“And the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them up with their households, all Korah’s people and all their possessions.” (Numbers 16:32)
That was the tragic price that Korah and his group of comrades had to pay for attempting to overthrow Moses. Sadly, these rebels also caused their wives, children, and even animals to die. It must have been a frightening sight.
But wait a second – isn’t Psalm 42 attributed to the sons of Korah? How could Korah have any descendants who composed psalms, if all his sons were swallowed up in the pit together with him?
Because Korah’s sons did not die! (Numbers 26:11) The oral tradition tells us a secret: As Korah’s sons were free-falling into the pits of hell, they had feelings of regret for trying to overthrow Moses. Their repentance was so sincere that God made a ledge miraculously jut out of the side of the chasm, which Korah’s sons safely landed on. They were spared.
The beautiful imagery of Psalm 42 is an expression of Korah’s sons’ yearning for God during that spectacular moment of repentance (verses 2-3):
“Like a deer thirsting for fresh springs of water… my soul yearns for the Living God.”
They longed to return to connection with the Source of Life, to “appear” before God. This deep desire is the soul’s most natural and essential desire.
Psalm 42 also describes the suffering and alienation of a people in exile — downcast, bitter, and overwhelmed by torment and difficulty. This finally erupts as an impassioned plea for salvation (verses 9-10):
“Let Dawn arrive; may God command His lovingkindness! I will say to God, my Rock, why have you forgotten me?!”
When we suffer from physical and spiritual exile, our souls are parched; we are exhausted and in desperate need of awakening and illumination. It is precisely from within the barrenness of the spiritual desert that our souls thirst for closeness and repentance.
When we have thoughts of repentance, we are consoled and encouraged to overcome our sadness and to never despair. Our prayers will surely be answered, and our sincere repentance will be accepted. We will be graced with a second chance (verse 12):
“For I will yet thank Him, my Salvation, The Light of my Countenance, and my God!”
May we be inspired by the power of repentance and soulful yearning of Korah’s sons. May we honor the moments when we stop to reconsider our own lives, mortality and relationship with God, and be strengthened with the knowledge that we can always change, even in one instant.
The sons of Korah teach us that it is never too late to repent.