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music in the bible

Music features throughout the books of the bible, right from the early chapters of Genesis through to the last book of the bible (Revelation). It features in the Old Testament - The Books of the Law, the Psalms, the prophets and in the New Testament – the Gospels, The Acts of the Apostles, Pauls Letters and Revelation. There is said to be over a thousand references to music in the bible in some form or other. What follows is an overview of how music is used in the scriptures, a list of some of the popular instruments employed, and short bible references for them.

pipes from a pipe organ

Horns and Trumpets

In the absence of modern day communication methods on the battlefield, one of the main uses of the trumpets was of signalling – e.g. as a way of calling the troops to battle, or to begin marching, or at the anointing of a new king. The blowing of horns or trumpets is frequently associated with this activity:-

Judges 3:27 (NIV)
When he arrived there, he blew a trumpet in the hill country of Ephraim, and the Israelites went down with him from the hills, with him leading them.

2 Samuel 15:10 (WEB)
But Absalom sent spies throughout all the tribes of Israel, saying, “As soon as you hear the sound of the trumpet, then you shall say, ‘Absalom is king in Hebron!’”
However, trumpets often herald God’s judgement, such as in Isaiah 27:13. In the New Testament, trumpets are portrayed in a similar way – such as in Matthew 24:31, where trumpets herald the gathering of the elect.

Percussion – timbrels and cymbals

The “timbrel” is an ancient form of tambourine, often used to accompany Israelite victory parades. It features in Miriam’s dance and King David’s dance before the Ark of the Covenant.

Exodus 15:20 (NIV)
Then Miriam the prophet, Aaron’s sister, took a timbrel in her hand, and all the women followed her, with timbrels and dancing.

Psalm 150:4-5 (WEB)
Praise him with tambourine and dancing!
Praise him with stringed instruments and flute!

Praise him with loud cymbals!
Praise him with resounding cymbals!

Other percussion instruments which feature in bible verse are castanets and sistrums.
2 Samuel 6:5 (NIV)
David and all Israel were celebrating with all their might before the LORD, with castanets, harps, lyres, timbrels, sistrums and cymbals.

Strings – harps, lyres and stringed instruments

Psalm 33:2-3 (WEB)
Give thanks to Yahweh with the lyre.
Sing praises to him with the harp of ten strings.

Psalm 45:8 (WEB)
All your garments smell like myrrh, aloes, and cassia.
Out of ivory palaces stringed instruments have made you glad.

Woodwinds – pipes

Genesis 4:21 (NIV)
His brother’s name was Jubal; he was the father of all who play stringed instruments and pipes.

1 Kings 1:40 (ESV)
And all the people went up after him, playing on pipes, and rejoicing with great joy, so that the earth was split by their noise.

The different ways that music is used in worship:-

There are countless references to music in the bible! Sometimes instrumental music is used to worship the Lord:-

Isaiah 38:20 (NIV)
The LORD will save me,
and we will sing with stringed instruments
all the days of our lives
in the temple of the LORD.

2 Samuel 6:5 (CPDV)
But David and all of Israel played before the Lord on every kind of musical instrument made of wood, and on harps, and lyres, and timbrels, and bells, and cymbals.

At other times there is worship with unaccompanied singing:-

Ephesians 5:19 (BBE)
Joining with one another in holy songs of praise and of the Spirit, using your voice in songs and making melody in your heart to the Lord.

And at other times it’s a combination of both instruments and vocals joining to together in worship:-

Psalm 57:7-9 (NLT)

My heart is confident.
No wonder I can sing your praises!
Wake up, my heart!
Wake up, O lyre and harp!
I will wake the dawn with my song.
I will thank you, Lord, among all the people.
I will sing your praises among the nations.

The Music of Heaven

According to the scriptures, music is not just an earthly pursuit. Here are two biblical references to music being made in heaven.

God himself makes music:-
Zephaniah 3:17 (WEB)
Yahweh, your God, is in the midst of you, a mighty one who will save. He will rejoice over you with joy. He will calm you in his love. He will rejoice over you with singing.

There are beings which have instruments and sing to the Lord:-
Revelation 5:8-9 (NLT)
And when he took the scroll, the four living beings and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp, and they held gold bowls filled with incense, which are the prayers of God's people. And they sang a new song with these words: "You are worthy to take the scroll and break its seals and open it. For you were slaughtered, and your blood has ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation”.

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