The Quest for Music Miracles
© Copyright, Grantley Morris All rights reserved
Music’s Facets in Scripture’s Light
Obviously music played an important role in Israel’s holy festivals (Isaiah 30:29; Matthew 26:17,30). There are numerous Biblical references to the use of music in weddings, (e.g. Psalm 45) funerals, (e.g. 2 Chronicles 35:24-24) coronations, (e.g. 1 Kings 1:39-40) victories, (e.g. 1 Samuel 18:6-7) banquets, (e.g. Isaiah 5:12) farewells, (e.g. Genesis 31:27) completion of public works projects (e.g. Numbers 21:17; Nehemiah 12:27) and harvests (e.g. Isaiah 16:10).
Generally, this reflects the secular use of music, acceptable to God, though not specifically ordained by Him.
The prophets, when speaking of God’s judgment, often said that the Lord would cause a people’s music (and associated merry-making) to cease (e.g. Isaiah 14:11; 16:10; 24:8-9; Lamentations 5:14; Ezekiel 26:13; Revelation 18:22).
According to Werner, music in Biblical times contrasted with our
society in that it ‘was an organic part of daily life, linked
with a thousand bonds to all human concerns, from birth to death’.
‘. . . TO OFFER THE BURNT OFFERINGS of the Lord, as it is written in the law of Moses, with rejoicing and WITH SINGING, as it was ordained by David’ (2 Chronicles 23:18 – see also 5:6, 12; 29:27-28; 31:2; 35:14-16).
The Jewish Talmud even suggested that the absence of Levitical music invalidated a sacrifice (’Arakin 11a). So strong was the link that when sacrifices ceased in AD 70, so did Levitical music.
This was such an important use of music that I dare not omit it, even though it is difficult to extract a principle that applies to our era.
This use of music certainly shows that it is sometimes valid to
play music while another important spiritual activity is in progress.
Music while the sacraments are being administered is probably
the closest modern parallel. One might also be tempted to use
it to support the common practice of playing music while the offering
is being received.
I’ll let you stretch your mind on this one for a while. We’ll return to it in the next chapter. I’ll leave you with just one, highly suggestive Scripture:
‘In that day shall this song be sung in the land of Judah . . .’
We have missed the Biblical norm if we limit ourselves to carefully composed and rehearsed songs. There is a spontaneity about music in the Bible that caught me so much by surprise that I almost missed it. For example, many Bible scholars find songs in passages I had assumed could not have been songs because they seemed to have been delivered too soon and the occasion seemed too trivial and/or unrepeatable to warrant the effort of laborious composition (e.g. Genesis 4:23; Luke 1:46-55).
Many of the songs we have already mentioned seem to have been extemporaneous. The most appropriate time for music is usually when emotions are highest; not a couple of days after the event. Human nature being what it is, one would expect enthusiasm for the song Spring up O well to have quickly waned a day or so after striking water (Numbers 21:17). Victory songs and laments also fit this category. They were tailored for the specific occasion and yet seem to have been delivered almost immediately, possibly on the very day of the event. For example, though burial occurred quickly in that culture, David sang his lament for Abner on his burial day, long before sunset (2 Samuel 3:31-35). Again, the maidens’ song about David slaying tens of thousands seems to have been sung immediately upon the army’s return from battle (1 Samuel 18:6-7). One would expect many of the prophetic songs to also be extemporaneous.
Extemporaneous songs have been so foreign to me that I find it helpful to examine accounts from other cultures.
Elias Chacour, a Palestinian living in modern Israel, tells of the occasion when he received the First Citizen award for his village. At the height of the ceremony, his mother arose ‘and, in the Arab fashion, created a song as she sang, improvising the words. The people clapped in rhythm, joining her in a familiar refrain.’ He described the song as like a Magnificat, with his mother expressing her joy in her son being honored. Then she addressed him in song, reminding him that to be Christlike he must not be first, but last and servant of all. Elias wept at a song which to him was ‘incredibly beautiful and holy’.
Zinzendorf (1700-1760) was a key figure in the Moravian revival, whose hymns greatly influenced the Wesley brothers. His practice was to sing a familiar song before the sermon. ‘After it, however, if I do not find a song in the hymnal that I would like to have sung to emphasize the subject matter of my sermon to the audience and to offer to the Savior as a prayer, I invent a new song of which I knew nothing before and which will be forgotten as soon as it has served its purpose.’
The history of Judeo-Christian music is richly sprinkled with
such spontaneity and we must be careful never
to become too proud or sophisticated to continue this godly practice.
I’ve tried, but I make no claims to have fully listed, let alone adequately expounded, all the vital functions Scripture attributes to music. Every time I’m sure I’ve exhausted the possibilities, up pops another.
I must get my brain seen to – it seems to have some intermittent fault. Fortunately, some things are obvious. Everyone knows no self-respecting Christian would produce romantic love songs. Then, just when I thought it safe to go to print, my brain worked. I finally remembered Solomon’s love song (the Song of Songs). That threw a wrench among the pigeons and gummed up the cats. I’ll let you allegorize that away; I’m still in a state of shock . . .
So I can only claim to have skimmed the shallows in an exploratory Bible probe, hoping to stimulate you to launch more extensive expeditions. Perhaps, for example, you will find Scriptural endorsement for using music to help people work. My brief investigations of this possibility have unearthed clues, but not conclusive proof (see Appendix, Note 4.6: Music While You Work – your research might produce something more substantial).
May the Lord bless you with many more exciting discoveries, as
you explore the riches of His precious Word.
The long list established in this chapter shows how highly God prizes music. That divine approval rests on using music for such diverse and sacred purposes should forever silence anyone tempted to belittle music. Yet I doubt I have mentioned one thing that God could not accomplish without music. This suggests that the primary function of music goes beyond the tasks so far identified in this chapter. I put it to you that the divine purpose of music is to show forth the beauty and mind-boggling extravagance of almighty God.
If the Lord wanted us to see, black and white vision should have sufficed. Instead, he lavished upon us the ability to revel in an estimated seven million discriminable hues. In the magnificent garden of Eden, just one tree was forbidden. A lesser god might have banned every tree but one. One bland, nutrient-rich food-type could keep us healthy. Instead we have been divinely showered with a vast array of tastes, aromas and textures. Wherever we look we see the creative genius and extravagant generosity of the One who invites and empowers us to imitate Him. Music is our opportunity to reflect this aspect of the divine nature.
Beautiful music is like gold in Solomon’s temple. It theoretically was not necessary, but God is worthy of nothing less.
As Christ inspired us to bless our enemies by focusing our attention
upon the God of nature who sends His blessings of rain and sun
upon His enemies, (Matthew 5:45) so I invite you to look at the
generosity, beauty, intricacy and endless delights of His handiwork
and be inspired to ‘Go and do likewise’.
Between the covers of our Bibles, God has entrusted us with truth in its full complexity. Any attempt to systematize it will almost inevitably result in some distortion. The most glaring defect in the picture I have so far painted is that one might imagine that all music is from God and thrills His heart.
There is a darker side to music. Scripture neither highlights it, nor hides it. We won’t dwell on either, but to totally ignore it would be irresponsible. We must strive to view music as God views it.
The Bible graphically shows that not all music pleases God (Amos 5:23). Like all of God’s precious gifts, music can be corrupted. Scripture speaks of it being associated with slander, (Lamentations 3:14,63; Job 30:9) idleness, (Amos 6:4-6; Ecclesiastes 2:8) drunkenness, (Psalm 69:12; Isaiah 24:8-9) immorality, (Isaiah 23:15-16) hypocrisy (Isaiah 5:12; Amos 5:23-24; 6:3-6) and false religion (Exodus 32:18-19).
Nebuchadnezzar used an orchestra as part of a sinister attempt to bludgeon and bewilder Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego into idolatry. Scripture emphasizes this corrupt use of music by laboriously listing all the different instruments four times in the space of eleven verses (Daniel 3:5-15). Some of those instruments were almost certainly foreign to the Hebrews. No doubt, the exotic music would have raised some pious eyebrows back in Jerusalem. Nevertheless, the biblical account is devoid of the suggestion that there was anything intrinsically decadent about the pagan music or the ‘weird’ instruments.
Music and pomp and public pressure were all employed, but the furnace held center stage. Possibly, the furnace was of a type never before mentioned in Scripture. However, new ways of doing things are not inherently evil. It was the godless use Nebuchadnezzar’s furnace was put to that was evil, not the furnace itself.
Perhaps the same could be said for Nebuchadnezzar’s unorthodox music.
It is sometimes asserted that when Satan was the highest angelic being God appointed him as chief musician. Appendix, Note 4.5 explains how tenuous this argument is, but if the theory is right, it focuses on pre-fall Lucifer and so it says nothing about fallen music. On the contrary, if the Lord entrusted music to the most important arch-angel it yet again confirms God’s exalted view of music.
In this fallen world, abuse has always exceeded the proper use of music, yet Scripture gives it scant attention. Let’s follow the Bible’s example, taking far more delight in producing godly music than in attacking questionable music.
The identification of Satan with musical ability has made it a
compliment in some circles to call a great virtuoso ‘the devil’.
How ridiculous! Creator God is the Great Musician. And He is the
Source of all power. It’s about time we stopped superstitiously
fearing words played backwards and fell on our knees until the
world fears words prayed upwards.
‘Some to church repair,
My congratulations to anyone so musically skilled: drawing to church, people who would otherwise have stayed away. I have failed to find Scriptural precedent for using music simply as a draw card. Yet if the rest of the church service is Spirit-empowered, surely great things will be accomplished.
Even more commendable, however, is music that itself has a life-changing effect upon its hearers. It is this latter type of music which Scripture highlights.
Perhaps I’ve missed something, but I fail to see how using music solely to draw a crowd, though perhaps effective, is any more spiritual than offering door prizes. Our Lord has a far higher view of the role of musicians within the body of Christ. We have seen from the very Word of God that music can help us edify ourselves, pray, worship, lead, teach, comfort, testify, prophesy, evangelize, defeat evil powers, express God-given emotion, and fulfil God’s command. We are inspired to employ this gift of God for the highest, holiest tasks.
‘What passion cannot music raise and quell?’ asked John Dryden. Music’s power to manipulate emotions is well known. This can be abused, yet it has a legitimate place in Christian music. Our study, however, has established that God intends music to be much more than a mere appeal to the emotions.
In fact, the Bible’s songs are so comprehensive that Luther had good reason to call the Psalter ‘a Bible in miniature’.
Our music may sway the body, but our lyrics should sway the mind. Like the Psalms, the words of our songs should draw deeply from Scriptural truths. These truths are the girders enabling our music to tower above that of the world.
To follow the example of the psalmist, however, we cannot stop here. Only God can effect a spiritual change in our hearers. Through faith and prayer we must allow Him to empower our songs.
Yet even this is not enough. Our Lord expects us not merely to sing our songs, nor even to pray them, but to live them, for the glory of God.
Finally, we must never lose sight of our highest calling – to direct our music to the One who alone deserves all praise.
‘Wagner’s music is better than it sounds’, wrote Bill Nye. We laugh. Sound is everything. But Christian music is another universe. Infinitely more than sound, Christian music is a divine message propelled by supernatural power to achieve humanly impossible goals. It will outshine civilization’s most spectacular glories. Its triumphs will endure for eternity.
And we can be part of it! We’ve examined God’s Word. We know that God delights in empowering music to score each of the goals we’ve mentioned. All that remains is for each of us to receive any personal directions the Lord has for us.
Knowing the general will of God makes it much easier to fine-tune our hearts so as to receive the Spirit’s specific guidance for each particular occasion. With a clearer perception of the uses of music endorsed by Scripture, we are now better equipped to set personal, Spirit-inspired goals for our music.
Spirit-led ministry is always Scriptural, yet gloriously unpredictable. Beware of the temptation to make it predictable by suppressing the Spirit’s leading!
Soldiers on a mission, are handed maps of the terrain. Then they are briefed concerning intelligence reports and their objectives. Without the briefing there would be chaos. But without the map, they’d get lost.
Scripture is your map. The Spirit briefs you, nominating your daily destination and filling in any personal details you need. The Spirit’s guidance is not a substitute for those too lazy to seriously study the Bible. Nor is the Bible an alternative for those too preoccupied to maintain a daily, intimate walk with God. Both are indispensable.
We’ve seen a little of the vast domain God’s general will encompasses. It is now over to you to seek the Lord for your personal, day by day course directions within this thrilling domain.
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