Music in the pages of Scripture  

Posted by Denis Haack in , ,

It is not an exaggeration to say that though as a Christian I am aware of the riches of wisdom found in the Scriptures, I am not fully aware of how rich those riches actually are. I tend to be slow to learn and most of the time when I read an ancient text I think of what I’ve already learned from it instead of patiently, unhurriedly observing the text with care to see what it says. Such careful reading requires waiting in silence, a posture that does not come to me naturally.

I know, for example, that the Scriptures bless music as a good gift of God. The longest single book in the Old Testament, after all, is the Psalms, nature itself is said to sing in delight (Isaiah 55:12; Psalms 98:7-8), and even God the Almighty the prophet Zephaniah records, will burst into song at the consummation of all things.

The Lord, your God, is in your midst,
            a warrior who gives victory;
            he will rejoice over you with
            he will renew you in his love;
            he will exult over you with loud 
            as on a day of festival. (3:17-18)

Don’t you wonder what that will be like?

In 1986 jazz pianist and theologian William Edgar wrote a little book that helped me see music in the pages of Scripture in a fresh and much fuller way. His eye as a musician observed examples of music in the text that I had not noticed, in the sort of detail I had not seen. Edgar’s book, Taking Note of Music (London, SPCK) is I believe now, sadly, out of print but if you can find a used copy, buy it.

Here is Dr. Edgar’s list of the types of music he observes in the pages of Scripture, complete with references so you can see the specific texts yourself.

“The following sample of song species from the Bible,” Edgar writes, “shows both the extensiveness of musical function and the Godward commitment of the various forms.
       Work songs (Numbers 21:17-18; Isaiah 16:10; 27:2; Jeremiah 25:30; 48:33; Hosea 2:17; Zechariah 4:7)
       Music connected with war, marching, and victory (Numbers 21:27-30; Psalm 68; 2 Chronicles 20:21; Numbers 10:35-36; Ex 15:20; Judges 5:1; 1 Samuel 21:12; Psalm 24:7-10)
       Songs for instruction, prophesy and mutual edification (Deuteronomy 3:19; 1 Kings 4:32; 2 Kings 3:15; 1 Chronicles 25:1-3; Colossians 3:16)
       Love songs, wedding music, songs of seduction (Psalm 45; Song of Songs 2:12; Ezekiel 33:32; Isaiah 5:1; Genesis 31:27; Jeremiah 25:10; 33:11; Isaiah 23:15-16)
       Entertainment (Job 21:12; Isaiah 24:9; 2 Samuel 19:35; Lamentations 5:14; Daniel 6:18; Amos 6:5)
       Music with dance (Exodus15:20; 32:18-19; 1 Samuel 18:6-7; 21:12; 29:5; Psalm 30:11-12; 68:25; 87:7; Matthew 11:17)
       Songs of derision (Job 30:9; Lamentations 3:14, 63; Isaiah 14:4)
       Mourning and lamentation (2 Samuel 1:18-27; 1 Kings 13:30; 2 Chronicles 35:25; Psalm 69:12; Job 30:31; Ecclesiastes 12:5; Jeremiah 9:16-17; 22:18; Ezekiel 27:30-32)
A close examination of any of these references,” Edgars adds, “will reveal that in no case is the use of music neutral. It is religiously conditioned, either in covenant obedience or rebellion” [pp. 48-49].

It’s worth taking the time to look all these texts up and considering them with care. Think of the exercise as not just a study of music in Scripture but of sharpening our powers of observation. Then sit down and enjoy some music, unhurriedly and without doing anything else except listening.

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