I’ll bet you’re thinking, “Well, this ought to be a short post!”
You may well be right.
Bear with me, though. Let’s take a walk together back to 2 Chronicles 30. Yes, yes; I know. That was before Jesus was born. But not before He was pre-existent with the Father, right? First chapter of John?
This chapter describes a time of great joy; the rediscovery of the Passover meal after a long period of Israel’s have forgotten to all about it and what it meant. King Hezekiah sent invitations to far-flung and nearly-estranged tribes to join in this celebration of God’s deliverance. Let’s take up the story in verse 18:
Although most of the many people who came from Ephraim, Manasseh, Issachar and Zebulun had not purified themselves, yet they ate the Passover, contrary to what was written. But Hezekiah prayed for them, saying, “May the LORD, who is good, pardon everyone who sets his heart on seeking God—the LORD, the God of his fathers—even if he is not clean according to the rules of the sanctuary.” And the LORD heard Hezekiah and healed the people.
You read that right. God let people get by with doing something that was not in accord with “the rules of the sanctuary.” (Does that kinda remind you of what Jesus said about David and the consecrated bread?) Not only that, He healed them.
Let’s keep going to the next verse, verse 21:
The Israelites who were present in Jerusalem celebrated the Feast of Unleavened Bread for seven days with great rejoicing, while the Levites and priests sang to the LORD every day, accompanied by the LORD’s instruments of praise.
Whoa! Whoa! Back up!
Whose instruments of praise? That’s got to be a mistake, right? Let’s check out the KJV.
“Loud instruments unto the Lord”? That can’t be right. Well, Young’s Literal Translation doesn’t always make grammatical sense, but we non-Biblical-language-majors have got to get to the bottom of this:
And the sons of Israel, those found in Jerusalem, make the feast of unleavened things seven days with great joy; and giving praise to Jehovah day by day are the Levites and the priests, with instruments of praise before Jehovah.
All right; those were different times. God surely commanded all those instruments back when the tabernacle was prescribed, right?
Well, uh, no. Not that I could find. Maybe you can. (Though it’s possible God commanded them at the time of David or before, I get the sense that2 Chronicles 29:25 is telling us He commanded them through His prophets then, at the time of Hezekiah. I could be wrong. However, to me …)
It all seems to have been an innovation of David, back when he rejoiced with instrumental music (and dancing!) at the return of the covenantal ark to Jerusalem – then he added those instruments to the cache of things to be used when the temple would be built (beginning in I Chronicles 6, and continuing throughout the work). Four thousand instruments, as I recall.
A few of those instruments may have been among those who returned with Nehemiah and Ezra from Babylonian captivity.
And continued for the next several hundred years, through at least two more major versions of the temple. Now we’re up to the time of Jesus, and the temple where He worshiped … and the synagogues where He also taught … and the upper room where He sang a hymn with His closest friends before going out to the Mount of Olives.
Did He sing with instruments, according to the traditions of David the temple architect, and Solomon the temple builder, and Hezekiah the re-celebrant of Passover, and Nehemiah and Ezra the temple restorers?
Or did He stand there while others did so, frowning, silent, teeth grinding, arms folded in disgust, wondering if He should make a whip of cords and drive the whole lot of them out?
Or is there absolute evidence that no Jew celebrated in song with instruments at temple or synagogue worship in century one?
Bear with me a few more moments, while I pursue three metaphors.
- If you read my blog, would it occur to you to e-mail me: “I found this great Star Trek thing really cheap on eBay, and I wanted to get it for you, but I know you hate Star Trek now, so I didn’t.”? Because my response would be, “What? What gave you the idea that I hate Star Trek?” Would you respond, “Well, you’ve haven’t blogged anything about it since May, 2006 and you said you used to watch too much of it, so I know you must hate it now.”?
- If you were putting together a kit and among the instructions was a stapled slip of paper over step 3 that said: “This design has been changed and improved. In step 3, you should attach part A to part B, rather than part C as previously stated,” would you immediately think, “Oh! Well, then steps 1 and 2 are completely irrelevant now, and part C is completely extraneous and even dangerous to the structural integrity. I’ll just start with step 3 and leave out part C.”?
- If you were an attorney presenting a case about suffrage before the Supreme Court, would you argue: “Since the 21st amendment to the Constitution repealed Prohibition, all previously-enacted clauses are invalid. Women are absolutely not permitted to vote in open elections in the United States.”?
Then why – whether we view the Old Testament as 1.) God’s expressed preference for us, 2.) His instruction for our benefit, or 3.) His law for the satisfaction of His own righteousness – would we do essentially the same thing with regard to instrumental praise?
Especially if His Son and His Son’s followers in century one (saying nothing about the matter in scripture) in all likelihood participated in instrumental worship with joyous singing, heartfelt thanksgiving, deepest respect, and highest praise?