The Quest for Music Miracles
© Copyright, Grantley Morris All rights reserved
The Origin of Music
God’s Glory as Creator
Our Creator, the origin of every good and perfect gift (James 1:17) is the source of all knowledge (Job 21:22; Psalm 94:10; Proverbs 2:6). He deserves – but seldom receives – full credit for all human ingenuity. The perversion is our own, but the gift is God’s.
Scripture acknowledges God as the source of even humanity’s most rudimentary understanding of agriculture (Isaiah 28:24 ff). The Bible asserts that without insight that is ultimately traceable to God Himself, none of us could even recognize the foolishness of forever ploughing a field and never stopping to plant. This dependence upon God for knowledge is a staggering concept. It means that not even a militant atheist or a devil-worshipper could produce music were it not for God.
It is He ‘who gives songs in the night; who teaches us more than the beasts of the earth, and makes us wiser than the birds of the air’ (Job 35:11 – note also Job 32:8).
In the words of Paul, ‘What have you that you did not receive?’ (1 Corinthians 4:7)
So credit for the development of music ultimately belongs not to man but God.
However, divinely given ability can be put to trivial use. Is music some freakish human fad, on the level of Rubik’s cubes and crossword puzzles, or is it something far nobler? The answer to this question has the potential to revolutionize our attitude to music. It could be like discovering that the rock in your back-yard is not just pleasant to look at – it’s solid opal!
At stake is the basis for our entire estimation of music and its future.
Let’s attempt the ultimate time-warp to the genesis of music.
We’ll start by tackling reports of music outside the human race.
If non-human music exists, then something more fundamental than
human genius must be behind it.
Enjoy with me the beautiful words of George Parsons Lathrop.
Music of Growth
And underneath the silky wings
Of smallest insects there is stirred
A pulse of air that must be heard;
Earth’s silence lives and throbs and sings.’
As a poet I’m a good tuba player, but I couldn’t resist this:
May humble be,
And its fumbling flight
Not reach melodic heights;
Yet deep inside
A tune resides.
As it roamed,
A Christian example is Golden Hill, the early tune of an Isaac Watts’ hymn. This melody, once sung in countless churches, was apparently directly influenced by the song of an English wood thrush.
To say that someone sings like a nightingale is high praise.
So even a casual glance at the world around us, without any special
spiritual insight, suggests there may be something musical about
nature’s sounds. Interestingly, there are snippets of Biblical
support for this view.
(For general comments on the nature of this evidence, see Appendix, Note 1.1.)
The King James Version of Psalm 104:12 speaks of birds which ‘sing’. However, ‘give voice’ is a more literal translation. In this instance, the original text carries no musical connotations.
However, a Hebrew word, which Scripture elsewhere applies exclusively to human music, is used in Song of Solomon 2:12, apparently to describe the singing of birds.
Furthermore, in Zephaniah 2:14, we read of birds which ‘sing in the windows’. Here, the underlying Hebrew word is different to the one used in Solomon’s Song and yet it again is a term usually reserved for human singing.
The expression ‘daughters of song’ (Ecclesiastes 12:4) may also be relevant. According to the scholarly Hebrew Lexicon by Brown, Driver and Briggs, it is probably a reference to birds.
It might be going too far to conclude that the above Scriptures
put certain bird calls in exactly the same category as human music.
It seems, however, the divinely inspired writers wished us to
at least see the similarity.
All of nature seems more involved in praising God than most of us would have guessed (Psalm 103:22; 145:10; 150:6). The stars declare God’s glory (Psalm 19:1-4). Sun and moon, wind and hail, hills and trees, beasts, birds, fish and insects are all urged to praise Him (Psalm 148:3-4, 7-10). Wild animals honor Him (Isaiah 43:20). Moreover, Scripture speaks of pastures, trees, hills and skies singing. In the original language, the clearest example is Psalm 65:13:
‘The pastures are clothed with flocks;
Other references abound, though their musical implications are not as obvious as some English translations imply (see Appendix, Note 1.2).
For the Lord has done it:
Shout, you lower parts of the earth:
Break forth into singing, you mountains,
O forest and every tree therein’ (Isaiah 44:23)
Perhaps we would miss something significant if we dismissed all of this as poetic expressions that tell us nothing about sub-human creation. The link between human music and the sounds of even inanimate creation might be stronger than we think. Behind the design of wind, trees and animals is the same Person who created man with the ability to produce music.
If flowers were planted to spell out an Arabic word, we could easily miss the significance. We would not recognize the language and, since flowers are mindless, we might assume the arrangement was simply random. We would see things in an entirely different light, however, if the gardener – the intelligence behind the design – explained.
Similarly, creation would take on a whole new meaning if God revealed that what we have mistaken for mindless sounds are a symphony of praise orchestrated by the One who sustains them. In the words of Edith M. Thomas, ‘The God of music dwelleth out of doors’.
Confirmation that this view of creation is a product of special revelation, rather than human imagination, is found in the spiritual experiences of a host of Christians, for whom a divine encounter has edged them closer to seeing sub-human creation musically exalting its Creator. Several accounts of these experiences, ranging for the common to the spectacular, are cited in Appendix, Note 1.3 They make fascinating reading. Of primary importance, of course, is that we gain a thoroughly biblical conception of nature. This is dealt with in the Appendix, Note 1.4
Perhaps we suffer from a narrow musical appreciation, snobbishly rejecting forms of musical expression other than our own, and so failing to recognize the musical qualities of nature’s sounds. Meditating upon the relevant Scriptures and prayerfully seeking the One who inspired them might open our ears to nature’s melodies.
‘Let the sea roar, and all that is in it:
Verses similar to the above appear in a total of three of the
Bible’s songs (Psalm 96:11-13 and 98:7-9). Let’s examine the context
of one of them, Psalm 98. The psalmist urges ‘all the earth’ to
audibly praise God (Psalm 98:4). He then expounds what he means
by addressing human instrumentalists and singers and nature.
The psalm begins with a call to sing a new song to the Lord. It
builds up to a plea to human musicians and climaxes by appealing
to nature to complete this orchestra of praise. The first half
of the psalm explains why a new song should be sung and
the second half answers the questions how (with harp, trumpet,
clapping rivers etc.) and who (‘all the earth’ – an expression
the psalmist subdivides into man and nature). At the very least,
this psalm suggests a strong link between the worship of God’s
human musicians and the sounds of God’s sub-human creation.
Job 38:7 speaks of the time ‘when the morning stars sang together’ (see Appendix, Note 1.2). This probably refers to heavenly intelligences, rather than stars, because it appears in a poetic couplet paralleling ‘sons of God’. However, the possibility of a strictly literal interpretation alerts us to something significant: God’s music in nature need not be confined to what is audible to us.
‘See deep enough, and you see musically: the heart of nature being
everywhere music, if you can only reach it,’ mused Carlyle.
The sounds of lower forms of creation may seem so primitive that
we hesitate to regard it as music. But who can deny the possibility
that angelic music may be equally superior to humanity’s highest
We know with certainty that angels worship (Nehemiah 9:6; Psalm 103:20-21; 148:2; Isaiah 6:3; Ezekiel 3:12; Luke 2:13; Revelation 4:8). We also know that at least some heavenly beings are superior to us in many ways, including ‘might and power’, (2 Peter 2:11; Psalm 103:20; 2 Thessalonians 1:7. The stone rolled back in Matthew 28:2 may have weighed as much as 4 tonnes.) mobility, (Daniel 9:21; Acts 12:6-7; Revelation 14:6) and ability to disappear (Judges 6:21). They have a greater capacity to afflict, (Genesis 19:11; 2 Samuel 24:16; 2 Kings 19:35; Revelation 9:15) protect (Genesis 24:40; Exodus 23:20; Daniel 6:22; Matthew 4:5-6) and deliver (Numbers 29:16; Isaiah 63:9; Acts 5:19). Their power over nature astounds us, (Revelation 7:4; 14:18) and they are superior in wisdom, intellect, (Job 33:23; 2 Samuel 14:17, 20) knowledge, (implied in Matthew 24:36; Daniel 9:22; Revelation 7:13-14) physical appearance, (Judges 13:6; Acts 6:15; Revelation 10:1) dazzling brilliance, (Matthew 28:4) size, (Revelation 10:2) name, (Judges 13:18) and proximity to God (Isaiah 63:9; Matthew 18:10). For more on this whole subject, see Appendix, Note 1.5
With a list as impressive as that, it is difficult to believe heavenly creatures would lack our musical ability. Indeed, it would be surprising if their musical powers were merely equal to ours. Imagine what skills could be developed by sinless beings unaffected by aging who have been living since the creation of the universe (Job 38:7; Luke 20:36).
Moreover, there is much Biblical evidence that angelic beings have greater than human vocal abilities (Isaiah 6:4-5; Daniel 10:5-6; Revelation 4:1; 10:3; 18:2. A strictly literal interpretation of Revelation 4:8, if assumed to continue without pause, would imply powers of endurance and voice far beyond anything we possess).
According to Thomas Fuller, music is simply ‘. . .wild sounds civilized
into time and tune’. Certainly, from a heavenly perspective, our
music might be more like the unsophisticated sounds of nature
than we wish to admit.
If logic suggests superior heavenly beings would be musical, is it confirmed by direct Scriptural reference?
Most of us would immediately think of the angelic choir announcing to awe-struck shepherds the most significant birth in human history. Heaven seems so excited that it sent the world’s first inter-galactic singing telegram (Luke 2:13-14). See Appendix, Note 1.6
There are also recorded instances of angels blowing trumpets; e.g. Revelation 8:6-7 See also Exodus 19:16,19; Matthew 24:31 and Appendix, Note 1.7
Job 38:7 is strong evidence:
‘When the morning stars sang together
But for the hard to convince, Revelation 5:8 f is the clincher:
‘The four beasts and the twenty-four elders . . . every one of them having harps . . . sang a new song . . .’
(The best manuscripts indicate
that ‘us’ in the King James Version of Revelation 5:9-10 should
read ‘them’. This change is significant because the singers were
Even our brief examination of creation – from the chirping of
insects to the harp playing of heavenly beings – reveals that
music is far more than a merely human activity. Music, in all its
various forms throughout creation, has as its common factor, not
human idiosyncrasy, but the Creator Himself.
As significant as it is, God’s involvement in music extends far beyond creating creatures with musical potential.
1 Kings 4:29 ff implies that it was a direct result of the wisdom God supernaturally gave him that Solomon wrote over 1,000 songs.
Psalm 42:8 speaks of ‘His [i.e. God’s] song’. In Psalm 40:3, the psalmist rejoiced that GOD had given him a new song.
In excess of one hundred and sixty songs so much had their origin in God that they now form part of Scripture (e.g.. Exodus 15:1 ff; Numbers 21:17; Deuteronomy 31:30 ff; Judges 5:1 ff, 2 Samuel 22:1 ff; Psalms, Song of Solomon; Isaiah 5:1 ff; 26:2 ff; Habakkuk 3:1 ff; Revelation 5:9; 15:3-4; see also Appendix, Note 1.9).
Although the Lord has let the music fade, the lyrics of Scripture’s songs will remain for eternity (Isaiah 40:8). This shows more than divine approval of poetry. (Though even this is significant, since the Bible is about one third poetry and some musicologists regard poetry as falling between language and music.) At least initially, the Lord meant the Psalms to be sung. There was little point in retaining the music for posterity, however. Words intended for all cultures and languages could hardly be expected to fit one tune. (Translators have enough problems as it is.)
Nevertheless, the fact remains that God has been directly involved
in the composition of many songs.
When on earth, the Son of God apparently sang (Matthew 26:30). However, there is an allusion to our Savior’s singing which is even more riveting. Hebrews 2:12 suggests the ascended Lord of Creation sings praise to His Father. Jesus says to God, ‘I will SING praise to You’. This is a quotation from Psalm 22:22, a Messianic Psalm. An examination of the original context confirms that it refers to the triumphant Christ praising God after His resurrection (see Appendix, Note 1.10).
Moreover, the Father Himself exalts over us with ringing cries (Zephaniah 3:17; see Appendix, Note 1.11).
So not only does musical ability come from God; He had directly
inspired many songs. Moreover, He apparently produces music Himself.
Our quick flight through Scripture has taken us to the very the origin of music and to one thrilling conclusion: music began in the heart of God. Declared composer Igor Stravinsky, ‘Only God can create. I make music from music.’
In its broadest sense, music is far more than a human art form. It is an inseparable part of creation. More than even this, however, it seems an integral part of God’s own nature.
We could define music as man exploring the wonders of two of God’s creations – time and sound. This definition is in line with much Christian music: God gets a mention, but thereafter it’s all in the hands of men and women. God is viewed as being in the soul saving business, not in musically assisting the church organist.
I have a different view. For now, however, it is sufficient to note that our initial investigations suggest that a definition of music should include something like this: music is the whole of creation following in its Father’s footsteps.
This is not to imply we should downgrade the uniquely human aspects of our music. We are still the jewel of earthly creation. Nevertheless, as ecologists warn us not to view ourselves in isolation from the rest of creation, and Christians realize the folly of disregarding God, so our music is likely to reach its God-given potential only when we understand how our music relates to God and fits into His created order.
Don’t panic. This book isn’t about to become philosophical. In the chapter 2, you’ll think I’ve lost my marbles. In chapter 4, you’ll see me as a straight-laced, Bible-based conservative. In chapter five, you’ll find an amateur historian. Behind this diversity (the reason they cancelled the padded cell) is my determination to unearth every possible clue to the full potential of Christian music in our era. Then we will ascertain how we can achieve this exciting potential for the glory of God.
(Please indicate which of my web pages you are referring to and ensure your return E-mail address is correct.)
In Tune with God: Contents
For a treasure trove of hilariously helpful, compassionate and stimulating webpages by Grantley Morris, click the chest.