For more than two years now, I have been intensively studying what the Bible teaches about music. As part of that study, I recently have been pondering the references in Scripture to secular instrumental music.
Secular Instrumental Music
Scripture has at least 20 references about music in settings that do not pertain to instances of worshiping the true and living God. These references speak of the secular music of both the heathen peoples and God’s people.
Secular Music of Heathen Peoples
Gen 4:21 And his brother’s name was Jubal: he was the father of all such as handle the harp and organ. [Reference found in the ungodly line of Cain]
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? [Statement by Laban, who was an idolater (cf. Gen 31:30f.)]
Isa 23:16 Take an harp, go about the city, thou harlot that hast been forgotten; make sweet melody, sing many songs, that thou mayest be remembered. [In an oracle against Tyre]
Isa 24:8 The mirth of tabrets ceaseth, the noise of them that rejoice endeth, the joy of the harp ceaseth. [In a passage about judgment on all the earth]
Eze 26:13 And I will cause the noise of thy songs to cease; and the sound of thy harps shall be no more heard. [Part of God’s judgment on Tyre]
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:a
7 Therefore at that time, when all the people heard the sound of the cornet, flute, harp, sackbut, psaltery, and all kinds of musick, all the people, the nations, and the languages, fell down and worshipped the golden image that Nebuchadnezzar the king had set up.a
10 Thou, O king, hast made a decree, that every man that shall hear the sound of the cornet, flute, harp, sackbut, psaltery, and dulcimer, and all kinds of musick, shall fall down and worship the golden image:a
15 Now if ye be ready that at what time ye hear the sound of the cornet, flute, harp, sackbut, psaltery, and dulcimer, and all kinds of musick, ye fall down and worship the image which I have made; well: but if ye worship not, ye shall be cast the same hour into the midst of a burning fiery furnace; and who is that God that shall deliver you out of my hands?a
Dan 6:18 Then the king went to his palace, and passed the night fasting: neither were instruments of musick brought before him: and his sleep went from him.
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; [Part of God’s end-time judgment of Babylon]
Secular Music of God’s People
Jdg 11:34 And Jephthah came to Mizpeh unto his house, and, behold, his daughter came out to meet him with timbrels and with dances: and she was his only child; beside her he had neither son nor daughter.
Eze 33:32 And, lo, thou art unto them as a very lovely song of one that hath a pleasant voice, and can play well on an instrument: for they hear thy words, but they do them not. [General reference that does not specify the nationality of the musician or the precise nature of his music; I have included it here because it is in teaching about how God’s people were receiving Ezekiel’s ministry to them]
Lam 5:14 The elders have ceased from the gate, the young men from their musick.b
Amo 6:5 That chant to the sound of the viol, and invent to themselves instruments of musick, like David;
Mat 11:17 And saying, We have piped unto you, and ye have not danced; we have mourned unto you, and ye have not lamented.
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.b
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. [Identity of the musician unspecified]c
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? [Identity of the musician unspecified]c
Observations about Secular Instrumental Music in Scripture
These 20 references to secular music reveal the following truths:
- Heathen people may have invented instrumental music (Gen. 4:21).
- Instrumental music has been important in the secular lives of human beings from very early in human history (Gen. 4:21) and will continue to be so until the end of human history prior to the Millennium (Rev. 18:22).
- Scripture speaks about the secular music of both heathen peoples and God’s people.
- The varied nature of the references to secular instrumental music shows that the inspired authors of Scripture were not ignorant about such music.
- Instrumental music played a vital role in the preeminent occasion of heathen worship recorded in Scripture (Dan. 3:5, 7, 10, 15).
- Daniel 3, the passage that emphasizes the use of instrumental music in worship more than any other passage in Scripture does, does not refer to the music of the people of God; instead, it highlights the role that instrumental music played in the kingdom of Nebuchadnezzar, the greatest heathen king in human history.
In future articles, I hope to bring out the relevance of this study to the ongoing dispute about the propriety of using CCM in corporate worship.
a Strictly speaking, these verses do not refer to secular music because they speak of music in a religious context. I have included them here, however, because they are in a context of false worship, which means that they do have bearing upon our understanding of the secular music of the Babylonians, a heathen people.
b These references do not specify the use of instruments, but they likely signify their use.
c These references may refer also to music used in Christian worship, but the statements do not specify that they do.