MUSICAL INSTRUMENTS IN

 

OLD TESTAMENT & NEW TESTAMENT WORSHIP

 

 

Pianos and organs were not invented for well over 600 years after the time of Christ, and not very well developed until about the 1700s, and therefore 2700 years after the time of David, and about 4000 years after the time of Moses.  So, research on instruments used during worship must be done in the Bible concordance using the key words "play," "instrument," "musician," and even "singer."

 

The first mention of instruments used in worship is 1 Chronicles 15:16-22 which goes into some detail.  In addition to the Levite singers, they were to be accompanied by musical instruments.  The instruments were not left to chance or personal discretion.  The selection of instruments was specified:  Lyres (psaltries), harps and cymbals.

 

A trio, Heman, Asaph and Ethan, the head musicians, were to sound the bronze cymbals.  An octet was to play the lyres.  And a sextet was to play the harps.  It must have sounded very angelic - the strings of the lyres played with a pick, the strings of the harps played with fingers, and the cymbals keeping the tempo.  Try to imagine it.  So beautiful!

 

When King David brought the ark of the covenant made under the direction of Moses to Jerusalem where he had erected a new tabernacle (tent of worship) there was a grand procession.  Rams' horns and trumpets sounded out to call people's attention to it.  And what instruments were played?  Cymbals, lyres and harps were played while the singers sang (1 Chronicles 15:25-28).

 

From then on, Levites were appointed to perform various duties "before the ark of the Lord" by playing, yes, the lyres, harps and cymbals, and to "blow the trumpets regularly" (1 Chronicles 16:4-6, 41-42).

 

By the time David was old, he had quite an orchestra for worship.� There were 4,000 Levites appointed to "praise the Lord with the musical instruments" (1 Chronicles 23:5)!

 

After King Solomon built the permanent temple and the golden ark of the covenant had been placed in the Most Holy Place of the temple, "all the Levites who were musicians...stood on the east side of the altar, dressed in fine linen and playing cymbals, harps and lyres.  They were accompanied by 120 priests sounding trumpets.  The trumpeters and singers joined in unison, as with one voice, to give praise and thanks to the Lord.  Accompanied by trumpets, cymbals, and other instruments, they raised their voices in praise to the Lord and sang" (2 Chronicles 5:12-13).

 

Was God pleased with the use of these instruments?  You bet he was.  In the next verse it says that God's glory filled the temple.  Later, after Solomon's prayer of dedication, the Levites took "the Lord's musical instruments which King David had made for praising the Lord."  Then the priests blew their trumpets.  So could instruments be used to praise God?  You bet

 

Then, when the temple was dedicated, 2 Chronicles 7:6 says the priests took their positions ready to offer sacrifices, as did the Levites "with the Lord's musical instruments, which King David had made for praising the Lord and which were used when he gave thanks."  Opposite the Levites the priests blew their trumpets.

 

Some may say that this was David's idea and not endorsed by God.  Not so.  These instruments were commanded by God.

 

Some 500 years later, one of the last kings of Israel, Hezekiah, had the temple repaired, it having been closed in favor of idol worship.  When it was rededicated, Levites were stationed in the temple with the usual cymbals, harps and lyres "IN THE WAY PRESCRIBED BY DAVID AND GAD THE KING'S SEER AND NATHAN THE PROPHET; THIS WAS COMMANDED BY THE LORD THROUGH HIS PROPHETS."  As soon as the burnt offerings began to be sacrificed, the singers began to sing, accompanied by trumpets and the instruments.  (See 2 Chronicles 29:25-30

 

Notice what instruments were still being played:  Cymbals, harps and lyres.  But then, that's what God had designated.

 

Shortly after that, the first Passover was celebrated in many years.  For seven days the Levites and priests sang in the temple every day accompanied by the Lord's instruments of praise (2 Chronicles 30:21).

 

After Hezekiah, temple worship was neglected again.  But when King Josiah became king, they once more repaired the temple, and would you believe all Levites "skilled in playing musical instruments" were made supervisors over the repairmen (2 Chronicles 34:12-13).

 

About a hundred years later, after the Jews were taken exile to Babylon and then returned, Nehemiah led them to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem that had been destroyed in their capture years earlier.  These walls were dedicated with songs of thanksgiving and instruments.  Which instruments?  Cymbals, harps and lyres (Nehemiah 12:27-28; 36).

 

There are many references to individuals singing to God accompanied by a musical instrument, most of them being in the Psalms.

 

Okay, we see that God commanded instruments to accompany the singers.  But they weren't just any instruments.  They were cymbals, harps and lyres.  Trumpets (and sometimes rams' horns) were used to call attention to what was going on, but apparently seldom played songs.  And this was all done during the days that the Law of Moses was in effect.

 

Well, what about New Testament and Christian worship?  No instruments are mentioned except in connection with funerals and children playing.  None were mentioned in connection with worship after the time of Christ.

 

Was this an accident?  Did God forget to mention the instruments, or did he leave it up to our discretion?  He didn't forget in the Old Testament.  He didn't leave it up to the worshippers' discretion in Old Testament Jewish worship.  Why would he forget in New Testament Christian worship?

 

We may say that we choose to copy the Old Testament where instruments were used.  In that case, we can only play the cymbal, lyre (psaltry), and harp.  Furthermore, the only ones who can play them are Levites.� Seen any Levites lately?  Further, they are required to play while the Levite priests offer their daily animal sacrifices.  Slaughtered any animals in the name of the Lord at church lately?

 

 

NEW TESTAMENT

 

H. G. Wells in his famous history of the world published in 1920, said that by the mid-500s, "The music of the early Christian centuries was devout and enthusiastic rather than elaborate....'A Christian maiden,' said St. Jerome, 'ought not to know what a lyre or a flute is.'  Psalm singing and instrumentation were taken over by the Christians from the Jewish services"

 

The NEW CATHOLIC ENCYCLOPEDIA states that the early church prohibited musical instruments because they were paganistic.  It also states that "the organ has never been prescribed for use in the Roman Catholic Church by Church law; it has apparently been used in the Church consistently since the 9th century.� By the 13th century the organ was certainly in general use." 

 

However, in 1903, Pope Pius X opposed the use of instruments in worship, although he approved of the organ.  Pope Pius XI later followed this same determination.  "In 1939, Pope Pius XII relaxed this prohibition, allowing instrumental music that was executed artistically."

 

In his book, Early Christians Speak:  Faith and Life in the First Three Centuries, by Everett Ferguson, he wrote this:

 

"Until the latter part of the fourth century the psalms were performed responsorially.  That is, the main content was sung as a solo by a cantor (psaltes he was called in the church) with the congregation repeating the last words or responding with a refrain or acclamation [because they had no song books]....

 

"In Christian hymnography the words were the important things and melodies were adapted to the words.  This was possible where the words were chanted and so were not bound to a rigid form of meter.  The priority of the words and the form of rendition ensured that the singing was done without instrumental accompaniment.  Indeed, an instrument had no function in these simple chants with their emphasis on the content of praise.

 

"There is no certain evidence of the use of instruments in the Christian liturgy until the later Middle Ages.  Because of the associations of musical instruments with immorality in the pagan world, the church fathers took a very dim view of them in any setting

 

The Catholic Cyclopedia, considered one of the most accurate sources of church history, says this in Volume 10:  "For almost a thousand years Gregorian chant, without an instrumental or harmonic addition, was the only music used in connection with the liturgy....While all this development [of music instruments] had up to the first half of the sixteenth century, served mainly secular purposes, it was through Ludovico Grossi da Viadana (1564-1627) that the use of instruments became more common in churches."

 

LITERAL/ SYMBOLIC INSTRUMENT:  "PSALO" GREEK FOR SONG SUNG WITH A STRINGED INSTRUMENT, aka HEART:  This New Testament word refers back to the psalms which David sang with his lyre or psaltry.  It is used in connection with Christian worship in 1 Corinthians 14:26, Ephesians 5:19, Colossians 3:16, and James 5:13.

 

What is interesting is Ephesians 5:19 which specifies - AT LAST! - the instrument to be played while singing psalms:  "Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs.  Sing and MAKE MUSIC IN YOUR HEART to the Lord."

 

The word translated psalms is the Greek "psalmos."  The word translated "make music" is "psallo."  Once more, then, we see that the 10-stringed instrument sometimes translated harp and sometimes lyre or psaltry, represents the believer's heart.

 

 

In Revelation chapters 8 - 11, trumpets are mentioned.  Did they play tunes?  Actually, they were used to draw attention to important events, just as they were used to draw the attention of armies and also of worshippers in the Old Testament temple (Numbers 10:1-10).  The sound of the trumpets is described in the Hebrew as "taqa" also used for clap, smite, strike and not associated with music.  In fact, Paul said in 1 Corinthians 14:8, "If the trumpet does not sound a clear call, who will get ready for battle?"

 

The temple was not just a building.  It was a whole complex the size of nearly four football fields.  (A football field is 160' x 360'.)  The main temple building was 90' x 30'.  But around it were two courtyards.  The inner court was 150' x 300' and all around that was an outer court 300' x 600'.  And attached to the walls were many rooms used for various purposes.  Therefore, trumpets had to be used to call attention to things happening.

 

Cymbals are not mentioned in Revelation.  Neither are lyres (psaltries).  But harps are.  Let's look at them.

 

Revelation 5:8-14 says four living creatures and twenty-four elders fell down to worship the Lamb [Jesus].  Each one - the 28 - held a harp and a golden bowl full of incense.  Then this ensemble began to sing as though they were choir directors.  For immediately they were joined by millions of angels, and finally by every creature in heaven and on earth.  At the end of the great musicale, involving all of heaven and all of earth, the four creatures shouted "Amen!" and the twenty-four elders fell back down to worship again.  Wow!

 

Revelation 14:1-4 tells us that 144,000 from earth who had been redeemed sang before the throne of God, the four living creatures, and the 24 elders.  Here, the earthly choir is singing to the heavenly ensemble!  Their singing sounded like harpists playing their harps.

 

Revelation 15:2-8 tells us that in front of the throne of God (identified by the sea of glass) were the saved holding harps given them by God.  They were singing about all nations of earth coming to worship God.  Then one of the four living creatures gave seven angels seven golden bowls

 

Revelation 5:8 explains the cherubim and elders held bowls of incense which represented the prayers of Christians on earth.  Revelation 15:7 explains that one of the cherubim handed the seven angels bowls representing the wrath of God.

 

However, the harps are not explained.  If the bowls were symbolic, the harps would have to be also.  We look elsewhere for an explanation of harps when used symbolically, for the Bible always explains itself.

 

So now, we see that the four cherubim and the 24 elders are holding the prayers and the hearts of saints on earth.  What a beautiful symbol that incense and harps come to mean in heaven!

 

Before the end of the first century, the temple in Jerusalem was forever destroyed.  And with it the possibility of accurately worshipping the Old Testament way.  With it the literal alters of incense, the literal place of sacrifice, the literal harps.

 

The alter of incense, the alter of sacrifice, and the harps are all stored up in heaven now.  For now the temple is our bodies.  The incense is our prayers, the sacrifice is our daily life, and the harps are our hearts.  Why would we want to make literal again such beautiful symbolism?