15 Jun 2016

Israel, David, Music: Caricatures, Misrepresentations and Unity

Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: A Gathered People, Bible, Church, Exegesis, Hebrew Bible, Jewish Backgrounds, Love, Worship
Peter Pringle's reconstruction of the "Lyre of Megiddo" that dates to the time of David.

Peter Pringle’s reconstruction of the “Lyre of Megiddo” that dates to the time of David.

I have hesitated to post this material for fear of misunderstanding. However we have a hard time dealing with the Bible correctly and maintaining unity when we suffer from distortions of the truth.  In the spirit of Psalm 133, I offer this.

Preliminary Quotes

“I would prefer to have an organ, or a fashionable choir as a means of my worship than the words of a hymn set to the notes of a tune on which to fix my eyes while engaged in the worship of God.” (Alexander Campbell, “The Christian Psalmist,” Millennial Harbinger [March 1847], 179)

I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me … so they may be one as we are one” (Jesus of Nazareth, John 17.20-23)

Accept those whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters … Who are you to judge another man’s servant … Therefore stop passing judgment on one another” (Paul, Romans 14.1, 4, 13)

A Word Before We Begin about Caricatures and the Hebrew Bible

I have no interest in being an apologist for instrumental music per se. But I do have an interest in correctly representing the Bible and in unity. And I am concerned that some through their zeal have not done so. I interested in this matter also because of my interest in the unity of the family of God.

ChristianUnity_thumbA couple of things I want to address and all have to do with the “Old Testament.” There are those who make the claim that IM is pure entertainment (this is negative) without for a second thinking about how this reflects on the character of God. Can one be edified by instrumental music though without it being pejoratively “entertainment?” De we apply the same rule to preaching?

Some do not know the Bible and claim that instruments were introduced by David and never were commanded by God. This is not true but even if it were the NT itself declares that David was himself a prophet!!!

Some claim that playing an instrument itself (no singing) cannot either be worship to God or give glory to God.  And finally the assumed implication by some that Israel did not worship in “Spirit and Truth,” a notion that is difficult to justify from either Testament (Jesus seems to think the Jews were correct in John 4!)

God has Always Demanded Pure Worship

God has always demanded holy & pure worship. This is not new in the “NT.” Worship in the Hebrew Bible is not “carnal” unless one dares to imagine God commanded the Israelites to participate in something less than holy and Spiritual. If you do not believe this read the book of Leviticus with its repeated command to be “holy as I am holy.” The Jews did in fact worship “in truth” as Jesus himself informed the woman at the well in John 4.22, “you Samaritans worship what you do not know; WE worship what we do know; for salvation is from the Jews.” Jesus clearly endorses Jewish worship right here.

God has always called for worshipers with clean, circumcised, hearts and pure motives. He tells the Israelites to “circumcise your hearts” (Deut 10.16; Jer 4.4; etc). All Israelites were called to offer worship through pure hearts and clean holy lives, one demands the other.  Psalm 15 and Psalm 24, among other texts, address this head on.

spiritandtruthO YHWH, who may abide in your tent?
Who may dwell on your holy hill?
Those who walk blamelessly and do what is right,
and speak truthfulness out of their heart … (15.1-2, BV)

Who shall ascend the hill of YHWH?
And who can enter the sacred place?
Those who have clean hands and pure hearts,
who do not lift up their souls to what is false
and do not swear deceitfully …
Such is the company of those who seek him,
who seek the face of the God of Jacob” (24.4-6, BV)

Jesus learned about true, Spiritual, worship from the Psalms.

Therefore, when God himself told the Israelites to worship with instruments that cannot be in conflict with the demand for holy, pure, clean, Spiritual worship. A house divided cannot stand.

God did not command the Israelites to do that which was sinful, self-serving, “carnal,” and he certainly did not tell them to engage in “entertainment” but the Hebrew Bible does know that worship in the Presence of the Lord is a privilege accompanied by great joy. As a study of the Psalms will show, worship in Israel was an expression of the Shema (Deut 6.4) in 3D: expressing love for God with heart, soul, and strength.  Nothing is withheld from God.  See my article Worship is the Shema in 3D: Vitamins for Worshiping with Heart, Mind, Soul & Strength.

Misrepresenting the Spirit’s Word

It is surprising to me how many with zeal for a certain “position”  on IM make some astonishing claims in regard to the subject.  In a recent conversation with me, a brother told he had looked up every reference to instruments and had not found a single one that said they were commanded by God.

Psalm-150My response to my brother was, what Bible where you reading? Shocking as it is to some who do not know the Scriptures, instrumental music was associated with Israel’s worship from the very beginning of the Exodus (before the giving of the Law), commanded by God in the Law of Moses itself. The Bible does not teach that David introduced instruments to Israel’s worship in the Hebrew Bible.

The moment of Israel’s salvation by grace was the Exodus. Both the prophet Moses and the prophet Miriam led Israel in worship to celebrate the wonder of that salvation. The prophet Miriam grabbed a “tambourine” and led a huge worship service singing on that instrument songs “to the LORD” (Exodus 15.20-21).

Instrumental music was integral to Israel’s sacrificial worship from the beginning. Numbers 10 records God’s own words (these would be in red letters if we did that in the OT) where he commands the use of trumpets as part of sacrifices, all sacrifices and worship festivals. Did not the Lord God say these words “on your days of rejoicing, at your appointed festivals, and at the beginnings of your months, you shall blow the trumpets over your burnt offerings [=worship] and over your shalom offerings; they shall serve as a memorial before the LORD your God: I am the LORD your God” (Num 10.10, see vv 1-10).

Of all the texts so grossly abused and outright misrepresented on this score is the eighth century prophet Amos. A recent blog on instruments in the Old Testament argues that through Amos, God rebuked unauthorized.  The writer claimed that instrumental music was rejected in Israel by Amos because it was unauthorized.  The blog quotes both chapter 5 and 6 of Amos:

Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them; and the peace offerings of your fattened animals, I will not look upon them. Take away from me the noise of your songs; to the melody of your harps I will not listen” (Amos 5:22-23).

Woe to those who lie on beds of ivory and stretch themselves out on their couches, and eat lambs from the flock and calves from the midst of the stall, who sing idle songs to the sound of the harp and like David invent for themselves instruments of music” (Amos 6:4-5).

I wonder why some would so ignore the context of a passage.  Neither of these texts reject instruments any more than they do sacrifice or singing itself. The phrase “like David who improvise on instruments of music,” like the rest of the text from verse 1 to verse 7 has nothing to do with worship per se at all.  Amos is attacking the avarice of the rich and the callous, self-indulgent, lifestyle of the powerful as they abuse the poor.  This a classic example of ripping a text from its context to suit an already established agenda.  Why is it that the entire oracle is not quoted from Amos? Why stop at v.5 and ignore v.1? Note the language in this oracle

Alas for those who are at ease in Zion, and for those who feel secure in Mount Samaria,
the notable people of the foremost nation … You who lounge on beds of ivory, and lounge
on their couches, and eat lambs from the stall, who sing songs to the sound of the harp,
and like David improvise on instruments of music; who drink wine by the bowlful, and
anoint themselves with the finest lotions, but you do not grieve over the ruin of Joseph …
and your feasting and revelry shall pass away

The fact that these rich people are improvising on instruments attests to their leisurely and opulent lifestyle.  But it is much safer to imagine that Amos is castigating them for instrumental music in worship (which is not even on the radar screen in the oracle) than to embrace the actual justice issue of Amos in this text.

There is no text in Amos where the prophet rejects instrumental music because it is instrumental music.  Amos is, however, a classic text that rejects worship rituals divorced from discipleship especially in the form of justice and mercy. In the context of our oracle in chapter 5 we read,

Seek good and not evil, that you may live; and so the LORD, the God of hosts, will be with you,
just as you have said. Hate evil and love good, establish justice in the gate; it may be that the LORD,the God of hosts, will be gracious to the remnant of Joseph” (5.14-15)

Immediately after vv. 23-24, quoted above, that rejects not instruments but the entire liturgical service of the rich and powerful who crush the poor and needy while they sing praise to the God of the Exodus!  The very next line in v.25 thunders,

But let justice roll down like water, and righteousness an everflowing stream.

Amos is a blistering attack upon the vain notion of that God’s people can separate ethics, justice and mercy from proper worship forms.  Amos does not, anywhere, attack the form if Israel’s worship.  He attacks it because the people offering it have become little Pharaoh’s toward the least of these.  To claim that Amos rejected Israel’s worship because it had instruments is not supported by the text.

Avarice is Amos’s target, not instrumental music in Israel’s worship. And it would be strange if it were since Yahweh commanded their use as we shall see.

The Prophet David’s Role and the Temple

David did not “introduce” instrumental music to Israel’s worship. Only the most uninformed person can claim that (or they are just being deceptive). But what David did do, was by command of God himself. He arranged the music for the temple. That is what David did, he did not introduce instruments because they had been used since God gave the Law to Moses himself. The inspired historian wrote

he stationed Levites in the house of the Lord with cymbals, harps, and lyres according to the commandment of David and of Gad the king’s seer and of Nathan the prophet; for THE COMMANDMENT WAS FROM THE LORD THROUGH HIS PROPHETS {this btw places David with Gad and Nathan as prophets}(2 Chronicles 29.25-26).

David did not act on his own. David did not introduce instruments. David simply arranged the service of the temple. But all this was “from the Lord.”

Chronicles is loaded with interest in the Temple and its worship including that of music (whole books have been written on this interest in OT scholarship). But before the temple was built, David placed the Ark in a “Tent” at the future site of the Temple.

David, himself, offered sacrifices at this occasion and the future musicians took up their holy tasks. First Chronicles 16 the entire chapter should be read. The harps, lyres, cymbals and trumpets were all arranged (vv.4-6) and then Asaph who was the chief and head of the cymbals section led the people of Israel in a praise service (vv. 7-36; you might want to compare this text with Pss 105 & 96).

When Solomon led the dedication worship service we see a parallel celebration to David’s. This story takes up almost the whole of 2 Chronicles 5-7. When we examine the text we see again,

the Levitical singers … with cymbals, harps, and lyres, stood east of the altar with a hundred and twenty priests who were trumpeters {thats a lot of trumpets!!} and it was the duty of the trumpeters and singers to make themselves heard in unison in praise and thanksgiving to the Lord, and when the song was raised, with trumpets and cymbals and other musical instruments … the house of the Lord was filled with a cloud … for the glory of the LORD filled the house of God” (2 Chronicles 5.12-13; cf. 7.1-2).

Ps 81Psalms and the Commandment of the Lord

The Bible in fact does not give David the credit for making such an innovation in the worship of God. The Book of Psalms is inspired by God and it has this to say about the authority of instruments. Psalm 81 reads,

Sing aloud to God our strength; shout for joy to the God of Jacob. Raise a song, sound the tambourine, the sweet lyre with the harp. Blow the trumpet at the new moon, as the full moon, on our festal day. FOR IT IS A STATURE FOR ISRAEL AN ORDINANCE OF THE GOD OF JACOB. He made it a decree in Joseph, when he went out over the land of Egypt.” (vv 1-5).

Several things are clear in this text: 1) the text clearly identifies the use of instruments as the commandment of God and does not mention David at all; 2) the text places the authority of instruments all the way back to the Exodus as pointed out above; 3) for those who are biblically in tune know this is a clear reference back to God’s command to Moses in Numbers 10.

Revelation and the Hebrew Bible

The Book of Revelation is hardly silent on the matter of instrumental music. I think there are two reasons Churches of Christ have had an allergy to Revelation: 1) the Premillennial controversy of the early and mid-20th century and 2) it shows saints praising God with instruments no less than three times. Brethren are defensive on both counts.

In Revelation 5.8-10 we read “when he had taken down the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty four elders fell before the Lamb, each holding a harp and golden bowls full of incense which are the prayers of the saints. They sang a new song …

Then in Rev 14.2-3 we read “I heard a voice from heaven like the sound of many waters and like the sound of loud thunder; the voice I heard was like the sound of harpists playing on their harps, and they sang a new song before the throne …

And then over in 15.2-3. “…those who had conquered the beast and its image and the number of its name, standing beside the sea of glass with harps of God in their hands, And they sang the song of Moses, the servant of God and the song of the Lamb …”

It has always been interesting to watch those who do their best to explain these texts away: “That is in heaven and not how the church is to worship!” For all the anger we have had towards one another and the splits of the church we should at least be able to admit that no one would be singing the Song of Moses and the Lamb in heaven if God did not like it!!

Even if we grant that the harps are “symbolic,” is it or is not the case that Revelation is symbolizing Christian worship?? We still have to explain why John colors Christian worship in Revelation with the imagery of the Temple, including instruments, if such was inconceivable to him and his readers.

Can an Instrument Itself be a Vehicle of Worship?

According to 1 Chronicles 23.5 an instrument can itself, by being played, can be praise to the Lord. The Chronicler speaks of David’s arrangements (as noted above) of the Levites who “shall offer praises to the LORD with instruments which I have made for praise” (1 Chron 23.5, RSV). The instrument was created as a vehicle for the glory of God.

Our divisions are in direct opposition to the prayer of Jesus and the commands of the Spirit. Somethings are adiaphora ...

Our divisions are in direct opposition to the prayer of Jesus and the commands of the Spirit. Somethings are adiaphora …

Not Apologetics but Unity

Once again I am not being an apologist for instrumental music. I am however critiquing fallacious and unbiblical arguments that are used to justify the division of God’s blood bought family.

We do not have to misrepresent the Bible because we are afraid of “their” position. We should have zeal that is according to knowledge and wisdom. God did in fact command instrumental music. God did in fact command it in the Law. As part of sacrificial worship it most certainly was part of every sacrifice that took place in the temple … which means that when Paul went to offer his sacrifice (Acts 21.17-26; 24.17) he did in fact worship with instruments.

The apostles James and Paul recognized the validity of liturgical diversity in the book of Acts. The Jerusalem church, under apostolic direction, worshiped in the Jerusalem temple for the entire NT period as far as the record is concerned.  James and Paul refused to let “style” of worship divide Jewish and Gentile branches of Christianity. Paul took a Nazarite vow and offered sacrifices in the temple to affirm this unity. Would Churches of Christ fellowship the apostle Paul if a video of him surfaced on You Tube entering the entering the temple from his ritual bath, in his prayer shawl with tassels dangling, and slaughtering an animal with the priests? Paul calls it worship (Romans 9.4; Acts 24.11, 17). James and Paul are the Holy Spirit commentary upon the words Paul had just penned prior to his actions in Romans 14 and 15.  Unity matters.

David did not introduce instruments but arranged temple worship.

Instruments were not entertainment, or “carnal,” and anyone respecting the integrity of God should cringe when they hear that even suggested!

And playing an instrument can itself be the vehicle of worship.

The Doctrine of Unity is not only inherent in the Gospel of Reconciliation but the frequent express letter of the law in the Bible.  As such it takes precedence over disputable matters.  Our obedience is measured in our maintaining the unity of the Spirit in the bond of shalom (Ephesians 4.1-4).

There is so much strife in our world today and it is time for the church to recognize it no longer has the luxury of division over disputable matters.


16 Responses to “Israel, David, Music: Caricatures, Misrepresentations and Unity”

  1. Joe W Says:

    Paul said we are to speak to ourselves with psalmos, hymnos and ode. We need to see what those words would have meant to an average person in the Greco-Roman culture of the 1st century. Psalmos would imply a Hebrew psalm which as you have already covered, were accompanied in the OT. Hymnos is a song of praise to God or a god and were frequently accompanied by aulos or a stringed instrument. Odes were poetic works accompanied by instruments. By his word choices Paul gave us permission to use instruments but did not order us to use them.

    • Steve Hopkins Says:

      I would love to know the resources for the background/context of the words hymnos and ode. This is very interesting to me.

      • Joe W Says:

        A musicologist could give a better explanation than I can. Check some history of music books or even general references like Wikipedia. I think the understanding of the three types of music given by Paul carries more weight than Kurfees’ attempts to explain psallo.

      • Jerry Starling Says:

        Steve, “ode” (or at least its verb form, “ado”) is translated “sing” in the Revelation passages Bobby cited above – and the singing was accompanied by the harps of God.

        Hence, to say that Eph 5:19 demands singing unaccompanied cannot be substantiated, as the word “singing” there comes from “ado”, which in Scripture has instances where the song is accompanied.

        I’m not a skilled scholar in other languages – but I wonder if ANY language has a word that means to “sing” to the exclusion of instruments. In English, we modify “sing” with “accapela” or “unaccompanied” if we want to exclude instruments. You do not find such modification of “sing” in the Scriptures.

  2. Al Cornell Says:

    I’m not sure how common the argument is used, but I’ve sometimes heard that if Eph. 5:19 had included instruments, then everyone would be required to play. I can see where a particular mode of interpretation could lead one to that totally illogical concept. Any person like the woman who threw the two mites into the coffer can still be in communion with God even if those in charge of the treasury are messed up.

    • Joe W Says:

      I still hear that argument used although I have never understood it. I think it comes down to not being able to appreciate the difference between being allowed to do something and being required to do it.

  3. Ken Mick Says:

    The point in Ephesians 5:19 isn’t as much about music as it is expanding on the imperative “be filled with the Spirit.” The tenor of the arguments unleashed about music tend to suggest the target of being filled with the Spirit may have been missed somewhere. Bobby, I appreciate the evenhandedness of your discussion.

  4. Dwight Says:

    I used to be very anti-IM, but now I sing a different tune.
    I understand that God is not vague and that if God had wanted to condemn IM, then he would have…somewhere down the line. And the fact as you have noted God actually commanded it proves he wasn’t against it.
    It is interesting that when we read Eph.5 and read “psalm, hymns and spiritual songs” and then we argue that psalms meant “plucking on heart strings” that we will go back to the OT and admit that the same word can include IM.
    Also as you have noted Bobby, IM and worship in general in the OT wasn’t carnal, as many would suggest, as if to suggest David who was very IM inclined wasn’t a man after God’s own heart. I have heard lessons that noted that God commanded IM, then they jump to Amos 6 to argue that God really was against it and condemned it. And at one time I would have bought this, but now find it a contradiction.
    God was and is not vague.

    • Joe W Says:

      I think that whole “plucking the heart strings” thing started with M C Kurfees. I have never seen a reference to the term “heartstrings” used in the 1st century and it doesn’t seem to appear before the 16th century. For it to have any validity we would need to have a contemporary of Paul use it in a piece of writing.

      • Dwight Says:

        What we have done with “psalms” is take an apple (OT) and turn it mentally (by redefining it) into an orange (NT) so that we can view them as different, when they aren’t. In the Septuagint they are still apples. The only thing that has changed is us and how we view them and not what they are.

    • Bobby Valentine Says:

      Dwight I probably should have included a word about Amos 6 in my blog under the heading of Misrepresenting the Spirit’s Word. Amos 6 has nothing to do with condemning instrumental music because it is music. This is where certain preachers truly bear false witness against the text because of their loyalty to a sectarian agenda. It is shameful.

  5. CS Campbell Says:

    Once again thank you for the clarity of words and spirit, it is just so sad that our tribe will continue to “fight” over these matters. How long Oh LORD, how long?

  6. Tim Brinley Says:

    Well reasoned Bobby. Yes, our zeal on this subject has not been according to knowledge.
    Kind of embarrassing really.

  7. Parnella Cain Says:

    Under the New Covenant, the Church age do the Church require to have instrument of music in worship, what Scripture in the New testament to prove that we can or can’t use instrument of music in worship

  8. Vicki Jarrett Says:

    I also used to me against IM. It is the coc tradition. But then I read the entire Bible (many times) in a version I could understand and see things differently. I probably would not worship with a group that uses IM because it is not in my comfort zone, but I am certainly not going to divide the body over it.

  9. Gary Johhson Says:

    “Instrumental music was integral to Israel’s sacrificial worship from the beginning. Numbers 10 records God’s own words (these would be in red letters if we did that in the OT) where he commands the use of trumpets as part of sacrifices, all sacrifices and worship festivals.”

    The question I’m struggling with from reading this is wouldn’t it mean that since the instruments were apart of the sacrifices, and worship festivals instruments are now done away with since we’re told that the festivals, ceremonies and sacrifices are now gone?

    I’m not anit-instrument, I’m just trying to make sure I’m understanding this correctly.

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