If you’ve ever stopped to consider it, music plays a vital role in our lives, even from birth. A lot of our parents played music at night for us when we were infants. Then we learned the alphabet through song, learned Bible stories through music, and generally had some type of CD going in the car. In school, a lot of us played in instrument, and even if we didn’t, we all played the radio. Sometimes it seems we can’t get away from it. Just the other day, I was walking the sidewalk in front of a small town courthouse, and outdoor speakers were thumping out a beat.
So with this flood of music, we need to stop and consider what we allow, and why we do. It has been a topic I have struggled with for the past seven or eight years, and am still digging into. Yet despite how much I still have to go, there is one point that has become abundantly clear to me so far.
That point is this: believers are the only people who truly have a reason to sing. A couple of years ago, I read through the Bible while noting all references to music that I found. Although there is so much I could write from what I saw, there is a fascinating parallel between Genesis/Exodus and Revelation that I have not been able to get passed.
In short, there is a pattern of music at the beginning of the Bible that is directly mirrored at the end: though we see/hear about unbelievers having music, the first and last people shown to sing are God’s people. In Genesis 4:21, we learn of Jubal, who “was the father of all those who play the lyre and pipe.” Now Jubal was the son of Lamech, a descendant of Cain, but we only are told here that some people played instruments. This knowledge of music was carried through the Flood, for we find Laban confronting Jacob much later, saying, “Why did you flee secretly and deceive me, and did not tell me so that I might have sent you away with joy and with songs, with timbrel and with lyre?” (Genesis 31:27). Laban was not a very exemplary character, but even here, we only have a report about people playing music and singing—there is not an actual description of people singing.
Fast forward through the rest of the time of Jacob and Joseph, all the way through the slavery in Egypt until we come to Moses. God has raised him up to deliver the people of Israel, and Yahweh has worked “wonders” through him in the Ten Plagues (Exodus 7:1-3). Moses and the children of Israel are trapped at the Red Sea with the Egyptians pursuing them, and just when all hope seems lost, God splits apart the sea and the people cross on dry ground…but the Egyptians are destroyed by the crashing wall of water (Exodus 14:5-31).
And now imagine the scene: your enemies are destroyed, you have seen God do the impossible, and your entire nation has been delivered. Boom! It is at that specific instant that the Lord first chose to record God’s people singing, playing instruments, and dancing in praise (Exodus 15:1-21). It is literally an explosion of music. No longer are we told that some people sang at some point. Here, we actually see God’s people praising Him for His deliverance. Amazing.
But wait, it gets even better. The music of Israel continued to crescendo until it reached a pinnacle of sorts with David, “the sweet Psalmist of Israel” (2 Samuel 23:1). We have all the songs of David in the Books of Samuel and the Psalms, but look at Psalm 40—
“I waited patiently for the Lord; and He inclined to me and heard my cry. He brought me up out of the pit of destruction, out of the miry clay, and He set my feet upon a rock making my footsteps firm. He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God; many will see and fear and will trust in the Lord.”Psalm 40:1-3
See the theme? God delivers His people, and they sing praise in response. This is played out time and time again in Scripture.
But let’s bring in Revelation. We have come through all of history and are now in the middle of the Tribulation, perhaps very close to the end. “The mystery of God” has just been “finished,” which could very well refer to the last believer being added to the Church (Revelation 10:5-7; cf. Ephesians 3:1-7). One of the very next chronological scenes picks up in Chapter Fifteen, with this description—
“And I saw something like a sea of glass mixed with fire, and those who had been victorious over the beast and his image and the number of his name, standing on the sea of glass, holding harps of God. And they sang the song of Moses, the bond-servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying, ‘Great and marvelous are Your works, O Lord God, the Almighty; righteous and true are Your ways, King of the nations! Who will not fear, O Lord, and glorify Your name? For You alone are holy; For all the nations will come and worship before You, for Your righteous acts have been revealed.’”Revelation 15:2-4
God has delivered His people by bringing them out of the Tribulation to dwell with Him forever, and they are praising Him. Not only that, but they are also singing the song of Moses, extremely reminiscent of Exodus 15.
Now add to this the fact that this is the last time we see anybody singing at all. Even further, we find out that unbelievers played music, but we do not see them actually singing (Revelation 18:22). This is an exact mirror image of the beginning of the Bible. Incredible.
Now, I do need to make this concession. There are some poetic lines of Lamech and some of the mourners of Babylon that some may dispute, but the Bible does not actually say that they sang (Genesis 4:23, 24; Revelation 18:9-20). Also, we know God’s people had learned music before Exodus 15, and we will probably be singing still after Revelation 15, but this is what is specifically described in Scripture.
And that is what we have to ask—why did God include what He did as He did? I think the answer is simple. Christians are the only ones who truly have something to sing about, and that is the praises of our Maker. There are examples of Godly men using other types of music, which are not necessarily worship songs (example, Psalm 49:4). But even in “secular” songs, are knowledge of the truth should drive our choice of lyrics and music. There is no command in the Bible that says every song we allow must be a direct worship song, but every one should be in line with the truth revealed in His Word.
So what’s the point? The point is that music is a gift, not primarily to satisfy our feelings, but is a gift from God. We are to use it to honor and praise Him, especially for the salvation He brings. Yes, unbelievers can—and do—sing, but believers are the only ones who truly have a reason to sing. Let us not be careless with this privilege and glorious gift. It is much too precious for that. Let us strive to be led by the Spirit, and bring honor to our Lord’s name with what music we embrace, and how we share that music with others.
One thought on “The Source of Music”
Beautiful, Luke. Thanks, Cuz.