Scripture provides more than 3000 verses pertaining to the subject of music. Based on an extensive analysis of the biblical revelation about human musical activity, I believe that a very helpful way to understand divine revelation about music is to organize that revelation chronologically into seven periods of human musical activity on earth.

The Seven Periods of Human Musical Activity on Earth

The following listing provides key passages concerning music in each period. As far as I can tell, the references in the first two periods are the only revelation that we have about music in those periods; the listing in the other periods is highly selective and leaves out much other revelation that is in Scripture.

1. Music before the Flood

Gen 4:21 And his brother’s name was Jubal: he was the father of all such as handle the harp and organ.

2. Music from the Flood to the Exodus

Job 21:12 They take the timbrel and harp, and rejoice at the sound of the organ.

Job 30:31 My harp also is turned to mourning, and my organ into the voice of them that weep.

Job 35:10 But none saith, Where is God my maker, who giveth songs in the night;

Gen 31:27 Wherefore didst thou flee away secretly, and steal away from me; and didst not tell me, that I might have sent thee away with mirth, and with songs, with tabret, and with harp?

3. Music from the Exodus to the Monarchy

Exo 15:1 Then sang Moses and the children of Israel this song unto the LORD, and spake, saying, I will sing unto the LORD, for he hath triumphed gloriously: the horse and his rider hath he thrown into the sea.

Exo 15:20 And Miriam the prophetess, the sister of Aaron, took a timbrel in her hand; and all the women went out after her with timbrels and with dances. 21 And Miriam answered them, Sing ye to the LORD, for he hath triumphed gloriously; the horse and his rider hath he thrown into the sea.

Exo 32:18 And he said, It is not the voice of them that shout for mastery, neither is it the voice of them that cry for being overcome: but the noise of them that sing do I hear.

Deu 31:19 Now therefore write ye this song for you, and teach it the children of Israel: put it in their mouths, that this song may be a witness for me against the children of Israel.

Jdg 5:1 Then sang Deborah and Barak the son of Abinoam on that day, saying,

4. Music from the Monarchy to the Coming of Christ 

1Sa 16:23 And it came to pass, when the evil spirit from God was upon Saul, that David took an harp, and played with his hand: so Saul was refreshed, and was well, and the evil spirit departed from him.

Psa 1:1 Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful. 2 But his delight is in the law of the LORD; and in his law doth he meditate day and night. 3 And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper.

Psa 2:1 Why do the heathen rage, and the people imagine a vain thing? 2 The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD, and against his anointed, saying,  3 Let us break their bands asunder, and cast away their cords from us.

Psa 2:10 Be wise now therefore, O ye kings: be instructed, ye judges of the earth.  11 Serve the LORD with fear, and rejoice with trembling. 12 Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and ye perish from the way, when his wrath is kindled but a little. Blessed are all they that put their trust in him.

Psa 33:1 Rejoice in the LORD, O ye righteous: for praise is comely for the upright. 2 Praise the LORD with harp: sing unto him with the psaltery and an instrument of ten strings.  3 Sing unto him a new song; play skilfully with a loud noise. 4 For the word of the LORD is right; and all his works are done in truth. 5 He loveth righteousness and judgment: the earth is full of the goodness of the LORD.

Psa 106:48 Blessed be the LORD God of Israel from everlasting to everlasting: and let all the people say, Amen. Praise ye the LORD.

1Ch 25:1 Moreover David and the captains of the host separated to the service of the sons of Asaph, and of Heman, and of Jeduthun, who should prophesy with harps, with psalteries, and with cymbals: and the number of the workmen according to their service was:  3 Of Jeduthun: the sons of Jeduthun; Gedaliah, and Zeri, and Jeshaiah, Hashabiah, and Mattithiah, six, under the hands of their father Jeduthun, who prophesied with a harp, to give thanks and to praise the LORD. . . .  6 All these were under the hands of their father for song in the house of the LORD, with cymbals, psalteries, and harps, for the service of the house of God, according to the king’s order to Asaph, Jeduthun, and Heman.  7 So the number of them, with their brethren that were instructed in the songs of the LORD, even all that were cunning, was two hundred fourscore and eight.

2Ki 3:15 But now bring me a minstrel. And it came to pass, when the minstrel played, that the hand of the LORD came upon him.

Dan 3:5 That at what time ye hear the sound of the cornet, flute, harp, sackbut, psaltery, dulcimer, and all kinds of musick, ye fall down and worship the golden image that Nebuchadnezzar the king hath set up:

Amo 5:23 Take thou away from me the noise of thy songs; for I will not hear the melody of thy viols.

5. Music at the Time of Christ

Mat 9:23 And when Jesus came into the ruler’s house, and saw the minstrels and the people making a noise,

Mat 26:30 And when they had sung an hymn, they went out into the mount of Olives.

Luk 7:32 They are like unto children sitting in the marketplace, and calling one to another, and saying, We have piped unto you, and ye have not danced; we have mourned to you, and ye have not wept.

Luk 15:25 Now his elder son was in the field: and as he came and drew nigh to the house, he heard musick and dancing.

6. Music in the Early Church

Act 16:25 And at midnight Paul and Silas prayed, and sang praises unto God: and the prisoners heard them.

Rom 15:9 And that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy; as it is written, For this cause I will confess to thee among the Gentiles, and sing unto thy name.

1Co 13:1 Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.

1Co 14:7 And even things without life giving sound, whether pipe or harp, except they give a distinction in the sounds, how shall it be known what is piped or harped? 8 For if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle?

1Co 14:15 What is it then? I will pray with the spirit, and I will pray with the understanding also: I will sing with the spirit, and I will sing with the understanding also.

1Co 14:26 How is it then, brethren? when ye come together, every one of you hath a psalm, hath a doctrine, hath a tongue, hath a revelation, hath an interpretation. Let all things be done unto edifying.

Eph 5:19 Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord; 20 Giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ;

Col 3:16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. 17 And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him.

Jam 5:13 Is any among you afflicted? let him pray. Is any merry? let him sing psalms.

7. Music before the Great White Throne Judgment

Psa 98:4 Make a joyful noise unto the LORD, all the earth: make a loud noise, and rejoice, and sing praise. 5 Sing unto the LORD with the harp; with the harp, and the voice of a psalm. 6 With trumpets and sound of cornet make a joyful noise before the LORD, the King. 7 Let the sea roar, and the fulness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein. 8 Let the floods clap their hands: let the hills be joyful together 9 Before the LORD; for he cometh to judge the earth: with righteousness shall he judge the world, and the people with equity.

Rev 18:22 And the voice of harpers, and musicians, and of pipers, and trumpeters, shall be heard no more at all in thee; and no craftsman, of whatsoever craft he be, shall be found any more in thee; and the sound of a millstone shall be heard no more at all in thee;

Application

Through a careful analysis of the similarities and differences in human musical activity in these periods, we can learn much about what God wants us to know about music. Such a study is especially important for believers who want to worship God acceptably with corporate music that is fully in accord with all that He has revealed.

  1. Of the books of the Bible, Psalms is the longest book in several ways: it has the most chapters, verses, and words of any book, and it has the longest chapter in Scripture. Because the book of Psalms is entirely divinely inspired texts of songs that God’s people were to sing, the longest book in Scripture is entirely about music in that sense.
  2. Of the 150 Psalms, at least 124 have some explicit reference to something that has to do with music.
  3. Scripture provides us with the texts of at least 160 songs; besides Psalms, Song of Solomon is also a book of the Bible that is entirely inspired revelation about music because it is a song.
  4. There are more than 500 verses in Scripture that speak about music explicitly and more than 3000 verses total on the subject.
  5. At least 243 verses refer to singing, and 171 verses speak of musical instruments in some manner.

The NT highlights the importance of music in many additional ways:

  1. The NT quotes the book of Psalms more than any other book of the OT.
  2. The NT speaks of Christ’s singing when He was on the earth and of His singing someday in the future.
  3. The NT teaches that believers are commanded to be filled with the Spirit, and the first listed result of that filling is believers’ ministering psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to one another; such believers sing and make melody in their hearts to the Lord.
  4. The NT teaches that believers who have the Word of Christ dwelling richly in them sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs to the Lord; such believer teach and admonish one another, including through their singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to one another.
  5. The NT teaches that believers who are merry are commanded to sing Psalms.
  6. The most important chapter on corporate worship in the Epistles speaks about musical instruments (1 Cor. 14:7-8), singing (1 Cor. 14:15-17), and the eagerness of every believer in the church at Corinth to minister a psalm (1 Cor. 14:26).
  7. The book of Revelation reveals that corporate worship in heaven includes singing accompanied by musical instruments.

The only authentic information that we have about the worship in heaven is what God provides us with in Scripture. Every reference to singing in the worship of heaven is directly connected to the use of musical instruments:

Rev 5:8 And when he had taken the book, the four beasts and four and twenty elders fell down before the Lamb, having every one of them harps, and golden vials full of odours, which are the prayers of saints.

9 And they sung a new song, saying, Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation; 10 And hast made us unto our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on the earth.

Rev 14:2 And I heard a voice from heaven, as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of a great thunder: and I heard the voice of harpers harping with their harps:

3 And they sung as it were a new song before the throne, and before the four beasts, and the elders: and no man could learn that song but the hundred and forty and four thousand, which were redeemed from the earth.

Rev 15:2 And I saw as it were a sea of glass mingled with fire: and them that had gotten the victory over the beast, and over his image, and over his mark, and over the number of his name, stand on the sea of glass, having the harps of God.

3 And they sing the song of Moses the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying, Great and marvellous are thy works, Lord God Almighty; just and true are thy ways, thou King of saints. 4 Who shall not fear thee, O Lord, and glorify thy name? for thou only art holy: for all nations shall come and worship before thee; for thy judgments are made manifest.

We know that the worship of heaven is perfect in every way. We should learn from the music used in heavenly corporate worship that we should use instruments to accompany our singing when we worship God corporately.

Through the prophet Zechariah, God has provided vital revelation about the future of the nation Israel and of the world. Reading the book today, I was struck by a statement that appears to reveal a profound truth about God Himself:

Zechariah 9:14 And the LORD shall be seen over them, and his arrow shall go forth as the lightning: and the Lord GOD shall blow the trumpet, and shall go with whirlwinds of the south.

This statement informs us that God Himself will blow the trumpet on this future occasion!

God certainly did not learn to do this from any human beings; this verse, therefore, seems to reveal the stunning truth that God Himself will play this musical instrument! If this is the right understanding of this text, it puts a new light on many related texts:

Exo 19:16 And it came to pass on the third day in the morning, that there were thunders and lightnings, and a thick cloud upon the mount, and the voice of the trumpet exceeding loud; so that all the people that was in the camp trembled.

19 And when the voice of the trumpet sounded long, and waxed louder and louder, Moses spake, and God answered him by a voice.

Isa 18:3 All ye inhabitants of the world, and dwellers on the earth, see ye, when he lifteth up an ensign on the mountains; and when he bloweth a trumpet, hear ye.

Isa 27:13 And it shall come to pass in that day, that the great trumpet shall be blown, and they shall come which were ready to perish in the land of Assyria, and the outcasts in the land of Egypt, and shall worship the LORD in the holy mount at Jerusalem.

1Th 4:16 For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first:

Is God the divine Instrumentalist?

God has revealed what He wants all His people to do on His day:

Psa 92:1 <A Psalm or Song for the sabbath day.> It is a good thing to give thanks unto the LORD, and to sing praises unto thy name, O most High:

2 To shew forth thy lovingkindness in the morning, and thy faithfulness every night,

3 Upon an instrument of ten strings, and upon the psaltery; upon the harp with a solemn sound.

4 For thou, LORD, hast made me glad through thy work: I will triumph in the works of thy hands.

Under inspiration, the Psalmist exclaims that it is good to sing praises to God’s name using stringed instruments both in the morning and in the night on the Sabbath Day. This is one of the clearest passages that teaches the importance of corporate worship both in the morning and in the evening on the one day of the week that God specifically set aside to be uniquely His.

For NT believers, the Lord’s Day is that day. Based on the teaching of this passage, believers all over the world need to accept the truth that worshiping God corporately both in the morning and in the evening on the Lord’s Day with the use of singing accompanied by musical instruments is a good thing that God wants us to do every week.

I think it is very disturbing and concerning that churches are discontinuing corporate worship services on the Lord’s Day, especially in the evenings. We should use passages such as this one to disciple believers all over the world about what God wants His people to do on His day.

We should also strongly encourage our brethren that developing skillfulness in instrumental musical ministry is an essential aspect of giving God the glory due His name.

Scripture records that two kings did not learn humility from God’s dealings with their predecessors and how their predecessors responded to God’s humbling them for their sinfulness:

2Ch 33:23 And humbled not himself before the LORD, as Manasseh his father had humbled himself; but Amon trespassed more and more.

Dan 5:20 But when his heart was lifted up, and his mind hardened in pride, he [Nebuchadnezzar] was deposed from his kingly throne, and they took his glory from him:

 21 And he was driven from the sons of men; and his heart was made like the beasts, and his dwelling was with the wild asses: they fed him with grass like oxen, and his body was wet with the dew of heaven; till he knew that the most high God ruled in the kingdom of men, and that he appointeth over it whomsoever he will.

 22 And thou his son, O Belshazzar, hast not humbled thine heart, though thou knewest all this;

These biblical accounts show us that God notes when people fail to learn humility from how he has dealt with their predecessors. They also show that He holds people responsible for not learning from how He has dealt with others whom they know.

We must learn humility from the godly examples of those whom we have seen humble themselves under God’s mighty hand on their lives, especially from those who were our predecessors.

Scripture surprisingly speaks about dung in more than two dozen verses. As far as we can tell from Scripture, God created human bodies to excrete solid waste as a natural process, and we know that process is essential for maintaining life.

A close examination of the following passage concerning human dung, however, teaches us some truths about God that we might not otherwise think would be true.

Deu 23:13 And thou shalt have a paddle upon thy weapon; and it shall be, when thou wilt ease thyself abroad, thou shalt dig therewith, and shalt turn back and cover that which cometh from thee:

 14 For the LORD thy God walketh in the midst of thy camp, to deliver thee, and to give up thine enemies before thee; therefore shall thy camp be holy: that he see no unclean thing in thee, and turn away from thee.

Through this divine revelation given to Israel, God commanded them to cover their excrement when they would go to relieve themselves (Deut. 23:13). The explanation of this command in the following verse makes clear that the reason for this directive was not concerning potential health ramifications of leaving human excrement strewn about uncovered in the field.

Rather, God revealed that they were to do this because He walked in the midst of their camp and therefore their camp had to be holy, including that there would not be seen in the midst of the camp any unclean thing that God would see and therefore turn away from them. Even though God created the bodies of the Israelites to function as they did, nonetheless, the excrement that their bodies expelled was an unclean thing in the sight of God and something that was unfitting to be seen openly because of His holiness.

Furthermore, Scripture says that God sees everything and nothing is hid from His eyes, which therefore would include dung whether it is in a human body or on the ground or covered under something. Yet, God informs us in Deuteronomy 23:13-14 that human dung uncovered on the ground is something that is unclean in His sight and something that He does not want to see among His people.

Beyond the obvious relevance of this passage for what should be done when humans defecate, this revelation has other important ramifications.

God’s Holiness and His Separateness from Something that is Not Sinful

First, many conceive of God’s holiness as His separateness from sin and sinful things. This passage, however, shows us that God’s holiness also includes His separateness from something that is not sinful and yet it is something that is indecent in His sight. Our understanding of God’s holiness must include this important truth that He has revealed to us.

Talking Unnecessarily about or Joking about Human Excrement

Second, this passage applies to what believers talk about and joke about. Because God indwells us, we are to be holy as He is holy. Because God considers uncovered human excrement to be something that is unclean and unfitting to be seen openly, we rightly infer that God also does not want us to talk unnecessarily about human dung.

Although some people try to support joking about human excrement by saying that it is just the product of a natural process that God made to take place in our bodies, Deuteronomy 23:13-14 shows us that such reasoning is invalid. Yes, it is the product of a natural process, but no, that reality does not change the fact that God views seeing it uncovered as an indecent thing.

Because uncovered human excrement is something that God says is indecent in His sight, we can be confident that talking unnecessarily about or joking about human excrement has no place in the life of a consecrated believer who desires to please God with speech that is edifying, as God commands that it should be.

Conclusion

Let us profit fully from this important revelation that God has given to us in Deuteronomy 23:13-14!

 

I was appalled to find recently an article in the Life Application Bible that asserts the following:

Music in Bible Times: Paul clearly puts forth the Christian view that things are not good or bad in and of themselves (see Romans 14 and 1 Corinthians 14:7, 8, 26). The point should always be to worship the Lord or help others by means of the things of this world, including music. Music was created by God and can be returned to him in praise. Does the music you play or listen to have a negative or positive impact upon your relationship with God?

LAB, 759.

These statements that probably represent what many Christians believe about music are misleading. The first sentence is patently false:

Paul clearly puts forth the Christian view that things are not good or bad in and of themselves (see Romans 14 and 1 Corinthians 14:7, 8, 26).

No, Paul does not teach this! Paul teaches that anything that God has in fact made is good in and of itself: “For every creature of God is good” (1 Tim. 4:4).

Also, I do not find a single statement in the Bible that says that “music was created by God” in the sense that is implied in this article.

God provided definitive instruction to His people about how those who would draw near to Him in public worship had to be dressed:

Exodus 28:42 And thou shalt make them linen breeches to cover their nakedness; from the loins even unto the thighs they shall reach: 43 And they shall be upon Aaron, and upon his sons, when they come in unto the tabernacle of the congregation, or when they come near unto the altar to minister in the holy place; that they bear not iniquity, and die: it shall be a statute for ever unto him and his seed after him.

God specified that Aaron and his sons had to have on linen breeches (underwear) that were of a specific length to cover the nakedness of specific parts of their bodies (“from the loins even unto the thighs”) when they drew near to Him to worship Him. In an all-male context and even in a context when there would have been no other humans present at all, Aaron and his sons had to do this.

Moreover, they had to have other garments on over these linen breeches. If God required these men in an all-male context to dress modestly to cover their nakedness in this way, how much more so does God want all people to dress modestly in public worship in a mixed group by covering these parts of their bodies at least as much as these priests had to when they worshiped God in the tabernacle and in the holy place!

God certainly wants people to dress modestly in public worship.

Twenty years ago, John M. Frame produced a highly touted work that has been spoken of as a premier biblical defense of contemporary worship music (CWM). I recently finished reading this work and found it to be commendable in some ways but lacking in key respects.

Strengths

Frame is a skilled writer who writes with an engaging style. He generally maintains a very commendably irenic tone throughout this work.

He treats his subject with considerable thoroughness concerning biblical considerations about the lyrics and many other related aspects of CWM. For those who approve of CWM, he provides what should be helpful direction in the selection and use of such music.

Weaknesses

In spite of choosing “A Biblical Defense” as the subtitle of the book, Frame’s treatment of the Bible is lacking because he does not provide any detailed exegetical treatment of many specific passages in the Bible that speak about instrumental music (such as 1 Samuel 16:14-23). He may have done so because he believes that they do not provide pertinent information concerning a biblical assessment of CWM.

In support of that evaluation of his views is what he writes as a concluding point in his chapter on some basics of a theology of worship:

Music is an area in which we have little explicit scriptural direction, and in which, therefore, human creativity should be encouraged, within the limits of general biblical standards.

—Frame, 28.

In my opinion, it would have been helpful in his attempting to make his case had he spent the time discussing what those “general biblical standards” are and how specifically they determine what music is acceptable for use in worship.

Because Frame assesses the Scriptural data in this way, he provides very little discussion of the fitness of the instrumental musical styles used in CWM. Later in the book, interestingly, he does say that he personally does not find Christian words set to heavy metal music to be edifying:

I cannot hear this style of music, even performed by Christians, without being harassed by emotions of anger, contempt for others, justification for drugs, violence, perverted sex, and other forms of rebellion against God. Musically, it draws attention to the artists, as audiences marvel at the increasing outrageousness of each performance. This atmosphere may be acceptable as entertainment, but it is not easily reconcilable with the purposes of worship.

—Frame, 58

In spite of having such a corrupting personal response to this music, he yet holds out the possibility that “in time that may change” (58). Yet, he provides no biblical justification for holding such optimism.

The rest of the book is similarly lacking in any biblical treatment of the key issue of whether the instrumental musical styles used in CWM are acceptable to God.

Conclusion

Christians who are looking for a solidly biblical defense of the contemporary instrumental musical styles used in contemporary worship music will be disappointed with this book. Because this book has been highly touted as a key work in supporting CWM, I find that its lack of Scriptural attention to this key issue supports my view that it is in fact not possible to make such a biblical defense of using contemporary worship music that incorporates certain contemporary instrumental musical styles commonly used in CWM.