Music—1 Chronicles 6:31

Biblical and archeological sources reveal a vibrant musical life in ancient Israel and the surrounding nations. The musical notation at that time was limited, including possible musical indicators in the accent system in the Hebrew text. However, we are still not able to conclusively reproduce the actual sound of that music. Still, we can know many things about ancient music from the Bible and ancient drawings and written records of immediately surrounding nations.

God created beauty both on the earth and in His worship. The language of music is part of this artistry and includes singing (Exod. 15:1), instrumentation (Ps. 33:2), the continuous composition of new songs (Ps. 149:1), and even a joyful shout (Ps. 35:27).

Surrounding nations used music in everyday life, such as work songs, nursery songs, etc. and for life events such as weddings, funerals, processions, military maneuvers, etc. So, we can conclude that Israel did too. Seven generations from Adam, Jubal became known for playing and probably making, musical instruments (Gen. 4:21). Numbers 21:17, 18 records a song (shir*) for digging a well. Exodus 15:1 and Judges 5:1 describe singing to celebrate victory in war. Miriam adds music (mostly accompanied on a hand-held drum or timbrel) and religious dance as a response to God’s deliverance at the Red Sea (Exod. 15:20). Saul required David’s soothing music on the lyre to relieve him from his emotional torment (1 Sam. 16:23). Mostly, however, people used music in the Bible in connection with the worship of God.

Israel sang of their experiences to God both privately and publicly, as seen in the Psalms. Psalm 1 tells of the successful person “meditating” on God’s Word, a Hebrew term meaning to mutter, possibly reciting the words of Scripture aloud. Music kept Scripture in one’s heart, and singing of it might have carried better than speaking at their large yearly festivals.

While music was always a part of worshiping God, King David formalized the worship music under the Lord’s direction (2 Chron. 29:25). Initially, when David had the ark brought to Jerusalem, three Levites had charge of music—Heman, Asaph, and Ethan (1 Chron. 15:17). Later, David appointed them to “minister before the ark of the Lord, to commemorate, to thank, and to praise the Lord God of Israel (1 Chron. 16:4; see also verses 37-42). The non-priestly Levites, originally responsible for transporting the ark (1 Chron. 15:2), may have received the role of “ministering with music” (1 Chron. 6:32) as being ritually similar to carrying the ark. In 1 Chronicles 16:7 David, as a national leader, gave thanks to God through Asaph and his brothers. David’s music set a precedent for the singers to represent the king and people in worshiping God as well as leading worship with music. Musicians, as well as priests, were considered holy to God (2 Chron. 35:3).

During worship, the congregation was not passive but was encouraged to join in praise (1 Chron. 16:8ff.), and the people responded with words and refrains, as evidenced in several psalms (1 Chron. 16:36; Ps. 136; etc.).

Women composed songs (Judg. 5; 1 Sam. 2), danced and played instruments (Exod. 15:20), and appeared in ceremonial processions (Ps. 68:25). Ezra 2:65 mentions 200 “singing men” and “singing women” (and 245 in Neh. 7:67) who returned to Jerusalem from Babylon.

Music was not a major focus in the New Testament, but we do find mention of instruments (in the book of Revelation), as well as early Christians singing hymns (Eph. 5:19, Acts 16:25). Heavenly music includes instruments (lyres played in Rev. 5), the “new song” in Revelation 5:9, the song of the 144,000 in Revelation 14:3, and the song of Moses and the Lamb in Revelation 15:3.