “Desist (or let be) and know,” i.e. stop fighting and know God. This is not about being still by taking a time to be quiet to be with God, though there is nothing wrong with that and I commend it. This is a messianic psalm according to Rabbis, about the terrible wars that will precede the final redemption and the Messianic era. Warfare will once and for all be banished and peace established. God will end all wars and establish peace, not just an absence of war, but the accessible God reigning on Earth in love in the Messiah Jesus.