The United States is about to be blasted by the Word of God in song, as an Australian band that performs Bible psalms virtually word-for-word is embarking on a six-city American tour in October.
Sons of Korah has become famous across the globe for taking the words of King David and other psalm writers and adding a variety of musical styles to help people memorize and meditate on Holy Scripture. Many of the songs sound like pop tunes you could hear on any radio station.
Co-founded in 1993 by Matthew Jacoby and Rod Gear while attending theological school Down Under, Sons of Korah has released seven albums and a live-concert DVD over the years, as bandmates re-create the in-person experience.
(Watch Psalm 19 as performed by Sons of Korah below:)
"We got a lot of feedback from people who would listen to the CDs and then they would come to the concerts and would say, 'The concerts are just another thing again.' It wasn't just a matter of reproducing the same songs. There was something different happening at a live concert," says Jacoby, the band's lead vocalist.
"Obviously, there's nothing like being in the room at the time, but that journey through the psalms that happens on the spot when we're actually playing the music there and delivering the text is something that is really special."
The band's songs are not just inspired by the psalms (which were originally written as songs in the Old Testament), they are, in most cases, word-for-word or at least thought-for-thought renditions of the actual psalms from the Bible, so listeners can read along and commit Holy Scripture to memory as they would with the lyrics of other secular songs.
(Watch Psalm 148 by Sons of Korah below:)
On the band's version of Psalm 6, the climax of the lamentation soars with a dynamic, upbeat crescendo with the closing verses:
Away from me you who do evil!
For the Lord has heard my weeping cry.
Yes, He heard me, He heard my cry for mercy
And the Lord, the Lord accepts my prayer.
All my enemies will be ashamed
And dismayed they will turn back in disgrace
For He has heard me.
"It is a wonderful vision," says Jacoby. "David may even have been healed right there and then as he prayed. ... The change is sudden and marvelous. It is the most exciting characteristic of the psalms and it is evidence that we should expect something to happen when we pray."
In an interview with WBCL Radio, Jacoby said, "It's great to memorize the psalms because I think ... the intention of the Book of Psalms is to become part of our prayer-and-worship vocabulary, and memorizing the psalms with music, that is the way to access them. ...
"Music is an amazing tool. I just think when you take the Word of God and music and you put them together, it's an amazing combination. I wonder, 'Why do not more people do this?' Because it's such an amazing ministry. But we've had to move outside of sort of contemporary music structures in order to do that because you can't just cram the psalms into a three-minute song structure. The songs that you'll hear on the radio today are the slightly more accessible ones, but we've got songs that go on for like 12 minutes. We have to work around the text, so it's been hard work to do that, but I'm so glad that we do because our desire is to take people for a journey into the Word of God and to soak people into the Word of God."
Sons of Korah will open their U.S. tour with a speaking-only event Oct. 3 at the Elmbrook Church in Brookfield, Wis., followed by music performances Oct. 4 in Brookfield; Oct. 6 at the Harvest Bible Chapel in Kansas City, Kan.; Oct. 9 at Grace Community Church in Richland Center, Wis.; Oct. 10 at Christ the Word Church in Toledo, Ohio; Oct. 11 at Upland Community Church in Upland, Ind; and Oct. 13 at Emmanuel Community Church, in Fort Wayne, Ind.
The band's Facebook page says they're working on a tour of Eastern U.S. states including Florida for 2014 and 2015.
"A Sons of Korah concert is not your average sort of music concert where you go to see a band, and they play some songs and it's great music and you go home and you might talk about it the next day," says Mike "Spike" Avery, the band's bass player. "Really, a Sons of Korah concert of event is supposed to be a real, a deep encounter with God."
Drummer and percussionist Rod Wilson says, "The thing that I enjoy most about us playing together is the fact that when we do, I guess we try and worship while we're on stage. We're just trying to offer what we do to God in the hope that people will connect with that as well. Quite often people shut their eyes when they're listening to us and they are taken on a journey ... . The psalms themselves can be epic. One minute, David's crying out to God and asking Him, 'What on Earth's going on?' The next minute, God's the best thing since sliced bread. So it is a real roller-coaster ride. We love that we're given an opportunity to take people on that journey and give them sort of a cold-faced experience of that emotional journey we all go through."
(Watch Psalm 130 by Sons of Korah below:)
Jayden Lee, a former guitarist with Sons of Korah, says the band offers to people "a sense of substance in worship rather than a one-toned view of worshiping God, that there is a actually a dark side to life and there is a bright side as well. And the psalms really represent that, and it's anything but shallow. It's actually incredibly multi-faceted which can be terrifying sometimes and also incredibly joyous. So we are trying to communicate this, but we're also trying to make this an offering to the people and also to the Lord."
Jacoby, who is a pastor and ocean surfer when he's not singing, says it's not just believing Christians who are impacted by their performances.
"For people outside the Christian faith, I believe that a lot of people are far more interested in seeing what Christianity looks like in its inward sense, rather than just the outward doctrinal expression," he explains.
"What the psalms show to people outside the faith is what this looks like from the inside. What does it feel like to be a Christian? What does it feel like to have a relationship with God? And that's something the psalms demonstrate so beautifully and portray so vividly, and I think that speaks powerfully to a postmodern audience."
Other members of the band include mandolin player Bruce Walker and vocalist/keyboardist Ann-Maree Keefe, the group's only female singer.
The band derives its name from the descendants of Korah, a man who led a famous rebellion against God during the Israelites' 40 years in the wilderness following their Exodus from Egyptian slavery.
The Book of Numbers records God opening up the ground to bury alive Korah and his fellow rebels:
"And the earth opened her mouth, and swallowed them up, and their houses, and all the men that appertained unto Korah, and all their goods. They, and all that appertained to them, went down alive into the pit, and the earth closed upon them: and they perished from among the congregation." (Numbers 16:32-33)
But later in the Old Testament, Scripture indicates there was a surviving line from Korah's family, whose members helped produce songs that now appear in the Bible's Book of Psalms.
The band explains: "The continuing existence of this family line was a testimony to the grace of God who, although He would be right to wipe out the memory of sinful men from the Earth, is nevertheless forgiving and whose heart is always for restoration and redemption rather than for destruction. The Sons of Korah were therefore a living testimony to God's grace. They certainly had much to sing about. We feel the same way."
When asked by the Blah Blah Blog what the band was planning to do after singing all the psalms in Scripture, Jacoby said, "We'll just keep doing what we do until we get sick of it – and that is nowhere on the horizon at the moment. ... We love this stuff. There are plenty of psalms to go and if we run out, we'll maybe do the prophets or something."