To resolve today’s worship wars properly, all parties involved must profit fully from all divine revelation about music. To that end, this post examines a noteworthy passage about a prophet, a minstrel, and divine attentiveness to instrumental music.
Elisha’s Commitment to Separation from Those Who Had Compromised True Worship of the Lord
Second Kings begins by relating the miraculous end of Elijah’s prophetic ministry and the miraculous beginning of Elisha’s prophetic ministry (2 Kings 1-2). During the subsequent evil reign of king Jehoram over Israel (cf. 2 Kings 3:1-3), king Jehoram went with Jehoshaphat king of Judah and the king of Edom to inquire of the Lord through Elisha because Jehoshaphat knew that “the word of the Lord [was] with him [Elisha]” (2 Kings 3:7-12).
In this encounter with these three kings, Elisha initially rebuked Jehoram by protesting his seeking him out: “What have I to do with thee?” (2 Kings 3:13a). Elisha thereby made clear that he did not want to have contact with this evil king. He then instructed him to go instead and consult with the prophets of his parents (2 Kings 3:13b).
When Jehoram persisted (2 Kings 3:13c), Elisha testified to the all-important reality that he served in the presence of the living God (“As the Lord of hosts liveth, before whom I stand” [2 Kings 3:14a]). He then went so far as to say to Jehoram that he would not even have had anything to do with him had Jehoshaphat not been with him (2 Kings 3:14b).
These statements by Elisha attest to his commitment to separation from evil leaders who perpetuated horrifically compromised worship of the Lord (2 Kings 3:3). By divine design, we must therefore keep this reality in mind when we examine what Elisha did next in this encounter.
Elisha’s Request for a Minstrel to Play for Him and His Subsequent Prophesying
After he had rebuked Jehoram for seeking prophetic ministry from him, Elisha asked that a minstrel be brought to him (2 Kings 3:15a). When the minstrel played for him, “the hand of the Lord came upon him” (2 Kings 3:15b).
Elisha then prophesied what the Lord gave him to reveal on this occasion (2 Kings 3:16-19). The inspired writer of the book then records that what Elisha had prophesied took place the next morning (2 Kings 3:20).
Why did Elisha request this musical ministry prior to his prophesying? Why did the Holy Spirit record this part of the encounter and what profit are we supposed to derive from it?
To understand the value of this revelation properly, we must first note that this passage does not say anything about the minstrel’s singing words to Elisha on this occasion. By divine design, this passage focuses our attention, therefore, on what resulted at this time from the playing of instrumental music.
Second, we must recognize that Elisha had no ability to bring about any divine response to the instrumental musical ministry that he requested and received. Because the Spirit has recorded that God did respond to that instrumental music, we learn that this passage is inspired revelation about divine attentiveness to and approbation of the instrumental music that Elisha received on this occasion!
Third, given Elisha’s intense commitment to separation from compromised worshipers of the Lord, the flow of thought in the passage points us to the truth of divine attention to and approbation of instrumental music ministered by a musician who is not a compromising worshiper of the Lord. By implication, we learn that both Elisha and God would have rejected instrumental music proffered by an ungodly instrumental musician (cf. Amos 5:23).
In a previous post, I treated a passage in Amos 5 that plainly teaches that God pays attention to the instrumental music that people use to worship Him. The account of Elisha, the minstrel’s playing, and God’s response to that playing similarly reveals divine attentiveness to instrumental music.
In discussions about issues concerning worship music, we must account properly for this vital biblical truth—God is not merely concerned with the words that are sung to Him; He also pays attention to the instrumental music that is used. In fact, through how the Spirit has chosen to inspire the revelation given to us in 2 Kings 3:15, we must accept the truth that He pays attention to and responds to instrumental music that is not accompanied by words!
Furthermore, the emphasis in the passage on Elisha’s separation from ungodly worshipers of the Lord directs us to scrutinize carefully the instrumental music that we use in divine worship and to reject instrumental music sourced in the evil activities of evil people, including people who profess to worship the Lord but compromise His worship. Attempts to resolve today’s worship wars that do not account for the truths revealed in 2 Kings 3, Amos 5, and other related passages will necessarily fail to resolve the issues involved properly.