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God’s Word for You

1 Chronicles 6:31-49 Heman, Asaph, and Ethan

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Friday, October 27, 2023

31 These are the men whom David put in charge of the music in the house of the LORD, after the ark came to rest there. 32 They ministered with music in front of the tabernacle of the tent of meeting until Solomon built the house of the LORD in Jerusalem. and they performed their duties according to what was customary for their service.

In this portion of the book, our author sets out the chief musicians in the time of David: Heman, Asaph, and Ethan, tracing their lines back to the various strands of Levi’s family. These were Levites, not priests. Notice that the text supports the strange difficulty in Israel that lasted from Samuel’s younger years (when the Ark was lost and recovered again) until after the death of King David. There were two places of worship. One was the five-hundred year-old tabernacle that Moses built. It was meant to be the only place of worship for Israel, and we have seen that it was taken to various places in Israel during those years, such as Shiloh, Nob, and Gibeon. While this was the case, and sacrifices were being made there at the altar of God, David also pitched a tent (called here “the house of the LORD”) near his own house in Jerusalem (1 Chronicles 15:1; 2 Chronicles 1:4). Evidently, Levites and priests served in both locations. Verse 31 mentions the tent that David pitched, “the house of the LORD,” but in verse 32, “the tabernacle of the tent of meeting” refers to the ancient structure Moses built, including the altar, the Holy Place, and the Most Holy Place.

33 These are the men who served; along with their sons: From the Kohathites: Heman, the musician. He was the son of Joel, the son of Samuel, 34 the son of Elkanah, son of the Jeroham, the son of Eliel, the son of Toah,  35 the son of Zuph, the son of Elkanah, son of the Mahath, son of the Amasai, 36 the son of Elkanah, the son of Joel, the son of Azariah, the son of Zephaniah, 37 the son of Tahath, the son of Assir, the son of Ebiasaph, the son of Korah, 38 the son of Izhar, the son of Kohath, the son of Levi, the son of Israel.

Heman’s ancestry went back to Kohath, Levi’s son. His family included the prophet Samuel (his grandfather) and the traitor Korah. God accomplishes the gathering of his kingdom through the labor of his faithful people and despite the sins of those who hate him (Exodus 20:5).

Heman was also seer (prophet) of the king (1 Chronicles 25:4-6). He wrote Psalm 88, a cry for help during times of very difficult troubles, and it is easy to see why a musician who endured David’s hardships side-by-side with the king would write such a psalm. Incidentally, verses 11-13 of Psalm 88 may seem to deny the doctrine of life after death, but those verses only speak about death from the perspective of the living. Here was a man grieving for the death of friends and loved ones; that they would not see the wonders that the living see, or know the mercy God grants to the living. Yet the souls in heaven behold God’s miraculous mercy in their very presence before God. Heman was grieving about death which hangs over the heads of the living. He needed the lessons of the gospel to remind him of the grace of God, just as we all do. It is no mistake that the one who arranged the Psalms in the order we have them today set Psalm 89 next, which erupts with the gospel of the resurrection and of eternal life: “I will sing of the mercies of the LORD forever!” (Psalm 89:2; and see verse 44 below).

39 Heman’s associate was Asaph, who stood at his right hand. He was Asaph son of Berekiah, the son of Shimea, 40 the son of Michael, the son of Baaseiah, the son of Malkijah, 41 the son of Ethni, the son of Zerah, the son of Adaiah, 42 the son of Ethan, the son of Zimmah, the son of Shimei, 43 the son of Jahath, the son of Gershom, the son of Levi.

Asaph traced his ancestry back to Levi through his son Gershon (once again spelled Gershom here). His line was happily free of the “family history” that so often means a troubled spot of unbelief or rebellion.

Asaph and Heman lived to see the dedication of the temple, and led the music of the songs, which included the words “The Lord is good, his mercy endures forever” (probably Psalm 118 and 136, among others). Asaph was specifically assigned the task of ministry before the tent that held the Ark (1 Chronicles 16:37), and therefore we understand that this was primarily a ministry of music, both vocal and instrumental. Zadok the priest was the leader of worship at the tabernacle at Gibeon (1 Chronicles 16:39) who received and burned the sacrifices and carried out worship at the altar as the Lord had commanded Aaron.

Asaph wrote several Psalms. Besides Psalm 50, his compositions include all of the Psalms numbered from 73 to 83; twelve in all. Some readers may remember that during our devotions on the book of Job in 2010-2011, we encountered a great number of similarities between the language of Asaph and the language of the book Job. I would not insist that Asaph wrote Job, but it seems likely that either (1) the author of Job spoke and wrote in a very similar way to Asaph, or (2) Asaph himself was a profound student of the book of Job and used the language of the book in all of his twelve Psalms, or (3) Asaph was the author of Job. If I have a strong opinion about this, and perhaps I do, I don’t want to insist that I must be right. The truth of Asaph’s psalms and the book of Job are such that they are all the inspired word of God, and that is all that matters.

44 At his left hand were their associates the sons of Merari: Ethan was the son of Kishi, the son of Abdi, the son of Malluch, 45 the son of Hashabiah, the son of Amaziah, the son of Hilkiah, 46 the son of Amzi, the son of Bani, the son of Shemer, 47 the son of Mahli, the son of Mushi, the son of Merari, the son of Levi.

Ethan traced his ancestry back to Levi through his son Merari. It was Ethan who wrote the wonderful response, Psalm 89, to his friend Heman’s grim cry for help (Psalm 88).

These three men, Heman, Asaph, and Ethan led the loud music when the ark was brought to its special tent within the walls of Jerusalem. They did not use batons dancing through the air. They led the music personally with the bash and crash of bronze and brass cymbals (1 Chronicles 15:19).

48 Their brother Levites were assigned to all the other service of the tabernacle, the house of God. 49 But Aaron and his descendants made offerings on the altar of burnt offering and on the altar of incense, along with all the work of the Most Holy Place. They made atonement for Israel according to all that Moses the servant of God had commanded.

Once again, the author of Chronicles makes it clear that there were two places that were holy: the house of God (the tent for the Ark of the Covenant in Jerusalem) and the Holy Places (the tent and altar of sacrifice). By doing this and by speaking about it openly he demonstrates these things:

1, The Ark was not treated with disrespect once it was brought into the city, like a man keeping a boat out behind his garage. It was provided with a special tent and Levites were posted to worship God and guard the Ark itself so that no one would be tempted to look at it or inside it.

2, Worship at the tabernacle continued with priority. Sacrifices were only brought there (except by certain sinful individuals) as the word of God commanded.

3, The Levitical priesthood was maintained right up through the reign of Solomon as God has commanded. This truth highlighted the sin of King Jeroboam who did not use Levitical priests for his false worship after the kingdom was divided: “He appointed priests for the high places from all sorts of people. Anyone who wanted to become a priest he consecrated for the high places” (1 Kings 13:33).

The people were blessed by the centralized worship God had provided them with. Today we have a different worship, centralized not in one place, but in our one Lord Jesus Christ. The blood of animals no longer covers sin as a mere foretaste of what Christ would do, because now that Christ has come, our sins are forgiven on account of the blood Jesus shed on the cross. The Apostle writes: “For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God” (1 Peter 3:18). Be comforted that you have been brought to God by his own Son. And God will give you everlasting rest for Christ’s sake in heaven, forever.

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim Smith
About Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please visit the St. Paul’s Lutheran Church website.


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