“Musings about Biblical Musicology”
God inspired songs that please Him, and He calls His people to worship Him with music driven by biblically derived God-honoring lyrics (Phil 4:8-9).
According to 2Chron 29:25, “He (King Hezekiah) then stationed the Levites in the house of the LORD with cymbals, with harps and with lyres, according to the command of David and of Gad the king’s seer, and of Nathan the prophet; for the command was from the LORD through His prophets.” Worshipping God through music was therefore not done at the whim of David, although he was quite an accomplished musician and known for his passionate worship; nor was the music of Israel sung at the will of the prophets, though they were the spiritual leaders of Israel. God’s people are called to worship Him through music because God commanded that His people worship Him through singing songs that give Him glory.
The Book of Psalms, songs of praise written to music, is God’s inspired songbook. He gave it to His people for them to use to worship Him. In the NT, the Apostle Paul describes Christians filled with the Holy Spirit as “Speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord,” Eph 5:19. His reference to Psalms in that verse is to the Psalms of the OT. “It may indeed be said that the purpose of the psalms is to turn the soul into a sort of burning bush, …” – Jaki, Praying the Psalms (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2001), 27. They seem to have been written to encourage the Israelites to walk with God and to worship Him while they awaited the Messiah—the coming Son of David—Jesus.
We know that the Psalms were played to music. Instruments are named and several of the musical notations are its texts (Ps 4:0; 6:0; 12:0; 150:3). However, only the words of the Psalms have been preserved by the Holy Spirit—not their musical scores. That’s important. Biblical worship through music is driven by the words and not by the beat or the cultural style of the music. In saying this, I fully affirm that music in and of itself is a cultural language. It is a language without words that in its known cultural context can communicate. It can soothe, inspire, sensualize etc. Hence the language of the music is not neutral. It will either complement or contradict the message of its song’s lyrics. And since the language of music is discerned through cultural awareness, its message can be hidden from those who do not understand its language. On the other hand, a listener raised under the cultural influence of a given genre of music, may so blindly accept it as his/her preferred style of music that s/he loses sight of dangers that others outside of that music’s cultural influence clearly and easily see.
Acceptable songs then, are first and foremost songs with God-honoring words, not simply songs that are played excellently and have a good hook or a catchy tune. It was said of the great theologian Augustine that he approved of putting the psalms to music, but whenever he found “the singing itself more moving than the truth which it conveys, … [he] preferred not to hear the singer.” – Stanley L. Jaki, Praying the Psalms, 5. There is an important lesson in Augustine’s conviction for us today. Without compromising excellence (for the singers and musicians in the Bible are called skillful [1 Chron 15:22; 25:7; Ps 33:3; 47:7; Isa 23:16]) we must teach ourselves, our children, and our churches that words make the song and not the music. If we don’t embrace this truth then our great enemy, Satan, will fill our hearts and minds with skillfully played music that he invents with powerful melodies laced with poisonous words that will ruin a heart for true worship.
The Bible’s collection of divinely inspired songs are inscripturated to inspire us to worship God, to teach us how to worship God, and to model how to safeguard and preserve true worship of God. Music is given as a gift from God to us to do many things and to serve us in many occasions, but we must not forget that its primary purpose is to ignite our hearts to passionately worship God and not to enflame the passions of our flesh. Knowing this, upload songs to your iPods that have lyrics that honor God.
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