The Quest for Music Miracles
© Copyright, Grantley Morris All rights reserved
There is a Jewish tradition (of uncertain reliability) that Levitical singers underwent at least five years intensive training (Babylonian Talmud, Arakhin 11a). That the standard of Jewish music was internationally esteemed is hinted at by the discovery of an Assyrian inscription. It states that, in addition to the usual precious metals demanded by kings as tribute, Sennacherib extracted male and female musicians from Hezekiah. Later, the Greek Stoic geographer Strabo (BC – 19 AD) judged the Palestinian singing girls to be the most musical in the world.
We can’t ignore the question of whether the ‘trumpets’ of the Bible should be classified as musical instruments (see Notes 1.7 and 1.8 above). However, in chapter 4, section 5, I have cited only references (Numbers 10:9; Joshua 6:4-6; Judges 7:22) to the military use of trumpets which seem to parallel instances when music clearly played a significant military role (2 Chronicles 20:21 ff – note verse 28 – Isaiah 30:29, 32; 1 Samuel 16:16-17, 23; 2 Maccabees 12:37). In contrast, many other references to trumpets in war (e.g. Job 39:24-25; Jeremiah 4:19-21; 6:1, 17; 42:14; 51:27; Amos 3:6) seem less likely to have melodic implications.
Some versions of Psalm 75:4 read ‘I said to the arrogant’, suggesting that it is not this song, but something said in the past, which is directed to the ungodly. However, other versions (For example, NIV, RSV, NRSV, NEB and the Anchor Bible, but not the NASB) use the present tense. The confusion is due to the nature of Hebrew grammar. Hebrew verbs do not differentiate between past, present and future tenses.
Although in Psalms 52 and 75 there is no specific invitation to repent and receive forgiveness, neither was there in the message of Jonah, (Jonah 3:4) which produced great repentance and saved a whole city.
In addition to the more obvious reference to religious processions in Psalm 68:24-27, there are a number of other possible allusions to them in the psalms. Perhaps Psalm 26:6-7 refers to singing as the psalmist marches (or even dances) around the altar (cf the NEB and GNB versions). Other possible references to religious processions include Psalm 42:4; 48:12-13; 95:1-2; 100:2, 4; 118:19-20,26,27; Isaiah 30:29 b. Some Bible versions (Especially the NEB) bring this out more than others.
This theory rests on three assumptions in the interpretation of Ezekiel 28:13.
Assumption 1. The verse alludes to Satan
Although Feinberg sees an allusion to Satan in this verse, Carley, Clarke, Keil, Stuart and Taylor in their commentaries on the verse, all see it as alluding to Adam rather than Satan. The verse seems to refer to someone who was in ‘Eden the garden of God’ before he fell.
Some scholars (e.g. Zimmerli) see it as Ezekiel adopting for his own purposes the story of a mythological being. Conservatives can hold this view without any compromise (e.g. Beasley-Murray, whose commentary is praised even by Feinberg).
Much is sometimes made of the fact that this passage refers to the king of Tyre rather than the prince of Tyre (Ezekiel 28:2,12). Zimmerli, however, notes that elsewhere in Ezekiel, king refers to earthly rulers. Alexander sees no reason for seeing any distinction in these terms. He points out that king and prince are often used interchangeably in the Old Testament (1 Samuel 9:16; 10:1; 15:17; 2 Samuel 7:8).
Assumption 2. Every detail in the figure applies literally to Satan.
Ezekiel could easily be intending to draw attention to similarities between the king and Satan, without meaning that every aspect mentioned applies utterly to Satan. Otherwise, it seems one must conclude that Satan was involved in commerce before he fell (Ezekiel 28:16,18).
Assumption 3. What the KJV calls pipes refers to musical instruments.
Linguists need to find words in different contexts to accurately determine meaning, but this is the only occurrence of the word in the entire Bible, and going outside the Bible does not readily solve the problem either. Not surprisingly, speculation abounds.
A few scholars, noting that the word is similar to that used in Genesis for female, conclude that it is a plural form of that word. They therefore see it as referring to women playing tambourines.
Most scholars, however, see the word as referring to some sort of hole. Whilst a few see this a referring to the hole in a musical instrument, and some (e.g. Holliday) see it as referring to a mine – from which precious minerals are extracted – most see it as somehow related to jeweler making. This latter view is held by Brown, Driver and Briggs and many modern Bible versions (e.g. NASB, RSV, NRSV, NEB, NIV, GNB, AMP, Moffatt, but not Jerusalem Bible), as well as the ancient Greek Septuagint. Although I do not give much credence to the dictionary in Strong’s Concordance, many who like this theory respect that dictionary. They will be interested to know that Strong also is of the opinion that it was associated with jeweler.
In general, the context seems to favor a jeweler-related term better than a musical term. Those who would argue for a musical term on the basis that kings have musicians, seem to be straying too far if they then want to claim that this verse applies to Satan. One word, however, is most significant for those who see this as a reference to music. The word translated tabrets in the King James Version (right next to the word translated pipemeans tambourine (i.e. a musical instrument) in all other Old Testament contexts.
The realization that music affects human productivity is hardly new. Documents found beneath Pompeii’s lava, for example, prove that the ancient Greeks used music for this purpose.
Some scholars believe that the musicians chosen to oversee temple repairs performed this function during Josiah’s reign (2 Chronicles 34:12-13).
One authority cites five different Scriptures as evidence for ‘occupational songs’ (Isaiah 16:10 is perhaps the best reference, but see Note 1.2. Also listed are Numbers 21:17; Judges 9:27; Jeremiah 31:4-5, 7; 48:33).
Music played a significant role in the rebuilding of the temple in Ezra’s time. The issue, however, is whether this occurred while the builders worked (As clearly stated in the NEB Apocrypha – 1 Esdras 5:58-62, but not so clearly in the RSV Apocrypha.) or in a ceremony afterwards. Josephus’ account, written in the early Christian era mentions music only in an emotion-charged ceremony which he seems to place after the completion of construction. The canonical account (Ezra 3:10 ff) also fails to state that music was played while building was proceeding, except perhaps during the official ceremony at the laying of the foundation (and even this minor exception seems far from certain).
Israel’s greatest psalmist had countless opportunities to be influenced by Gath’s (Gittite) music. Though initially wary, (1 Samuel 11:10-15) David found refuge in Gath for over a year (1 Samuel 27:1 ff). Even after gaining the throne, he maintained strong links with Gittites (2 Samuel 15:18; 18:2 and, perhaps, 6:10-12).
Other possible meanings of Gittith are also of interest. It could refer to a Gittite musical instrument or to the tune of a vintage song.
There is a tendency among some Bible scholars to weaken the usual supernatural element in the term prophecy when it is applied in 1 Chronicles 25 to the Levitical musicians. This seems to disregard the fact that their songs were so much controlled by the Holy Spirit that many (perhaps all) of the songs are now part of Scripture. At the very least, one must acknowledge that many of their songs were as highly inspired as any prophecy has ever been.
1 Chronicles 25:3 speaks of prophesying ‘with a harp, to give thanks and to praise the Lord’. My immediate reaction is to assume that if thanking and praising is involved, it must be of human origin, but Scripture says otherwise.
‘I will bless the Lord, who has given me counsel . . .’ (Psalm 16:7). says the Psalm that both Peter and Paul quote as a prophetic (Messianic) Psalm (Acts 2:25-31; 13:34). Psalm 45, a hymn of praise to a king, is seen in Hebrews 1:8-9 (Quoting Psalm 45:6-7) to be praise directed prophetically to the Messiah. Psalm 40 is yet another Messianic psalm (Hebrews 10:5-9) that thanks and praises God (Psalm 40:5).
‘Zacharias was filled with the Holy Spirit, and prophesied, saying, Blessed [be] the Lord God of Israel . . .’ (Luke 1:67-68 Note also Luke 2:26-28; 10:21).
Since the Spirit helps us in our prayers, (Romans 8:26) it is to be expected that He would also help one’s praise. In fact, Paul refers to an ecstatic utterance, the function of which is to thank and praise God (1 Corinthians 14:16-17). Again, at Pentecost the 120 were heard magnifying God in a foreign language known to some of the hearers but not to the speakers (Acts 2:11). These were clearly supernatural, Spirit-inspired utterances, and they seem to have contained at least elements of praise.
Psalms 51:15 seems to be a prayer for a verbal inspiration, the result of which is praise:
‘O Lord, open my lips; and my mouth shall show forth your praise.’
It’s no wonder there is a link between music and prophecy. Scripture after Scripture links the Holy Spirit and prophecy, (e.g. Numbers 11:25,26,29; 1 Samuel 10:6,10; 19:20,23; Zechariah 7:12; Luke 1:67-28 Acts 2:17-18; 19:6; 1 Corinthians 12:7 ff) and Ephesians links being filled with the Spirit to singing spiritual songs (Ephesians 5:18-19). Also, in the context of Spirit-inspired utterances, Paul mentions a hymn (1 Corinthians 14:26).
If Paul does not specifically mention prophetic songs, he gets mighty close. It is a well-established fact that one writer of Scripture sometimes uses a term in a different way to another writer of Scripture. For example, James uses the word faith in a shallower sense than Paul. Paul carved up spiritual utterances into different categories – prophecy, word of knowledge, word of wisdom, etc. – which some other Bible writers would probably have lumped together under the term prophecy. So I suspect that in 1 Corinthians Paul uses prophecy in a narrower sense than Scripture usually does. In any case, when he contrasts singing in (or with) the Spirit with singing with the understanding, he is obviously referring to a song which, like a prophetic song, has its origin not in the human intellect but in the Spirit of God.
Scripture cites four particularly wise men to illustrate the magnitude of Solomon’s wisdom. At least three of these sages are called ‘sons of Mahol’ (1 Kings 4:31). Many scholars believe this to be a Hebrew term indicating not parentage, but musical ability, a little like the expression ‘daughters of music’ in Ecclesiastes 12:4. The fourth sage may also have been a songwriter.
Although it appears nowhere else in Scripture as a name, ‘Mahol’ could be a man’s name. Even the fact that these four wise men are called sons of Zerah in 1 Chronicles 2:6 does not necessarily contradict this interpretation. Jesus, for example, was both the son of Joseph and the son of David.
However, ‘son’ in the Hebrew Bible often has a broader meaning. In a literal translation we would read of ‘sons’ of affliction, (Proverbs 31:5) destruction, (Proverbs 31:8) valor (2 Samuel 2:7) and oil, (Zechariah 4:14) to give just a small sample. Particularly noteworthy is the term ‘sons of the prophets’ (e.g. 2 Kings 2:3) which indicates membership of a prophetic guild, or order. (Note also ‘sons of the singers’ (Nehemiah 12:28) which probably combines both meanings of the ‘son’.)
Furthermore, ‘mahol’ means ‘dancing’ and elsewhere our Bibles translate it as such (e.g. Psalm 30:11: Jeremiah 31:13).
This could mean the sages were dancers, but since dancing is closely associated with music, (See chapter 4, section 16) many scholars believe ‘sons of Mahol’ indicates musical ability, perhaps even membership of a musical guild.
Supporting evidence for the musical ability of these sages is found in the titles of Psalms 86 and 89, where two of them seem to be mentioned.
Bible scholar Derek Kidner goes even further and identifies these two wise men as Heman and Jeduthum, who, along with Asaph, founded the Levitical choirs. ‘Ethan,’ he believes, is Jeduthum (1 Chronicles 15: 17,19 cf 25:1 – Many Bible characters had more than one name).
Even that sage not clearly stated to be a ‘son of Mahol,’ apparently receives mention in the title of Psalm 89.
So it could be more than coincidental that as soon as Scripture mentions these four men, Solomon’s songwriting is referred to. Each of these exceptionally wise men may, like Solomon himself, have been musical.
Music seems to have given ministry opportunities to people who would otherwise have been exempt. Boys under thirteen years, for example, were prohibited by Jewish law from entering the Temple Court to take part in the service. The Mishnah allowed just one exception: young boys could sing in the Temple Choir (Arakhin 2:6).
In Palestine, social pressure to have musicians at funerals was so great that it eventually became mandatory. According to Edersheim, the time arrived when every Jew was required by Rabbinical law to provide at least one mourning woman and two lutes at his wife’s funeral.
The raising of emotive gender issues could not be further from my intention. It’s a deeper understanding of music and prophecy that interests me. Whether you see the gender question as a cultural quirk or a binding rule makes no difference to the following discussion.
Paul approved of women teaching children (2 Timothy 1:5; 3:15) and urged older women to teach younger women, (Titus 2:3-4) but he did not permit them to teach men (1 Timothy 2:12). Nevertheless, he regarded women prophesying in church as so normal that he mentions it only to make another point (1 Corinthians 11:5). To forbid teaching but allow preaching is ridiculous. It would therefore seem that by prophecy, Paul meant something quite different to teaching. This fits the evidence. Whilst teaching originates in the human intellect, prophecy originates with God. A prophet is simply God’s mouthpiece. It should also be noted that because prophecy is God’s word for the moment – not an exposition of the clear-cut, unchanging doctrines of Scripture – Paul expected it to be uttered in submission to others who would determine whether it really was from God (1 Corinthians 14:29; 1 Thessalonians 5:20-21). This aspect of submission is again consistent with Paul’s concerns about women (1 Timothy 2:11,12,14).
Miriam, (Exodus 15:20) Deborah, (Judges 4:4) Huldah (who apparently had a significant ministry in Josiah’s day) (2 Kings 22:11-15) and Anna (Luke 2:36) are specifically called prophetesses. Whether Isaiah’s wife had a prophetic ministry is not so clear (Isaiah 8:3) but we know that Philip’s four daughters exercised the gift (Acts 21:9).
So the prophetic gift opened up ministry opportunities in a manner rather surprising for the era. We saw in Chapter 8 (Section 15) that music also opened usual ministry opportunities for women. Is a common denominator the fact that – as discussed in Section 16 of Chapter 8 – music and prophecy themselves are linked?
With horrifying accuracy, Scripture describes our own society when it lists the hallmarks of the morally corrupt ‘last days’ (2 Timothy 3:1-3). In the midst of this description is a forgotten sin: disobeying one’s parents. This breaking of the fifth commandment is so typical of the defiant pig-headedness rampant in society, that few of us are even shocked by it.
I plead with you to prayerfully study: Exodus 22:28; Numbers 12; 1 Samuel 24:4-6; Ecclesiastes 10:20; Romans 13:1-5, 7; 1 Corinthians 4:15-21; 5:12-13; 16:16; Ephesians 5:21; 1 Thessalonians 5:11-14; 2 Thessalonians 3:14-15; 1 Timothy 5:17; Titus 2:5, 9; 3:1-2; Hebrews 13:7, 17, 24; 1 Peter 2:17; 5:5.