In reading Psalm 49, we must first understand who Korach is and what he represents. Korach is the man who fought Moses for control of the people of Israel as they wondered through the wilderness those 40 years. We read about him in Numbers 16. He is the Levite who challenges Moses, saying, “You take too much upon yourselves, for the entire congregation are all dedicated, and the Personal Name is in their midst. So why do raise yourselves above the Personal Name’s assembly?”
Moses spoke to Korah and to all his company, saying, “In the morning, the Personal Name will make known who is His, and who is dedicated, and He will draw them near to Him, and the one He chooses, He will draw near to Him. Do this, Korah and his company: Take for yourselves pans for incense. Place fire into them and put incense upon them before the Personal Name tomorrow, the man whom the Personal Name chooses he is the dedicated one; you have taken too much upon yourselves, sons of Levi.”
Rabbinic text makes the issue from Numbers 16 clear. Korach claims to be a supporter of democracy to the point of communism. Everyone is the same. All should be able to take the incense to the altar and sacrifice it. Moses looks and finds something else in play, “God drew you near, and all your brothers, the sons of Levi with you, and now you seek the priesthood as well?”
Korach was as most would be leaders. They claim to be great democratic leaders professing equality of all people, when in reality they profess to themselves that they are the most equal of all.
St. Paul talks about the issue of Numbers 16 when he says in Romans 12, “I urge you, brothers, by the mercies of God, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, dedicated and pleasing to God, your logical public service. Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect.”
“By the grace given to me I tell everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than one ought to think, but to think soberly, each according to the measure of faith that God has apportioned. As in one body we have many parts, and all the parts do not have the same function. We, though many, are one body in Christ and individually parts of one another. Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us exercise them.”
It is just this last part that Korach misses. He wants to be Cohen. He wants all people to be Cohen. He wants pure equality among all men. The part that he misses is that God calls each of us to a different vocation. Vocation comes from the Latin, “stem of vocātiō, a call, summons, equivalent to vocāt past participle of vocāre to call.” Another term we use in English is Profession. Our profession is the way we profess our faith through what we do, not on Sunday morning, but during the workweek.
Korach was correct. We may well all be equals, but we are not all salesmen, leaders, plumbers, or pipefitters. God calls us all to different tasks and God, not us, is the individual who decides those tasks.