Jesus and Instrumental Praise

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?

Okay.

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.

  1. 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.”?
  2. 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.”?
  3. 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?

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22 thoughts on “Jesus and Instrumental Praise

  1. Wonderful! I was headed that direction for my next blog, but you did a better job than I would’ve. Thanks again. Now…on to the next Rubicon…

  2. Great post, Keith. <>Excellent<> metaphors. <>(Stepping up on soapbox…)<>My main issue with those that pronounce judgement on worship with instruments (besides the silence of scripture!) is that they only have a problem with instruments during our “worship services” (have I mentioned that I despise that phrase?) and they seem to forget that our whole lives are to be worship to God.I’m a believer that something is either sin or it isn’t. Sure, there are some gray areas on some issues. But they definitely don’t depend solely on what we call them or when we do them. When we say that instrumental music is wrong in worship but okay in regular life, we try to establish what God does or doesn’t like based on the technicality of what we are calling it or when we are doing it…If it is during one of our formal “worship services” it is sin; but as soon as “You’re dismissed” is uttered, it is okay. I just don’t buy that logic. Someone may ask, “Does that mean anything, any talent, then, is acceptable in worship?” Well, I do tend to be a fan of decency and order, and some things may be considered ‘inappropriate’ but definitely not sin. And they indeed may be acceptable in a different worship setting–for use of a talent in a manner that brings glory to God is, indeed, worship. What is ‘inappropriate’ is up to the group of people who are gathered.I’ve been to a church where instruments, namely a piano, didn’t bother me. I’ve also been to a church where the band was louder than the singing, and that was a problem for me. I truly believe it is solely a matter of our preference, so long as our hearts are in the right place. I write this as someone who’s been brought up in a Church of Christ and who prefers a capella singing. I also write this as someone who’s spent a decade of her life outside of the “worship service” as an instrumentalist. And someone who is often times just as uplifted and worshipful singing along w/K-LOVE in her car as in “worship services.” Keith, I believe you brought up the question on Patrick’s blog a few posts back, something to the effect of why do we spend so much time focusing on what the Bible doesn’t say about worship, and so little time looking at what it <>does<> say, about the Spirit, thanksgiving, reverence, and awe???Indeed, <>why is that???<><>(Stepping down…)<>

  3. Fantastic post Keith! Thanks for your wisdom and scholarship.As you know, the ones to whom you probably were directing this post will not hear one single word you wrote, as their ears have closed a long time ago. I applaud your efforts, and I know godly men (and godly women) still are used by the Father to open closed ears, minds, and hearts. As for me, I don’t have the energy for it anymore. I’ve decided to just wait and talk about it with them in heaven…as we are playing the harps God has handed to us! 🙂 Thanks again, mainly for your spirit of love!DU

  4. My friend don – who is trying to avoid letting the blogosphere consume him, and has let his blogger password expire – e-mailed me this:<>“you done good….”I have made the point for years that the God who is the same yesterday, today and forever certainly is not acting that way if He is condemning worshippers using instruments in worship, which were used in the prior dispensation and in the next, but not this. Yours is the first (short) treatise I’ve read which actually does a pretty good job of linking Jesus to their use IN THE FIRST CENTURY. (Ah, but the church was not established yet, you say? Well, technically true, but I would hate to be in a position of saying the Jesus did something unpleasing to God in his attempts to please God.)When will we truly speak where the Bible speaks? With this issue, at least, I see more and more of an attempt to do that all the time, which is good.Anyway, thanks, again.<>Folks, I always appreciate your thoughts – however they get to me.

  5. Great post and great comments. I am someone who has not made up her mind on this subject. It takes a while to debrief when you have been brought up in an extremely conservative setting and are still in such a setting. I do believe we spend way too much time embroiled in a handful of subjects and neglect the most important stuff, namely, love, grace, mercy, service, etc. I do also see a vast difference in the old law and the new. We see a shift from complex to simplistic. The whole atmosphere of the old law was shattered with Christ and things that God wanted in the old law are no longer acceptable. So, what is more simple than just using our voice to praise God. It’s easily portable, most everyone has one and the ability to use it. That being said, I also don’t really see how we can’t use instuments. I have been told over and over but it just doesn’t totally jive. I know plenty of people that make melody in their hearts when they play an instrument. I guess I’m just tired of so many people holding fast a doctrine that they just recite over and over. Can we just get on with being salt and light and stop holding onto things because that is the way it has always been done. … at least for the last 100 years.

  6. (This hypothetical situation just came to mind…)If Jesus was coming to supper at your house at 6 pm tomorrow, and time, money, and culinary talent were not lacking, which would you wish to prepare for dinner with your Lord and Savior?a) toast with butterb) Kraft Mac & Cheesec) a made-from-scratch, robust bolognese sauce over spinach and ricotta-stuffed cannelloni, topped with freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano, served with a warm, crusty bagette with fresh, roasted garlicWouldn’t we give our best and go “all out” to show our love and gratitude in feeding His body?Then why not use all musical resources available to praise Him in song? Why not let everyone praise as he or she has been given talent? It’s sad to me to read mmlace’s comment about serving outside of the “worship service” because she’s an instrumentalist. It’s like we’ve forced some among us to hide our lights under our idiomatic bushels?Oh, let’s just skip all the debate and instead look forward to Heaven. I’m willing to bet that everyone there will be able to sing with perfect pitch and play every instrument imaginable and the sound will be sweeter than any ever heard.

  7. Lara,Hmmm…perhaps you misunderstood me? Or perhaps you didn’t, and you’re exactly right? I’m really not sure which…I didn’t intend for the comment to be sad, although I do confess it was one that, a little while afer posting, I had second thoughts about…Because I didn’t mean to sound too negative. I don’t feel “forced to hide” anything; I don’t feel confined in the fellowship of believers that I worship with…it’s just a matter of different styles. The time I spend in the church building is approximately 3 hours of the 168/week that He’s given me to worship Him. My point was simply that some don’t view worship that way, as a 24-7 thing.Of all my years in band (Jr High all the way through college) my absolute favorite thing (and there are <> many, many<> memories) was when I was in college (at a state school, I might add). The beginning of my sophomore year, our band director, being the devout Baptist that he was, brought to us a beautiful arrangement of “Amazing Grace” that we used for the rest of my college years as a warm-up chorale. We played portions of it before all the rehearsals, and we played it in its entirety when warming up before football games (where we stood out right by the entrance to the stadium). We would also play it after the football games, at the end of our post-game shows that we would play from the stands. You could look out into the crowd of people gathered in front of us on the track/field and there would be very few dry eyes. There’s just not a word to describe that feeling. That, for me, was a type of worship, whether or not some of my brothers and sisters in the fellowship I worship with realize that. I think that’s what I was trying to say.

  8. Nice thoughts, Keith. Anything with a metaphorical invocation of Star Trek in it is hard to resist!At the risk of being the lurker who finally spoke up and disturbed the peace, I’d like to ask…Is there a danger here that those of us on either side (or both sides) of this topic run the risk of giving the subject entirely too much weight, too much emphasis simply by continuing to debate it?

  9. Jimmy, I go back and forth on your question. Until I read something current with wide circulation which declares instrumental praise an abomination to God, a sin punishable by an eternal hellfire damnation, and names those who will not speak against it as false prophets who should be marked and not included in the fellowship of the saints.Then I feel compelled not to retire the subject.

  10. I understand. And I think it’s a good point. I have a hard time knowing how we can best respond to those kinds of accusations and condemnations. I appreciate the grace and conviction you show in dealing with it head-on.

  11. No way Jesus sang when he worshipped in the temple–he may have been there but he didnt sing. We know he was without sin.

  12. Brother Keith! It’s been over a week since your last post! Surely you haven’t run outta things to say about Jesus??? ; ) I would inquire as to whether or not you are okay…but you seemed alive and well in church this morning…so no worries there! I love reading your writings because I always learn from you and am always challenged by what you have to say. < HREF="http://agable.blogspot.com/2007/06/no-catchy-title-for-this-my-current.html" REL="nofollow">But brother Alan did a pretty good job at challenging me this past week in your absence.<> Nevertheless, I just wanted you to know that your thoughts were missed. At least by one. Waiting patiently…much love in Him!~mmlace

  13. Ditto everyone else that appreciated your thoughts.I agree with you.Personally I like non instrumental singing, but I think other Christians are well within their right to use it.

  14. Being a “new testament church” we got cheated out of “chapter one” in the Old Testament. It was because of musical idolatry at Mount Sinai that God “turned them over to worship the starry host.” (Acts 7 etal., etal.). This is defined as Sabazianism or the old Egyptian/Babylon form of Dionysus worship. Dionysus was the “god of the new wineskin.” It is not surprising that the authority for kings came from those defined as “star gazers” while the authority for the trumpets came from God through the prophets. No “civilian” could come near the sacrificial system: the instruments made NOISE and not music and was the signal for all civillians to be OUTSIDE the gates or camp. No Levitical warrior musican could enter the Holy place or COME NEAR the sacred things: there was nothing sacred about the imposed curse of animal slaughter.The Kingly-Priestly Civil system was an imposed curse: at the same time God established the Qahal, synagogue or church in the wilderness. This was for all civilians and was only for instructions. It was inclusive to rest (from religion), read and rehears the Word delivered through tribal elders. It was exclusive in that it outlawed both vocal and instrumental rejoicing. This met on many first days and all SABBATH (rest) days parallel to and QUARANTINED from the national sacrificial system.The synagogue continued without change even when more codified after the Return. Jesus exampled what you do in synagogue: you stand up to read “that which is written” and you sit down and discuss it. The synagogue “never had a praise service.” Indeed, why would anyone think about making NOISE when Jesus wants to meet so that we can “learn of Him.”Here is what Nehemiah and all of the prophets thought about the proof texts now being uses as a legalistic patternism for legalistic religion: a musical instrument is defined as a “machine for doing hard work” and “praise services” have always been evidence of lost people trying to keep the gods from failingagain. Our misleaders are sadly lacking in Old Testament history MARKING instruments as those telling God to “shut your face.”<>Behold, we are servants this day, [and so are you]and for the land that thou gavest unto our fathers to eat the fruit thereof and the good thereof,behold, we are servants in it: Neh 9:36And it yieldethmuch increase unto the kings whom thou hast set over us <>because of our sins:<> also they have dominion over our bodies, and over our cattle, at their pleasure,and we are in great distress. Neh 9:37They have sown wheat, but shall reap thorns:they have put themselves to pain, but shall not profit:and they shall be ashamed of your revenuesbecause of the fierce anger of the Lord. Je.12:13<> I am amazed that people lust to use the curse of the Legalistic system as a patternism for the Ekklesia, synagogue or school of the Bible which Jesus died to give us.I have posted the whole story line leading to the captivity and death of the nation BECAUSE of musical idolatry here:http://www.piney.com/Terry.Rush.html

  15. ken, your site (piney.com) has been known to me for a long time, and while I find it heavily documented, I do not find it persuasive. Nothing in scripture connects instrumental praise exclusively with idolatry. Far from it!To say that would be to say that Psalm 150 is praise to an idol god.I don’t lust to use Old Testament scripture as a “patternism for Ekklesia,” but I do see it as having extraordinary value for the New Testament Christian and gatherings of the saints. Instrumental praise was never abolished, amended, condemned, commended, recommended nor improved upon in New Testament scripture. It is therefore still an option to worshipers.ken, if the Lord has called you to condemn wicked practices in His church, why not concentrate on things which really offend Him (and which He was explicit about): greed in place of generosity; worship by tongue but not of heart nor hands; tithing tiny things but neglecting what’s important, like justice, mercy and a faithful walk with God?

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