Natural Revelation, Music Related to God’s Providence, and the Debate about the Morality of Music without Words

January 12, 2013

Whether music without words is moral or not is a question that is widely debated today among believers. This post treats biblical teaching about natural revelation and music related to God’s providence to answer this question.

Natural Revelation

Psalm 19:1-6 provides clear teaching about natural revelation:

Psa 19:1 <To the chief Musician, A Psalm of David.> The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork.

 2 Day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night sheweth knowledge.

 3 There is no speech nor language, where their voice is not heard.

 4 Their line is gone out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world. In them hath he set a tabernacle for the sun,

 5 Which is as a bridegroom coming out of his chamber, and rejoiceth as a strong man to run a race.

 6 His going forth is from the end of the heaven, and his circuit unto the ends of it: and there is nothing hid from the heat thereof.

David teaches that God is continuously providing worldwide revelation of His glory and handiwork.

Paul corroborates his statements and further teaches that all are without excuse because they are suppressing God’s infallible communication of moral truth through His creation:

Rom 1:18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness;

 19 Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them.

 20 For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse.

Scripture thus makes clear that God is continuously infallibly communicating moral truth to every person through natural revelation that involves no words. Wordless communication of moral truth, therefore, is a pervasive worldwide reality that every human being experiences on a nonstop basis.

Music Related to God’s Providence 

Building on the foundation of God’s communication of moral truth through wordless natural revelation, related teaching about God’s providence provides additional relevant information. Psalm 104 highlights God’s creating and sustaining His Creation. In that context, the Psalmist provides an important statement about music related to His providence:

Psa 104:10 He sendeth the springs into the valleys, which run among the hills.

 11 They give drink to every beast of the field: the wild asses quench their thirst.

 12 By them shall the fowls of the heaven have their habitation, which sing among the branches.

 13 He watereth the hills from his chambers: the earth is satisfied with the fruit of thy works.

The Psalmist makes known that God provides water to every animal to satisfy its thirst. In that context, he speaks of birds that sing among the branches of trees located by the springs that God sends.[1]

Statements that God satisfies His creation (Ps. 104:11, 13) on both sides of the statement about the singing of the birds show that it is not an incidental “filler” statement. Rather, the clear implication is that the birds sing in grateful response to God’s satisfying them by providing water and habitation (cf. Ps. 104:16-18 and the command for the flying fowl to praise the Lord [Ps. 148:7, 10]).[2]

Furthermore, no humans taught the birds to sing—we thus rightly infer that they continue to do what God created them from the beginning to do. What’s more, He created them (Gen. 1:20) before He created man (Gen. 1:26-27). Because God said that His creation of the birds was good (Gen. 1:21), we rightly deduce that their singing at that time was good, as was also everything else taking place in God’s universe at that time.

Moreover, after He had created man (Gen. 1:26-29), God pronounced that everything that He had made was “very good” (Gen. 1:31). We infer correctly, therefore, that the singing of birds that took place after man was created—but before he fell—was also very good.

Both before man was created and after he was created but before he fell, birds thus sang wordless moral music to the praise of their Creator! Furthermore, even after he fell, Scripture provides revelation about birds (Ps. 104:12) that points to their communicating a wordless moral message through music.

In addition, the clear teaching treated earlier about God’s present-day worldwide communication of wordless moral truth through natural revelation provides a supportive universal backdrop for interpreting the present-day singing of birds as still communicating a moral message without words.

The Debate about the Morality of Music without Words 

God is continuously providing infallible moral truth wordlessly to every human being through the heavens and the firmament that He created (Ps. 19:1-4). He is also providing moral truth wordlessly through the singing of the birds that He created (Gen. 1:20) to praise Him (cf. Ps. 148:7, 10) for His providential care for them (Ps. 104:12).

Scriptural teaching about natural revelation and music related to God’s providence thus establishes that the default Scriptural position is that music without words is moral.[3] Christians who hold the position that music without words is amoral thus have the burden of proof to demonstrate the validity of their view from Scripture.


[1] Because the Hebrew here does not use a specific word for singing (cf. “Heb ‘among the thick foliage they give a sound’” [NET Bible translation note on Psalm 104:12]), some hold that this verse does not establish that birds sing music. The context, however, makes clear that singing is in view. Furthermore, Zephaniah 2:14 explicitly uses a Hebrew verb to speak of the singing of birds. See also my post Do Birds Sing Music or Merely Make Sounds  for additional explanation of why the position that birds do not sing music is not tenable. Moreover, numerous videos available on the Internet abundantly attest to the fact that birds sing songs with multiple pitches, rhythm, rests, etc.

[2] Many commentators concur with this interpretation: “The birds, also, in their nests among the branches are able to pour forth their melodious notes as the result of the God-directed valley-springs. Singing among the branches should inspire us to sing where we dwell—even if it be like Paul and Silas in a prison cell. . . . Said Izaak Walton, great lover of birds, especially the nightingale, ‘Lord, what music hast thou provided for the saints in heaven, when thou affordest bad men such music on earth?’” (Herbert Lockyer, Sr., Psalms: A Devotional Commentary, 409). 

“Among them the fowls of the air dwell. That is, among the trees which spring up by the fountains and water-courses. The whole picture is full of animation and beauty. . . . Which sing among the branches. Marg. as in Heb., give a voice. Their voice is heard—their sweet music—in the foliage of the trees which grow on the margin of the streams and by the fountains” (Albert Barnes, Notes on the Old Testament: Explanatory and Practical, 9:85). 

“’Everything lives whithersoever water cometh,’ as Easterners know. Therefore round the drinking-places in the vales thirsty creatures gather, birds flit and sing; up among the cedars are peaceful nests, and inaccessible cliffs have their sure-footed inhabitants. All depend on water, and water is God’s gift. The psalmist’s view of Nature is characteristic in the direct ascription of all the processes to God” (Alexander MacLaren, The Psalms, 3:116). 

“How refreshing are these words! What happy memories they arouse of plashing waterfalls and entangled boughs, where the merry din of the falling and rushing water forms a solid background of music, and the sweet tuneful notes of the birds are the brighter and more flashing lights in harmony. Pretty birdies, sing on! What better can ye do, and who can do it better? When we too drink of the river of God, and eat of the fruit of the tree of life, it well becomes us to ‘sing among the branches.’ Where ye dwell ye sing; and shall not we rejoice in the Lord, who has been our dwelling-place in all generations. As ye fly from bough to bough, ye warble forth your notes, and so will we as we flit through time into eternity. It is not meet that birds of Paradise should be outdone by birds of the earth” (Charles Spurgeon, Treasury of David, 2:305). 

“The music of the birds was the first song of thanksgiving which was offered from the earth, before man was formed” (John Wesley; cited in Explanatory Notes and Quaint Sayings on 104:12 in Treasury of David, 2:319). 

“They sing, according to their capacity, to the honour of their Creator and benefactor, and their singing may shame our silence” (Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible, 893).

[3] See also my post David’s Instrumental Music Was Not Amoral for further Scriptural teaching that establishes this point.

Rajesh

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2 responses to Natural Revelation, Music Related to God’s Providence, and the Debate about the Morality of Music without Words

  1. Have you considered that many today do not deny the morality of music, but rather that the music they prefer does not violate standards of immorality (or immoral style)?

    • Yes, I’m aware that there are many today who take that position as well. I have been focusing on the music-is-neutral view so far, trying to bring as many biblical and other considerations to bear on that view to show that it is not a credible view. As God directs, I expect to address other views as well at a later time. Thanks.