Did you realize the Bible is loaded with music? From the angels being created with musical abilities and singing at the creation of the earth (see Ezekiel 28:13-14; Job 38:7) to the song of the Lamb of God (Revelation 15:3), the Bible is chock-full of music and musical references from cover to cover.
Early in human history, Jubal in Genesis 4:21 is described as the father of those playing the harp and flute. Many years later, in Genesis 31:27, when Laban spoke with his son-in-law Jacob, he said Jacob should not have left secretly but should have allowed Laban to send him away with a musical celebration. He specifically mentions songs along with two musical instruments—the timbrel and harp. Obviously, in the ancient Middle East music was a part of celebrations. That is also true in many cultures today.
Further study of the Bible reveals that music was used as an emotional expression of appreciation and thanks to God. When an unusual or significant event occurred, it was quite common for people to compose and sing songs praising and thanking God for His blessing.
An example of this is found in Exodus 15. After leaving Egypt as the direct result of God having sent plagues on the Egyptians, ancient Israel found itself in the frightening position of being trapped by mountains on both sides of them, the Red Sea in front of them and the army of Egypt closing in behind them. God then miraculously parted the Red Sea and dried the sea bottom, allowing Israel to walk to the other side.
When the Egyptians went down into the sea in pursuit, God allowed the walls of water to slam back together, drowning the Egyptian army (Exodus 14:9-12, 21-23, 28-30).
Moses and the Israelites sing
Exodus 15 records the song Moses and the Israelites sang praising God's merciful deliverance (verses 1-18). Then Miriam, Moses' sister, and the women also played, sang and danced in jubilation—apparently singing a companion song that complemented the words of Moses' song (verses 20-21).
A few centuries later, after the Israelites settled in the land God promised them, King David appointed a group of 4,000 men from the 38,000 of the tribe of Levi (so just over 10 percent of the Levites) to serve in the temple as full-time professional musicians (1 Chronicles 6:31-33 and 23:3-6). Their job included singing songs of praise to God in formal worship services.
The whole book of Psalms (the longest book in the Bible) seems to be a kind of national hymnal, with many psalms bearing David's name as the composer.
Music was highly regarded in the Old Testament. Besides poetry, it is the main art form that seems to have been cultivated to any extent in ancient Israel. Perhaps it is because the second of the Ten Commandments prohibits making any likeness or graven image as a religious object. The other nations of the ancient world were steeped in the use of ornate paintings, carvings and sculptures in the worship of their gods. God's people were to avoid those and therefore focused on the powerful emotional impact of words—written, spoken and sung.
Jesus and His disciples sing
The New Testament continues this rich heritage. After inaugurating the symbols of the New Testament Passover on the night before His betrayal and crucifixion, Jesus and the disciples sang a hymn at the conclusion of the Passover service (Matthew 26:30).
The apostle Paul later wrote to the Christians at Colosse that the teachings of Christ should be deeply treasured as they taught and counseled each other in word and song. He spoke of "psalms and hymns and spiritual songs" (Colossians 3:16)—all of which indicate the use of music in joyous worship of God.
Completing the New Testament, the book of Revelation describes numerous scenes that include the use of songs in worship and praise of God in heaven. This includes the singing of a new song by the 144,000 who are redeemed from the earth to the accompaniment of harps (Revelation 14:1-3).
Clearly God gives His approval of music as an appropriate means of expression—whether in everyday life or in worship of Him. However, like many other aspects of human existence, music can be misused. Be sure to read the other articles in this issue for some helpful insights on the right and wrong use of this powerful art form. VT