1 Jun 2018

Ezekiel, His Guitar and Prophecy

Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: Bible, Ezekiel, Hebrew Bible, Music, Worship

I grew up in a religious fellowship that loathed instrumental music in worship. I heard many a sermon, lecture, and class on instrumental music. We have fought, divided and bloodied one another over instruments.

Sometimes our animosity towards instruments led us to misrepresent the biblical text in profound, and I would say unethical, ways. But my upbringing never allowed me to see just how pervasive instruments are in the Bible itself. These were just filtered out.

For years I was so fixated on “worship” that I never noticed instruments (and music) were associated with preaching or prophesying in the Bible. Preaching and prophesying are “acts of worship” not “separate and apart” from worship in Scripture. Many think biblical prophecy is akin to Nostradamus or fortune telling but such ideas of prophecy have nothing to do with biblical prophecy. Biblical prophecy is preaching, or proclaiming, the word of God. Sometimes that had a future element more often than not it was a call to covenantal faithfulness and repentance.

Have you ever noticed, when you look through Isaiah, Jeremiah, Hosea, etc that it is printed in meter just like the Psalms. This is because the prophets are poetry. The prophets were poets and singers. And what I never noticed for many years, because of my prejudice, was that prophecy (worship) and instruments typically went together through the “hand” of the Holy Spirit. Notice this text,

David … set apart the sons of Asaph, Heman and Jeduthun, who should PROPHESY [my emphasis] with lyres, harps, and cymbals … Of the sons of Asaph … who PROPHESIED [my emphasis] …” (1 Chronicles 25.1-3, read down to v.8)

This text clearly links, at least, some aspect of prophecy with music and even instruments. Asaph, etc feature in the Psalms … are the Psalms considered “prophecy” by the inspired Chronicler? I think so.

We know that “singers” used to go through the Ancient Near East and “perform” songs like Gilgamesh and dozens of other epics and ballads. They were the “classics” of the Ancient Near East And this is what we see in the prophet Ezekiel. In the following text, the Lord is lamenting the insincerity of the people. They like Ezekiel’s “guitar” work but don’t live out the song. (“Guitar” should be recognizable as a poetic license here)

They come to you as people and assemble before you, and they hear your words, but they will not obey them … To them you are like a singer of love songs, one who has a great voice and PLAYS WELL ON AN INSTRUMENT [my emphasis]” (Ezk 33.31-32)

Ezekiel was a poet, a singer, and he prophesied, that is he preached the word of God, with an instrument. Just like 1 Chronicles 25 describes. The reason the prophets are poetry is because they are songs. Songs are memorable. But notice that when God complained to Ezekiel it was not because he sang or played guitar but because the people did not “hear” and “obey” the Song.

All this is brought together through the prophet Habakkuk. Here we learn by “direct statement” (not inference) that prophets were associated with the Temple and worship. Here we learn that the song (or prayer) of the prophet was incorporated into temple worship and even with instruments. The book of Habakkuk concludes with a magnificent theophany of the God of Israel coming to redeem his wayward people evocative of the Exodus itself. Notice how chapter three begins,

A prayer of the prophet Habakkuk according to Shigionoth

This is a “heading” just like those in the book of Psalms itself. Then notice how the chapter ends

To the leader with stringed instruments” (3.19c)

Prophecy is preaching, praying, worship. Prophecy was poetry in motion … music. I do not know if every “sermon” was sung but a lot were. They came to hear Ezekiel play his guitar! They loved his singing. They did not love the song enough to join in and sing it (i.e. live it).

Not only did Israel sing praises to God through “instruments of music for the LORD” (2 Chron 7.6) but they had the word of God frequently given back to them through a prophet (preacher), a song, and a “guitar.”

Be blessed.

One Response to “Ezekiel, His Guitar and Prophecy”

  1. Profile photo of Dwight Haas Dwight Says:

    I think we under appreciate that the melody, which was driven by instruments, allowed the people to remember long pieces of words, such as prophecies or psalms, etc. Of course the words were the point but the imprint of the words in the heart and mind were important as well.
    And then we are dealing with Jewish meters, which we don’t deal with today. The songs of the past were not just rhymes/short songs, but long works that didn’t rhyme. The only way to make the psalms rhyme is to change the wording, but then again they wouldn’t have changed the words of God, but sang it was written.

Leave a Reply