Daniel 3 and the Debate about the Inherent Morality of Instrumental Music

December 7, 2013

Daniel 3 records that religion, international politics, and instrumental music converged in a prominent context of idolatrous worship in ancient Babylon. Was the instrumental music on that occasion inherently neutral or even moral?

Instrumental Music Used by Nebuchadnezzar for Idolatrous Worship

King Nebuchadnezzar was the head of the greatest Gentile Empire in human history (Dan. 2:36-38). He served many gods (Dan. 3:12, 14, 18) and decided to erect a colossal golden image (Dan. 3:1) for the purpose of idolatrous worship. He gathered all the leading officials of his kingdom to fall down and worship it (Dan. 3:2-6).

He decreed that all the people assembled were to do so (Dan. 3:4-5), accompanied by music produced a noteworthy group of instrumentalists:

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 four-fold repetition of the list of instruments used on this occasion greatly stresses this aspect of the event (Dan. 3:5, 7, 10, 15).

When the musicians played at the appointed time, everyone assembled worshiped the image (Dan. 3:7), but three Jewish leaders did not (Dan. 3:12).

What Can We Know about The Musicians Who Played On This Occasion?

Because this was an international event of great importance, we can be certain that Nebuchadnezzar would have employed only the finest musicians available to him. Because he was the king, he had the resources and authority to secure and gather the best musicians who would know what kind of music would best suit the occasion.

These highly skilled musicians themselves (or some official over them, possibly even King Nebuchadnezzar) undoubtedly chose a style or styles of music that they knew would be best for the idolatrous worship of the image. They surely rehearsed the music properly so that their playing that music for this event would be fully pleasing to the king.

These musicians knew how to play several instruments proficiently, including both wind instruments and stringed instruments.[1] Their willingness to play these instruments for this occasion shows that any of them who may have been Israelites who were brought to Babylon in the captivity (cf. Dan. 1:3-5) were no longer faithful worshipers of only the Lord.

In all likelihood, the vast majority or perhaps even all of these musicians were idolaters of long standing prior to this occasion. It only makes sense that whoever chose the musicians for this event would have chosen as much as possible people who were well known for their devotion to the gods that Nebuchadnezzar worshiped.

Of the musicians who played for this idolatrous worship, those who had been idolaters prior to this occasion would undoubtedly have partaken of meat sacrificed to idols on those previous occasions of their idolatrous worship (cf. Deut. 32:17; Ps. 106:37; Acts 14:13, 18; 17:16, 23, 25; 1 Cor. 10:20). Doing so, they would have had direct contact with demons at those times (1 Cor. 10:20-21).

All of the musicians who had been idolaters prior to this event, therefore, were people who had previously been demonically influenced—they thus would not have been just ordinary sinners who had not had any prior fellowship with demons. Consistent with the nature of the occasion, demonic activity unquestionably played a major role in what actually took place, including the demonic energizing of these musicians (cf. Eph. 2:2-3; 1 John 5:19).

Was the Instrumental Music on This Occasion Neutral or Even Moral?

Scripture does not provide any evidence for holding that the musical instruments that these musicians played were inherently evil. As seen above, however, the musicians who played these instruments were evil people; if for no other reason, they were evil for their agreeing to participate in such idolatrous worship.

When these musicians played for this idolatrous worship “service,” they were knowingly sinning against the true and living God (Rom. 1:18-22). Through their music that contributed to that worship, they robbed Him of the glory that only He is due (Rom. 1:23; cf. Ps. 106:19-20).

Was the demonically influenced music played by the instrumentalists on this occasion still neutral or even moral because God created music? Did “common grace” somehow safeguard that instrumental music so that neither the style or styles of music used nor the music that was played was sinful?

Although God created the basic elements of music, Scripture does not teach that God has created all musical styles or all the music produced by humans using those styles. It is untenable, therefore, to hold that the demonically influenced instrumental music played by evil people on this idolatrous occasion was still neutral or even moral because God created the style or styles that they used—God did not create their styles or their music.

Conclusion

Strong Scriptural emphasis on instrumental music used by these evil people for this exceedingly evil purpose on an evil occasion of international significance demands holding that the music itself was evil unless proven otherwise by compelling biblical data.[2] Brethren who yet wish to hold that the instrumental music on this occasion was inherently neutral or even moral have the burden of proof of showing from a careful handling of Scripture why such was the case.

 


[1] Establishing further the precise identity of each of the instruments listed is not necessary for the purposes of this article.

[2] For much additional biblical teaching that supports this conclusion, see the resources here.

 

Rajesh

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