Worship, Music, Instruments & Dance

Elysa Cunningham


Worship in our time has been captured by the tourist mind set.   Worship is understood as a visit to an attractive site to be made when we have adequate leisure.   Form some it’s a weekly trip to church.   For others, an occasional visit to special services.   Some, with a tendency for Christian entertainment and sacred diversion, plan their lives around special events like retreats, rallies and conferences.   We go to see a new personality, to hear a new truth, to get a new experience, and to somehow expand our otherwise humdrum lives.   We’ll try anything – until something else comes along.

If we’re not careful we will focus more on the entertainment side of music, instruments and dance, and neglect the real purpose of worship.   The psalmist said, in Psalms 98:4-6, “Make a joyful noise unto the LORD, all the earth: make a loud noise, and rejoice, and sing praise.   Sing unto the LORD with the harp; with the harp, and the voice of a psalm.   With trumpets and sound of cornet make joyful noise before the LORD, the King.”

The History of Worship

The expression of the full range of human emotions vocally or instrumentally through the art of music was as much a part of the lives of Biblical people as it is in our lives today.   Workers bringing in the harvest might sing a vintage song (Isaiah 16:10; Jeremiah 48:33), while the working song of people digging a well (Num. 21:17) is heard as well.   Indeed all of life could be touched by a song.

Today music can touch every part of our lives, just as it impacted those who live in Old Testament times.   A very perceptive observation was made by Gordon Dahl, “Most middle-class Americans tend to worship their work, to work at their play and to play at their worship.   As a result, their meanings and values are distorted.   Their relationships disintegrate faster than they can keep them in repair, and their lifestyles resemble a cast of characters in search of a plot.”

Music In History

Music as performed in early Near Eastern times has become better known through archaeological finds of descriptive texts and the remains of actual instruments.   Heptatonic and diatonic musical scales reflective of ancient Mesopotamian practice have been discovered through the research of Assyrian culture which has, over the last few years, brought to light important information on the subject.

The earliest centers of civilization enjoyed an expansive musical tradition.   A variety of hymns offering divine praise or designed to or for kings and temples, many with musical terms, have survived and are joined by actual discoveries of instruments at the ancient site of Ur, in biblical tradition the ancestral home of Abraham (Gen. 11:31).   The religious music of ancient Israel found its home against this background of Ancient Near Eastern music in which all of life could be brought under the influence of music.

In reading the Old Testament, Genesis 4:21 stands as the first reference to music.   As one of Lamech’s sons, Jubal “was the father of all those who play the lyre and pipe” (NASB).   The name of Jubal itself is related to the Hebrew word for “ram” (yobel), the horns of which served as a signaling instrument in ancient Israel.

The joy take in music is evidenced by its prominent role in the celebrations of life.   A farewell might be said “with joy and singing to the music of tambourines and harps” (Gen. 31:27 NIV); a homecoming welcomed “with timrbrels and with dances” (Judg. 11:34; compare Luke 15:25).   Work tasks of everyday living enjoyed the music evidenced by the songs or chants of well diggers (Num. 21:17-18), the treaders of grapes (Jeremiah 48:33), and possibly the watchman (Isaiah 21:12).

Victory in warfare provided motivation for numerous songs.   The song of Miriam, one of the oldest poetic verses in the Old Testament, celebrated the defeat of Pharaoh at the Red Sea (Ex. 15:21).   Judges 5 stands as musical witness to Israel’s victory over Jabin, the king of Canaan.   Known as the “Song of Deborah,” the verses are the musical celebration of a narrative event.

In the early days of Old Testament history a special place seems to be accorded women in musical performance.   The prophetess Miriam, and Deborah, who was a prophetess and judge, were among Israel’s earliest musicians.   Judges 11:34 pictures Jephthah’s daughter greeting his victorious return from battle against the Ammonites “with timbrels and with dances.”   David’s reputation for valor spread through the singing of women’s voices: “Saul hath slain his thousands, and David his ten thousands” (1 Sam. 18:7).

It is noteworthy that Saul’s daughter Michael despised King David as he worshipped before the ark of the covenant in the streets of Israel.   God’s judgment against her was that she would be barren all the days of her life.

Giving As Worship

A vital part of worship is giving.   We are to respond to the needs of the church and God’s people in a loving, sacrificial manner.

Leslie B. Flynn illustrated this kind of personal giving in his book Worship,   He wrote, “A man was packing a shipment of food contributed by a school for the poor people of Appalachia.   He was separating beans from powdered milk, and canned vegetables from canned meats.   Reaching into a box filled with various cans, he pulled out a little brown paper sack.   Apparently one of the pupils had brought something different from the items on the suggested list.   Out of the paper bag fell a peanut butter sandwich, and apple, and a cookie.   Crayoned in large letters was a little girl’s name ‘Christy – Room 104′. She had given up her lunch for some hungry person.”

Musical Instruments in Worship

Pictorial representations as well as remains from instruments discovered through archaeology aid in our present knowledge of ancient musical instruments.   The most frequently named musical instrument in the Bible is the “Shophar” (ram’s horn).

Other instruments mentioned in the Scripture are:

Trumpet – The sound of the trumpets introduced Temple ceremony and sacrifice, the trumpet itself being counted amount the sacred Temple instruments (2 Kings 12:13; Num. 31:6).

Harp – As the instrument of David and the Levites, the harp was employed in both secular and sacred settings (compare Isaiah 23:16; 2 Sam. 6:5).

Flutes – Chief among “flutes” and “pipes,” the “khalil,” was the most popular wind instrument in the Ancient Near East and principle among the biblical wind instruments.   Perhaps better described as a primitive clarinet played at funerals or feasts.

Other musical instruments mentioned in the biblical texts include the timbrel or tambourine, cymbals, bells, rattle-type noisemaker (translated variously as castanets), sistrums, cymbals, or clappers (2 Sam. 6:5).

Mentioned in the New Testament are pipes (RSV, “flute”), the lyre (RSV, “harp”), cymbals and the trumpet.   The “sounding brass” of 1 Corinthians 13:1 is perhaps understood through rabbinical literature in which it is seen as a characteristic instrument for weddings and joyous celebrations.

Dancing As Worship

In the musical environment of Bible times, celebration through dance found a natural place in religious life.   A variety of musical instruments were available to provide instrumental accompaniment to both song and dance.

Dancing was an essential part of Jewish life in Biblical times.   According to Ecclesiastes 3:4, there is “a time to mourn, and a time to dance.”

The Old Testament employs eleven terms to describe the act of dance.   This suggests something about the Hebrew interest in the subject.   The basic Hebrew term translated “dance”, means to twist or to whirl about in circular motions.   Other terms for dance mean “to spring about,” “to jump,” “to leap,” “to skip.”   The mood behind the dance was one of celebration and praise.

Dances celebrated military victories.   Women sang and danced, accompanied by musical instruments.   Miriam and other Israelite women sang and danced in celebration of the victory at the Red Sea (Ex. 15:20-21). Jephthah’s daughter danced before her victorious father (Judg. 11:34) as did the Israelite women when David returned from having defeated the Philistines (1 Sam. 18:6).   Men also danced to celebrate military victory (1 Sam. 30:16).

David danced before the ark as it was brought into Jerusalem (2 Sam. 6:14, 16; 1 Chron. 15:29).   The psalmist exhorted others to praise God with music and dancing (Ps. 149:3; 150:4),

Our modern day songwriters often incorporate dance in their lyrics.   In such songs as; Don’t Wait Till The Battle’s Over, Shout Now!; When I Think Of His Goodness….I Want To Dance, Dance, Dance, All Night!; and other inspirational songs.   We cannot allow ourselves, as an Apostolic church, to become so sophisticated that we cannot dance before the Lord in worship.

In Closing

Music is an important part of the lives of teenagers.   It’s okay to enjoy good music, but let’s not get wrapped up in the sounds of instruments, the beat of the drums, and the talent or ability of the performer.   We should always remember that music is for worship, and worship is to lift up Jesus Christ!

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