Martin Luther said, “Next to the Word of God, the noble art of music is the greatest treasure in the world.”
Psalm 150 calls for the praising of God with all sorts of musical instruments. This is the final Psalm and up to this point there has been building praise. In particular, the last 5 Psalms are called the “Hallelujahs” as that word appears multiple times.
Hallelujah, is a combination of two Hebrew words, hallelu and ya, which literally means “Praise Yahweh!”
Do you ever wonder why we sing so much in the church? There’s always singing. There’s always music. Have you ever thought about it?
Luther’s quote is right on the money. Music has the ability to express ideas beyond what simple words can do. The Psalms, in general, were often set to music and they have been set to music throughout every age and culture. It’s quite amazing when you think about it!
If you’re in church this coming Sunday, July 29th, 2018, you’ll receive a paper copy of what is printed below. But, check out all the details about musical instruments that were used in ancient worship!
The Hebrew language (language the Old Testament is written in) has a variety of words for stringed instruments, but harps seem to be the basic instruments of worship. Large orchestras were formed for special services (2 Chronicles 5:12-13).
Here are descriptions of some of the instruments with the English names for their ancient equivalents. Most have been identified through archaeological research. They probably did not have modern tuning capabilities that would allow them to accompany singing, so they surely would have sounded like a “joyful noise!”
bell – Small bronze bells were sewn to the hem of the high priest’s garment so that they sounded as he walked (Exodus 28:33-35).
castanets – Small shells or pieces of wood or ivory fastened to thumb and finger and then clicked together (2 Samuel 6:5).
choir – The chief “instrument” for praising God is the human voice, which can make music in combination with God’s own Word (Nehemiah 12:40).
clapping – Even hands can keep rhythm in praise to God (Psalm 47:1).
cymbals – Copper or bronze percussion instruments (1 Chronicles 15:19).
dance – Hebrew words for dance mean to skip, hop, leap, and whirl. Dances could be performed in a circle. Women are described as dancing together (Exodus 15:20). David danced in priestly garb when the ark was brought to Jerusalem (2 Samuel 6:14-16).
flute – From a term meaning “to pierce” or “to bore.” A double-piped flute with holes bored in it for creating different musical notes (1 Samual 10:5-6). Numerous clay figurines have been discovered depicting the playing of this instrument.
harp – Name refers to the instrument’s shape, like that of a bottle or jar. It was a large instrument with 10 or 12 strings of varying length, which were plucked (Psalm 33:2).
lute – Smaller than the harp, with five or so strings, which were plucked or strummed with a plectrum.
Selah – untranslatable. Probably refers to the accompaniment of the harps during the singing of a Psalm.
tambourine – Hebrew term includes hand drums. These were usually played by women (Exodus 15:20), as shown by numerous clay figurines of women playing such instruments.
trumpet – “Ram’s horn.” Most frequently mentioned instrument in the Bible, it had both religious and military uses. Priests sounded the trumpet to call people to worship (Psalm 81:3-4; 98:6). Its loud blast was used as a signal rather than as music (2 Samuel 6:15). Trumpets were not played with other instruments.
trumpet(s) – “Bugle” (different Hebrew word than “trumpet”). Instrument, made of silver or bronze, was long and straight and had limited musical range. Like the “trumpet” this instrument had sacred and military functions. It marked the progress of the offerings (Number 10:1-10). Trumpets were not played with other instruments.
voice – Most common and best instrument of music, because it can convey God’s Word (2 Chronicles 29:27-28; Psalm 47:6).
Note: Some Protestant churches do not use musical instruments to accompany their singing and even forbid their use in worship. They say that the New Testament does not teach the use of musical instruments for worship. The Psalms clearly record how important instrumental music was for worshipers who gathered at the temple. Likewise, the Book of Revelation notes the use of musical instruments in heaven (Revelation 5:8; 8:2, 6, 13; 15:2).
From Concordia Study Bible, ESV edition, p. 993.