How God Values Music
Expanding the Throne-Room Culture
Your ability to be inspired by a symphony, to be enriched by a sculpture, or to be uplifted by a sunset is a miracle. That ability is possible because of the God-like mind that God created in you.
God “endowed man with the power of mind,” Herbert W. Armstrong wrote in The Incredible Human Potential. “It seems obvious that human minds were made to function in the same manner as the Creator’s, although in an inferior way. But how do we humans use our minds? We are endowed with something akin to creative powers.”
This ability makes the human being a unique creation. No animal has this ability. God gave it only to man because of our unique and special purpose. A feature of the unique, God-like mind that humans possess is the ability to appreciate creative, artistic endeavors.
The Cultured Mind of God
God—creator and possessor of this mind power—is the most cultured, brilliant and sophisticated Being. He appreciates the finest things. He is a God of quality.
God gave us mind power so He could create His character in us. And His character is that of a perfectionist, of creating the highest quality and appreciating the finest things. “[T]he Bible teaching upholds prosperity, culture, education and right knowledge, acquisition of good quality merchandise, and proper attire,” Mr. Armstrong wrote in his March 1978 Plain Truth personal, “Is It Wrong to Be a Cultured Individual?”
“The Bible reveals human nature as being lazy, slovenly, yet full of vanity and greed,” he continued. “When people brag about being poor, uneducated and uncultured, that is merely vanity. It is usually to excuse shiftlessness, neglect, lack of effort.”
God, by contrast, is surrounded by brilliance and sophistication.
In his vision of God’s throne room, the Apostle John records, “And he that sat was to look upon like a jasper and a sardine stone: and there was a rainbow round about the throne, in sight like unto an emerald. And round about the throne were four and twenty seats: and upon the seats I saw four and twenty elders sitting, clothed in white raiment; and they had on their heads crowns of gold. … And the four beasts had each of them six wings about him; and they were full of eyes within: and they rest not day and night, saying, Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, which was, and is, and is to come. And when those beasts give glory and honour and thanks to him that sat on the throne, who liveth for ever and ever” (Revelation 4:3-4, 8-9).
In Revelation 5, we read that these 24 elders sing a new song before the throne (verse 9).
What a visually rich environment: pure gold, precious stones, a sea of fiery crystal. And what an aurally rich setting: harps, singing and constant music. Verses 11-13 reference an angelic chorus of 100 million voices!
All this, you could say, is God’s throne-room culture.
We read more about it in Psalm 45:8: “All thy garments smell of myrrh, and aloes, and cassia, out of the ivory palaces, whereby they have made thee glad.” This is in a section of the psalm where a bride (a type of the Church) is praising her husband (a type of Jesus Christ). The word whereby is a mistranslation in the King James Version. The Hebrew word means stringed instruments (as it is translated in Psalm 150:4). The verse should read thus: “out of the ivory palaces, stringed instruments gladden you.”
Think of our God’s majestic surroundings! Think of the mansions and offices He is preparing for His people! (John 14:2). Such inspiring music comes from His residence—His throne room!
What is most inspiring about these environs is the fact that God intends to export this throne-room culture!
The Culture of Lucifer
God, being the giver that He is, wants to propagate and expand His joyous surroundings so others can benefit. His plan to do so began with the greatest creation in the angelic realm: the archangel Lucifer. Ezekiel 28:13 says this angelic masterpiece was endowed with the finest jewels of the spirit dimension and superior musical skills.
Lucifer dwelled “upon the holy mountain of God” and “walked up and down in the midst of the stones of fire” (verse 14). He had spent considerable time in that throne-room culture until he was sent to “Eden the garden of God” to take that culture there. Eden, in fact, was to be God’s “throne room” on Earth. When God designed this garden, He gave it the same basic design as His abode in what the Bible terms “the third heaven” (2 Corinthians 12:2).
When Lucifer was stationed there, the garden was merely a testing ground: God intended for him to eventually spread the “throne-room culture” to the universe. “Lucifer was a universe being, created to fill the universe with beautiful music!” Gerald Flurry wrote. “God made him to think as He thinks, and to love and produce music that He loves. Lucifer did so for a while, but then he rebelled, and God changed his name to Satan” (The Former Prophets).
God had created a being specifically to export His artistic tastes and sensibilities throughout the universe! Because Lucifer failed, that job still needs to be done. It is among the responsibilities that God subsequently transferred to human beings when He created us.
God created man out of the dust of the ground, with God-like mental capabilities, and placed him in this garden that represented the throne room in heaven. It was a place of quality, of godly education and responsibility. It represented the way of life that God wanted spread over the whole Earth. The spread of the throne-room culture was to start at Eden with mankind and expand from there.
In the Garden of Eden, mankind chose not to export God’s throne-room culture. Man chose instead to live under Satan’s sway.
Think of the world we have lived in ever since! As Mr. Armstrong explained in Mystery of the Ages: “God sits on a throne surrounded by brilliant splendor, quality and beauty and character. … God intended man to work this Earth, improve it, beautify it, give it glorious character—and in so doing to build into his own life the ‘beauty of holiness’ …. God never intended humans to live in poverty, filth and squalor or ugliness. Man should have beautified the Earth, and developed man’s character in so doing. His civilization should have been a ‘heaven on Earth.’”
Under Satan’s influence, however, man has generally not partaken of the finer things. Looking through the millennia of human history, culture has been a privilege for only a small minority.
One exception to this was the physical nation of Israel. God intended for the Israelites to live His type of culture. The greatness and renown of their culture was possible because they were given God’s laws and systems (Deuteronomy 4:5-8).
It is a biblical principle, in fact, that the people associated with God—His mind, way of thinking, His laws, His culture—tend to be more advanced culturally, and they positively impact those around them. Their music becomes a cherished commodity.
This was the case with ancient Israel. In the Anchor Bible, Hebrew poetry expert Mitchell Dahood discusses the “highly sophisticated” nature of the psalms and concludes, “The poets’ consistency of metaphor and subtlety of wordplay bespeak a literary skill surprising in a people recently arrived from the desert and supposedly possessing only a rudimentary culture” (emphasis added). That is because Israel’s was not a “rudimentary culture”!
Their advanced culture was also evident in the throne of David—a dynasty God promised would never die (Jeremiah 33:17). Knowing where that throne continued after Judah’s Babylonian captivity, and where the modern descendants of Israel are today (as proved in our free book The United States and Britain in Prophecy), makes plain why the music of Western civilization still has such profound impact. Musicians from cultures all over the world aspire to perform the West European repertoire. One study showed how “all infants prefer Western music to other musics, regardless of their culture or race” (Daniel J. Levitin, This Is Your Brain on Music). This is less surprising when you consider its godly roots!
Israel’s progenitor, Abraham (“Abram the Hebrew” in Genesis 14:13), was not only wealthy (Genesis 13:2), he was also an extremely well-educated, well-traveled, refined man. In Ur of the Chaldees, Sir Leonard Woolley wrote that “his earlier years were spent in such sophisticated surroundings; he was the citizen of a great city and inherited the traditions of an ancient and highly organized civilization. … We found copies of the hymns which were used in the service of the temples, and with them mathematical tables ranging from plain sums in addition to formulae for the extraction of square and cube roots, and other texts in which the writers had copied out the old building inscriptions extant in the city and had compiled in this way an abbreviated history of the principal temples.”
In Antiquities of the Jews, Flavius Josephus wrote that when Abraham came into Egypt, “[h]e communicated to them arithmetic, and delivered to them the science of astronomy; for, before Abram came into Egypt, they were unacquainted with those parts of learning; for that science came from the Chaldeans into Egypt, and from thence to the Greeks also.” John William Edward Conybeare suggested that universities had their origins in Egypt “‘where Abraham was the first to teach the Quadrivium’ (the higher fourfold course of: 1) arithmetic, 2) geometry, 3) harmony and 4) astronomy) ….” (Alfred in the Chroniclers).
There is evidence in the Austrian Chronicle of the 95 Rulers that it was the patriarch Abraham who established Austria as the cultural center of Europe. This is even likelier when you consider that it still is that cultural center today—over 4,000 years later! Evidence of Abraham’s influence is found mostly in Austria’s musical culture. Vienna remains the music capital of the world. Salzburg was the film location for much of The Sound of Music and is world famous as the birthplace of Mozart, the great musical genius revered in that city and in greater Austria.
The Bible reveals that Job and Joseph were prosperous, capable, intelligent men. The book of Job uses many musical expressions (see Job 29:13; 30:9, 31; 35:10; 38:7). Both these men spent significant time and had considerable influence within Egypt. God ensured that Moses was trained not only in shepherding but in the royal Egyptian court. How much of the finer aspects of Egypt’s culture came from Abraham’s, Job’s and Joseph’s influence?
Within Israel, the Levites embodied God’s culture perhaps more than any of the other tribes. The priests, selected out of that tribe, were arrayed in the finest attire and had the finest education and highest income, thus equipping them to serve the nation culturally.
The idea that human beings would replace Lucifer in cultural abilities was visually represented on the breastplate of the high priest’s attire: It was studded with the same gems with which God had endowed Lucifer! (Exodus 28:15-21; 39:8-14; Ezekiel 28:13).
Ancient Israel’s cultural prowess reached its zenith during the reigns of Kings David and Solomon. Both kings inspired a highly refined national culture. The Bible reveals that the nation’s musical output was well known in neighboring lands—a remarkable and rare feat in those days without radios, cds or digital streaming.
King David established a musical culture surrounding the ark of the covenant that depicted the kind of musical activities in the heavenly throne room itself! 1 Chronicles 16:37-42 say that Asaph made music around the ark; Heman and Jeduthun stayed with Zadok and made music around the sacrifices “as every day’s work required.” It was required work! 1 Chronicles 9:33 confirms that these musical endeavors occurred “day and night,” just as Revelation 4:8 describes the worship around God’s throne in heaven!
The frequency of performances and rehearsals suggests that these musicians achieved a high quality of performance.
David’s son Solomon accumulated great wealth and commanded a vast naval power (Psalm 72:10; 2 Chronicles 9:21-28). He built a temple unmatched in architectural and aesthetic quality, attracting royalty the world over to visit the city and seek audience with Israel’s king.
Later, when King Hezekiah decided to pay tribute to Sennacherib to dissuade an invasion of Jerusalem, secular history shows that he offered some of his court musicians as part of the tribute. The account in 2 Kings 18:14-16 doesn’t state this explicitly, but says he gave “treasures of the king’s house.” Sennacherib’s reliefs amplify the biblical record, implying that the Bible considers the musicians treasures of the king’s house!
In Music in Ancient Israel, Alfred Sendrey wrote that the “artistry of these singers” must have been exquisite “if Sennacherib valued them higher than the pillage and plundering of the enemy’s conquered capital city.” The musicians of the Davidic throne were considered a valuable part of Israel’s culture!
A study of the ancient kingdoms of Israel and Judah reveal a startling connection between the spiritual health of the nation and its musical output: Music is never mentioned during the reigns of any of the kings of Israel (and all of them were evil), nor during the reigns of evil kings of Judah. It is only mentioned during righteous Judaic reigns or the righteous portions of those reigns.
And when Judah fell to Babylon in the sixth century b.c., Psalm 137 shows that the captors wanted the Jews to sing Zion’s songs—what the people of God’s nation themselves called “the Lord’s song.” The nation was renowned for its musical achievements!
Music and Spiritual Health
When certain Jews returned to Jerusalem 70 years later, some of the “God culture” was recaptured amid the building of the second temple under Zerubbabel and later during the time of Ezra and Nehemiah. But it was not long before even this nation lost much of the “God culture.”
The culture would be revived after God began working through a spiritual nation.
Psalm 22:3 states that God is enthroned in the “praises of Israel.” And though He calls them “the weak and the base,” God exposes His Church to the finest things! They learn all sorts of aspects of godly culture, including good grooming, dress, manners, grammar and, of course, the arts.
This booklet focuses on the performing art of music. This component of godly culture is an essential part of an individual’s personal enrichment and even his or her relationship with God.
What’s more, the Bible actually reveals the answers to foundational historical questions regarding music: Where did music come from? Which ancient civilization was most responsible for cultivating and developing it? How advanced were melody and harmony in the ancient world? Was it a steady evolution, with mankind stumbling along from one serendipitous discovery to the next until we finally reached the musical “advancement” of today?
The Holy Bible records the answers to all these questions. Yet musicologists rarely consider it a valid source and have never relied on it.
The Bible is not a music textbook. But as educator Herbert W. Armstrong wrote, it “reveals what man cannot otherwise learn! Full truth comes from biblical revelation, plus acquired and discoverable knowledge approached through the concept revealed in the Bible” (The Missing Dimension in Sex).
The Bible “provides the right approach to acquirable, experimental and discoverable knowledge” (ibid).
We will base our study on this approach, building on the foundational truth that “[a]ll scripture is given by inspiration of God …” (2 Timothy 3:16) and that we must live by “every word … of God” (Matthew 4:4).
As Mr. Armstrong wrote, the Creator God didn’t record the sum total of all knowledge in His inspired Word. He intended for man to experiment and discover—using the Bible as the foundation and starting point. Yet because man rejected that source of knowledge back in the Garden of Eden, man has toiled and wasted years experimenting and trying to discover things God had already revealed. Far better to experiment after consulting the divine record for the right approach—to understand what the “givens” are in our study.
Though we may not understand some of the archaic physical details of the Bible’s musical record, we can fully trust that this source is true. As Christ said, “every word” has a deep purpose.
And the truth is, there are over 300 statements in the Bible about music! Piecing together the Bible’s various references to music—its prehistory, its journey through Old Testament Israel and the New Testament Church, its modern manifestations, as well as its prophecy for times to come—we shall gain powerful insight into the value of this art for our relationship with our Creator! More than a fascinating view of the biblical history of music, this study is essential knowledge in the worship of the true God. Praising God through music is a commanded aspect of worship, as many verses tell us (e.g. Psalm 33:2; 66:2; 135:3; 147:1, 7; 149:1-3; Isaiah 42:10; Jeremiah 20:13; Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16).
This booklet will convey what Scripture teaches about the music of biblical times. We will see how prominent a role musicians played in the ancient Work of God (some even “expressed by name” just for this reason—1 Chronicles 16:41). And we will see how essential music is in the worship of God.
Chapter 1: Where Did Music Come From?
Is music a happy accident? Is this glorious organization of sounds the product of millennia of chance discoveries, trial and error, and so-called evolutionary development? Did vocal music originate from prolonged grunts of early human-like beings? Did instrumental music develop accidentally from a prehistoric hunter becoming fascinated with how his bow twanged after an arrow was unleashed?
The greatest human minds in musicology cannot answer this most basic question: What is the origin of music? The answer is as inspiring as it is little understood.
Most music historians begin their study of music around the third century a.d. at the earliest, overlooking four millennia of music history—and completely ignoring music’s origin.
Even many professed Bible scholars, though they may reject evolutionists’ happy-accident theory, believe music originated with a descendant of Cain named Jubal (Genesis 4:21), that mankind lived some 900 years before we finally stumbled onto music, and that the Creator Himself didn’t give the first humans any understanding of it.
The work of Jubal—“the father of all such as handle the harp and organ”—was actually a perversion of music, as the Hebrew word for handle indicates. It is the same word used in Proverbs 30:9 for those who take in vain, or profane, the name of God. This misuse likely had to do with its part in false religion.
In truth, the Bible indicates that the first man knew and practiced music.
What’s more, music existed long before Adam.
Music Before Man
The book of Job records God humbling this accomplished man by revealing His own majestic creative feats. During this discourse, God asked questions that illuminate history before Earth’s creation: “Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? … When the morning stars [angels] sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy?” (Job 38:4, 7).
This reveals that God had created angels before He created Earth, so they were witnesses to that magnificent moment. When they saw the Earth, they shouted and sang for joy!
Sound exists in the spirit realm. Ezekiel heard the “noise” of the great cherubim (Ezekiel 1:24). The book of Revelation records the lyrics of the angels’ shouting and singing around God’s heavenly throne, and says that they play instruments in this spiritual dimension (e.g., Revelation 5:9-14; 14:2-3; 15:2-4).
The Bible reveals that God sings (Zephaniah 3:17). He has always existed—He is without beginning of days or end of life (Hebrews 7:3). The question then arises, since God has always existed, wouldn’t His attributes—His eyes, hair, hands and voice—have always existed, as well as His infinite wisdom? (Proverbs 8:22). Surely, therefore, music—or at least the capacity for music—has always existed.
Now, there was a moment when music took on a more institutionalized form: with the creation of angels. In them, God created innate musical ability. The chief of this angelic (and musical) creation was the archangel Lucifer.
Ezekiel 28:12-13 relate: “Son of man, take up a lamentation upon the king of Tyrus, and say unto him, Thus saith the Lord God; Thou sealest up the sum, full of wisdom, and perfect in beauty. Thou hast been in Eden the garden of God; every precious stone was thy covering, the sardius, topaz, and the diamond, the beryl, the onyx, and the jasper, the sapphire, the emerald, and the carbuncle, and gold: the workmanship of thy tabrets and of thy pipes was prepared in thee in the day that thou wast created.”
This is not a physical king, or else the notion of musical instruments being created “in” him makes no sense. This refers to a magnificent, beautiful, wise spirit being, an angel, who was in Eden.
The “tabret” in this passage is very similar to a timbrel, or percussion instrument of the Hebrews (the tabret). The phrase “thy pipes” comes from a root meaning something “hollow,” but it is not the word used to describe the typical Hebrew pipes. In fact, the word neqeb is used only here in the Hebrew Bible. It appears this was a spirit instrument similar to the pipes, but unique enough to require a unique Hebrew word.
The great cherub Lucifer was, in a sense, a living musical instrument! He was endowed with musical talents beyond human capability. God said that at Earth’s creation the angels “sang together” (Job 38:7), denoting an ensemble, community and cooperation in music. Lucifer was surely among them, if not in a leading role. How this must have changed, though, when he rebelled! Imagine how distorted and warped Lucifer’s music became when he turned from God’s way. Just before the description of Lucifer’s fall, Isaiah 14:11 talks about the “noise” of his neballim—another instrument, perhaps like bagpipes—being brought to the ground.
Harmony of the Spheres
After God created angels, He created the material universe. Do you know that He built music into this physical realm?
The Hebrews have long understood the idea of the “harmony of the spheres,” referring to the planets being analogous to each other as musical pitches. They taught that physically, the planets’ distances hold the same ratios as those between pleasing musical intervals—and literally, the planets, or spheres, resound in actual tones.
This belief is now attributed to Pythagoras. Aristotle said that, to the Pythagoreans, “the whole heaven [was] a musical scale and a number.”
In his book The Music of the Spheres, science writer Jamie James explains: “Here, in our first encounter with the concept of the musical universe, it is clear that the Pythagoreans did not simply discern congruities among number and music and the cosmos: They identified them. Music was number, and the cosmos was music. … The Pythagoreans conceived of the cosmos as a vast lyre, with crystal spheres in the place of strings.” The spheres were known to be spaced according to the same ratios that exist between frequencies in the musical scale.
King David had this understanding. “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork,” he wrote. “Day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night sheweth knowledge. There is no speech nor language, where their voice is not heard. Their line is gone out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world. In them hath he set a tabernacle for the sun” (Psalm 19:1-4). The word for line in verse 4 can mean rope or musical string. In fact, when the Apostle Paul quoted this verse to the Romans, he used a Greek word for “line” that translates into “musical sound.” Romans 10:18 reads: “But I say, Have they not heard? Yes verily, their sound went into all the earth, and their words unto the ends of the world.”
The ancient Hebrews, who knew this astronomical reality, undoubtedly applied it to music theory. Man did not start with a one-, three- or five-note scale and slowly decide that seven tones work better mathematically. God gave His people understanding in science, astronomy and the use of stringed instruments—and a seven-tone scale whose relationships parallel the solar system!
The Hebrews also believed, as the Bible indicates, that the movement of these celestial bodies produces certain sounds.
In his book On the Heavens, Aristotle explained the Pythagoreans’ belief this way: “[T]he motion of bodies of that size must produce a noise, since on our Earth the motion of bodies far inferior in size and speed of movement has that effect. Also, when the sun and the moon, they say, and all the stars, so great in number and in size, are moving with so rapid a motion, how should they not produce a sound immensely great? Starting from this argument, and the observation that their speeds, as measured by their distances, are in the same ratios as musical concordances, they assert that the sound given forth by the circular movement of the stars is a harmony.”
Plato believed that “the celestial logic, once it was understood, would be reconcilable with a sublime system of mathematical harmony.”
Now modern science is supporting what the Hebrews believed. Sound can occur anywhere pressure waves can travel, meaning that sound waves can echo through the atmospheres of the planets and even the gas surrounding an enlarging black hole. The universe contains the equivalent of rhythmic pulses, like a percussion section, as well as low drones, like a bass section.
Science has also discovered “heavenly music bellowed out by the sun’s atmosphere” (Space.com, April 18, 2007). These frequencies, at a thousandth of a hertz, are too low for human ears to hear. (We can hear between 20 and 20,000 Hz.) The sun’s corona emanates magnetic sound waves similar to those of musical instruments. “[E]xplosive events at the sun’s surface appear to trigger acoustic waves that bounce back and forth between both ends of the loops, a phenomenon known as a standing wave,” the Space.com article stated. Standing waves are “exactly the same waves you see on a guitar string,” said Robertus von Fay-Siebenburgen of the Solar Physics and Space Plasma Research Center at the University of Sheffield (ibid).
By flying through space, celestial bodies are emitting “sound.” Deeper study of the heavens indicates that those sounds are working together like a musical composition.
An article in Scientific American showed how scientists studying these sounds discovered more information that caused them to ask: “Is the Universe Out of Tune?”, the title of an August 2005 article. “Like the discord of key instruments in a skillful orchestra quietly playing the wrong piece, mysterious discrepancies have arisen between theory and observations of the ‘music’ of the cosmic microwave background. Either the measurements are wrong or the universe is stranger than we thought. … These bum notes mean that the otherwise very successful standard model of cosmology is flawed—or that something is amiss with the data.” However accurate these scientists are on this subject, the Bible does state that “the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now” (Romans 8:22).
Here on Earth, Scripture suggests that God created sound waves to emanate from all creation in an organized fashion to make a certain music—perceptible at least to Him (1 Chronicles 16:33; Isaiah 44:23; 55:12). He created a certain music in some of the animals, which also sing (Song of Songs 2:12; Ecclesiastes 12:4; Psalm 104:12). God the Creator is also a master composer. And perhaps even the smallest particles are vibrating and resounding in lovely music that God can hear and enjoy.
Music in Eden
Now we come to the first man and the Garden of Eden. Surely the Almighty Creator and musical expert would have wanted to instruct His creation in the science of sound and how it could be managed and organized for such magnificent purposes! After all, God enjoys music and possesses great capacity for it. He created musical ability in His angelic handiwork, the chief of which was a musical genius.
Since God commands the use of music as part of worship, especially on the weekly Sabbaths and annual festivals, He would have instructed the first man in the basic principles of music, or at least guided him in finding the fundamental facts in this field for himself.
God created man on the sixth day and used the seventh day to teach him essential spiritual truths. Would this first “worship service” have been complete without music? Or would this have been the ideal time to teach man that it is “a good thing to give thanks unto the Lord, and to sing praises unto thy name, O most High”? (Psalm 92:1).
Consider the psalm just quoted. The inscription—part of the original divinely inspired Hebrew text—reads: “A Psalm or Song for the sabbath day.” The title occurs in the Jewish Targum as “A Psalm and song which Adam uttered on the Sabbath day.”
The Jews teach that Adam “uttered” it on the Sabbath. That doesn’t mean he composed it, but rather that he sang it. Perhaps the Creator God—ready to instruct the first man and woman on that first Sabbath day—had a hymn for them to sing.
How appropriate Psalm 92 would be, which actually teaches that it is a “good thing” to give thanks and sing praise to the Lord and the Most High. Similarly Jesus Christ, when teaching His disciples to pray, instructed them to begin with praise of God (see Matthew 6:9).
If Psalm 92 is in fact the first hymn for the first man and woman, then we have some magnificent insight into Eden!
Verses 2-3 read, “To shew forth thy lovingkindness in the morning, and thy faithfulness every night, Upon an instrument of ten strings [literally: “the tenth”], and upon the psaltery; upon the harp with a solemn sound.” The term “solemn sound” is from a Hebrew word that implies meditating or musing. Music—singing hymns especially—was given to humans largely to draw our minds closer to God, especially on the day He has set aside for special worship of Him.
Consider, though, how this ancient psalm names musical instruments—even stringed instruments, which are more complex in design than simple wind or percussion instruments.
Could musical instruments have been in Eden? God had just created much more complex creations—for example, the human body. And God designed the garden to be where His presence was. God’s heavenly presence is surrounded by music—not just vocal, but instrumental as well (Revelation 5:8). Would God not have created or revealed the design for physical versions of these heavenly instruments?
In the 1920s, excavations in Megiddo uncovered about 20 floor stones dating to 3300–3000 b.c. The carvings on one of them depicted a female harpist with a triangular-shaped instrument having eight or nine strings—quite an advanced instrument.
Archaeologically, this harp appears out of nowhere, especially if it merely “evolved” from a one-stringed instrument. It is possible that mankind’s musical and instrumental advancements were washed away in the Flood. But God could have revealed the fundamentals of sound science to man, just as He revealed the fundamental principles of horticulture, animal husbandry and other activities. He could easily have provided Adam with a multi-string harp. Why not?
Clearly Eden’s garden pictured God’s presence. The Bible reveals that, wherever God’s presence is, there is music: the heavenly throne room, the ark of the covenant, the first and second temples (which housed the ark). And God’s presence was also in the Garden of Eden.
Isaiah 51 contains a prophecy of how the world will look upon the Messiah’s return in power and glory: “For the Lord shall comfort Zion: he will comfort all her waste places; and he will make her wilderness like Eden, and her desert like the garden of the Lord; joy and gladness shall be found therein, thanksgiving, and the voice of melody” (verse 3).
This prophecy is about Earth being restored to the way things were in Eden. So it supplies clues of what life was like for Adam and Eve before being expelled from the garden! There was, in fact, music: “the voice of melody.” The Hebrew for melody means psalm and comes from the root “to pluck.” It seems natural that God would have given Adam a psalm to sing on the first Sabbath day, and even an instrument to pluck as he and his wife sang praises.
Music did not originate clumsily and serendipitously from prehistoric brutes. Nor did it originate nine centuries into the biblical record with Jubal, who fathered the mishandling of music. The capacity for music had no beginning—like the God who is surrounded by it, who created it in His angelic creation, the physical universe and the garden sanctuary where He planted the first human beings.
By its God-given ability to understand, appreciate, enjoy and produce music, mankind can partake of something with an eternal past: the very mind and greatness of the Creator God!
Chapter 2: How Advanced Was Biblical Music?
In college, I had a music history professor who consistently challenged any student who wrote or said that music “advanced” throughout modern history—in the sense that Beethoven was more advanced than Handel or that Richard Strauss was more advanced than Mozart. Change and development did not necessarily mean better or more sophisticated. After all, who could argue that a Bach cantata is somehow more primitive than a Mahler symphony?
A similar argument can be made regarding ancient music. Yes, music has advanced since the medieval church’s monopoly on documented music. For centuries, Rome’s religion had thrust music into a dark age, where range, dynamism and the tapestry of the musical landscape were suffocated. But traveling back before this musical dark age—even before the apostasy of the Jewish religion after the Prophet Malachi—music history shows how advanced melody and harmony were in biblical times.
Perhaps some of the music of the ancient world was primitive. But remember that God separated Israel from a world otherwise cut off from Him (Genesis 3:22-24), and gave the Israelites His law and statutes. He gave them His calendar and His ways of marking time. As for music, the Hebrew Bible repeatedly refers to the musical instruments “of God” and the “songs of the Lord.” Would their music have been the same as that of the surrounding nomadic peoples?
In fact, everything the Bible and honest history tells us is that Israel’s music was much more advanced, based on sounder principles. It had tremendous appeal to, and impact on, surrounding cultures. This in itself testifies of how advanced their music was.
Melody and Scale Degrees
The Hebrew word zimrah—translated “psalm” or “melody” (Psalm 98:5; Isaiah 51:3; Amos 5:23) in the King James Version—acknowledges the presence of a singular melodic line. Though the Bible gives little technical detail concerning music, it sheds some light on the scale system of the Hebrews.
The titles of Psalm 6 and 12 (in the original Hebrew manuscript) dictate that these were to be performed “upon Sheminith,” or “in eighths.” Some say sheminith was an eight-stringed instrument, but an instrument of this kind is noticeably absent from other passages of the Bible that list instruments of the Hebrew orchestra. Many scholars agree that this is a reference to the octave.
The octave is the interval of an eighth; it refers to the distance between two pitches. On a modern piano, find a C and call that “one,” then note “eight” (either higher or lower) is also a C—and played together, they sound a lot alike. The reason is that the frequency of the higher note’s vibration is exactly twice as fast as the lower one.
The use of this interval in music is common. If a father and his young son sing the same melody in unison, the father is probably singing the same notes in a lower register whether they call it an octave or not.
What is interesting about the word sheminith is that the Hebrews called this musical interval an eighth. That shows something about their scale system: The fact that the first note and the eighth note were that perfect and common interval indicates that there were seven notes leading from the lower to the upper frequency. The Hebrews were using a seven-tone scale.
1 Chronicles 15:21 uses this word to describe men who played “with harps on the Sheminith to excel.” They played their harps in this manner “to excel,” meaning to oversee or lead. The Hebrew likely implies that these men played their harps or sang the melody an octave higher or lower to make their pitches stand out among the other instruments in the ensemble. Their eighth would be the “lead” part of the aural texture.
The Orderly Seven-Tone Scale
Was the heptatonic scale the basis of Hebrew music? Evolutionists would have us believe that man started as savages with a more primitive scale system—perhaps the pentatonic scale (a series of five pitches). But many credible musicological sources contradict this idea. One of them, the New Oxford History of Music, states that the pentatonic scale cannot be considered older than the six- or seven-degree diatonic scale commonly used in Western music.
In his 1893 book Primitive Music, Richard Wallaschek wrote: “[A] succession of tones exactly corresponding to our diatonic scale (or part of it) occurs in instruments in the Stone Age, and … we have no reason to conclude that a period of pentatonic scales necessarily preceded the period of heptatonic ones.”
In her argument that the Hebrews used a heptatonic scale, Suzanne Haïk-Vantoura established first how in 1968, Babylonian cuneiform was discovered that “unequivocally” attested to the “total similarity between the Babylonian scale … and our own C-major scale.” The facts “witness to a system (graphically confirmed) based upon diatonic modes of seven degrees ….” (The Music of the Bible Revealed; emphasis added throughout).
James L. Mursell, in his remarkable 1946 article on “Psychology and the Problem of the Scale,” observed that the relationship between the pitches in the seven-note scale are simple, whole-number ratios. He said the “complex” ratios of all other scale systems were analogous to “cloud shapes or ink blots” as opposed to the “triangles, or rectangles, or circles, to which our intervals may be compared.”
God gave man the power of intellect (by putting in him what the Bible terms the “spirit in man”—Job 32:8; Zechariah 12:1; 1 Corinthians 2:11). Music would be worthless to us unless we had the ability to order, organize and build this structured world of sound within our minds. That is, in essence, the purpose of the scale. It may be why God would give man the scale outright. Mursell described how the logic of this scale—the “best that can ever be devised”—enables us “to build an ordered cosmos out of the mass of incoming impressions.”
François Auguste Gevaert saw in the scale “the manifestation of a general law, a consequence of the physiological organization of man.”
In his book This Is Your Brain on Music, neuroscientist Daniel J. Levitin discusses experiments that have “shown that young children, as well as adults, are better able to learn and memorize melodies that are drawn from scales that contain unequal distances such as this” (i.e., the seven-tone scale based on its system of whole steps and half steps).
So where did this scale originate? No evidence suggests that it evolved from more primitive scales, for even some of the most savage societies possessed it. If God gave Adam instruments and psalms in Eden, surely He explained the vocabulary of music, gave man the capability to discover it early on, or provided some innate ability and intellectual capacity to operate in the musical realm. Man’s mind was already able to organize sounds in an orderly way. Remember, music did not originate with man—and neither did this beautiful scale system. God is the author of music—including pitch, scale organization, and its built-in expressive qualities!
Harmony and Progression
“[E]ntirely without our conscious awareness,” Dr. Levitin notes, “our brains are keeping track of how many times particular notes are sounded, where they appear in terms of strong versus weak beats, and how long they last. A computational process in the brain makes an inference about the key we’re in based on these properties. … [I]n spite of our lack of formal musical education, we know what the composer intended to establish as the tonal center, or key, of the piece, and we recognize when he brings us back home to the tonic, or when he fails to do so” (op cit).
On top of that, the mathematics underpinning our seven-tone scale has built-in tendencies leading to a strong note—like a gravitational pull toward a “final” pitch. We call this the tonal center, or “tonic.”
Haïk-Vantoura, who set out to decipher the accents found above and below the original Hebrew text of the Bible, found—among the lower signs—essentially seven unique symbols. In the “prosodic” books, there are eight symbols, but the first and eighth are almost identical. She even asserted that the vertical straight line, |, is a symbol that indicates the tonic of the piece. This musical system therefore contained the progression of pitches toward a cadence—i.e., harmonic tension, relaxation, progression and tonality.
So, although the Bible makes no specific mention of “harmony,” we know that it had to exist in the Hebrew musical culture. Looking at ancient Israel, we see groups of people—men and women (different vocal ranges)—singing together. The Bible discusses assorted musical instruments playing together at the same time. That these musicians would play or sing together and never consider doing something different-yet-complementary to the melodic line is absurd. That a culture so exceptional in stringed instruments would never think to pluck more than one string at a time (a different, complementary string) is ludicrous.
2 Chronicles 5:12-14 describe the scene at the dedication of the first temple under King Solomon: “Also the Levites which were the singers … having cymbals and psalteries and harps, stood at the east end of the altar, and with them an hundred and twenty priests sounding with trumpets:) It came even to pass, as the trumpeters and singers were as one, to make one sound to be heard in praising and thanking the Lord; and when they lifted up their voice with the trumpets and cymbals and instruments of musick, and praised the Lord, saying, For he is good; for his mercy endureth for ever: that then the house was filled with a cloud, even the house of the Lord; So that the priests could not stand to minister by reason of the cloud: for the glory of the Lord had filled the house of God.”
Are we to believe that all those instrumentalists were playing the same notes at the same time? That everything was in unison? Some may argue that “as one, to make one sound” implies monophony, but a study shows that this is not a comment on the texture of the composition but high praise of the musical performance. The orchestra and choir were truly together. Their performance was rhythmically precise and in tune. We would say the same about a fine symphony orchestra today: They were as one—despite all the different notes and parts, they played perfectly together and in tune!
For an in-depth look at the various instruments described in the Bible, see the November-December 2015 issue of our free Christian-living magazine, Royal Vision. We will send you a free copy upon request.
One of the most pleasing harmonies to the human ear, and one upon which the majority of standard repertoire is based, is the third. On the piano, if you play a white note and call that “one,” then count up or down to three, and you play note “one” along with note “three,” that is an interval of a third.
Carl Engel wrote in 1864: “Harmony is not so artificial an invention as has often been asserted. The susceptibility for it is innate in man, and soon becomes manifest wherever music has been developed to any extent. Children of the tenderest age have been known to evince delight in hearing thirds and other consonant intervals struck on the pianoforte; and it is a well-ascertained fact that with several savage nations the occasional employment of similar intervals combined did not originate … with European music, but was entirely their own invention” (The Music of the Most Ancient Nations, Particularly of the Assyrians).
If primitive cultures were using the third, then certainly the Hebrews would have been too. Curt Sachs believed that secular music was using thirds and harmony throughout history, and that is why West European music flourished so rapidly after the yoke of plainchant (also known as “Gregorian chant”) was broken.
In Music in Western Civilization, Paul Henry Lang documented how Giraldus Cambrensis (1147–1220) discussed the harmonic practices of the British Isles. Harmony, he said, was so common that “even the children sang in the same fashion and it was quite unusual to hear a single melody sung by one voice. … The Anglo-Saxon Bishop Aldhelm, at the end of the seventh century, and Johannes Scotus Erigena (ninth century), seem to allude to ‘harmony’ as the simultaneous sounding of tones. Finally, the first records of actual music for more than one voice also come from England.”
It can be proved that the peoples of the British Isles are descended from the tribes of ancient Israel! (Request a free copy of Herbert W. Armstrong’s book The United States and Britain in Prophecy for proof of this truth from both biblical and secular history.) This does not mean that harmony only existed in the Israelitish nations, but it would have at least been present in these nations.
Add to this evidence the fact that the third letter of the Hebrew alphabet (and the numeral three) is gimel, or gymel. This word was later the term used in England to describe singing in parts, probably indicating singing multiple notes together based harmonically on thirds.
Haïk-Vantoura masterfully summed up the richness of Hebrew music by saying that it was “just as solid,” if not more so, than “that of the great and powerful neighboring peoples who were Israel’s contemporaries, its musical resources effectively served the authentic and eminently human faith which made use of them.” She wrote, “All this persuades us that there is no reason to imagine an ultra-primitive kind of music. … The texts of the Psalms of David and the inspired singers have always been unanimously admired. Why then would the music to which they were sung not have been stirring and beautiful, and accessible, just as the text of the Psalms have remained?”
In the next chapter, we will undertake a sweeping overview of the Bible’s references to music—to understand how God values it, what is important about it, and what benefits it offers physically and spiritually.
Chapter 3: Music Prior to the Temple
A study into the Bible’s musical references reveals great richness and diversity. Scripture describes music of varying styles and intents. It speaks, for example, of the music of masses (e.g., the “joyful noise” of a congregation), as well as that of the skillful, well-rehearsed virtuosi (1 Samuel 16:16-18; Psalm 33:3; 1 Chronicles 15:22; 25:7; 2 Chronicles 23:13; 34:12). The Bible does not only approve of “sacred” music, though many of its references show how music plays a significant role in the worship of God. It reveals how important God considers music and why. It describes many physical and spiritual benefits that we can receive from music.
One important biblical truth we must consider briefly before moving into our overview of biblical music is that the world, as a whole, is temporarily cut off from God and deceived by Satan, the god of this world (Revelation 12:9; 2 Corinthians 4:4). We must also recognize that, during this present age, God calls a few out of the world, to be separate from the world (e.g., 2 Corinthians 6:14-17).
In such a world, we find that music in false religion has posed a danger for those whom God calls. In fact, the first chronological reference to music—as discussed in the first chapter—is Jubal’s misuse of music. The context shows that this was one of several human activities that introduced pagan practices.
After the great Flood, Ham’s sons Cush and Mizraim migrated into the area known today as Egypt. Alexander Hislop, author of The Two Babylons, believed Cush was actually the famous Egyptian philosopher Hermes Trismegistus, credited as the “‘inventor of music’ and author of books and chants to the gods” (New Oxford History of Music).
The primary use of music in this culture was religious. Even secular music had heavy religious overtones. What was the Egyptians’ religion? They worshiped Osiris—another name for Nimrod. The New Oxford History of Music tells us, “Osiris … was responsible for teaching the world the arts of civilization. … What enabled him to accomplish this was his ‘persuasive discourse, combined with song, and all manner of music.’ (That gods were ever musically inclined is, of course, a universal tale.) Osiris was the ‘Lord of the sistrum,’ an instrument specially dedicated to the goddess Hathor, the later Isis [Nimrod’s mother, Semiramis].” The Mesopotamians and Greeks sang praises to the same beings, just using different names.
It is true that some of the Egyptians’ culture came from the great godly patriarchs who influenced them centuries earlier, namely Abraham, Joseph and Job. Moses was “learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians” (Acts 7:22), which probably included some of that God-inspired instruction. But Egyptians were also known for using music in a way expressly forbidden by God—to bring about some sort of trance or spell. This is called “enchantment” (from the Latin incantare: upon, or into, singing), which God forbids (Leviticus 19:26). In Deuteronomy 18:9-11, God commanded Israel not to allow anyone who “useth divination, or an observer of times, or an enchanter, or a witch ….” The word “witch” means someone who uses enchantment; Gesenius’ Hebrew-Chaldee Lexicon states: “to use magical songs, to mutter.”
Music’s use within this pagan worship is simply a devilish counterfeit of what God intended. God’s chosen people have often let the perversions of surrounding pagan cultures rub off on them—whether it was the frenzied singing of the Israelites around the golden calf (Exodus 32:4-5) or their bowing to Nebuchadnezzar’s statue when they heard the sound of his orchestra (Daniel 3:5-10).
Consider Israel’s worship of the golden calf—an idol common in Nimrod-worship. The problem with the music was not only that it was used to worship the wrong god: It was also that the “music” emitting from the people’s voices could actually be mistaken for “a noise of war” (Exodus 32:17-18).
How much of the music in today’s society would Moses and Joshua consider the “noise of war”? Even in religious music, how much do people simply succumb to emotion and lose control of their minds—while broadcasting unbiblical lyrics and ideas into listeners’ minds?
This is not to say that only “religious” music is appropriate, or that it should only be composed by God’s people. Many artists have been able to harness the laws of art to create paintings that are inspiring, and to create architecture that is impressive and stable. Many have used music, the science of sound, to write beautiful and edifying songs and compositions. As the August 1982 Plain Truth said, “To say one should reject all art produced by unconverted minds—minds of people cut off from the knowledge of God—would mean that most art on Earth would have to be rejected, since humanity as a whole has been cut off from God. This is certainly not the criterion for making a judgment. Even the Apostle Paul was familiar with and quoted from the poetic artistry of the pagan Greek writers (Acts 17:28). … We should appreciate that which is an expression of the spirit in man, that which reflects his incredible potential and God-like creative talents (emphasis added throughout).”
In a world cut off from its Creator, God began working with one nation at first. The reasons for this are made clear in Mr. Armstrong’s book Mystery of the Ages (free upon request). Ancient Israel’s exposure to God’s laws and way of thinking gave it certain advancement beyond the nations around it.
As one psalmist declared, “Thou through thy commandments hast made me wiser than mine enemies: for they are ever with me. I have more understanding than all my teachers: for thy testimonies are my meditation. I understand more than the ancients, because I keep thy precepts” (Psalm 119:98-100). Men and women living in accordance with revelation of God’s law would have had more understanding and more wisdom even in physical matters than those cultures we tend to consider most “advanced.” Those Hebrew patriarchs with whom God formed a special spiritual bond were wiser than these ancients because of the principles of law revealed by the Creator of the universe. And then, as they exemplified and shared those principles, this deeply impacted other cultures.
In the Introduction, we discussed Abraham’s massive cultural impact on the world. This impact appears to have continued into the time of his grandson Israel (originally named Jacob). In one archaeological example, discussed by Joachin Braun in Music in Ancient Israel/Palestine, we find evidence of a Mesopotamian king contracting with “learned, highly professional singers/musicians” from the West around 1774–1761 b.c., the time of Jacob.
A reference to music and the instruments of Jacob’s day can be found in Genesis 31:25-27. This shows that “in the time of the patriarchs, music accompanied the cheerful events of life” (Sendrey, op cit).
Moses, Master Musician
One great-great-grandson of Jacob (through his son Levi) was Moses. Moses’s princely training in the Egyptian court would have included music. After leading the procession of the Israelites through the Red Sea, he led the performance of what Sendrey called “the first religious national song found in the Bible.”
This song is recorded in the first 21 verses of Exodus 15. Haïk-Vantoura said this song “fully demonstrates that the Hebrews were a musical people from the dawn of their history” (op cit).
Verse 2 declares that “The Lord is my … song.” The word “Lord” here is the lesser-used of the Hebrew words translated as such: Instead of yhwh, it is simply yh, or Jah. This name is used most often in the Psalms and typically in the context of singing God’s name (e.g., Psalm 68:4). It is the name of God used in the popular Hebrew expression “Praise ye the Lord”: Hallelujah (not Halellujahweh). And how amazing that the Hebrew expression Hallelujah has continued in its original form since biblical times—crossing all language barriers—and is still used to extol God’s name today!
Moses was not only famous for the song at the Red Sea. One of his prayer songs was also canonized, in the book of Psalms. Psalm 90 is “A Prayer of Moses the man of God.” The Anchor Bible confirms that “the numerous instances of archaic language clearly point to an early … composition.” This analysis draws similarities between the opening verses of this psalm and Moses’s writings in Genesis 2:4; 3:19 and Deuteronomy 32.
Deuteronomy 32 is another song of Moses—one that God commanded Moses (in chapter 31) to write at the end of his 120-year-long life. It was intended as a warning against turning away from God. Deuteronomy 31:19 and 21 read, “Now therefore write ye this song for you, and teach it the children of Israel: put it in their mouths, that this song may be a witness for me against the children of Israel. … And it shall come to pass, when many evils and troubles are befallen them, that this song shall testify against them as a witness ….” The next verse says Moses “wrote this song the same day, and taught it the children of Israel” (verse 22). The Hebrew indicates that Moses literally wrote down this song. Of course, only the lyrics have been preserved.
Moses is referenced as a musician much later in the Bible. Concerning music sung in heaven, Revelation 15:3 reads: “And they sing the song of Moses the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying, Great and marvellous are thy works, Lord God Almighty; just and true are thy ways, thou King of saints.” No other composer in biblical history can claim the honor of having his music performed in heaven! Of course, some doubt the literalness of this verse, but not only does it state that they “sing the song of Moses … and the song of the Lamb,” but it also gives the lyrics! So Moses not only had a monumental impact on Hebrew history and music, he also impacted the music of the third heaven.
Moses’s final composition is tied directly with the charge he gave Joshua. Joshua was to ensure the people learned this song and kept it alive in their traditions. After recording the lyrics, Deuteronomy 32:44 discusses Joshua’s part in teaching it: “And Moses came and spake all the words of this song in the ears of the people, he, and Hoshea [Joshua] the son of Nun.”
To ensure his legacies, musical and otherwise, were safe with Joshua, God had Moses write it down and “rehearse it in the ears of Joshua …” (Exodus 17:14). The word “rehearse” resonates with musicians, no doubt. The instruction to “rehearse it in the ears of Joshua” indicates an oral passing of information, in addition to the “memorial in a book.” As detailed as our modern system of musical notation is, there are countless aspects of performance that simply cannot be notated but must be transferred orally.
We can safely surmise that this music survived well during Joshua’s administration, for Joshua 8:35 says, “There was not a word of all that Moses commanded, which Joshua read not before all the congregation of Israel ….” Although musical performances are not mentioned, musical instruments are a key feature of the most famous story in the book of Joshua. The ram’s horn, or the shofar, was used as a functional instrument in the battle for Jericho.
The next specific musical reference in Scripture is found in the book of Judges, with the righteous judge Deborah. After leading the people to victory, she and her captain Barak sang a victory song to God (Judges 5:1). Deborah was to “utter a song” (verse 12)—the word for utter means to lead, guide or arrange in order.
Verse 3 reads: “… I, even I, will sing unto the Lord; I will sing praise to the Lord God of Israel.” This song shows the importance of singing in Israel’s culture. Two different words are used here for singing. The first is shiyr, which literally means singing. The second is zamar, and though translators commonly rendered this word as “sing praise,” it literally means to pluck. This implies that singing was typically accompanied by a stringed instrument, so much so that one word for sing indicates plucking.
Deborah was “a prophetess” (Judges 4:4), an office also ascribed to Miriam in the song of the Red Sea (Exodus 15:20). In the Old Testament, prophets and seers were generally well skilled in the musical and poetic arts and were likely master poet-melodists. According to Gesenius’, the word for prophesy can mean “to pour forth words abundantly” or even “to sing.” This connection may be particularly true of the women in God’s service: Of the four godly prophetesses mentioned in the Old Testament, two are noted for their musical abilities. The other two may have possessed that office for similar reasons. The fact that these women were used in such a powerful way in a powerful office indicates that they were endowed with certain abilities that suited them for the job, including leading others in praise of God. A woman’s character and ability to be used by God would have been more of a deciding factor, though, than her musical gifts.
What Miriam and Deborah also show us is that God does not reserve musical reverence and worship for men only.
Samuel’s mother, Hannah—another powerful woman of the Bible, and by implication a prophetess (who did have a vision of the future)—may have also been a skilled musician. Her prophetic uttering is one of the great poetic passages of the Bible (1 Samuel 2). Not only does it read like a psalm, it is later heavily paraphrased in Psalm 113.
After Deborah, and until Hannah’s son Samuel, the time of the judges is sparse on musical references. There is the paralyzing sound of 300 ram’s horns in Gideon’s famous battle (Judges 7). There is an explicit reference in Judges 11:34, where Jephthah’s daughter meets him “with timbrels and with dances.”
This was a dark time in Israel’s history—with few exceptions. Judges 21:25 reads: “In those days there was no king in Israel: every man did that which was right in his own eyes.” This religious free-for-all was reflected in the decline of music in the nation during this period.
Only Deborah’s song and Hannah’s psalm-like prophecy were recorded during the time of the judges. However, while Hannah’s son grew (during a time of “no open vision”—1 Samuel 3:1), things would begin to change. Samuel—a Levite and the last of Israel’s judges—began a school and institutionalized music instruction in a dramatic way.
The college this prophet founded reached a certain height in influence by the time of Israel’s first monarch. The first verses of 1 Samuel 10 detail how Saul was to receive God’s Spirit and eventually be anointed king. At one point he would “come to the hill of God, where is the garrison of the Philistines: and it shall come to pass, when thou art come thither to the city, that thou shalt meet a company of prophets coming down from the high place with a psaltery, and a tabret, and a pipe, and a harp, before them; and they shall prophesy: And the Spirit of the Lord will come upon thee, and thou shalt prophesy with them, and shalt be turned into another man” (verses 5-6).
Samuel’s company of the prophets “represents doubtless the first public music school in human history,” Sendrey wrote. “Samuel’s prophecy … shows which instruments have been taught in this ‘Conservatory of music.’” These instruments likely represent four families or categories of instruments—much like how we describe instruments today. And because all these instruments are named together, they were assuredly played together.
Lange’s Commentary states, “The music which went before them shows that, in these societies, religious feeling was nourished and heightened by sacred music, though music was also elsewhere cultivated. The four instruments which accompanied them indicate the rich variety and advanced culture of the music of that day.”
Again, we see music aiding in the prophesying. 2 Kings 3 shows music explicitly linked to prophetic inspiration, when Elisha required a minstrel before prophesying. “And it came to pass, when the minstrel played, that the hand of the Lord came upon him” (verse 15).
Samuel Davidson’s An Introduction to the Old Testament states, “Music and song were employed, partly to attune the mind to calmness and raise it by the soft harmony of numbers to the contemplation of the divine. As has been well said, music brings a tone out of the higher world into the spirit of the hearer.”
Joseph Dheilly wrote: “Thus we can see that the state of ecstasy does not in itself constitute prophecy but is, at most, a contingent setting for it, and so the nature of the prophetical office is already clarified a little” (The Prophets).
1 Chronicles 25:1-4 show King David appointing men to prophesy specifically with music. These men “prophesied with a harp, to give thanks and to praise the Lord” (verse 3).
So when Samuel told Saul that he would “prophesy with them,” did that mean Saul would suddenly start speaking great spiritual maxims that he hadn’t before understood? Would he suddenly start having visions of the future and expound on them? It is likelier that he would join in this musical performance, singing along with the students, and that God could use the resulting euphoria to prepare Saul’s spirit to receive God’s Holy Spirit. The case of Elisha was similar in this regard.
Another example of this “company of prophets” may support the idea that Saul was prophesying by joining in the music. 1 Samuel 19:20 relates a time in Saul’s kingship when he sought to arrest David: “And Saul sent messengers to take David: and when they saw the company of the prophets prophesying, and Samuel standing as appointed over them, the Spirit of God was upon the messengers of Saul, and they also prophesied.” The company of prophets may well have been prophesying through their powerful sacred music, and these servants of Saul became so moved by it that, instead of going after David, they participated.
However it happened, this passage shows this school was having quite an impact on the nation. Clearly its curriculum was not just confined to religious subjects; the arts were part of the course material—especially if music was so vital in prophesying!
“Song and music and dance were interwoven in some sacred union,” Arthur Penrhyn Stanley wrote in The History of the Jewish Church.
These schools helped reshape Israel’s future! When Samuel was a boy, there was “no open vision,” religion was in shambles, and there is little reference to music. About a century later, during King David’s rule, literally thousands of people were involved in skillful music-making (see 1 Chronicles 23:5). The rich musical culture during David’s reign implies robust, structured musical education. As Sendrey said, it would “scarcely be conceivable without an adequate preparatory work of musical educators” (op cit). 1 Chronicles 9:22 suggests that the tabernacle service in the time of David, and the temple during Solomon’s rule, was heavily impacted by Samuel’s schools.
Sweet Psalmist of Israel
Though music was a big part of Saul’s spiritual beginning (1 Samuel 10:9-10), it did not play an important role in his kingship. The further from God he grew, surely the less interested he became in music, and the more the arts of Israel suffered.
When Saul became troubled with an evil spirit, his servants suggested he bring a musician into his court, “a cunning player on an harp,” to drive the evil spirit away, and Saul consented (1 Samuel 16:14-17). Though he was the king of God’s nation, apparently there was not one skilled musician employed in all his court. It appears Saul, and consequently Israel, was at a spiritual and musical low point.
A modern parallel can be seen in the demise of the global religious and humanitarian empire of Herbert W. Armstrong. After his death, Church leaders said (in a court deposition) that the cultural foundation’s concert series “had nothing to do with the mission of the Church.”
Music was not off to a good start in the monarchy. Nothing really was. But God would find a solution in a young harpist from Bethlehem.
One of Saul’s servants suggested David be Saul’s harpist (1 Samuel 16:18). He said this son of Jesse was brave, fit and “prudent in matters”—meaning eloquent or articulate, as we would expect any master poet-melodist to be (though perhaps not as a teenager). Topping the list was his “cunning in playing.” That phrase literally means to be skillful in striking the strings, and connotes the ability to teach. David was already quite advanced on this instrument—what we would consider a musical prodigy. He probably wasn’t the only shepherd-harpist around, but he was highly skilled and possessed all these other attributes that would suit him for life in the royal court.
What David did for Saul constitutes the earliest recorded instance of “music therapy.” (For more on this astounding subject, refer to the July 2010 Trumpet magazine’s article “Well-Toned: A Whole New Meaning.”) His music restored Saul temporarily, and for that, David found favor with the king.
A little later, David defeated the Philistine giant Goliath and was promoted to an even greater position (1 Samuel 18:5). Verses 6-7 describe how David’s exploits affected the music of his day: “And it came to pass as they came, when David was returned from the slaughter of the Philistine, that the women came out of all cities of Israel, singing and dancing, to meet king Saul, with tabrets, with joy, and with instruments of musick. And the women answered one another as they played, and said, Saul hath slain his thousands, and David his ten thousands.” This antiphonal song (one group singing and another group answering) became quite popular in Israel.
In spite of Saul’s newly formed animosity toward David, David continued to play harp for him “as at other times” (verse 10). The Hebrew indicates this was day by day, or a daily activity for David. Not only would David have performed daily, but he would also have practiced daily—the only way to master any instrument. Psalm 61:8 shows that music factored into David’s “daily … vows.” The Anchor Bible translates it: “Then will I always hymn your name, fulfilling my vows day by day.” The Bible strongly indicates that music was a daily activity for David.
Not long after, David had to flee for his life from Saul. He was soon in the company of Samuel and his students (1 Samuel 19:18). The Bible does not indicate that David enrolled in Samuel’s liberal arts institution, but clearly he was strongly influenced by this company of prophets. He may have met Samuel’s musical grandson Heman here, and possibly even the other prophets who would assist in his reign: Nathan, Gad, Asaph and Jeduthun.
Later David fled to Gath, whose king was Achish (1 Samuel 21). There, we pick up another remarkable fact about Israel’s music: “And the servants of Achish said unto him, Is not this David the king of the land? did they not sing one to another of him in dances, saying, Saul hath slain his thousands, and David his ten thousands?” (verse 11). The king of Gath knew the lyrics of the song, how it was sung (“one to another”), and how it was performed (“in dances”). The same question was asked later by the Philistines (1 Samuel 29:5). What made David famous to the neighboring peoples was the popular song about him! In our 21st-century world, it is difficult to appreciate how extraordinary it is for a song to be known miles away in neighboring lands in a time without mass media.
While on the run, David composed some profound psalms. Psalm 56 has the inscription “when the Philistines took him in Gath.” This may also correspond to Psalm 34 since, in Gath, David feigned madness for Achish—likely the same “Abimelech” noted in the inscription of this psalm. In Psalm 57 (written while “in the cave”) David wrote: “Awake up, my glory; awake, psaltery and harp: I myself will awake early. I will praise thee, O Lord, among the people: I will sing unto thee among the nations” (verses 8-9). He wrote Psalm 59 “when Saul sent, and they watched the house to kill him,” as the inspired inscription reads. He promised to “sing aloud of thy mercy in the morning: for thou hast been my defence and refuge in the day of my trouble” (verse 16). David also wrote Psalm 142 while in a cave; Psalm 52 and 54 were likely penned while on the run.
Once delivered from the hand of Saul, David penned the masterful Psalm 18, recorded also in 2 Samuel 22.
Years later, David established his kingdom in Jerusalem. Psalm 132:1-6 show how motivated David was to bring the ark of the covenant to the nation’s new capital. In his first attempt to transport the ark, “David and all Israel played before God with all their might, and with singing, and with harps, and with psalteries, and with timbrels, and with cymbals, and with trumpets” (1 Chronicles 13:8). Though there was much enthusiasm in this celebratory processional, there were problems. Not only was David transporting the ark contrary to the way God commanded it be carried, there appears to have been a problem with the music too. The chronicler notes that “all Israel played … with trumpets.” Not only were certain Levites carrying the ark improperly, many were blowing trumpets that only the priests were to blow (Numbers 10:1-8). When Uzzah, the cart driver, died after reaching out to steady the ark, David left the ark in the house of Obededom for three months.
The account of David’s second, successful attempt to carry the ark into Jerusalem is recorded in 1 Chronicles 15. David realized: “None ought to carry the ark of God but the Levites: for them hath the Lord chosen to carry the ark of God, and to minister unto him for ever” (verse 2). Notice what this correction did for the music of the nation. Verses 5-10 list the chief of each main Levitical branch and how many from that order, or family, would help transport the ark. Zadok and Abiathar the priests were to sanctify themselves, along with the chiefs of those Levite families, to “bring up the ark” (verses 11-12). Priests also had the responsibility of blowing the silver trumpets (verse 24). Eight Levites played (per the Hebrew) neballim al Alamoth (verse 20), which indicates a bagpipe-type instrument. Verse 21 shows that six others were playing their strings, probably in octaves (as described in Chapter 2), in order to be prominent in the texture.
Everything was structured correctly so that God was pleased and blessed the occasion (verse 26).
David’s Music Staff
1 Chronicles 15:16 shows how these musical assignments were made: “And David spake to the chief of the Levites to appoint their brethren to be the singers with instruments of musick [literally, singing], psalteries and harps and cymbals, sounding, by lifting up the voice with joy.”
The chief Levites chose the musicians: “So the Levites appointed Heman the son of Joel; and of his brethren, Asaph the son of Berechiah; and of the sons of Merari their brethren, Ethan the son of Kushaiah” (verse 17). These three were all singers (verse 19), and they also did “sound with cymbals of [bronze].”
Heman was the grandson of Samuel (1 Chronicles 6:33) and probably the author of Psalm 88. Ethan is mentioned in Psalm 89’s inscription, and is elsewhere called Jeduthun, meaning “praising”—it appears his office became his name. Asaph, listed first among these three, was a Levitical poet-prophet who wrote several psalms. Once the ark had rested, 1 Chronicles 16:5 states that Asaph was “the chief” of the instrumentalists; he “made a sound with cymbals,” likely referring to a leadership position like a conductor. Sendrey said this role required Asaph to give “the signal with cymbals to start singing” (op cit). The Moffatt translation renders it: “Asaph always beating time with cymbals.” God’s way, and the organizational logic of music, requires someone to lead—to establish and maintain tempo—either in rehearsal or performance or both. Based on his psalms, Asaph appears to have had a strong understanding of God’s government (Psalm 75:6-7; 78:70-72; 80:1).
Along with the instrumentalists were other singers. We read of Chenaniah who, in this event of bringing up the ark, “was for song: he instructed about the song, because he was skilful” (1 Chronicles 15:22). Verse 27 says he was “master of the song with the singers”; he was likely the choirmaster. The Hebrew infers that he instructed the singers in how to get more power and resonance out of their sound—to “lift up” their voices even more.
Verse 28 reads: “Thus all Israel brought up the ark of the covenant of the Lord with shouting, and with sound of the cornet [shofar], and with trumpets, and with cymbals, making a noise with psalteries and harps.”
David was also seen “dancing and playing” during this celebration (verse 29). This is not the typical Hebrew word used to describe dancing in the Bible: It refers to children dancing or the skipping or springing of animals. The parallel account in 2 Samuel 6:14-16, which says David was “leaping and dancing,” uses another unique Hebrew word that means whirling. It is used along with the word for leaping, which means to be light, agile and to jump as a gazelle. Perhaps this was the first “highland fling” that caught on and found deep cultural roots in the Celtic lands where the throne of David later migrated. It is also probable that this form of dancing impacted other folk styles, such as those of the Slavic peoples, in those regions through which the Israelites journeyed following their release from Babylonian captivity.
1 Chronicles 16:1-4 show the ark resting in a tent and David selecting the musician-Levites who would praise God near the ark. He wrote a psalm after the ark arrived in its permanent home and “delivered first this psalm to thank the Lord into the hand of Asaph” (verse 7). The phrase “into the hand of Asaph” could refer to a literal handing over, but it more likely could be a musical term: that Asaph would use his hands to conduct—like conductors do today—or even the ancient practice of chironomy—the use of hand signals to direct a vocal performance. The genealogical record in 1 Chronicles 6 says, “And these are they whom David set over the service [literally, hand] of song in the house of the Lord, after that the ark had rest” (verse 31).
The composition referred to in 1 Chronicles 16:7 is also found in the book of Psalms in three places: Psalm 96; 105:1-15; 106:47-48. It contains various references to singing (shiyr) and plucking (zamar) in praise of God. 1 Chronicles 16:33 includes nature in the praise: “Then shall the trees of the wood sing out at the presence of the Lord, because he cometh to judge the earth.” “Sing out” is translated from the same Hebrew word used in Job 38:7 for the angels’ singing; it usually means singing out for joy. It is used heavily in Isaiah, typically in reference to prophecies about Christ’s future rule on Earth.
The three Levites who prominently supported David—Asaph, Heman and Jeduthun—are listed also in 1 Chronicles 25. Verses 1-6 show that these men prophesied with harps. Their families followed in this tradition. Asaph is mentioned first, and his four sons were under his “hand”; they “prophesied according to the order [hand] of the king” (verse 2). Jeduthun’s six sons prophesied with harps “to give thanks and to praise the Lord” (verse 3). Heman—called “the king’s seer in the words [or business] of God [Elohim]” (verse 5)—had 14 sons and three daughters who were gifted in singing and served that way in the temple. This shows that Levitical women served in musical functions in the temple.
The 24 sons of these three men led a rotation of “shifts,” or “courses,” of musical service. Each joined 11 other Levites, making 12 Levites per course, 288 men in total (verse 7). This verse says these 288, who “were instructed in the songs of the Lord,” were cunning—as was David on the harp. These were brilliant musicians—real professionals—so they could achieve the highest standard in music-making around the ark that symbolized God’s presence.
One other notable group in David’s musical team are the “sons of Korah,” named in the inscription of 11 psalms. Certain “Korhites” joined David early on in Ziklag (1 Chronicles 12:6), and 1 Chronicles 26:1, 19 also refer to “sons of Kore” serving David. Later this branch of musicians continued to serve the throne, participating in Jehoshaphat’s famous singing army (2 Chronicles 20:19-21). Their descendants also lived through the Babylonian captivity. In his list of the Levitical families that repopulated Jerusalem after the captivity, Ezra mentions a “son of Korah” (1 Chronicles 9:19).
Besides a profound function in the tabernacle service and the true worship of God, music also had other uses during David’s reign. 2 Samuel 19:35 indicates that David employed musicians in his royal court: “singing men and singing women.” (Ecclesiastes 2:8 indicates that Solomon did as well.) Music was considered a component of an enriching life, like good food and drink.
2 Samuel 23:1 describes David as “the sweet psalmist of Israel”—a fitting title for this great man through whom God spoke (verse 2). The Spirit of God moved him to compose exquisite poetry. In the New Testament, he is described as a prophet (Matthew 27:35, quoting Psalm 22, written by David). 1 Chronicles 23:5 shows that 4,000 Levites played instruments that David made. He composed much music: 75 psalms have his name directly in the inscription. Because of the psalm mentioned in 1 Chronicles 16, we can conclude that David wrote the psalms that reiterated those stanzas: Psalm 96, 105 and 106. Psalm 72’s inscription coupled with verse 20 shows that David wrote that psalm for Solomon. Psalm 95 has no inscription, but Hebrews 4:7 says David composed it. The same goes for Psalm 2, which Acts 4:25 attributes to David. Psalm 71:13 shares similarities with Psalm 70:2 (by David). Psalm 104:32 shares similarities with Psalm 144:5 (by David), and Psalm 104 begins and ends a lot like Psalm 103 (by David). Psalm 121 is similar to Psalm 124 (also by David).
This great man and musician of God prepared the kingdom for a golden age of creative output when the next king would build a grand edifice—God’s house— and promote a musical culture unlike anything the world had ever experienced.
Chapter 4: Music of the First and Second Temple Periods
Like his father, Solomon was a composer-king. He wrote 1,005 songs (1 Kings 4:32). Modern music history tends to remember the composers with prolific output, such as Vivaldi, who wrote over 500 concerti, or Schubert, who composed 600 lieder. If Solomon lived in Western Europe during the past 300 years, we would likely have considered him one of the greatest composers of history. Yet his compositions remain unpreserved, and no recordings exist.
One of Solomon’s many songs is called “the song of songs” (Song of Songs 1:1). The expression implies “the most beautiful song.” (For more on this book of the Bible, request our free booklet The Song of Songs—God’s Greatest Love Song.)
Solomon also mentioned music in his proverbs: “the righteous doth sing and rejoice” (Proverbs 29:6). In Proverbs 1:20 and 8:3, Solomon describes how wisdom “cries out,” a word often translated to sing or shout for joy. In Proverbs 25:20, he speaks of music’s effect on moods: Singing a joyful song to a sad person without any feelings of sympathy is like pouring vinegar on baking soda—it produces agitation! Solomon had the wisdom to know how to select music for a particular occasion. He likely learned that from his father, the first biblically recorded music therapist.
Solomon also authored Ecclesiastes (Ecclesiastes 1:1). This book makes several references to music: “a time to dance” (Ecclesiastes 3:4), “the song of fools” (Ecclesiastes 7:5), “the serpent will bite without enchantment” (Ecclesiastes 10:11), and a reference to “the daughters of musick” (Ecclesiastes 12:4). This book also shows that Solomon was a patron of the arts (Ecclesiastes 2:8).
Solomon’s reign was a golden age for Israel’s music. His coronation was marked with the sound of the shofar, shouts of “God save king Solomon” as well as those who “piped with pipes, and rejoiced with great joy, so that the earth rent with the sound of them” (1 Kings 1:39-40). This indicates that much of the populace had musical prowess. And the sound of this celebration had a seismic impact on the land!
First Temple Grandeur
If the Earth shook at his coronation, Solomon’s reign caused an even greater cultural earthquake. This was largely because of the construction of the temple. The dedication ceremony for this edifice stands as one of the most glorious musical occasions in history.
2 Chronicles 5:2 records how Solomon gathered the Levites to bring in the ark. “And it came to pass, when the priests were come out of the holy place: (for all the priests that were present were sanctified, and did not then wait by course: Also the Levites which were the singers, all of them of Asaph, of Heman, of Jeduthun, with their sons and their brethren, being arrayed in white linen, having cymbals and psalteries and harps, stood at the east end of the altar, and with them an hundred and twenty priests sounding with trumpets:)” (verses 11-12). What an ensemble: 120 priests blowing silver trumpets—probably more than any modern human being has ever heard performing together!
Verses 13-14 describe how grand this performance was: “It came even to pass, as the trumpeters and singers were as one, to make one sound to be heard in praising and thanking the Lord; and when they lifted up their voice with the trumpets and cymbals and instruments of musick, and praised the Lord, saying, For he is good; for his mercy endureth for ever: that then the house was filled with a cloud, even the house of the Lord; So that the priests could not stand to minister by reason of the cloud: for the glory of the Lord had filled the house of God.” Here again, “as one” does not mean everyone playing the same pitches; it speaks of the unity and precision of the performance. What a powerful occasion!
After this, Solomon resumed the same priestly and Levitical courses that his father had ordained (2 Chronicles 8:14).
Music of the Righteous Kings
Despite its grandeur, the kingdom of Israel headed toward disaster due to King Solomon’s apostasy (1 Kings 11:6). Through the influence of his many pagan wives, Solomon allowed pagan idolatry in Israel (verses 7-8). After his death, Israel declined into even deeper sin. Under Solomon’s son, Rehoboam, the kingdom divided: Jerusalem’s throne ended up ruling only the tribes of Judah, Levi and Benjamin. A man named Jeroboam, one of Solomon’s servants, led the secession of the other tribes.
Jeroboam’s revolt deeply affected the music of Israel. He and the people of Israel rejected the legacy of David—not only as king, but also as musical overseer, organizer, composer, instrumentalist, conductor, craftsman and teacher (1 Kings 12:16). Jeroboam prevented people from visiting the center of musical development in the region and no doubt allowed—or caused—pagan musical practices to enter the land—just as the golden calves engendered raucous music and orgiastic dancing in Exodus 32. And Jeroboam rejected the most qualified and trained musicians from serving in the religious order.
Israel’s music entered into oblivion! Consider this: The Bible is silent about the music in the northern kingdom of Israel—which was “without the true God, and without a teaching priest, and without law” (2 Chronicles 15:3). In the Bible, music correlates with the spiritual state of the nation. Even in Judah—where the Levites, temple and lineage of David remained—music is mentioned only during the reigns of righteous kings.
One remarkable example is found in the reign of Jehoshaphat. Facing a dangerous alliance of enemies, Jehoshaphat “set himself to seek the Lord, and proclaimed a fast throughout all Judah” (2 Chronicles 20:3). After the king’s heart-rending prayer, God’s Spirit moved on a Levite from the family of Asaph (verse 14). This man told Judah that the battle was God’s; they would not have to fight. His words inspired great rejoicing (verse 19).
Notice what followed: “[Jehoshaphat] appointed singers unto the Lord, and that should praise the beauty of holiness, as they went out before the army, and to say, Praise the Lord; for his mercy endureth for ever” (verse 21). The outcome was dramatic: “And when they began to sing and to praise, the Lord set ambushments against the children of Ammon, Moab, and mount Seir, which were come against Judah; and they were smitten” (verse 22).
Godly music is an effective defense in spiritual or even physical warfare! David used it while running from Saul, writing in Psalm 32:7, “[T]hou shalt preserve me from trouble; thou shalt compass me about with songs of deliverance.” Godly music warded off evil spirits from King Saul, and here it accompanied the defeat of an entire military alliance—because of what it moved God to do. In the New Testament, music moved God to loosen the shackles of prison (Acts 16:25-26). Psalm 149:6 equates the “high praises of God” to a “twoedged sword.” Singing and praising God is an aspect of spiritual warfare.
Another dramatic mention of music in the Jewish kingdom is found at the coronation of Joash, orchestrated by Jehoida the priest. Jehoida had been protecting the young heir to the throne while it was temporarily hijacked by the wicked Queen Athaliah. Once the timing was right, he acted shrewdly to install the 7-year-old king on the throne.
“Now when Athaliah heard the noise of the people running and praising the king, she came to the people into the house of the Lord: And she looked, and, behold, the king stood at his pillar at the entering in, and the princes and the trumpets by the king: and all the people of the land rejoiced, and sounded with trumpets, also the singers with instruments of musick, and such as taught to sing praise. Then Athaliah rent her clothes, and said, Treason, Treason” (2 Chronicles 23:12-13).
Here we get a glimpse of the temple music service as directed by Jehoida the priest—which included “such as taught to sing praise.” In spite of Athaliah’s rule, he had set up a music education program in the temple for those who “taught.” Once Athaliah was deposed, Jehoida “appointed the offices of the house of the Lord by the hand of the priests the Levites, whom David had distributed in the house of the Lord, to offer the burnt offerings of the Lord, as it is written in the law of Moses, with rejoicing and with singing, as it was ordained by David” (verse 18). Jehoida’s service to the throne was so great that he was buried among the kings (2 Chronicles 24:16), whereas the king he served was not (verse 25).
More noteworthy musical activities in Judah occurred during the reign of King Hezekiah. Within his first year, he repaired and cleansed the temple (2 Chronicles 29:3-16). He involved the Levites in this process, including the three musical branches of Asaph, Heman and Jeduthun (verses 12-14). He eventually patterned the music program after David’s organization (verses 25-26).
“And Hezekiah commanded to offer the burnt offering upon the altar. And when the burnt offering began, the song of the Lord began also with the trumpets, and with the instruments ordained by David king of Israel” (verse 27). These instruments “by” (or by the hand of) David were used to perform the “songs of the Lord.” This music connected Israel with the Creator of the universe!
“And all the congregation worshipped, and the singers sang, and the trumpeters sounded: and all this continued until the burnt offering was finished. And when they had made an end of offering, the king and all that were present with him bowed themselves, and worshipped. Moreover Hezekiah the king and the princes commanded the Levites to sing praise unto the Lord with the words of David, and of Asaph the seer. And they sang praises with gladness, and they bowed their heads and worshipped” (verses 28-30). The people likely sang from the Psalms—at least the lyrics of David and Asaph. The fact that “the service of the house”—i.e., the musical order—came together so quickly was cause for great rejoicing (verses 35-36).
During that year’s Passover celebration, “the Levites and the priests praised the Lord day by day, singing with loud instruments unto the Lord” (2 Chronicles 30:21). Notice verse 22: “And Hezekiah spake comfortably unto all the Levites that taught the good knowledge of the Lord ….” It appears Hezekiah complimented the Levitical musicians and referred to music as “the good knowledge of the Lord.” Again, music came from direct revelation, inspiration and creation of Almighty God, and these performers had to look to God for such “good knowledge.”
Judah’s final righteous Davidic king was Josiah, who had to reverse much of the evil caused by the two kings preceding him. In this restoration, he too employed Levites who were skillful musicians (2 Chronicles 34:12). King Josiah was well loved by the musicians of his day. When he died on the battlefield at age 39, “Jeremiah lamented for Josiah: and all the singing men and the singing women spake of Josiah in their lamentations to this day, and made them an ordinance in Israel: and, behold, they are written in the lamentations” (2 Chronicles 35:25).
These lamenting songs were “an ordinance in Israel,” possibly performed annually, and “written in the lamentations”—that is, the Lamentations of Jeremiah (see Lamentations 4:19-20; for a full explanation, read Chapter 2 of Lamentations: The Point of No Return).
Jeremiah—Custodian of the Throne
At this point in the chronology, Jeremiah enters the picture—the prophet who was on the scene when Nebuchadnezzar invaded Jerusalem and destroyed Solomon’s temple. The Babylonian king killed all royal Jewish males, but he did not kill the princesses of the Jewish throne. These “king’s daughters” remained with Jeremiah (Jeremiah 41:10; 43:6). As Mr. Armstrong explained in The United States and Britain in Prophecy, God had commissioned Jeremiah to take a Davidic princess to a nation of Israel—to “overturn” David’s throne into what we now call Ireland.
Jeremiah went to Ireland not only with this princess, but also with the ark of the covenant, the stone of destiny and David’s harp. Transplanting the unbroken royal lineage included the task of transplanting the music and culture of the throne! The harp, the national symbol of the Hebrews, remains the national symbol of Ireland to this day and appears on royal emblems throughout the British Isles.
As with Israel and its surrounding nations, ancient Ireland had a remarkable cultural impact on the rest of Europe. Abundant evidence proves this point, particularly the superiority of Irish music and of its colleges’ music instruction in Europe’s early history. The most convincing proof comes from Vincenzio de Galilei, who wrote that Italy received the harp from Ireland: “This most ancient instrument was brought to us [Italians] from Ireland, where such are most excellently worked and in a great number; the inhabitants of the said island have made this their art during the many centuries they have lived there and, moreover, it is a special undertaking of the kingdom; and they paint and engrave it in their public and private buildings and on their hill; stating as their reason for so doing that they have descended from the royal Prophet David” (Dialogo Della Musica Antica; emphasis added).
Second Temple Renaissance
Seventy years after the destruction of Jerusalem (Jeremiah 29:10), Persia’s King Cyrus sent Jews back there to reconstruct the temple (Ezra 1:1). When the temple was restored, so too was the rich Davidic musical tradition for the temple service.
Ezra meticulously lists the first wave of repatriates—128 of whom were “[t]he singers: the children of Asaph” (Ezra 2:41). These musicians warrant special mention probably because of their lineage back to the great musical servant of King David: the Levitical Prophet Asaph. Nehemiah, who years later found a record of the same lists, records that the number of Asaphite singers who returned with Zerubbabel was 148 (Nehemiah 7:44).
These lists underscore the significance of the singers. Nehemiah 10 also distinguishes this special guild among the people: There is family name after family name, and then, in verse 28, mention of certain occupations: porters, Nethinims (a specific class of temple servants) and singers. Both Ezra and Nehemiah note that among the servants who returned was a group of at least 200 “singing men and singing women” not necessarily associated with “temple” music (Ezra 2:65; Nehemiah 7:67). The temple singers had their own villages and cities (Ezra 2:70; Nehemiah 12:28-29), which would have facilitated more convenient rehearsal schedules.
Singers and other musicians feature prominently throughout the accounts of Ezra and Nehemiah. After Zerubbabel set the altar “upon his bases” (Ezra 3:3) and laid the foundation of the second temple, a special dedication ceremony was held. Verse 10 states: “And when the builders laid the foundation of the temple of the Lord, they set the priests in their apparel with trumpets, and the Levites the sons of Asaph with cymbals, to praise the Lord, after the ordinance of David king of Israel.”
Zerubbabel, with the help of the high priest Joshua, reestablished the musical temple service as David had organized it. Despite the absence of his throne, David’s musical instructions were still being followed. The musicians performed together by course and sang lyrics similar to those sung at the dedication of Solomon’s temple (verse 11).
Several decades later, in the seventh year of Artaxerxes, another wave of repatriates returned. Leading them was Ezra, the skilled scribe from the honorable priestly lineage of Zadok and Aaron (Ezra 7:1-6). He came to “beautify the house of the Lord which is in Jerusalem” (verse 27)—enjoying the full support of the Persian king. Verse 7 shows that “singers” joined, and with Artaxerxes’s express endorsement (verse 24).
Nehemiah’s ‘Good Deeds’
About 13 years later, Nehemiah came to repair the wall and palaces bordering Jerusalem. This he accomplished in a remarkable 52 days, after which, he records, “Now it came to pass, when the wall was built, and I had set up the doors, and the porters and the singers and the Levites were appointed” (Nehemiah 7:1).
Nehemiah 12 describes these musicians in action when the wall was dedicated: “with singing, with cymbals, psalteries, and with harps” (verse 27). Verses 31-35 indicate that Nehemiah appointed two great companies in some sort of antiphonal performance. Among “certain of the priests’ sons with trumpets” was a “son of Asaph” (verse 35). Nehemiah listed eight others “with the musical instruments of David the man of God, and Ezra the scribe before them” (verse 36). The Hebrew actually means “singing instruments,” indicating either that the instruments were used to accompany singing or—as is still common today—the sweet timbre of bowed string instruments. Even wives and children got involved in this performance, which was so grand that “the joy of Jerusalem was heard even afar off” (verse 43).
Music was simply an essential activity of the temple—raised from the ruins of captivity! (verses 45-46).
Later, Nehemiah led an effort to repopulate Jerusalem (Nehemiah 11:1). Of the Levites chosen to live in the city was a son of Asaph who was “the principal to begin the thanksgiving in prayer,” and a son of Jeduthun (verse 17). Verses 22-23 add, “Of the sons of Asaph, the singers were over the business of the house of God. For it was the king’s commandment concerning them, that a certain portion should be for the singers, due for every day” (verse 23). The singers were supplied these daily needs throughout the days of Zerubbabel and Nehemiah (Nehemiah 12:47).
During Nehemiah’s absence from Jerusalem, however, the musical service was threatened. Nehemiah 13:5 shows that there was a great room where resources and sustenance were set aside for the singers, porters and priests. The high priest, Eliashib, drove these godly servants from the room and gave it to his ally Tobiah—an enemy of Nehemiah. This prevented the singers from receiving proper compensation and forced them to return to working their fields. This grieved Nehemiah, and he asked, “Why is the house of God forsaken?” (verses 8-11). He wanted the singers to be able to focus on their music!
Nehemiah “contended … with the rulers” and corrected the matter, restoring proper payment to these servants (verses 11-13). In verse 14, Nehemiah prayed: “Remember me, O my God, concerning this, and wipe not out my good deeds that I have done for the house of my God, and for the offices thereof.”
How clear is the importance of music to God’s people throughout the Old Testament! And as we will now see, this same pattern holds true in the New Testament.
Chapter 5: Music in the New Testament
After spiritual giants like Zerubbabel, Haggai, Zechariah, Ezra and Nehemiah passed from the scene, the Jewish nation became heavily secularized. It succumbed to Greek influence, brought about by Alexander the Great’s efforts to Hellenize his empire. This influence affected Jewish music.
Jewish leaders feared encroachment of Hellenism on Jewish life. Religious purists argued that because of Greek influence, all secular music was profane, even obscene. Many even felt the use of instruments was pagan because of how the Greeks used them.
But Jesus Christ disagreed.
In a ruler’s house, Christ “saw the minstrels and the people making a noise” (Matthew 9:23). The Greek word for minstrel is “aulos player.” The aulos, or the flute, was the most important instrument to the Greeks. Jesus Christ apparently made no disparaging comments about the use of this instrument in this encounter with its players. He also referenced the instrument in Matthew 11:16-17, again, without any disapproval.
Christ referenced secular music in the parable of the prodigal son, where the celebration over the son’s return included “musick and dancing” (Luke 15:25). The Greek symphonia (translated “musick”) means musicians playing together. Clearly Christ did not condemn music simply for being secular, even instrumental secular music. Nor did He condone the Jewish resistance to instrumental music in worship. Neither, later, did the Apostle Paul (1 Corinthians 14:7).
A Spiritual Nation
During the time of Jesus’s ministry, the Jewish priesthood was “teaching for doctrines the commandments of men” and worshiping God in vain (Mark 7:7). Even the most prized musical document in Jewish history—the Psalter—was largely forgotten. Notice these occasions when Christ had to remind the Jews of their psalms: “Is it not written in your law, I said, Ye are gods?” (John 10:34); “… And Jesus saith unto them, Yea; have ye never read, Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings thou hast perfected praise?” (Matthew 21:16); “Jesus saith unto them, Did ye never read in the scriptures, The stone which the builders rejected, the same is become the head of the corner …” (verse 42; also Mark 12:10). These quotations were essentially from the Jews’ hymnal. The Jewish religion and its music were in severe crisis.
It was at this time that God began working with a new nation—a spiritual one. Galatians 6:16 calls the Church “the Israel of God.”
God has declared that the people who comprise the New Testament Church are the “holy nation” and the “lively stones … built up a spiritual house” (1 Peter 2:9, 5). They are a “holy” and “royal priesthood.” For what purpose? “[T]hat ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light.”
Just as physical Israel should have done through their works and their music, this holy nation is to point the world to God. Culturally it has many similarities to the physical nation of Old Testament times.
Everything we have studied about Israel’s music has largely revolved around the monarchy, the priesthood and the temple. This new nation is a “royal priesthood”—what the Bible calls “kings and priests” (see Revelation 1:6; 5:10), and they spiritually comprise a new, spiritual temple: a “holy temple in the Lord … for an habitation of God through the Spirit” (Ephesians 2:21-22).
This nation includes people not physically descended from ancient Israel; these “strangers and foreigners” have become “fellowcitizens with the saints” (verse 19).
This new monarchy, priesthood and temple will—like their physical counterparts—“shew forth the praises of him,” partly through its music.
Psalms, Hymns, Spiritual Songs
The New Testament refers to three categories of sacred music: psalms, hymns and spiritual songs (Ephesians 5:19).
Psalms is from a Greek word that means striking, twanging or playing chords. This word alone endorses the use of instruments to accompany sacred singing in the Church. In Romans 15:9, Paul uses the root of this word when he writes: “For this cause I will confess to thee among the Gentiles, and sing unto thy name.” It can also be found in 1 Corinthians 14:15 and James 5:13. The word implies that this style of congregational singing was accompanied by instruments.
Unaccompanied sacred music is not wrong, however. The word for hymn is found in Mark 14:26, where Christ and His disciples sang a hymn, likely one of the psalms, during His final Passover in the flesh. Given the circumstances, it was likely unaccompanied. The Greek for “hymn” simply means “to sing the praise of.” A similar word describes what Paul and Silas did in prison, which was definitely unaccompanied (Acts 16:25).
For New Testament songs, the Greek is ode, a word we use in English. Ode is used in Revelation to describe the heavenly music, in the ode of Moses and the ode of the 144,000 saints. Ode implies a song of any kind, though Paul qualifies it as a spiritual song in Ephesians 5:19.
The remainder of that verse exhorts citizens of spiritual Israel to be “singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord.” The singing and plucking can be literal, but it can also happen “in your heart.” Interestingly, science has confirmed that music that we only imagine in our minds can have very positive effects. Anthony Storr wrote how music drawn from memory “has many of the same effects as real music coming from the external world” (Oliver Sacks, Musicophilia). In This Is Your Brain on Music, Dr. Levitin discusses an experiment that showed how, in brain scans, “it was nearly impossible to tell from the data whether people were listening to music or imagining music. The pattern of brain activity was virtually indistinguishable.” Dr. Sacks showed that “the imagination of music, of rhythm, may be as potent, neurally, as actually listening to it” (op cit).
Sacks was convinced that we all “to varying degrees, have music in our heads,” and that music in our minds is not connected with the memory but rather an active, present mental process. “[R]emembering music is not, in the usual sense, remembering at all. Remembering music, listening to it, or playing it, is entirely in the present” (ibid). This emphasizes the importance of having godly music in the mind.
The main point of these verses is to show the all-important attitude in singing praises to God. The Almighty bemoaned the fact that some of Israel’s praise to Him were mere flatteries and lies (Psalm 78:36). Particularly under the New Covenant, physical singing must include the vital spiritual element, or the praise is useless (see Psalm 51:14). The right spiritual attitude will motivate the Christian to sing out God’s praises the best way possible.
A companion verse to Ephesians 5:19 is Colossians 3:16: “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.” Here again is the admonition for a spiritual component in the Christian when making music. This verse also says music can help Scripture “dwell in you richly in all wisdom” and says music can be used as a spiritual tool in “teaching and admonishing one another.”
This verse states what every advertiser and childhood educator knows: We remember information best when it is put to music. This mnemonic power works for all of us, especially those with a mental malfunction. Sacks noted: “It is similar with some autistic people and with severely retarded people, who may be unable to perform fairly simple sequences involving perhaps four or five movements or procedures—but who can often do these tasks perfectly well if they set them to music. Music has the power to embed sequences and to do this when other forms of organization (including verbal forms) have failed.” This is why Paul admonished the Colossians to learn their Bibles this way. It was why the great Irish minstrel-bards could retain and recall so much information in advising the Irish kings: They knew, as Sacks wrote, that “music … has played a huge role in relation to the oral traditions of poetry, storytelling, liturgy and prayer. Entire books can be held in memory” (ibid).
God wants His Word dwelling richly in His spiritual nation. And He wants it to teach and admonish through music. (Today, the Philadelphia Church of God makes the lyrics to its many original songs available online at www.pcog.org.)
Through Church History
How were biblical music traditions continued within God’s one true Church after the scriptural record ends? It is difficult to say, because God’s “little flock” remained relatively undetected in history for centuries. Around the time of Jerusalem’s fall to Titus in a.d. 70, darkness fell over Church history for about a century. The church that emerged in the history books was quite different from the one founded by Christ. (This is explained in our free book The True History of God’s True Church.)
In the Middle Ages, however, congregational singing was practiced in the remote areas of France, Portugal, Sardinia and Bohemia. Mr. Armstrong’s Good News magazine commented: “These were Dark Ages indeed for the beautiful church music that had inspired singers in the days of David. No longer were people familiar with the accounts of spiritual edification that the apostles and early Church received from singing hymns together” (March 1962).
A dominant and counterfeit form of Christianity advocated chanting, which actually originated in ancient pagan Egypt. The true Church—though scattered, persecuted and hiding out for the most part—kept alive the proper use of music in worship.
The preservation of proper forms of congregational singing, however meager, was brought to light by Martin Luther. When he attempted to revive congregational singing, he found that it was actually being preserved among God’s people. “The persecuted Bohemian … churches, settled on the borders of Moravia, sent to [Luther] … Michael Weiss, who not long afterward published a number of German translations from Old Bohemian hymns” (Americanized Encyclopedia Britannica, 1980).
Michael Weiss is a major character in the little-known true history of God’s true Church—against which the “gates of hell” cannot prevail (Matthew 16:18). These Bohemians were, in fact, the small and persecuted surviving remnant of God’s people who had fled from the Holy Roman Empire. They preserved and practiced congregational singing through the centuries. Soon after Weiss’s visit, Luther began work on the first Protestant hymnal. The Good News remarks: “Had God not preserved the light of His true Church we still might be hearing only the chants of the Middle Ages in the world” (op cit).
Is it too remarkable to consider that God’s Church has shaped Western music history, like its physical counterpart of Old Testament times? The Protestant Reformation rocked the music world and dramatically changed its course!
The true Church of God, however, was fraught with its own problems, and Jesus Christ kept moving the lampstand, as the prophetic account of the Church eras in Revelation 2 and 3 reveals. At one point in history, members of the true Church were known as Waldenses. They were known, according to William Beattie’s book, for their musical practices: “Among the Waldenses, a knowledge and taste for sacred music is diligently inculcated; and thus, being early instructed in vocal harmony, their psalmody is as correct in sound as it is rich in expression” (The Waldenses).
Modern Church History
As in physical Israel, the spiritual health of God’s spiritual nation is reflected in the people’s music.
Through a large portion of the 20th century, the Philadelphia era was characterized by a mighty work because of the doors God opened for it and the special understanding God gave about the “key of David” (Revelation 3:7-8). Other scriptural references pinpoint this to be the era when a man came in the spirit and power of Elijah and restored all things, as Christ said he would, just before His Second Coming (Matthew 17:10-11).
This was a great spiritual renaissance in the history of the Church of God, especially following an era described as “dead” (Revelation 3:1). Its physical leader, like the original Elijah, restored true worship to Israel—this time, spiritual Israel. This restoration included putting the true God back into the hymns sung by the Church. After all, Christ said this end-time Elijah would come and “restore all things.” (Request A Pivotal Sign of the End Time for proof that Herbert W. Armstrong was this end-time Elijah.) History shows that music was part of this restoration.
Mr. Armstrong himself came from a musical family. His brother, Dwight, was an especially gifted composer. Mr. Armstrong employed Dwight full time (not unlike many of the temple musicians of old) to compose the Worldwide Church of God’s Bible Hymnal.
The hymnal reached its completed form around the time of another musical accomplishment by God’s Church: the inauguration of a magnificent auditorium in 1974. This was a modern version of a physical house for God to dwell in—patterned after the first and second temples as described in the Bible, yet with modern applications for spiritual worship and other uses befitting God’s presence. It became one of the finest concert venues in the United States. It featured some of the greatest musicians of the 20th century. Due to its unmatched acoustics, artists and patrons had reactions similar to those found in 2 Chronicles 9, which describes the Queen of Sheba’s reaction to Solomon’s temple.
Revelation 3 shows that the next and final era of God’s Church, however, was prophesied to be “lukewarm.” Soon after Mr. Armstrong’s death, Church administration advised Church members to start omitting some of the hymns from their song services. The real agenda became clear when the Church published another hymnal in 1993—replacing most of the “Armstrong” hymns with many unscriptural and lesser-quality compositions. The concert series shut down in 1995, and the lights of Ambassador Auditorium went out until 2004, when the building was sold to another local church.
The Bible is not silent about the connection between this Laodicean Church’s rotten spiritual state and the state of its music. Our many books and booklets prove how the ancient captivities of Israel and Judah are dual in fulfillment—captivity will come again, particularly to the “lukewarm” segment of God’s Church. Amos 6:5-6 show that something is wrong with the music of these apostatizing Christians—that the songs of their worship are “howlings” (Amos 8:2-3).
But God also prophesied through Amos that He would raise the ruins of those golden years of the Philadelphia era (Amos 9:11-12). This is occurring through the remnant known as the Philadelphia Church of God. (Request our free books Malachi’s Message to God’s Church Today and Raising the Ruins for more information.)
Musically, the work of the pcg is patterned after Mr. Armstrong’s, even in its cultural and musical emphases. Until the wcg released the Bible Hymnal into the public domain, the Church used as many copies of the book as it could find. Now, thanks to the public domain release, the pcg has produced various editions of the hymnal, even a complete version in Spanish.
The pcg began sponsoring a concert series only three years after Ambassador Auditorium’s lights went out. Then in 2008, ground was broken on a performing arts center—Armstrong Auditorium—at the pcg’s world headquarters. This “second temple” (at least as far as modern Church history goes) is one of the most visible monuments of how the pcg has raised the ruins from its splendor under Mr. Armstrong. Like God’s nation in Old Testament times, this tiny spiritual nation is making an impact on the world of music and the arts through this grand edifice.
Additionally, Church members living in far-flung places around the world can livestream many of the performances that occur in Armstrong Auditorium. What a rare opportunity in human history. Historically, for people to witness such performances, they had to have been born into a privileged palace that patronized the arts. Now, it is common for people to be able to watch great performances, particularly with the advent of television and film. Art museums are also affordable and attainable for many, particularly in the First World and Israelite-influenced nations. God gives great opportunities to His people scattered around the world!
Now project this culture forward into the world to come, when the whole world will be God’s, when all will be keeping God’s laws (Isaiah 2:1-4), and when the spiritual nation is the ruling Kingdom of God (Daniel 2:44).
The Culture of Tomorrow’s World
This time is preceded by “great tribulation” (Matthew 24:21). Psalm 137 prophesies about the music of God’s people who have been taken into captivity. The Bible reveals that they will find great comfort in the Song of Solomon (as our Song of Songs booklet explains).
While the faithful remnant of God’s Church is protected from these horrors, Scripture shows they will be making music from their place of refuge (Isaiah 42:10-12).
When Christ returns to stop humanity from annihilating itself (Matthew 24:22), His appearance will be heralded by the sound of a “great trumpet” (Isaiah 27:13; Revelation 11:15). He will establish His government and usher in a new age of music.
Christ will free those who languished in captivity, and they will emerge into freedom “with songs,” “with singing,” with dancing, and adorned with tabrets (Isaiah 35:10; 51:11; Jeremiah 31:4-13; see also Psalm 126 and Isaiah 26). God will also silence the pagan Babylonian system, including its music (Revelation 18:22).
When God establishes His government over the Earth, He “shall comfort Zion: he will comfort all her waste places; and he will make her wilderness like Eden, and her desert like the garden of the Lord; joy and gladness shall be found therein, thanksgiving, and the voice of melody” (Isaiah 51:3). The wilderness will be transformed into Eden and the desert into the garden of the Eternal—both types of God’s throne room! The throne-room culture will be planted here on Earth during the reign of the Messiah. “The voice of melody” will be heard—more evidence that music existed in the original Eden. The Hebrew root for melody means to strike with fingers. So there will be voices and instruments—all kinds of music—in the future Eden!
The culture of the World Tomorrow will be an export of God’s throne-room culture! It will be a world of true culture.
Mr. Armstrong wrote in his March 1978 article on culture: “There is much sophisticated ‘culture’ in this world that is pure snobbery and vanity. But true culture is based on God’s great law: ‘Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself’ (Matthew 22:39). That part of culture and good manners that expresses concern for one’s neighbor in politeness, graciousness, pleasantness, smiles and service is true culture.”
God wants humanity to savor the finest things, to have excellent standards, manners and tastes. Why? Because these qualities reflect the character of God.
“For the Lord hath redeemed Jacob …. Therefore they shall come and sing in the height of Zion, and shall flow together to the goodness of the Lord, for wheat, and for wine, and for oil, and for the young of the flock and of the herd: and their soul shall be as a watered garden; and they shall not sorrow any more at all. Then shall the virgin rejoice in the dance, both young men and old together: for I will turn their mourning into joy, and will comfort them, and make them rejoice from their sorrow. And I will satiate the soul of the priests with fatness, and my people shall be satisfied with my goodness, saith the Lord” (Jeremiah 31:11-14).
One of the most vivid images of the 1,000-year rule of the Messiah on Earth is that people will “beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks,” and learn war no more, every man enjoying security “under his vine and under his fig tree” (Micah 4:3-4). Consider how this time of peace will affect the musical output of the world.
Imagine the resources being poured into education and agriculture as opposed to war and the grueling processes of arming, manufacturing and training for battle. The glorious alternative to destruction is creation. What a creative time this coming world will be! Artists are, after all, a product of the society they live in. Imagine how this pervading peace will encourage and stimulate their creative efforts!
Zechariah 8:3-5 picture a time when Jerusalem will be “full of boys and girls playing in the streets thereof”; this can refer to “playing” instrumental music and dancing.
One pure worldwide language (Zephaniah 3:9) will also impact music. Not only does this verse imply significant changes for religious music, it implies a purification of the lyrics of the coming music. It may also impact the structure of music itself. As Mr. Armstrong wrote, “A different language means a different culture, different music, different habits, different education, different values and standards, and a whole different approach to life” (The Wonderful World Tomorrow—What It Will Be Like). Musicologists and linguistic experts know what Mr. Armstrong stated: Language deeply affects the musical architecture of any culture.
This coming great musical renaissance will surely be enhanced by the resurrection and participation of King David himself (Ezekiel 37:21-25).
Jeremiah 30:9 confirms that God will “raise up” the sweet psalmist of Israel, and he will resume his role as united Israel’s king! With David reigning, surely music will assume a prominent place in the culture of tomorrow’s world!
And music—as well as this sophisticated culture—will not be just for the elite, as in Satan’s world. A time is coming when all will partake of the finer things, including fine food and drink, singing and dancing. Jeremiah 31:12-14 show that all this typifies spiritual bounty. These physical things represent God’s goodness.
Chapter 6: The Importance of Music
We have seen how important music is—its physical and spiritual benefits and rewards, its vitality to our lives and our relationship with God. In God’s view, music is not a frivolous hobby for the specialized few, or unnecessary entertainment for the unskilled masses. More inspiring scriptural examples will confirm this truth.
First, though, consider this contrasting perspective: “It’s better that our dear youth spend their valuable time in learning science and essential and useful skills.” So said Iranian leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in August 2010 when he denounced all forms of music as “not compatible with the highest values of the sacred regime of the Islamic Republic.”
It is not unusual for dictators to forbid worthwhile endeavors that they find threatening to their authority. But did the ayatollah have a point? Are science and other skills more “useful” to our children than music? Many people apparently think so, judging by the impoverished music programs of the average public school.
Centuries ago, however, such questions would have sounded absurd. Music and science were not considered at odds with each other.
“It is a recent notion that music is a divertissement to be enjoyed in comfortable surroundings at the end of the day, far removed from the hurly-burly of life’s business,” writes Jamie James in The Music of the Spheres. “[T]hroughout most of the history of our culture, music was itself an essential part of life’s business. … [I]t was taken for granted throughout the whole history of the West that music was a defining human activity, and therefore every educated person was trained in the rudiments of music.”
James points out that music “remained an important constituent of mathematics in European education until the 19th century.” The idea that music existed merely to give pleasure would have been considered as ludicrous as believing that sex is merely for pleasure. Before the 19th century, music was thought to have a pure and enlightening purpose, linking mankind with the eternal and the spiritual.
“Musical training was considered one of the high marks of refinement in the Middle Ages,” write Patricia Shehan Campbell and Carol Scott-Kassner in Music in Childhood. By the time of the Enlightenment, “[m]usic instruction was more than ‘window dressing’ in European schools. It was viewed as ‘basic’ to the education of all children.”
As we’ve shown, men of science have long believed that music was not only sound that emanated from a minstrel’s lyre, but the way both the heavenly bodies and even the human body were ordered—and that by understanding music, we could better understand the universe. They believed our bodies and minds are a musical instrument. We find certain harmonies pleasing, in fact, because they agree with our own internal rhythms. Our bodies are soothed or stirred by music because they vibrate sympathetically to sounds produced around them.
Considering the healing properties of music and new discoveries on how the brain reacts to music, we know they were on to something.
The Brain Loves Music
New brain-scanning technology reveals some remarkable things about the impact of music on health and brain function. People who cannot talk have sung. People who cannot walk have danced! Medicine is further acknowledging something it should have known all along: the health-influencing properties of music.
Significantly, the brain has no single music “center.” Listening to or performing music engages “every area of the brain that we have so far identified, and involve[s] nearly every neural subsystem” (Levitin, op cit). You could call it the best mental workout around. Physical education experts laud swimming for using all the body’s major muscle groups. Music, you could say, is the swimming of mental activities.
No wonder the corpus callosum (the area connecting the brain’s two hemispheres) is enlarged in professional musicians. No wonder studies have found that musicians distinguish and remember sound better than nonmusicians.
But music’s impact on the brain is true for musicians and nonmusicians alike. Brain imaging has shown that the brain “gives a little start of surprise when a passage of music takes an unexpected turn,” even in someone without musical training (U.S. News and World Report, Aug. 5, 2001). It is a mistake, in fact, as Music in Childhood points out, to buy into the “myth that few children are musically endowed”—a myth that “threatens the right of all to a musical education, and may even endanger a musical culture.”
Music benefits our mental, physical and emotional health. It aids our thinking and our moods. It also aids our children from their earliest development—even while still in the womb.
Study after study is emerging showing that when our children have musical training, they tend to excel in their development and may even enjoy a boost in iq. The studies cite the neurological benefits, though we can’t discount the behavioral habits that regular disciplined practicing instills.
Research also suggests that the brain is prewired for music from infancy and can learn music as quickly as it can learn speech. Because of parents’ tendencies to speak to babies in singsong, Sandra Trehub of the University of Toronto speculates that “we are born with a musical brain because music provides a special communication channel between parent and child” (U.S. News, op cit).
Music in Childhood states, “Children are stimulated intellectually, physically, and even spiritually in their recognition of music for its own sake as well as its integration with their knowledge of the humanities, the sciences, and the social studies.”
“Music is part of being human,” Dr. Sacks wrote, “and there is no human culture in which it is not highly developed and esteemed. Its very ubiquity may cause it to be trivialized in daily life: We switch on a radio, switch it off, hum a tune, tap our feet, find the words of an old song going through our minds, and think nothing of it.”
May we never let familiarity with music breed such contempt that we forget its impact on our existence, and how vital it is to the instruction, development and maturation of our children.
The Future Temple Stresses Its Importance
The biblical record shows how God values music and singing as both a pastime and a career, as an activity for both amateurs and professionals. Music is important to humanity’s enrichment, and the Bible reveals that it is also essential to our spiritual development. Here is something else worth considering regarding the essential nature of music as found in the Scriptures.
The last nine chapters of Ezekiel describe a unique temple. As Gerald Flurry’s book Ezekiel: The End-Time Prophet points out, no temple has ever been made with these measurements; this temple has yet to be constructed. This prophesied temple is the one from which the Messiah will rule at His coming. Ezekiel devotes a great deal of space describing all the structures on the temple grounds. (We have a model of this temple in the administration building on our campus, as researched and constructed by an artist and Philadelphia Church of God minister, the late Gary Rethford.) The tallest building in the Ezekiel temple is, as expected, the sanctuary: Its portico stands over 24 stories tall. But the structure that takes up the most square footage is the “chambers of the singers” (Ezekiel 40:44).
These large rooms flank the north, east and south borders of the inner court and face the sanctuary. The east inner court gate cuts right between them. And these chambers take up a massive 55,000 square feet—over a fifth larger than the square footage of Armstrong Auditorium. These “chambers of the singers” have a larger footprint than the sanctuary and large “west building” behind the sanctuary (where instruction will likely take place) combined! Considering how these temple grounds are a type of God’s heavenly throne room, the prominence of these singers’ quarters should not come as a surprise.
Yes, music and singing have been eternally important, and they will continue to be wherever God’s culture prevails.
A Heavenly Endeavor
Music is an important component of proper spiritual worship. The Old Testament sacrifices were fulfilled in Jesus Christ, and many of the priesthood’s functions were fulfilled in His heavenly office (see Hebrews 7-13). However, praise—carried by the strains of music—remains a vital part of the spiritual nation.
Hebrews 13:15 states, “By him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to his name.” God wants His people to sacrifice “praises” to Him continually—because “with such sacrifices God is well pleased” (verse 16). Psalm 50:14-15 read: “Offer unto God thanksgiving; and pay thy vows unto the most High: And call upon me in the day of trouble: I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify me.” The Hebrew word for offer literally means to slaughter an animal—but here the word is used to describe offering thanksgiving and praise! God says these musical sacrifices are more important than sacrifices of animals (see Psalm 69:30-31).
God requires these sacrifices not just so He can hear from us how great He is. “Whoso offereth praise glorifieth me,” He says: “and to him that ordereth his conversation aright will I shew the salvation of God” (Psalm 50:23). He truly delights in it because it has eternal, spiritual effects for us. It is for our benefit, leading to our ultimate salvation and birth into the God Family!
Consider: If all the Old Testament sacrifices were replaced because they were only “types” of the spiritual, yet we still make music as part of our worship, then that means music—particularly praising God through it—is not merely a type of something spiritual: It is a spiritual act!
So many of the activities we can do as human beings are types that teach us about the eternal life and responsibilities awaiting us. Making music, however, is not a “type” of something. Music is happening in the spirit realm—in the third heaven. When we refine our abilities to wield these frequencies and rhythms, we are working with “material” that exists in another dimension!
The Culture of the Spirit-born God Family
These “sacrifices of praise” will be offered in the beautiful world to come (Jeremiah 33:11; 17:24-26)—as was the case before this world existed. This world is on the brink of a musical renaissance to surpass all musical renaissances! This will be possible largely because the world will be ruled by a spirit family of God beings.
In the Apostle John’s vision recorded in the book of Revelation, he saw 144,000 of those Family members singing a new song “before the throne” (Revelation 14:1-5); they are contributing to the throne-room culture. John saw people born into God’s Family—singing before the throne with harps (Revelation 15:2-4).
These spirit beings will have musical capabilities as God does and as the angels do. Mr. Armstrong implied this in his inspiring book The Incredible Human Potential. Speaking of the musical archangel Lucifer, he wrote: “Think of all the supreme talent, ability and potential in a being created with such capacities. And all perverted! … Yet, take courage. The awesome human potential, if we care enough about it to resist Satan’s wiles and evils and discouragements and to persevere in God’s way, is infinitely superior and higher than Lucifer’s—even as created, before he turned to rebellion and iniquity!”
He is saying that we can look at Lucifer before his rebellion, examine all his abilities and talents, and then we must realize that God intends for us to exceed those talents and abilities—in a manner “infinitely superior”! At the beginning of this volume, we discussed how God has such great musical ability to afford to Lucifer, and how Lucifer was the greatest musical genius in the universe next to the God Realm. But the Bible reveals that our potential is superior in brilliance and ability to Lucifer! God is making even more powerful and brilliant musical geniuses right now!
We also discussed how talented the men were whom God used to lead and educate His nation anciently, and how impressive God’s nation is to others once God educates His nation in His ways. Consider that in light of this quote from The Wonderful World Tomorrow: “Take outstanding, superior men, having undergone a human lifetime of this attitude, this training in the ways of success and perfection. But now change these men by a resurrection into the perfection of immortality. And consider that immortality will multiply their aptitudes, abilities and powers perhaps a million times above what they achieved as humans, by infusing into them the power and glory of God.”
God is about to multiply our aptitudes and bring forth musical geniuses in the birth of His spiritual nation!
The higher echelon of leaders in this Kingdom will be ruling from the Ezekiel temple, the square footage of which speaks of the importance of the musical culture in this ruling Family.
Zephaniah 3:17 shows the one ultimately behind this cultural revolution: “The Lord thy God in the midst of thee is mighty; he will save, he will rejoice over thee with joy; he will rest in his love, he will joy over thee with singing.”
God will joy over people with singing! The Hebrew word for joy means to go in a circle, to leap or to dance. God will personally bring His tastes, His appreciations, His arts to the Earth, into the human culture.
Jeremiah 33:10-11 reveal that the voice of the Bridegroom and the Bride will be heard in Jerusalem, along with those who bring “the sacrifice of praise” into the house of the Eternal.
God gives us a foretaste of this kind of world today: every Sabbath, every Feast of Tabernacles, in the continual experiences He gives His Church. This is because He is preparing us to help bring His throne-room culture to Earth, and is using us to begin that process even today.
The spread of this culture does not stop on Earth though! Isaiah 51:16 states: “And I have put my words in thy mouth, and I have covered thee in the shadow of mine hand, that I may plant the heavens, and lay the foundations of the earth, and say unto Zion, Thou art my people.” The Earth is the foundation for planting the heavens!
God wanted Lucifer to fill the universe with godly culture. Because of his failure, this has become the illustrious and inspiring job of humanity! And God is ensuring we have the abilities to perform it! We are about to fill this Earth—and this universe—with His throne-room culture!