The Quest for Music Miracles
© Copyright, Grantley Morris All rights reserved
NOTE 0.1: THE MISSING CHAPTER
I draw your attention to a missing chapter. Though originally part of this book, it has grown into a full length book of its own. In fact, it’s my favorite. It offers a wealth of encouragement and insight to all Christians as it touches many subjects relevant to anyone who ministers in the name of Christ. It focuses on the needs of Christians who feel frustrated because they lack the ministry opportunities or the success that they long for. To read it for free, see Waiting For Your Ministry: The Quest for Fulfillment.
When you are referred to this note in the body of the book it means that the concepts raised there are explored more fully in the second book.
CHAPTER 1 NOTES – THE ORIGIN OF MUSIC
A difficulty with the Scriptural evidence for sub-human music is that it comes from the Bible’s poetry.
We would expect the subject of music to appear more often in songs than in prose. And the Bible is about one-third poetry anyhow. However, since the ancient poets plotted their course, the passage of time and culture has eroded once-obvious landmarks. Lacking the precision with which the ancients navigated their poetry, we have a tendency to either sail past our destination by overlooking the obvious, or to run aground by interpreting poetic devices too literally.
Consider, for example, my line of ‘poetry’:
‘The quivering boy bleated his reply’.
The first type of error would be to miss my attempt to emphasize the similarity between the boy’s reply and the sound of a sheep. The other trap would be to take my figure of speech too literally, assuming I meant the boy’s reply sounded exactly like a sheep.
We must take poetry as far as it was intended, but no further. This is particularly difficult when that poetry has been frozen between Bible covers for thousands of years. Time’s relentless march has forced all of us to treat the Bible’s anthology more like priceless relics than the crowning glory of a living language. No-one alive is as familiar with the relevant language and culture as the humblest of David’s contemporaries. What was second nature to the original readers must now be artificially reconstructed. Sadly, that means there are times when even the most skilled of us lack the sure-footed confidence with which the ancients would have traversed the Bible’s poetry. This is particularly obvious in the matter at hand.
Most of us see the word sing in our favorite Bible and assume we have found an unambiguous reference to music. Unfortunately, it is rarely this simple. Many such references are translations of words having broad meanings. When the word itself is inconclusive, translators have to guess from careful examination of the context as to whether music is involved. Except for Psalm 65:13, all the Scriptures mentioned in ‘Nature Worship’ belong to this category.
Translators often find themselves hard pressed to know whether in a particular instance, singing or jubilant shouting is meant. A partial explanation for the confusion might be that Israelite singing was itself sometimes less distinguishable from shouting than our music usually is. You may recall that Joshua mistook the sound of Israelites singing for cries associated with war (Exodus 32:17-18).
The following table, though far from exhaustive, will give you an idea of the extent of the problem and assist you with some key verses. Only instances using ambiguous Hebrew words are cited.
2 Sam 3:33 5V [NKJV] NASB NEB
1 Chr 16:33 5V NASB NIV
Job 38:7 5V NKJV NASB NIV NEB GNB
Ps 149:5 5V NKJV NASB NIV GNB
Prov 29:6 5V NKJV NASB NIV
Isa 14:7 5V NKJV NIV GNB
Isa 35:2 5V NKJV GNB
Isa 35:6 5V NKJV
Isa 44:23 5V NKJV NIV NEB
Zeph 3:17 5V NKJV NIV GNB
In the above table:
5V = 5 versions (JV, AMP, LB, RSV, NRSV), all of which, to the extent of this table, give identical renderings
The presence of the abbreviation for a Bible versions means that in that version a form of the English word sing is used
In the single instance where the version appears in brackets, the word chant is used
See Note 1.6 for New Testament examples of this problem.
You have no doubt heard testimonies like that of Malcolm Smith’s father, who said that after conversion the sky seemed bluer and the grass greener. For years I let such remarks waft over my head. As my reading widened to include different eras and countries, however, I was struck by the frequency of reports linking authentic spiritual experiences with a heightened awareness of creation. For so many Christians to independently include it in quite brief accounts of their conversion, indicates it must have been a very vivid (and perhaps unexpected) experience. The more one examines these experiences, the more Scripture’s references to creation praising seem to be the product, not of over-indulged poetical license, but of a rich spiritual experience.
On the first morning after his conversion it seemed to D. L. Moody that the birds ‘were all singing a song to me. Do you know,’ he later marveled, ‘I fell in love with the birds. I had never cared for them before. It seemed to me that I was in love with all creation.’ Samuel Logan Brengle’s experience had remarkable similarities, not least of which was the feeling of being in love with all creation. For Malcolm Smith, after a spiritual revelation, ‘Suddenly, all nature seemed to be alive around me, and I was seeing it for the first time . . . I was gazing at the waves, the trees, the flowers, everything with a new awe and joy, seeing reflections of God in all . . .’
No doubt emotionalism played a significant role in these experiences, but there is also a rational element: a heightened love for the Creator must increase our appreciation of His handiwork. Possibly there is something deeper still; a divine insight into the nature of sub-human creation.
One dawn in 1822 it seemed to Charles Finney that the glory of God shone around him with such intensity that he believed it to be the same light that blinded St Paul. In that light he saw all nature praising God. The fact that humanity was not praising reduced him to tears.
Born in 1799, Elder Jacob Knapp was a powerful American evangelist who finally gave up trying to count the converts in his meetings after he passed the 100,000 mark. In his late teens, under such conviction of sin that it affected his health, he regularly spent hours in prayer seeking forgiveness. One Sunday morning, he says, ‘I took my Bible and hymn-book and repaired to the woods with a determination never to return without relief to my soul.’ There he ‘prayed and read, and read and prayed’ in agony of soul until finally ‘my load of guilt was gone. I rose up quickly, turned my eyes toward heaven, and thought I saw Jesus descending with His arms extended for my reception. My soul leaped within me, and I broke forth into singing praises to the blessed Savior. The sweet melodies of the birds seemed to make harmony with the songs, and, as I looked around, the sun shone with a luster not its own, the majestic trees, swaying to the gently breeze, appeared to bow in sweet submission to the will of heaven. All nature smiled, and everything, animate and inanimate, praised God with a voice (though unheard before) too loud and too plain to be misunderstood.’
His contemporary, pioneer Methodist preacher, Peter Cartwright describes a similar experience. ‘In the midst of a solemn struggle of soul, an impression was made on my mind, as though a voice said to me, “Thy sins are all forgiven thee.” Divine light flashed all around me, unspeakable joy sprung up in my soul. I rose to my feet, opened my eyes, and it really seemed as if I was in heaven; the trees, the leaves on them, and everything seemed, and I really thought were, praising God.
Note how Cartwright links heaven and nature in that last sentence. Many of the people referred to elsewhere in my book who were granted insights into heaven mention such things as birds, animals, trees, flowers and grass in heaven. Like the Chinese orphans, Marietta Davis heard birds in Paradise warbling with a melodic beauty superior to earthly birds. Their various calls sounded together and blended in harmonious perfection. In recounting his 1973 experience of heaven, Roberts Liardon mentions birds of differing size ‘all singing the same song’. He describes the leaves on trees swaying ‘back and forth, dancing and praising the Lord’.
In the light of the above, it is little wonder that the Welsh revival affected miners’ treatment of pit ponies (cf Proverbs 12:10).
The Bible’s songs teem with references to God’s provision for plants and animals (e.g. Psalm 36:6 b; 104:10-30; 136:25; 145:15-16; 147:9) and, inspired of God, singers called upon nature to join them in magnifying the Lord (e.g. 1 Chronicles 16:32-33; (Psalm 96:11-13; 98:7-9); Psalm 103:22; 145:9-11; 148:7-13; 150:6). And in Revelation we see every creature in existence – every species in every conceivable location – unitedly singing (see Note 1.6). the Lord’s praises (Revelation 5:13). This is too strong a theme for present-day musicians to gloss over. Few religions understand creation the way Christians do and I believe musicians who grasp its uniqueness may find it influencing their music, especially in the light of possibilities modern technology offers.
Virtually from its birth, the church has been pressured to adopt a non-Biblical view of the physical world. To the blight of the ancient heresies of Gnosticism and Greek philosophy, which usually espoused a low view of anything physical, we can add the capitalism of recent times, which seems to view nature not as something to be cherished but to be exploited for selfish gain.
The law revealed God’s concern for the treatment of domesticated animals and Paul effortlessly applied those same principles to people (Deuteronomy 22:10; 25:4; 2 Corinthians 6:14; 1 Corinthians 9:9-10). Jesus preached that the way God provides for plants and animals shows the nature of God and teaches us what we can expect from Him (Matthew 6:26-32). In Job we see God revealing His nature by devoting pages to descriptions of nature and different species of birds and animals (Job 38:1-41:34). In Jonah, God uses not just a man, but a sea creature, a plant and a grub (Jonah 1:17; 4:6-7). When Nineveh repented, even the animals were made to fast and wear sackcloth (Jonah 3:7-8). The book culminates with God revealing that He longed to save from destruction not only the people of Nineveh but also its animals (Jonah 4:11 – the last verse in Jonah). Centuries earlier God used an ark not just to save eight people but to save many animals. ‘And God remembered Noah and every living thing, and all the animals that were with him in the ark,’ (Genesis 8:1). Then God forged a covenant, sealed with a rainbow, specifically stated to apply equally to humanity and animals (Genesis 9:9-16). In Exodus we learn that the Sabbath was instituted not just for mankind but for the land and animals (Exodus 23:10). In Numbers, Balaam’s ass is shown to be more spiritually perceptive than its rider (Numbers 22:32-34). In Deuteronomy and elsewhere, the blessings and cursings of God fall equally upon humans, plants and beasts (Deuteronomy 28:4,11,18,31,32,32-41 – see also Genesis 6:13; Jeremiah 12:4,11; Hosea 4:2-3). In Isaiah we see the hope of harmony between a lamb and a wolf; a child and an asp (Isaiah 11:6-8; 65:25). In Pauline theology we find Christ’s sacrifice reconciling not just humanity, but all things to God, whether in heaven or earth (Colossians 1:20; Ephesians 1:10) – an expression as vast as that used four verses earlier to describe everything that was created by Him and for Him. And we find nature longing for the same redemption that our own bodies long for (Romans 8:18-23). Our final hope is not just a new heaven but a new earth (Isaiah 65:17; 66:22; 2 Peter 3:13; Revelation 21:1).
In contrast to the bulk of human thinking, the Christian knows that nature is not an illusion or a fluke or evil or something to be ruthlessly exploited. We have a strong kinship with the rest of creation. The purpose of all of creation – not just that part that can complete an IQ test – is to magnify the Creator. Nature longs for a conductor who can orchestrate its sounds and movements into a colossal symphony of praise to its Creator. Put that in your pipe and play it.
Because of the authority Christ has bestowed upon us, we will one day judge the angels (1 Corinthians 6:3). But this in no way implies we humans are at present physically or intellectually superior to all heavenly beings. When He became like us, Jesus was ‘made a little lower than the angels’ (Hebrews 2:9).
Judges 6:21; 13:19-20; Luke 16:22; Acts 12:7,10 dramatically illustrate how angels have powers far beyond our own.
Even the powers of sinful spirit beings show the greater-than-human abilities that exist in the spirit realm. It took years, plus a special revelation (Matthew 16:16-17) for even those most intimately familiar with Jesus to gain insight into His divine nature. In contrast, demons were able to instantaneously perceive who He was (e.g. Luke 4:34, 41; 8:28 – note also Acts 16:16-19).
Greater-than-human abilities in certain heavenly beings seem implied in the possession of thousands of eyes and six wings (Revelation 4:8; Isaiah 6:2) – or, in another instance, four heads and four wings – in addition to hands and feet (Ezekiel 1:5-8).
Unfortunately, the original Greek does not specify whether the angels sang, or merely unitedly spoke, to the shepherds.
The word Luke used clearly refers to singing in Revelation 5:9 and 15:3. There are other Biblical contexts, however, where it is equally evident that singing is not meant.
Nevertheless, commentators display an exceptionally high degree of consensus in regarding Luke 2:14 as an angelic song.
Regrettably, this same Greek word is responsible for ambiguity in other likely references to celestial singing.
Let’s compare a few translations:
GNB NIV NEB LB RSV NRSV Jer Bible
Luke 2:13-14 X – X X – – –
Rev 4:8 X – X - X X X
Rev 4:10 – – – X X X –
Rev 5:12 X X - X – X C
Rev 5:13 X X - – X – –
A cross indicates when the version translates the word as some form of the word sing, C indicates the use of chant. The KJV, NKJV, Phillips and NASB do not use sing or chant in any of the above four verses.
Scholars question whether the ‘trumpet’ should be regarded as a musical instrument; its function being more to make noise than music. Its sound is frequently described by authorities as ‘harsh’, ‘shrill’ and ‘loud’. At times its use more closely resembled that of a church bell, to summon, or of a siren, to warn. It was frequently used to signal.
In many instances, trumpeting could probably be conceptualized as an instrumental equivalent to non-verbal shouting. In fact, trumpets were often associated with shouting or war cries (e.g. Joshua 6:5; 2 Chronicles 13:14-15; Psalm 47:5; 98:6; Amos 2:2; Zephaniah 1:16).
The shophar was usually a curved animal horn. Sometimes metal was used. Werner says it was capable of only approximately producing just the first two harmonic overtones. Evidence from the rams horns still used in synagogues today suggests it is capable of three notes, one a fifth and another an octave removed from the basic note. Several times the ancient Jewish book of Jewish practices, The Mishnah, speaks of a sequence of three shophar blasts, the first sustained, the second quavering and the third sustained. The sustained blast was three times longer than the quavering blast which, in turn, was three times longer than the alarm blast (Mishna, Rosh ha-Shanah 4:8; see also Pesahim 5:5; Sukkah 5:4; Tamid 7:3).
In contrast to the shophar, the chatsotserah, (Like most Hebrew words, there are many alternative English spellings of this word) which is also frequently referred to as a trumpet, was a straight metal tube. It appears to have been more musical.
A silver and a copper Egyptian example were found well-preserved in Tutankhamun’s tomb. Modern attempts to play them have shown they are capable of three notes. The third, two octaves above the basic one, required great effort. Further notes could be produced with the addition of a modern mouth piece.
The Dead Sea Scrolls imply that legato, staccato, trills and tonguing could be produced in unison by the chatsotserah trumpets (cf 2 Chronicles 5:13). In contrast, neither these manuscripts, nor the Old Testament, indicate the shophar trumpets could be played in unison. Werner (p 474) believes the shophar lacked the necessary precision for several players to sound the one note in unison. Presumably, the natural variability of animal horns (even between left and right) supports this view. Perhaps the ancients could have achieved it if they tried sufficiently hard, but there is no evidence to suggest they were so motivated. When they required this precision they would probably have used the chatsotserah.
The ancient Greeks considered trumpet blowing an art and even held competitions. Volume was apparently considered in rating a performance.
2 Chronicles 5:12-13 clearly indicates that chatsotserah trumpets were used in music:
‘. . . the Levitical singers . . . having cymbals and psalteries and harps, stood at the east end of the altar and with them one hundred and twenty priests sounding with trumpets: It came to pass, as the trumpeters and singers were as one, to make one sound to be heard in praising and thanking the Lord; and when they lifted up their voice with the trumpets and cymbals and instruments of music, and praised the Lord, saying, For He is good; for His mercy endures forever . . .’
Knowing the limitations of these trumpets, we can only speculate as to how they were used. They could signal the start of the music, set the rhythm, add volume and fill pauses in the music (e.g. see Mishna, Tamid 7:3). It would be particularly appropriate for the trumpets to predominate at the end of such lines as ‘shout to God with the voice of triumph’ (Psalm 47:1). Some scholars believe that even in worship, signaling was their main function – indicating the moment when priests will enter, when worshippers should bow, etc.
In Numbers 10:3-4, the Lord commanded the use of silver trumpets to summon people. Which of two groups was being summoned depended on whether one or two trumpets was used. This would surely have been ineffective had the two trumpets been played in unison, sounding merely like a slightly louder version of the other signal.
The shophar is grouped with musical instruments in Psalm 150.
What the Kings James Version calls a ‘cornet’ in Daniel 3:5, 7, 10, 15 seems equivalent to the shophar. The Babylonians obviously used it in conjunction with their other musical instruments.
There was certainly a large overlap in the use of the two types of trumpet and Bible word studies I have conducted on many diverse topics have repeatedly confirmed that Scripture rarely uses words with the rigidity of modern technical or theological jargon. (For instance, contrary to common perception, the distinction is extremely blurred between to two main words for love in the Greek New Testament.) If a similar overlap in meaning exists for the two Hebrew terms for trumpet it is not surprised that some scholars find no discernible distinction in the Old Testament use of these two trumpet types.
Greek, the language of the New Testament, does not differentiate between the two trumpets. The musical potential of the instrument is shown in Revelation 18:22 where trumpets are linked with harpists, singers and pipers.
Trumpet blowing was usually the domain of the priests, rather than the Levitical musicians (e.g. 1 Chronicles 15:24 cf verses 16:22; 1 Chronicles 16:4-6; 2 Chronicles 5:12; Ezra 3:10; Nehemiah 12:35, 41) Note, for example, 2 Chronicles 29:26).
‘And the Levites stood with the instruments of David, and the priests with the trumpets.’
1 Chronicles 16:42, however, indicates that there were exceptions.
We need to remember that a choice of high quality musical instruments simply did not exist in Biblical times. Even when naming heavenly instruments, the writers were still limited to the few names their native tongue provided.
Return to Chapter 2 (Angels)
In Tune with God: Contents
For a treasure trove of hilariously helpful, compassionate and stimulating webpages by Grantley Morris, click the chest.