By Candace Wood
I claim no musicianship, but I certainly like to listen to music of all kinds. I turn on my radio or television from station to station and take my pick from a variety of music genres—classical, pop, country, easy listening, gospel, inspirational, seasonal. I’m also aware of elevator music or music in public places where I have no control over what is played.
As an educational tool, I’ve seen music make learning fun. Even toddlers, children hardly big enough to walk on their own, can get caught up in the beat and sounds of music. It is a phenomenon that certainly touches humans in a variety of ways.
If you’ve been fortunate to observe the hours of practice and discipline that go into individual parts in a band, orchestra, worship team, or other group, you might agree that hearing the final performance can leave you in awe of the beautiful harmonies that come together. It affords an appreciation of the disciplined practice that those individuals dedicated to their job. Yes, it is a job. But when it is done well, it cannot help but entice the audience to be transcended above the drill of practice and hear the blended melodies that make the music delightful, ominous, ecstatic, anthem-like, or whatever the particular pieces were designed to accomplish. And thus the band, orchestra, or worship team fulfilled its purpose.
Music fulfills a number of purposes, and we can read many examples of that in God’s Word.
The Music of Israel
The value and use of music is seen in the culture and religious life of Israel during Old Testament times:
• Not too far removed from Adam was one of his descendants, Jubal, who was said to be “the father of all who play stringed instruments and pipes” (Genesis 4:21).
• When Jacob slipped away with his wives, Leah and Rachel, his father-in-law, Laban, was quite perturbed when he caught up with them and expressed his disgruntlement at the lack of goodbyes: “Why didn’t you tell me, so I could send you away with joy and singing to the music of timbrels and harps?” (31:27).
• The Levites used trumpets to signal when Israel’s tribes were to set out on their marches through the wilderness (Numbers 10:1-7) or a “blast on the trumpets” when they were going into battle against oppressive enemies (10:9). Trumpets were also to be used at times of rejoicing and feasts, “You are to sound the trumpets over your burnt offerings and fellowship offerings, and they will be a memorial for you before your God” (10:10).
• Trumpets sounded throughout the land for the occasion of the important 50th year of jubilee that was a proclamation of liberty for all Israel (Leviticus 25:8-10).
• Musical instruments were associated with prophets as well. Samuel informed Saul that he would “meet a procession of prophets coming down from the high place with lyres, timbrels, pipes and harps being played before them, and they will be prophesying” (1 Samuel 10:5). Saul would even find himself captured by God’s Spirit in this occasion of worship (v. 6).
• The prophet Elisha requested a musician one time: “‘Now bring me a harpist.’ While the harpist was playing, the hand of the Lord came on Elisha,” after which Elisha prophesied (2 Kings 3:15).
• In a different context, music was implicated as a negative consideration for how Israel emphasized their pleasure and entertainment. The prophet Isaiah said, “They have harps and lyres at their banquets, pipes and timbrels and wine, but they have no regard for the deeds of the Lord” (Isaiah 5:12).
• After crossing the Red Sea, Moses and the Israelites sang a song, “I will sing to the Lord, for he is highly exalted.” This was followed by his sister, Miriam, who “took a timbrel in her hand, and all the women followed her, with timbrels and dancing,” and she also repeated the victory chorus (Exodus 15:1, 20, 21).
• In a less happy but perhaps more needful time for one solitary individual, music became a means of soothing and calming a depressed, troubled King Saul. His courtiers sought help for him, saying they would “search for someone who can play the lyre. He will play . . . and you will feel better.” And thus David, the son of Jesse, was discovered and came into Saul’s service. “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” (1 Samuel 16:16, 23).
• David was closely associated with music and instruments. The narrative about his “dancing before the Lord with all his might, while he and all Israel were bringing up the ark of the Lord with shouts and the sound of trumpets” was a momentous occasion indeed as the ark marched toward Jerusalem (2 Samuel 6:14, 15). David would later be designated “the hero of Israel’s songs” (23:1).
• David also authored many of the psalms. They reveal Israel’s history and experiences, hardships and victories, faith or lack of it, individual sins and confessions, and songs of march and celebration on memorial occasions. The Israelites sang these at worship at the temple and for religious feasts and occasions. Psalm 137 references a time when Judah grieved over their exile in Babylon, and the Babylonians wanted to hear some of their songs. Whether this was an attempt to humiliate or a sincere request, it indicates the significance of music in Israel’s culture. In this instance, the people were too grieved from their plight to sing the songs they would normally express for their joy and happiness of blessings.
Music and Jesus
Music was notable in New Testament times as well. There are four occasions when music is mentioned in connection with Jesus:
• In Matthew 9:23 when Jesus healed the daughter of the synagogue leader, he entered the leader’s house and “saw the noisy crowd and people playing pipes”—an indication that the funeral had begun. Jesus reversed it.
• Another time Jesus compared the people to children who were playing in the streets (Luke 7:32). Some wanted to play wedding music (the pipe), but some did not, so they suggested funeral music (a dirge).
• In the parable of the lost son, Jesus related how the older son realized something unusual was going on (his brother’s return) when “he heard music and dancing” (Luke 15:25).
• Mark 14:26 records that after partaking of the last supper, Jesus and his disciples “had sung a hymn” and then went to the Mount of Olives.
A Lot of Noise!
The last psalm (Psalm 150) brings a summary to the use of music and musical instruments for worship occasions. It lends a unique perspective to an appreciation of music and how it can be used. This psalm is not limited to one instrument. After examining this Scripture in six different translations or paraphrases of the Bible, I discovered that there are about 18 different names applied to the instruments being described. For instance, a “psaltery and harp” in one version is a “harp and lyre” in another. A “timbrel” is a “tambourine” and an “organ” is a “flute” or “pipe.” The sounds coming from these instruments are not just soft strumming of strings, but are said to be “clashing,” “loud,” “blasting,” and “resounding.” So, to put it mildly, there is a lot of noise! And that does not mean “noise” in a negative sense, but in the sense of “[making] a joyful” one! (Psalm 100:1, King James Version). This proclamation should certainly encourage and inspire hopeful musicians and singers who have yet to perfect the harmonic melodies of more accomplished performers. And just maybe it will encourage and inspire those who are not musicians, who say they cannot carry a tune.
Let us join the whole experience of adding our voices to the praise and worship of God. Then we’ll be ready to hear the music in Heaven (Revelation 5:8-10; 15:2-4). The first and the last books in the Bible, and many in between, point out the significance of music for our edification and encouragement and for worship and praise of God. Let us use it well for his glory.
Candace Wood is a freelance writer in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Play with Music
Try some new ways to interact with tunes:
• Create a timeline of your life, listing what music you liked at each stage. Share it with friends and family.
• Throw a party and ask each guest to submit a song beforehand to add to the playlist.
• Find out a friend’s favorite artist, genre, or album and spend a few hours listening to it. Discuss it with your friend.
• Try writing a song—using whatever musical or linguistic skills you have, even if you just hum a tune and record it on your phone.