Musical Instruments In Old Testament Worship -- By: Bryant G. Wood

Journal: Bible and Spade (First Run)
Volume: BSP 10:2 (Spring 1981)
Article: Musical Instruments In Old Testament Worship
Author: Bryant G. Wood


Musical Instruments In Old Testament Worship

Bryant G. Wood

Music has always been an important part of Jewish and Christian worship. Just exactly what form that music should take, however, has been the subject of much debate. In Christian worship, it is generally agreed that hymn singing should be a part of the service. But when it comes to the instruments to accompany the singing, opinion is sharply divided. Preference ranges from no instrumental accompaniment at all to a full-scale orchestra. In view of our modern-day differences, it is interesting to note what the Bible has to say about the use of musical instruments in worship and the significant contribution archaeology has made to our understanding these instruments.

The New Testament is silent on the matter of the use of musical instruments in worship. Several instruments are mentioned in the New Testament, but never in the context of worship. Christians, however, are admonished to sing hymns as part of their worship of the Lord (Ephesians 5:19, Colossians 3:16). The Old Testament, on the other hand, abounds with references to musical instruments that are used in various religious ceremonies.

Sacred Music in the Days of David

The first reference to the use of musical instruments for religious purposes was when David organized an orchestra to “raise sounds of joy” as the Levites brought the Ark to Jerusalem (1 Chronicles 15:16, R.S.V.). It was composed of Levites who were both to sing and play instruments. Three men were chosen to play bronze meziltayim, or cymbals, eight to play nevelim, or harps (K.J.V., “psaltries”) and six to play kinnoroth, or lyres (K.J.V., “harps”) (1 Chronicles 15:19–21).

Bronze cymbals have been found in excavations at Hazor, Beth-Shemesh, Tell Abu-Hawam, Megiddo and Achzib dating from the 14th to the eighth century B.C. They are shaped like plates with a central hollow boss and they sometimes have a metal thumb loop. Their average diameter is about four-and-one-half inches. The Jewish historian Josephus notes that “the cymbals were broad and large instruments and were made of brass” (Antiquities, XII. 3).

The largest section of the orchestra was that of the nevelim. Eight Levites were assigned to play this particular instrument. Scholars are not entirely sure what kind of an instrument the nevel was. It is thought to have been a stringed instrument because of a statement of Josephus. He wrote that it “had 12 musical notes and...

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