Tuesday, February 11, 2003

Music: Through the Ages and in the Bible

This is part 2 of a series that looks at music. You can start at the beginning by clicking here.

Note: An audio of this teaching is available from the Biblical Studies Foundation. Click here to listen.

As mentioned yesterday, history is full of condemnation for new musical styles that today seem fine. Today, I want to look at music in the Scriptures. There is no letter of Paul or any succinct instruction on this topic. Rather we must read and gain insight from its use.

Music Helps Us Connect with God's Presence

Here is an interesting passage in 2 Kings about this:

Jehoshaphat asked, “Is there no prophet of the Lord here that we might seek the Lord’s direction?” One of the servants of the king of Israel answered, “Elisha son of Shapat is here; he used to be Elijah’s servant.” Jehoshaphat said, “The Lord speaks through him.” So the king of Israel, Jehoshaphat, and the king of Edom went down to visit him. Elisha said to the king of Israel, “Why are you here? Go to your father’s prophets or your mother’s prophets!” The king of Israel replied to him, “No, for the Lord is the one who summoned these three kings so that he can hand them over to Moab.” Elisha said, “As certainly as the sovereign Lord lives (whom I serve), if I did not respect King Jehoshaphat of Judah, I would not pay attention to you or acknowledge you.” But now, get me a musician.” When the musician played, the Lord energized him, (2 Kings 3:11-15, The Net Bible)

The Hebrew behind "The Lord energized him" is "The hand of the Lord came upon Him." Note in this text that Elisha asks for a musician as a prelude to hearing from the Lord. Some translations indicate that this musician played the harp. As he played and possibly sang, Elisha connected with God's presence and heard His voice. Another example of the opposite kind comes from 1 Samuel and is a more familiar story:

So Saul sent messengers to Jesse and said, “Send me your son David, who is out with the sheep. So Jesse took a donkey loaded with bread, a container of wine, and a young goat and sent them to Saul with his son David. David came to Saul and stood before him. Saul liked him a great deal, and he became his armor bearer. Then Saul sent word to Jesse saying, “Let David be my servant, for I like him.” So whenever the spirit from God would come upon Saul, David would take his lyre and play it. This would bring relief to Saul and make him feel better. Then the evil spirit would leave him alone. (1 Samuel 16:19-23)

Here music nullifies the effect of a spirit that tormented Saul.

Our Creator has wired us to respond to music. Evidently, the playing of music can help our spirits connect with Him and be better able to worship. For those of you looking for hints about what forms Godly music can assume, these passages indicate soft stringed playing. This is soft intimate music that drives out the clutter of the left brain.

Music Provides Instruction

King David, himself a musician, established music as part of worship:

David and the army officers selected some of the sons of Asaph, Heman, and Jeduthun to prophesy as they played stringed instruments and cymbals. The following men were assigned this responsibility: From the sons of Asaph: Zakkur, Joseph, Nethaniah, and Asarelah. The sons of Asaph were supervised by Asaph, who prophesied under the king’s supervision. From the sons of Jeduthun: Gedaliah, Zeri, Jeshaiah, Hashabiah, and Mattithiah—six in all, under supervision of their father Jeduthun, who prophesied as he played a harp, giving thanks and praise to the Lord. From the sons of Heman: Bukkiah, Mattaniah, Uzziel, Shebuel, Jerimoth, Hananiah, Hanani, Eliathah, Giddalti, Romamti-Ezer, Joshbekashah, Mallothi, Hothir, and Machazioth. All these were the sons of Heman, the king’s prophet. God had promised him these sons in order to make him prestigious. God gave Heman fourteen sons and three daughters. All of these were under the supervision of their fathers; they were musicians in the Lord’s temple, playing cymbals and stringed instruments as they served in God’s temple. Asaph, Jeduthun, and Heman were under the supervision of the king. They and their relatives, all of them skilled and trained to make music to the Lord, numbered 288. (1 Chronicles 25:1-7)

These musicians were skilled and trained. They performed with harps and cymbals, and they prophesied, gave thanks, and praised the Lord in their music. They seemed to have included men and women. They were supervised. Much of the prophetic singing would have been instructional as far as God and His nature go.

We can add to the list of acceptable parameters that Godly music can include multiple singers, multiple instruments, and can include cymbals. This implies rhythm.

Music Instills Courage

For this we go to 2 Chronicles again:

Then some Levites, from the Kohathites and Korachites, got up and loudly praised the Lord God of Israel. Early the next morning they marched out to the Desert of Tekoa. When they were ready to march, Jehoshaphat stood up and said: “Listen to me, you people of Judah and residents of Jerusalem! Trust in the Lord your God and you will be safe! Trust in the message of his prophets and you will win.” He met with the people and appointed musicians to play before the Lord and praise his majestic splendor. As they marched ahead of the warriors they said: “Give thanks to the Lord, for his loyal love endures.” (2 Chronicles 20:19-21)

The people of Judah faced and enemy and their king used music to lift their spirits and instill courage in their hearts. The musicians marched in front of the soldiers as all marched to the battlefield.

We already know that Godly music can be soft. Now we know that it can be loud and majestic. The musicians "loudly praised" and were appointed to "praise His majestic splendor."

Here is another example of instilling courage:

The crowd joined the attack against them, and the magistrates tore the clothes off Paul and Silas and ordered them to be beaten with rods. After they had beaten them severely, they threw them into prison and commanded the jailer to guard them securely. Receiving such orders, he threw them in the inner cell and fastened their feet in the stocks. About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the rest of the prisoners were listening to them. (Acts 16:22-25)

Paul and Silas did not know what would happen, but they sang to God in the prison. This helped them focus on who God is and that He was the source of their strength and courage.

We also see that Godly music does not require instruments.

Music is for Praise and Worship

This is probably an obvious point and the Scriptures have much to say about it. My favorite is Psalm 150:

Praise the Lord! Praise God in his sanctuary! Praise him in the sky, which testifies to his strength! Praise him for his mighty acts! Praise him for his surpassing greatness! Praise him with the blast of the horn! Praise him with the lyre and the harp! Praise him with the tambourine and with dancing! Praise him with stringed instruments and the flute! Praise him with loud cymbals! Praise him with clanging cymbals! Let everything that has breath praise the Lord! Praise the Lord!

Godly music can be loud and crashing. It can use loud instruments. People can dance as part of praise.

Worship and Praise are different. We praise God for His deeds and worship the Person behind those deeds. Praise lifts the head, raises the hands, and taps the foot. Worship bows the head and bends the knee.

Psalm 150 mentions dancing. So does Exodus 15:20,21 where Miriam led the women in a dance of praise. Perhaps this was a flowing graceful dance. But David makes it clear that dance may be very energetic:

David was told, “The Lord has blessed the family of Obed-Edom and everything he owns because of the ark of God.” So David went and joyfully brought the ark of God from the house of Obed-Edom to the City of David. Those who carried the ark of the Lord took six steps and then David sacrificed an ox and a fatling calf. Now David, wearing a linen ephod, was dancing with all his strength before the Lord. David and all Israel were bringing up the ark of the Lord, shouting and blowing trumpets.As the ark of the Lord entered the City of David, Saul’s daughter Michal looked out the window. When she saw King David leaping and dancing before the Lord, she despised him.

David danced with all his strength amidst shouting and blowing trumpets. He had to take off his outer garments because he got into a sweat. His wife Michal did not like what she saw and came down on David for it. To this David replied, “It was before the Lord. I was celebrating before the Lord, who chose me over your father and all his house and appointed me as leader over the Lord’s people Israel. I am willing to shame and humiliate myself even more than this!"

So Godly music does not always have to be dignified.

Here, then are the Biblical parameters of Godly music:

  • The dynamic range is soft to very loud
  • The mood and spirit can be from mourning to mayhem
  • The participation is from personal to corporate
  • The head can be lifted or bowed
  • We can have concerts and sing-a-longs
  • We can sit still or dance a whirly-gig
  • It can be old and it can be new

Very little is left out.

We should seek to broaden our tastes and realize that God has made His people a diverse lot. Musical styles that will bring tears of joy and great response to God in one person might leave another cold. That is OK. New music will come along all the time. It will always sound strange at first, but familiarity will bring affection.

So find and sing a new song to the Lord.