September 23, 2013

Music In Scripture: I Will Sing A New Song

Most people enjoy music. I for one thoroughly enjoy music. It is not surprising that there are many people in the Bible acknowledged as having been musicians. The entire book of Psalms is chiefly a book of song and compliments the time of the Kings. We can go back much farther to the antediluvian period to see the mention of one of the first musicians in humanity.

Genesis 4:21 ~ “…Jubal; he was the father of all who play stringed instruments and pipes.”

Even in the shadow of the Fall we see man being capable of something creative but not necessarily righteous. Tainted by the Fall, yes, but beautiful and constructive none-the-less. If we look closely at the structure of Hebrew poetry which can be construed as a prototype of lyrics we can trace poetry or at least parallelism back to Genesis 1. It is believed be Christian and Jewish scholars that approximately 75% of the Old Testament is poetry. This is one of the reasons God chose to use poetry to convey His word. Much of the Torah was sung and was easier to sing as a key to retaining it in memory. This was important because God said to Israel that they were impress God's word upon their own hearts and their children's hearts in the Shema.

Deuteronomy 6:4-9 ~ “Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is one! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand and they shall be as frontals on your forehead. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

Poetry and songs are easier to memorize than straight texts and parallel poetry (as in Genesis 1) emphasizes something of great importance, as the creation story is.

If we move to the time of Moses we see his sister Miriam and a timrel, or as we know it today--a tambourine.

Exodus 15:20-21 ~ “Then Miriam the prophet, Aaron’s sister, took a timbrel in her hand, and all the women followed her, with timbrels and dancing. Miriam sang to them: “Sing to the Lord, for he is highly exalted. Both horse and driver he has hurled into the sea.”

These verses are in the context of Israel’s song of deliverance from Egypt. It is in this context that we see an instrument and a woman’s voice (with accompaniment) bringing glory to God not only with the song itself but also through the words of the song that tell of the great deeds God did to deliver His people from the sufferings. We see the music as not only in a reprieve from slavery but also an exclamation point on a victorious and glorious salvation by God Almighty after Pharaoh’s men are drowned in the Red Sea. It is primarily direct at God and is a form of worship to Him. It is only secondarily a form of entertainment or pleasure to the human listener and perform. The fact that it can be both is a form or immense grace from God.

1 Samuel 16:23 ~ Whenever the spirit from God came on Saul, David would take up his lyre and play. Then relief would come to Saul; he would feel better, and the evil spirit would leave him.

In this passage we see Saul subjected to some type of mental affliction, producing intense depression and it is attributed to an evil spirit, the Lord having withdrawn His Spirit and sent this in its place. Perhaps it is the very absence of God's Spirit that causes Saul this grief. By means of musical talent, David was brought to Saul's notice, as a player on the lyre, able to soothe the king's depression. It is when Saul’s mind and heart are shadowed and plagued by darkness that the light of music will pierce through to reach a here with Saul. While listening to the sweet sound of David’s kinnor, it lifts Saul’s soul from its affliction at least momentarily. Music is indeed one of the fairest gifts of God to mankind. There is mystery and meaning to music that humans will probably never fully understand.

1 Samuel 18:6 ~ When the men were returning home after David had killed the Philistine, the women came out from all the towns of Israel to meet King Saul with singing and dancing, with joyful songs and with timbrels and lyres.

I believe we might be seeing hero worship here instead of worship directed at God. There is a thin line between praising a victory and celebrating it and the humans involved and missing the point that God has given the victory. Men may have been involved as vessels of God’s will in making things happen but it is a Sovereign God behind all either as the impetus or allowing it to happen. Instead of people worshiping God, they appear to worship His human instruments or deification of them-idol worship.

1 Kings 4:32 ~ He [Solomon] spoke three thousand proverbs and his songs numbered a thousand and five.

The fact that Solomon spoke these tells us that many may have not been written down or recorded. It would make sense also that Solomon would’ve been musically inclined as he was exposed to one of the greatest musicians/lyricists in Israelite history in his father David. Having been granted Godly wisdom he most likely would’ve been able to make rather insightful lyrics to song and poem that could effectively reach people intellectually and emotionally. It is also not ironic that anyone that was able to influence so profoundly with word and music would also be able to steer a culture in the direction that this poetry and music was aimed at. Thankfully, most of what is recorded from Solomon is godly in its orientation.

2 Kings 3:15-16 ~ “But now bring me a harpist.” While the harpist was playing, the hand of the Lord came on Elisha and he said, “This is what the Lord says: I will fill this valley with pools of water.

Other “musicians” or “musicianship” that warrants mention from Scrpiture are…

1 Chronicles 16:5-6 ~ “Asaph was the chief, and second to him were Zechariah, Jeiel, Shemiramoth, Jehiel, Mattithiah, Eliab, Benaiah, Obed-edom, and Jeiel, who were to play harps and lyres; Asaph was to sound the cymbals, and Benaiah and Jahaziel the priests were to blow trumpets regularly before the ark of the covenant of God.”

Jeduthun was one of King David's chief musicians and is mentioned at least twice…

1 Chronicles 16:42 ~ “Heman and Jeduthun had trumpets and cymbals for the music and instruments for sacred song. The sons of Jeduthun were appointed to the gate.”

And in the title of Psalm 39…

Psalm 39
[To the choirmaster: to Jeduthun. A Psalm of David.]
 I said, “I will guard my ways…”

Knowing that David had “chief” musicians tells us that he also had lesser musicians. If Jeduthun and others like him were akin to composers or band leaders than there were individuals also. If we look further in Scripture we see exactly that in 1 Chronicles 23.

1 Chronicles 23:1-5 ~ “When David was old and full of days, he made Solomon his son king over Israel. David assembled all the leaders of Israel and the priests and the Levites. The Levites, thirty years old and upward, were numbered, and the total was 38,000 men. “Twenty-four thousand of these,” David said, “shall have charge of the work in the house of the Lord, 6,000 shall be officers and judges, 4,000 gatekeepers, and 4,000 shall offer praises to the Lord with the instruments that I have made for praise.

It is interesting that at Solomon’s dedication of the temple, priests appear bi-vocational in 2 Chronicles. Priests being Levitical are mentioned here in conjunction with song and instruments. From this we can imply that part of the priestly duty appears to have been musical worship of God with instruments and singing/voice. We could therefore assume that song could potentially consist of merely cadenced spoken word in reverence to God (a rap so to speak).

2 Chronicles 5:11-14 ~ “And when the priests came out of the Holy Place (for all the priests who were present had consecrated themselves, without regard to their divisions, and all the Levitical singers, Asaph, Heman, and Jeduthun, their sons and kinsmen, arrayed in fine linen, with cymbals, harps, and lyres, stood east of the altar with 120 priests who were trumpeters; and it was the duty of the trumpeters and singers to make themselves heard in unison in praise and thanksgiving to the Lord), and when the song was raised, with trumpets and cymbals and other musical instruments, in praise to the Lord, “For he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever,” the house, the house of the Lord, was filled with a cloud, so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord filled the house of God.

We see exactly the same at the laying of the foundation of the second temple after the exile and return. It is consistent that we see Asaph in the Chronicles passage and the sons of Asaph in Ezra. We therefore see a continuity and steadfastness and unchanging nature of God’s covenant and statutes generation to generation.

Ezra 3:10-11 ~ “And when the builders laid the foundation of the temple of the Lord, the priests in their vestments came forward with trumpets, and the Levites, the sons of Asaph, with cymbals, to praise the Lord, according to the directions of David king of Israel. 11 And they sang responsively, praising and giving thanks to the Lord, “For he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever toward Israel.” And all the people shouted with a great shout when they praised the Lord, because the foundation of the house of the Lord was laid.

In closing we will see this constancy of character carry over to the New Testament in the aspect that all believers become priests to an unbelieving world. Many of these Christians will also be versed in the Scriptures and musically inclined. Even those that are not musically inclined are encouraged to make a joyful noise unto the Lord.

Psalm 100:1-2 ~ “Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth! Serve the Lord with gladness! Come into his presence with singing!

1 Peter 2:5–9 ~ “you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For it stands in Scripture: “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious…”

It therefore logically follows that if we are to be the priesthood to all the nations, when we worship in voice and music we are also setting a priestly holy example to all the nations to do the same...just as the Levitical priests of the Old Testament. Also by implication, if we are permitted to offer up acceptable sacrifice to God (1 Peter 2), we would also be allowed to offer up acceptable worship in the same vein of the Old Testament priests in either instrument or voice or both. The only difference is its station in time.

Colossians 3:16 ~ “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God." 

James 5:13 ~ "Helpful Not Helpful Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise." 

The truth is that it is not necessarily the music (per se) that brings God joy (although if done well it is quite harmonious and enjoyable), it is the heart intent behind the music that brings God the most joy in His people. That is why the heart intent is of primary importance to God, not necessarily the perfection of form or melody. To the tone-deaf and those not musically inclined…this is welcome news!

Music is great and it is beautiful…but divorced of its original intent, which is to bring glory to God…even it can become a tool of the Devil (and it did). This should not be surprising since Lucifer was in charge of music in praise and worship of God.

Ezekiel 28:13 ~ “You were in Eden, the garden of God.  Every precious stone was your covering:  The ruby, the topaz, and the diamond; the beryl, the onyx, and the jasper; the lapis lazuli, the turquoise, and the emerald; and the gold, the workmanship of your settings (timbrels) and sockets (flutes), was in you. On the day that you were created they were prepared.

Isaiah 14:11-14 ~ “All your pomp has been brought down to the grave, along with the noise of your harps; maggots are spread out beneath you and worms cover you. How you have fallen from heaven, morning star, son of the dawn! You have been cast down to the earth, you who once laid low the nations! You said in your heart, “I will ascend to the heavens; I will raise my throne above the stars of God; I will sit enthroned on the mount of assembly, on the utmost heights of Mount Zaphon. I will ascend above the tops of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.”

If we have any doubt of the fact that music can become a tool of the Devil we need only look to the world around us and see the depraved and debased nature of much of the music in the culture. We need only listen to some of the over-sexualized or blatantly demonic music being produced by record companies over the last few decades. …even that which calls itself Christian music.

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