A striking feature of heaven-born reformations is a restoration of Biblical worship, and from this fountain springs psalms & hymn of praise. In our time, we face a similar need to restore biblically ordered worship to the church. This means going to the Word, not our preferences, to determine how to bring the glory due His name. The overwhelming instruction in Scripture is to give glory. All too often we give mass-produced nonsense. Nowhere is this more evident than in the prevailing approach to music in our corporate worship services.
Give unto the LORD the glory due unto his name: bring an offering, and come before him: worship the LORD in the beauty of holiness.1 Chronicles 16:29
And the ransomed of the LORD shall return, and come to Zion with songs and everlasting joy upon their heads: they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.Isaiah 35:10Â
Summary of the Text
As David brought the Ark into Jerusalem after it had been in exile for over a hundred years, (for time dwelling in the Gentile household of Obed-Edom; 1 Chr. 15:25) weâ€™re provided with a detailed description of everything from the utensils, to the divisions of the Levites (1 Chr. 15:16-24), to the sacrifices offered. While the expected thank-offerings are made (1 Chr. 16:1-2), a new offering is described. That new offering stands out like a successful trick play at a football game.
The chronicler describes this new offering which David arranges: a sacrifice of song. David has composed a psalm to sing and then arranges Levitical choirs to sing it. In that Psalmâ€“â€“among other thingsâ€“â€“the saints of God are called to â€œgive gloryâ€ and to â€œworship the Lord in the beauty of holiness.â€ The glory can be embodied in both volume & quality (Ps. 33:3, 98:4). Weâ€™re repeatedly summoned to make a loud & joyful noise skillfully accompanied with the understanding of faith. Thereâ€™s no shushing of the heavenly choir. This reformation of worship which David led by establishing the tabernacle of Zion as the center of Israelâ€™s worship should be seen as the OTâ€™s high-point.
Zion was the stronghold of David, which is where the tabernacle of David was erected and where the Ark was brought. The offerings in the tabernacle of David were primarily offerings of song (at Davidâ€™s time, animal sacrifices primarily took place in Gibeah, until Solomonâ€™s temple was constructed).
Skipping ahead a few centuries, Isaiahâ€™s vision presents a scene of redeemed and restored saints ascending to Zion with songs and everlasting joy (Is. 35:10). Though the threat of judgement loomed over Judah, the promise behind it was that God would restore His people to Zion, and they would come singing merry songs.
All of this (both Davidâ€™s reformation of emphasizing song in Israelâ€™s worship, and Isaiahâ€™s vision of the Restored Israel) anticipates that Messiahâ€™s courts would be filled with songs from both Jews & Gentiles. As one commentator points out, whereas the Tabernacle of Moses was filled with a cloud of smoke, the Temple of Christ is filled with a cloud of song.
The Song of Moses
After great OT victories, it is the songs that are recorded in detail, whereas the details of thank offerings are oftentimes either passed over entirely, or very briefly described. Not only that, but the battles themselves often receive only the concise description: â€œthe Lord wrought a great victory.â€ When God grants victory, the people sing. The songs are recorded so that we too might join the chorus of Godâ€™s saints and remember back to Jehovah how He has delivered His people in times past in hope that His mighty arm will once more be bared to deliver us in our present conflicts and in future battles.
After Pharaoh and his army were defeated at the Red Sea, Moses & Miriam (Ex. 15:1ff) led Israel in celebratory songs of praise. Moses again leads Israel in song after the 40 years of wandering, as they look to begin the conquest of Canaan (Deu. 32:1-43). Deborah & Barak (Jdg. 5:1ff) sang of the Lordâ€™s deliverance of His people from the Canaanites. Hannah prayed a prayer which rings with poetic glory, as she rejoiced over her rival (1 Sam. 2:1); Mary draws heavily from this prayer in the Magnificat. Davidâ€™s reformation was a profound incorporation of this musical tradition as a fixed feature of the worship of the Lord. Generations later, Jehosaphat famously sent the Levitical choirsâ€“â€“which David had originally organizedâ€“â€“as the vanguard in a battle with Judahâ€™s enemies (2 Chr. 20).
Thereâ€™s a curious note in Rev. 15:3 that the saints who overcame the beast sing in joy for their victory. And what they sing is an abbreviated version of the song of Moses, which is also called the song of the Lamb (Deu. 32:1-43). Johnâ€™s vision invites us to see that Christ has delivered his people (from every nation) once more from Egypt (unbelieving Jerusalem), while preparing them to conquer the land (by bringing Heavenly Jerusalem everywhere they go).
Notice the pattern. God grants a deliverance, Godâ€™s people start singing. We not only see this throughout the OT, but after Pentecost and in early church history we see songs of praise to Christ being composed (Cf. Phil 2:5-11, Col 1:15-20, 1Tim 3:16, Heb. 1:1-3, 1 Jn. 2:12-14, and 1Pet 2:21-25) and sung heartily (Cf. Rev. 5:8-14), even in the face of fierce persecution.
Thereâ€™s a modern tendency, especially in Christian circles, to assume that music is interchangeable, and merely a matter of preference. None of us would dare break into a yodeled polka tune at a funeral; nor would we think a death metal song appropriate for a bridal procession. Just because you can singÂ Amazing Grace to the tune of Gilliganâ€™s Island doesnâ€™t mean you should.
We want our music to rhyme with the truths they proclaim. Thus joyful reverence is the tone. Trying to cram the eternal glories of the Triune God into the tin can of pop-music is a foolâ€™s errand. Monosyllabic la-laâ€™s set to pop melodies donâ€™t compare to Wattâ€™s skillful poetry paired with the harmonic glories of Bach.
Our music, whether we acknowledge it or not, is part of a larger battle. The question is whether we will have arrows that are straight and sharp and sturdy, or else they are flimsy and blunt and bent. Is there objective truth and beauty? Or can we just slap a boring chord progression to some random assemblage of words and call it good, call it glory? As C.S. Lewis once insightfully noted that thereâ€™s a tendency for church music to be â€œfifth-rate poems set to sixth-rate music.â€ The brilliant ordering of notes into melodic patterns with thrilling harmonies stacked on top of profound, theologically sound poetry is an arrow in our quiver that should not be tossed aside.
With Skill and Understanding
A visitor could attend our services for a year and be unaware of our primary distinctives (i.e. Reformed, postmillennialism, etc.). But on their first Sunday theyâ€™ll be confronted with our musical priorities. But let me state explicitly what our music states implicitly. We aim to be a mighty choir belting out Psalms of Godâ€™s faithfulness and songs of Godâ€™s grace to us in Christ. We aim to bring glory to God, in the beauty of holiness.
To get there, however, we must not begin with musical literacy, that should come after. We must keep first things first. A musical reformation must begin with evangelical faith. We understand and know that the Son of God has come, and we are in Him (1 Jn. 5:20). That is the key signature that dictates the rest of our musical endeavors. While we should strive to learn our parts, raise our children to be musically skillful, it must spring from Gospel joy and every song must conclude with a faith-filled â€œAmen.â€
The Son of David Singing the Songs of David
The pitch-note, then, of our Lordâ€™s Day worship is the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We arenâ€™t aiming to have the Reformed Evangelical equivalent to the Vienna Boys Choir or the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Nor do we want to mindlessly just go along with whatever the record companies decide we should prefer.
Biblical worship is not a job for those people â€œup thereâ€ to do; whether theyâ€™re an ornately robed priest muttering Latin, or a ripped-jeans worship band with a gnarly bassist. Biblical worship is the righteous work of Christ alone. Yet since we are in Him, we come by Him to offer glory. This service of worship is the work of Christâ€™s body, the church. You cannot worship God rightly if you do not come to Him by the Son. We come to God, clothed in the righteousness of the Son of David to sing the psalms of David. As one hymnist said, â€œSo come to the Father, through Jesus the Son.â€