A STUDY OF MUSIC IN WORSHIP: THE OLD TESTAMENT

Instrumental music is found all throughout worship and praise in the Old Testament. We read of it as early as Miriam’s worship to God after Israel was delivered from their Egyptian bondage.

“Then Miriam the prophetess, the sister of Aaron, took the timbrel in her hand; and all the women went out after her with timbrels and with dances. And Miriam answered them: Sing to the Lord, For He has triumphed gloriously! The horse and its rider He has thrown into the sea” (Exodus 15:20-21).

Prophets prophesized and praised God with instrumental music.

“After that you shall come to the hill of God where the Philistine garrison is. And it will happen, when you have come there to the city, that you will meet a group of prophets coming down from the high place with a stringed instrument, a tambourine, a flute, and a harp before them; and they will be prophesying” (1 Samuel 10:5).

“Moreover, David and the captains of the army separated for the service some of the sons of Asaph, of Heman, and of Jeduthun, who should prophesy with harps, stringed instruments, and cymbals…” (1 Chronicles 25:1).

“I will incline my ear to a proverb; I will disclose my dark saying on the harp” (A Psalm of the sons of Korah; Psalm. 49:4).

“The Lord God is my strength; He will make my feet like deer’s feet, And he will make me walk on my high hills. To the Chef Musician, With my stringed instruments” (Hab. 3:19).

The book of Psalms is filled with passages of instrumental worship and praise.

“Praise Him with the sound of the trumpet; Praise Him with the lute and harp! Praise Him with the timbrel and dance; Praise Him with stringed instruments and flutes! Praise Him with loud cymbals; Praise Him with clashing cymbals” (Psalm 150:3-5).

“Shout joyfully to the Lord, all the earth; Break forth in song, rejoice, and sing praises. Sing to the Lord with the harp, With the harp and the sound of a psalm, With trumpets and the sound of a horn; Shout joyfully before the Lord, the King” (Psalm 98:4-6).

“Then I will go to the altar of God, To God my exceeding joy; And on the harp I will praise You, O God, my God” (Psalm 43:4).

“Raise a song and strike the timbrel, The pleasant harp with the lute” (Psalm 81:2).

“Let them praise His name with the dance; Let them sing praises to Him with the timbrel and harp” (Psalm 149:3).

“Also with the lute I will praise You—And Your faithfulness, O my God! To You I will sing with the harp, O Holy One of Israel” (Psalm 71:22).

Some have attempted to argue that only the Levites were authorized to worship God with instrumental music under the Old Law. However, such a conclusion is false. David used instruments to worship and praise God and he was from the tribe of Judah (2 Sam. 2:4). Not only is David seen as worshiping God with instruments, but so is all of Israel.

“Then David and all the house of Israel played music before the Lord on all kinds of instruments of fir wood, on harps, on stringed instruments, on tambourines, on sistrums, and on cymbals” (2 Sam. 6:5).

Others have argued that David was wrong for using instrumental music and that God never truly accepted it. They argue that God just “overlooked” instrumental music in the Old Testament. The reason some have concluded this is because of the words found in Amos 6:1, 5:

“Woe to them…who sing idly to the sound of stringed instruments, and invent for yourselves musical instruments like David.”

Aside from instrumental music, this text mentions beds of ivory (v.4), couches (v.4), eating lambs and calves (v.4), singing (v.5), making instruments (v.5), drinking wine from bowls (v.6) and anointing themselves with oils (v.6). If someone wants to argue that instrumental music is condemned in this text, then all of the aforementioned would be condemned, too, since the same “woe” is pronounced.

As a side note, nothing here is mentioned about worship music, but just instrumental music. Therefore, if someone wants to use this passage to condemn instrumental music, they would have to use it to condemn instrumental music for any purpose.

When looking to the context, we will see that the “woes” pronounced in this passage are not against the items or actions in and of themselves. What is condemned in this text is Israel’s motives, lackadaisical attitude and trust in these items. Furthermore, David was commanded by God to use instruments (2 Chron. 7:6; Neh. 12:36; 2 Chron. 29:26-27).

“And he stationed the Levites in the house of the Lord with cymbals, with stringed instruments, and with harps, according to the commandment of David, of Gad the king’s seer, and of Nathan the prophet; for thus was the commandment of the Lord by His prophets” (2 Chron. 29:25).

When we do a study of the Old Testament, we will find that Miriam worshiped God with instruments. Prophets praised God with instruments. The Levitical priesthood worshipped God with instruments. David praised and worshipped God with instruments. All of Israel praised and worshipped God with instruments. In our next study, we will look at the New Testament and study music in New Testament worship.

– Kevin Pendergrass

For any questions or to be added to the newsletter list, please send an e-mail to kevin@kevinpendergrass.com.