There is nothing else that can do what music can do to affect us emotionally or psychologically. Music can lift us up or bring us down. It can inspire us or impact us negatively. NPR Books blog says; “Science all but confirms that humans are hard-wired to respond to music.”
It is evident from many sources that from the earliest days of man he has had an enjoyment of music and the arts. The earliest mention of such in the Bible is in Genesis 4:22 where Jubal was said to be “the father of all those who play the lyre and pipe.” The Expositor’s Bible Commentary says; “Jubal … originates what we now compendiously describe as the Fine Arts.”
Jubal was a descendant of Cain, the first murderer. Cain had gone away from the presence of he Lord following God having cursed the ground – again – on account of his sin. This would tell us that the development of the arts, including music, along with other things we look at as advances in civilization, were first made by people who were in rebellion against God.
Indeed, the Pulpit Commentary gives a quote pointing to this very thought that the development of the arts by Cain’s line was … “an instance of the high cultivation which a people may often possess who are altogether irreligious and ungodly…” That, by no means suggests that these instruments in themselves nor their use was evil. It does suggest that their original use probably did not include the praise of God. It also suggests a developing culture in which there was enough leisure to participate in pleasant pursuits.
The first mention of music after the flood is found in Genesis 31:27. After Jacob has fled his father-in-law with his wives, children, flocks and possessions and Laban catches up with him, he asks Jacob …
“Why did you flee secretly and trick me, and did not tell me, so that I might have sent you away with mirth and songs, with tambourine and lyre?”
This illustrates that music played an important role in the home. Today it reaches far beyond the home and into all parts of our society. Music has long played a significant role in human culture. We are made in such a way as to desire and appreciate the order, beauty and symmetry that music brings. By its very nature, the harmonies, rhythms and dynamics of music reach into our innermost being and resonate in our soul. Thus, music can and has been used as a means of stirring up patriotism in wartime, to excite passion and to express protest and rebellion. Music can help to put us in a mellow mood or it can irritate and create unrest.
There is the often misquoted line from William Congreve in The Mourning Bride, 1697, “Musick has Charms to sooth a savage Breast,” (not “beast”) … but who today remembers – or has even heard – the next line of the poem … “To soften Rocks, or bend a knotted Oak.” Indeed, music has power that lies beyond conscious comprehension.
It is no wonder, then, that music has long been used in man’s efforts to worship and glorify God. And why not? Music, as an expression of man’s creative ability, is really an extension of his divine likeness and glory. We even speak of one with either exceptional talent to write or perform music as being “gifted” or having a God-given talent. When that creative ability is turned to the end of showing something of the glory of God and his creation by people who believe in him and appreciate what he has done the result has been some of the most beautiful, most soul-stirring music ever written.
Upon the occasion of one of the greatest moments in the history of the Hebrew people – their deliverance from Egyptian bondage and the destruction of the Egyptian army in the Red Sea – Moses and the people sang.
“Then Moses and the people of Israel sang this song to the Lord, saying,
“I will sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously;
the horse and his rider he has thrown into the sea.
The Lord is my strength and my song,
and he has become my salvation;
this is my God, and I will praise him,
my father’s God, and I will exalt him.” (Exodus 15:1-2).
Later on in the same chapter the celebration of their deliverance continued when … “Miriam the prophetess, the sister of Aaron, took a tambourine in her hand, and all the women went out after her with tambourines and dancing. And Miriam sang to them:
“Sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously;
the horse and his rider he has thrown into the sea.” (Exodus 15:20).
Different people were said to have sung praises to God from the time of Moses and Miriam on. There was Deborah, the woman who was judge over Israel and Barak the commander of her army who defeated the Canaanite army and celebrated victory …
“Hear, O kings; give ear, O princes; to the LORD I will sing; I will make melody to the LORD, the God of Israel.” (Judges 5:3).
The Psalms made up the bulk of the sacred music of God’s people for many centuries. Of the 150 in the book of Psalms, 73 were written by David, “the sweet psalmist of Israel” (2 Samuel 23:1). Other inspired men, including Moses, wrote the remainder. These songs run the gamut of emotions from the deepest of lows to the exultation of the highest of highs. They pour out both the agonies of living in a fallen world among enemies who are seeking the life of the writer to the exhilarating contemplation of the glories of God and his wonderful creation. They call upon God in recognition of man’s utter dependence upon him and exalt him in thankfulness for all he has done in behalf of his (now) less than perfect creation.
It would seem that the art of the psalm and the use of music in the worship of God really came into full bloom in David’s day. David, of course, was known to have been an accomplished harpist. Probably in preparation for the temple (which God would not permit him to build) he had musical instruments made and appointed orders of singers (praise team?) to sing and make music. From the time of their manufacture, these instruments were referred to as the “instruments of David.” We are told that in the day of Hezekiah, late in the period of the monarchy, when he was restoring the worship in the temple …
“And he stationed the Levites in the house of the Lord with cymbals, harps, and lyres, according to the commandment of David and of Gad the king’s seer and of Nathan the prophet, for the commandment was from the Lord through his prophets.” (2 Chronicles 29:25).
Yes, God commanded the use of musical instruments in the temple worship. Many of the Psalms have instructions as to how they were to be accompanied, (e.g, Psa. 4; 5; 6), and many more mention the instruments in the psalms themselves (e.g., Psalm 150).
Late in the Old Testament when the people under Ezra were permitted to return from their captivity and rebuild the temple which Nebuchadnezzar’s armies had torn down there was rejoicing not only with singing but with loud shouts in praise to the Lord when the foundation was laid (Ezra 3:11-13).
These few verses and many more in the Old Testament show us that music played a significant role in the lives and in the worship of people in the Old Testament era. When we come to the New Testament we find no similar instructions given to Christians. Singing is mentioned several times, but only in one chapter and in two verses can it definitively be placed in an assembly of believers (1 Cor. 14:15, 26), and there it clearly has reference to an individual’s actions and responsibility.
Without getting into a discussion of instrumental music is not being commanded in the New Testament I will simply say that there is no more powerful, no more beautiful way to express praise to God than with the human voice. And we know without a doubt that God approves of praising him in this way.
“Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name.” (Hebrews 13:15).