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God adores music, but what does He say about music used to worship Him? Find out everything you’ve always wanted to know about worship music, but were afraid to ask your pastor.

Very few people do not like music.

It is a fact that music can create and recall memories, create moods of all categories and help people relax, can be therapeutic. It is unfortunate that the opposite is also true, where music can influence people negatively, causing them to commit acts they would not have done under normal circumstances.

Since the earliest of days music has played a major role in the lives of people. The first mention of music and musical instruments is in B’reisheet 4: 21b…and he [Yuval] was the ancestor of all who play lyre and flute. This verse mentions string instruments, similar to the violin, harp and guitar and wind instruments, similar to the flute and the trumpet. The Hebrew name ויוּבָ֑ל (Yuval) means to flow, or in a causative sense to bring about with pomp. From this word is derived יוֹבֵל or יֹבֵל (yovel), which means the blast of a horn or the signal of the silver trumpets. It could also mean the instrument itself and the festival introduced when using the instrument.

However, probably the oldest instrument used by man, similar the bugle or trumpet, is the shofar, (שׁוֹפַ֤ר), a ram’s horn used to announce the new moon, the Jubilee (יוֹבֵ֥ל – yovel, the fiftieth year), as we read in Vayiqra 25: 9and you are to consecrate the fiftieth year, proclaiming freedom throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It will be a yovel for you; you will return everyone to the land he owns, and everyone is to return to his family. The shofar was also used to announce the Hebrew new year. Vayiqra 23: 24“Tell the people of Isra’el, ‘In the seventh month, the first of the month is to be for you a day of complete rest for remembering, a holy convocation announced with blasts on the shofar.

The shofar could be straight or curved and had either a gold or silver mouthpiece, depending on the purpose it was used for. We know from Scripture that it was used for various other uses, apart from those mentioned above.

Firstly, we know the shofar was used to signal the start of a war, as we read in Y’hoshua 6: 4Seven cohanim are to carry seven shofars in front of the ark. On the seventh day you are to march around the city seven times, and the cohanim will blow the shofars. This was to announce the battle of Yericho.

In Shof’tim 3: 27Upon arrival in the hills of Efrayim, he began sounding the call on the shofar; and the people of Isra’el went down with him from the hill-country; he himself took the lead. Here Ehud led the Yisra’elites into battle against Mo’av.

In Shof’tim 7: 16He divided the three hundred men into three companies. He put in the hands of all of them shofars and empty pitchers with torches in them. Part of the same story, four verses down, we see in Shof’tim 7: 20All three companies blew the shofars, broke the pitchers and held the torches in their left hands, keeping their right hands free for the shofars they were blowing; and they shouted, “The sword for ADONAI and for Gid‘on!” This relates the battle Gid’on led against Midyan.

We see in Tz’fanyah 1: 16a Day of the shofar and battle-cry against the fortified cities and against the high towers [on the city walls]. which is God’s judgement on Y’hudah – a different form of battle.

Secondly, the shofar was used in processions, as we see in Sh’mu’el Bet 6: 15So David and all the house of Isra’el brought up the ark of ADONAI with shouting and the sound of the shofar; also in Divrei HaYamim Alef 15: 28So all Isra’el brought up the ark for the covenant of ADONAI with shouting; blowing on shofars and trumpets; and cymbals sounding with lutes and lyres.

The procession mentioned here is where Dawid returns the ark to its rightful place in the Tabernacle in Yerushalayim. When reading the entire passage, we find the words “joy”, “dancing” and “celebrating”. This clearly indicates pleasure, gladness and excitement, considering all the other instruments used during this procession.

A third use for the shofar we know of is that it was used with other musical instruments in the temple. Two splendid examples are Mizmor 98: 6With trumpets and the sound of the shofar, shout for joy before the king, ADONAI! and Mizmor 150: 3Praise him with a blast on the shofar! Praise him with lute and lyre! where Dawid uses this with other instruments to praise God, but not accompaniment to singing.

The sound of a shofar is loud, similar to that of a trumpet, albeit different. A lovely example of praise music with shofar accompaniment can be seen here. The shofar is limited, though, in the amount of notes to be played on it, much like a bugle, therefore other instruments are brought in to provide rhythm and harmony and even to support the melody.

Today the shofar is mostly used by the Jews for welcoming in the Hebrew new year, Yom T’ruah, also known as Rosh Hashanah. The Messianic community use it every week to initiate Shabbat. Some modern-day composers have used it in their works, such as The Apostles, an oratorio composed by Edward Elgar, while Elmer Bernstein used it in the classic movie The Ten Commandments.

Enough on the shofar, for now.

When reading through Scripture we find, as the example above in B’reisheet 4, many more instruments. This will include the tambourine, lyre, song (human voice), trumpet, flute, harp, rattles and cymbals. Many improvements have been done to most of these and new instruments have been developed on the basis of these ancient ones, but the basic instruments were very much as we know them today. The trumpets we learn of in B’midbar 10: 2“Make two trumpets; make them of hammered silver. Use them for summoning the community and for sounding the call to break camp and move on. were there for specific reasons, as we can see. Yet, when doing more research on music, we realise the trumpets were also used in thanksgiving and worship services, such as the inauguration of Shlomo’s temple: Divrei HaYamim Bet 5: 12also the L’vi’im who were the singers, all of them — Asaf, Heman, Y’dutun and their sons and relatives — dressed in fine linen, with cymbals, lutes and lyres, stood on the east side of the altar; and with them 120 cohanim sounding trumpets),

 13then, when the trumpeters and singers were playing in concord, to be heard harmoniously praising and thanking ADONAI, and they lifted their voices together with the trumpets, cymbals and other musical instruments to praise ADONAI: “for he is good, for his grace continues forever” — then, the house, the house of ADONAI, was filled with a cloud;

In most cases instruments would be used for praise and thanksgiving, while in rare circumstances, only later in history, would they be used as accompaniment to vocals, since the human voice, singing, is mentioned far more than any other. In fact, it is commanded that we sing praises to God, to mention but a few:

D’varim 31: 19“Therefore, write this song for yourselves, and teach it to the people of Isra’el. Have them learn it by heart, so that this song can be a witness for me against the people of Isra’el.

Divrei HaYamim Alef 16: 9Sing to him, sing praises to him! Talk about all his wonders.

Mizmor 9: 11Sing praises to ADONAI, who lives in Tziyon; proclaim his deeds among the peoples. [in some translations this could be verse 12]

Mizmor 30: 4Sing praise to ADONAI, you faithful of his; and give thanks on recalling his holiness. [in some translations this could be verse 5]

Mizmor 68: 4Sing to God, sing praises to his name; extol him who rides on the clouds by his name, Yah; and be glad in his presence. [in some translations this could be verse 5]

Mizmor 81: 1For the Leader. On the gittit. By Asaf: 2Sing for joy to God our strength! Shout to the God of Ya‘akov!

Mizmor 147: 7Sing to ADONAI with thanks, sing praises on the lyre to our God.

Mizmor 150: 1Halleluyah! Praise God in his holy place! Praise him in the heavenly dome of his power! 2Praise him for his mighty deeds! Praise him for his surpassing greatness! 3Praise him with a blast on the shofar! Praise him with lute and lyre! 4Praise him with tambourines and dancing! Praise him with flutes and strings! 5Praise him with clanging cymbals! Praise him with loud crashing cymbals! 6Let everything that has breath praise ADONAI! Halleluyah!

Yesha’yahu 12: 5Sing to ADONAI, for he has triumphed — this is being made known throughout the earth.

Yesha’yahu 42: 10Sing to ADONAI a new song! Let his praise be sung from the ends of the earth by those sailing the sea and by everything in it, by the coastlands and those living there.

Yirmeyahu 20: 13Sing to ADONAI! Praise ADONAI! For he rescues those in need from the clutches of evildoers.

Ya’aqov 5: 13Is someone among you in trouble? He should pray. Is someone feeling good? He should sing songs of praise.

In many instances the children of Yisra’el sang spontaneously to thank God for His care, goodness and providence:

Sh’mot 15: 1Then Moshe and the people of Isra’el sang this song to ADONAI: “I will sing to ADONAI, for he is highly exalted: the horse and its rider he threw in the sea. This continues up to verse 21

B’midbar 21: 17Then Isra’el sang this song: “Spring up, oh well! Sing to the well This continues up to verse 18

Shof’tim 5: 1On that day D’vorah and Barak the son of Avino‘am sang this song: This continues for the entire chapter

Divrei HaYamimi Bet 20: 21After consulting with the people, he appointed those who would sing to ADONAI and praise the splendor of his holiness as they went out ahead of the army, saying, “Give thanks to ADONAI, for his grace continues forever.” 22Then, during the time when they were singing and praising, ADONAI brought a surprise attack against the people of ‘Amon, Mo’av and Mount Se‘ir who had come to fight Y’hudah; and they were defeated.

Mattityahu 26: 30After singing the Hallel, they went out to the Mount of Olives.

Revelation 5: 9and they sang a new song, “You are worthy to take the scroll and break its seals; because you were slaughtered; at the cost of blood you ransomed for God persons from every tribe, language, people and nation.

Revelation 15: 3They were singing the song of Moshe, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb: “Great and wonderful are the things you have done, ADONAI, God of heaven’s armies! Just and true are your ways, king of the nations!

Group singing always creates a sense of belonging, of being part of something, whether it be an official choir, supporters at a sports gathering or congregants offering praises to our heavenly Father. God wants us to praise Him to acknowledge our dependence of Him. We can do this in our quiet time in our house or office, as an individual, through prayer and supplication, but as a group of like-minded people the best way to praise God is through song. It even becomes easier when we have an instrument or two to lead us, but the instruments are not the eulogists or the worshippers. We, as the people, are to lift up our voices to praise and thank God.

This is the way it was in days gone by, the days when Yisra’el was a complete nation. As shown in the texts above, people would get together and spontaneously start praising God, thanking Him for getting them through difficult times or praising Him for providing in their needs. Those that were capable of using them, brought their musical instruments along and made a joyful noise before God: Mizmor 98: 4Shout for joy to ADONAI, all the earth! Break forth, sing for joy, sing praises! 5Sing praises to ADONAI with the lyre, with the lyre and melodious music! 6With trumpets and the sound of the shofar, shout for joy before the king, ADONAI!

During the time of king Dawid, in corroboration with Sh’mu’el, the prophet, the Levites were subdivided into twenty-four groups. They were to act as doorkeepers, singers or musicians. Since each was assigned a specific role, they could not assume the role of another. Choristers could therefore not be instrumentalists and vice versa. Each Levite was trained from the age of 25 until 30 in singing and every other form of music. This practise was stopped at the time of the Temple and the only qualification necessary was the ability to sing. We saw that in the verses above with the inauguration of Shlomo’s temple. These choirs consisted of at least twelve adult males and if children of the Levites were part of the choir, they could not share the same platform, but had to stand on the ground in front of the platform. The same rule applied to the instrumentalists, who were always separate from the choir.

Females were never allowed to perform inside the temple. While Ezra mentions 200 singing men and women Ezra 2: 65b…They also had 200 male and female singers. who returned from Bavel after the exile, they were not a temple choir. Only the sons of Asaf were counted for temple service: Nechemyah 12: 46For back in the days of David and Asaf, there had been leaders for those singing the songs of praise and thanksgiving to God. The wives of the Levites, according to Rabbi Meïr, were heard in chants in honour of the dead, but also in their lamentations to Yoshiyahu, the last decent king of Y’hudah: Divrei HaYamim Bet 35: 25Yirmeyahu composed a lament for Yoshiyahu; and all the men and women singers have sung of Yoshiyahu in their laments till this day. They made singing them a law in Isra’el, and they are recorded in the Laments.

After the destruction of the second Temple, the Rabbis prohibited all music, both instrumental and vocal, as a sign of nation mourning. However, Maimonides permitted the choir to sing God’s praise in the synagogue and at all religious feasts. Around the start of the seventeenth century the modern musical scale wat introduced into the synagogue. This did not go down well with all members, but in 1605 Rabbi Judah Aryeh Modena, supported by many other Rabbis, decided in favour of music to be sung at every holiday. This included “Hallel”, “En Kelohenu”, “Alenu”, “Yigdal” and “Adon Olam”. We will meet up with this group a bit later…

In the meanwhile, after the time of Yeshua, a group emerged under the banner of Christianity. This group grew in numbers and was at first heavily persecuted by the Roman Empire. While thinking they followed Yeshua, the Anointed One, they actually followed their own man-made dogmas, based on some selected truths from the TaNaKh. They called their anointed one Jesus and made their own entire new set of rules, opposed to Judaism of that time. Some of these new rules included gathering on Sundays instead of Shabbat, eating whatever they liked and adopting pagan festivals as their own, thus doing away with God’s festivals. Early in the fourth century, Constantine, the Roman Emperor, legalised Christianity in Rome and in 325CE the religion of Christianity was adopted for the entire Roman Empire. This was also the start of the Roman Catholic (universal) Church which was decreed in 538 by Emperor Justinian, thus combining church and state.

The early Christian church, having had sound background (pun intended) of music with its Hebrew heritage, kept most of the practises for some time. This included not using worldly melodies, singing psalms and singing in one voice (monophonic), as the use of instruments were frowned upon. With Christianity spreading rapidly, it also adopted the features and cultures of other nations, such as Greek, Asia Minor and North Africa. History doesn’t lend itself much to music during some of the earlier centuries, although it is traditionally believed that the pipe organ was introduced from around the seventh century. As amazing as it may sound, the pipe organ had its origins with the Hebrews, although very basic, and was adapted and improved to provide easier methods of using it effectively.

As time progressed, so did Christian liturgical music. A ninth century legend credits Pope Gregory the Great with the invention of what we know as the Gregorian chant. He apparently received these melodies through divine intervention of the Holy Spirit[1], although scholars now believe the chants arose from Roman and Gallican chant. Chants continued to be used extensively in monophonic manner, even though composers like Léonin and Pérotin composed polyphonic chants which ended in monophony. The chant slowly died out after the Baroque period and was replaced by oratorio and other works of great composers like Bach, Händel and Purcell. The eighteenth century saw the church cantata come to life. This was a blend of Scripture quotations and introspective choruses, cleverly composed to illustrate Scripture. The greatest composer of these was Johann Sebastian Bach (21 March 1685 – 28 July 1750). The Reformation of 1517 didn’t change much of the music as both Protestants and Catholics, both being Christians, still shared the same sentiment.

It was also at this time that the pipe organ, erroneously referred to as a “church organ”, was introduced during services, not as accompaniment for the congregation, but rather to alternate between congregational singing and having a solo verse performed by the organist. The Reformed churches were still quite averse to it, though. During the eighteenth century Isaac Watts created “man-made” hymns by paraphrasing Scripture. Charles Wesley, a clergyman of the Methodist movement, wrote around 6 500 hymns. In the century following these hymns, William Booth, founder of the Salvation Army, used rousing melodies with a martial flavour and so popularised the quote: “Why should the devil have all the best music?”

With radio becoming a household item, some Christian pioneers featured gospel music and evangelistic teachings to thousands of listeners. However, secular music followed the same route and the dividing line between true worship music and secular music became ever so much fainter, until it eventually disappeared totally. Today it is hard to tell the difference, sometimes even by listening to the lyrics!

It is here in history where Jews and Christians meet up again. They have a similar way of gathering, albeit on different days. They have similar ways of worship, although some rules do not count for all. Music, however, being fairly universal, has been and will always be part of the human way of expressing ourselves. Jews believe they may not use electricity on Shabbat and therefore hire a non-Jew to play the organ in synagogue. Christians believe Jesus nailed everything wrong to the cross and they can therefore imbibe everything their hearts desire. Even the third, less-known, group that started emerging in the late 1960s, the Messianic movement, try to take a stand somewhere in between the Jews and the Christians – except for their music.

Does God appreciate the “praise & worship” music brought before Him today? We are of the opinion that He doesn’t, because the music of today does not worship Him, it worships man. It is all egocentric, it is noisy, it is unGodly cacophony at its best.

One of the main reasons God can’t appreciate this way of “worship” is that we have not stuck to Scriptural traditions and guidelines. We have allowed mainly the Evangelicals and Pentecostals to lead the way misguidingly, and they have done so with a mixture of worldly and pagan influence, also incorporating instruments not mentioned in Scripture. This is discussed a little later. One of the pioneers of “contemporary Christian music”, Larry Norman[2], rode on the back of William Booth with his album “Rebel Poet, Jukebox Balladeer: The Anthology”. Most modern “believing” musicians, whether Christian, Messianic or any other variant of God-follower, have been contaminated by the junk played at rock concerts, discos, night clubs and other places where a God-fearing person will not even consider going. Even the term contemporary Christian music is an anomaly!

Music at a sacred gathering should not be to rouse the congregation to or create a “goose bumps” effect, but to create a set-apart atmosphere of worship, to set the stage as it were, where believers are in a state of awe to meet the only Creator God. Worship music has nothing to do with the individuals performing it, but has everything to do with God. After all, the talents displayed by the musicians were given to them by the God they have now come to worship. Most of the modern hymns have lyrics telling God how good we are, how much we love Him, how we will serve Him. Very few songs or hymns nowadays have to do with God’s majesty, with His greatness, with His care for us. Then some other human-inspired lyrics “welcome” the Spirit of God into the congregation! It stands to reason that any God-fearing person would already be Spirit-filled and couldn’t welcome God or Spirit.

The modern “praise & worship” band consists of electronic instruments and drums. The latter was never used in worship, anywhere in Scripture. Depending on the translation, we read of timbrels or tabrets, which is the equivalent of the modern tambourine. Even though some modern tambourines may have a skin over it, it still does not represent a drum, but a simple percussion instrument. It is also not clear from history that tambourines used by Yisra’el would have had skins over them. The other percussion instrument mentioned is the rattle, something similar to the modern castanet, as used by Spanish dancers, amongst others. We see in Sh’mu’el Bet 6: 5David and the whole house of Isra’el celebrated in the presence of ADONAI with all kinds of musical instruments made of cypress-wood, including lyres, lutes, tambourines, rattles and cymbals.

The “instruments made of cypress-wood” were most likely flutes, similar to the recorder or a fife. This soft wood was easily hollowed out for flutes, tambourines and rattles. Some of these flutes, connected to a long hollow tube, was the predecessor of the pipe organ. The cymbals were made of brass, similar to the modern cymbals used in orchestras. They came in pairs and were held in the hands by means of a small leather strap to be clashed one against the other. They were used for pomp, to provide the rhythm and keep the music flowing. Never, until the times mentioned above and never by the nation of Yisra’el, were instruments used as accompaniment for vocals of any kind.

Yisra’el never used drums, as these were unknown to them. The oldest record of drums dates back to around 5 500-2 350BC. These drums were found in the Neolithic cultures in China and the skins used were from alligators. In literary records, drums manifested shamanistic characteristics and were often used in ritual ceremonies.[3]

Drums were mainly used by (pagan) nations to communicate over large distances, almost like a forerunner of Morse code. In Africa, they used “talking drums”, imitating patterns of spoken language, to convey messages. Another use for drums was to convey messages to wives at home when returning from battle. The tones and message conveyed would tell the folk at home whether to prepare for a victory festivity or sadness of defeat. One of the oldest religious scripts known to man, the Rig Veda[4], contains several references to the Dundhubi, a war drum. Arya tribes charged into battle to the beating of the war drum and chanting of a hymn that appears in Book VI of the Rig Veda and also the Atharva Veda where it is referred to as the “Hymn to the battle drum”.

The way drums are used in modern sacred music by institutions such as Hillsongs, is nothing more than sacrilegious. There is no difference in listening to Hillsongs (Hellsongs), Casting Crowns (Scarecrows) and many other “contemporary Christian bands”, only to hear the same noise being blurted out by any secular group or musician. Nine times out of ten the drums overpower all other instruments, vocals included. Then as for the lyrics, nothing good can be said about that, especially when the lyrics repeat, ad nauseum, in spite of what we learn in Mattityahu 6: 7“And when you pray, don’t babble on and on like the pagans, who think God will hear them better if they talk a lot.

Pagan religions, such as vodou (voodoo), use drums extensively in their ceremonies when calling up spirits to ask them for advice, protection or assistance. They are also used for communication. However, we have one God Who is available 24/7, Who doesn’t need to be called up by drums or any other means, but only prayer, as shown in the verse quoted above. Our God is a God of order, of discipline and doesn’t like to be mocked. He has shown us how to worship Him, how to praise Him, in many places in Scripture. In contrast to what some people may think, we are not more clever than God and should therefore allow ourselves to honour Him, obey Him, worship Him in the ways He has prescribed in His manual for mankind. It is specifically the disobedience of Yisra’el that caused them to be exiled physically. Many believers nowadays seek the Creator-God, but fail to find Him, because they are seeking in the wrong places, with the wrong attitude and with music not worthy of praising the Echad God of D’varim 6:4.

Yirmeyahu 10: 2Here is what ADONAI says: “Don’t learn the way of the Goyim, don’t be frightened by astrological signs, even if the Goyim are afraid of them; 3for the customs of the peoples are nothing. They cut down a tree in the forest; a craftsman works it with his axe; 4they deck it with silver and gold. They fix it with hammer and nails, so that it won’t move. 5Like a scarecrow in a cucumber patch, it cannot speak. It has to be carried, because it cannot walk. Do not be afraid of it — it can do nothing bad; likewise it is unable to do anything good!” 6There is no one like you, ADONAI! You are great, and your name is great and mighty.

Yochanan 13: 17If you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.


[1] Taruskin, Richard (2013). Oxford History of Western Music. New York: Oxford University Press. p. 43.


[3] Liu, Li (2007). The Chinese Neolithic: Trajectories to Early States. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-01064-0, p. 123

[4] The Rig Veda is an ancient Indian collection of Vedic Sanskrit hymns. It is one of the four sacred canonical texts (śruti) of Hinduism known as the Vedas.

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