Psalm 81: Did God Command Instrumental Music for Worship

Psalm 81: If instrumental music as worship is in the first covenant we should find it in the law of Moses. It simply is not there. Nu 10:7 explicitely condemns loud musical rejoicing when the congregation of Israel assembled to be instructed as opposed to being dispersed by the trumpets.

The Pro-Music notes are in black; our rebuttal is in blue.

Claim of proof for instrumental music for worship:

"Now that we had discussed the progressive perception of the Theology of the New Covenant, let's inquire about our assumption that instrumental music was a part of the first covenant. What if the entire church understood the doctrine of the New Covenant on the day after Pentecost in AD 33? What if they understood that the Covenant of Moses had been replaced yesterday? Is instrumental music a part of that covenant? Not at all. Instrumental music being used in the praise of God was a commandment before the first covenant."

The nation of Israel was turned over to worship the starry host (Acts 7) because they repeated "musical worship" performed in all pagan systems including Egypt out of which God rescued them by grace:
"The OT retains vestiges of the magic use of music, which antedates most of the biblical narratives by many centuries. The collapse of Jericho's wall, after the ritual sounding of the ram's horns, is mythologically akin to the Greek legend of Amphion of Thebes, whose lyre-playing moved the stones to rebuild the broken wall. (International Dictionary of the Bible, p. 458, Abingdon). (See Homer Odyssey XI.260 ff)

If instrumental music for worship is in the first covenant we should find it in the law of Moses. It simply is not there. Nu 10:7 explicitely condemns loud musical rejoicing when the congregation of Israel assembled to be instructed as opposed to being dispersed by the trumpets. As for David's changes, remember that when Israel fired God He warned them that the kings would lead them into destruction. Music in this period (not a part of the covenant) is usually associated with ignorance of the Word. Check This.

When David was afraid to go to Gibeon and the Tabernacle, God permitted him to build an altar at a Jebusite High Place in Jerusalem where he made "additional" sacrifices connected to the Temple state. This did not alter the Synagogue where faithful Israelites met each Sabbath--beginning in the Wilderness--to rest, read and rehearse the Word.  Because we have clear testimony that this was to "worship the starry host" we should not be surprised to learn that:

"The book of Psalms contain new doctrine after the Law of Moses. And after the writing of Moses, it is the second book of doctrine...

(David) first gave to the Hebrews a new style of psalmody,
by which he
abrogates the ordinances established by Moses
with respect to sacrifices, and h

introduces the new hymn and a new style of jubilant praise in the worship of God;

and throughout his whole ministry he teaches very many othe things that went beyond the law of Moses." (Fragment of Commentary by Hippolytus, bishop of Rome, Ante-Nicene, V, p. 170)

"the condition is that of Ecstasy, the utterances are words or sounds of prayer or praise but are not clear in meaning,

and give the impression to the hearer of being mysteries or insane expressions."...

This phenomenon seems to include sighs, groanings, shoutings, cries, and utterances either of disconnected words (such as Abba, hosanna, hallelujah, maranatha) or connected speech of a jubilating sort

which impresses the observer as ecstatic prayer or psalmodic praise." (Schaff-Herzog, Speaking in Tongues, p. 36)

Why, then, be surprised that David's "praise word" is used primarily to mean "to make self mad" or to feign insanity? 

Claim of proof for instrumental music for worship:

Psalm 81 is not a Mizmor and while IN the BOOK of Psalms as named by the Greek Translation only, is a ZIMRAH and there highly dedicated.  It is not a Psalm in the sense Paul used it: otherwise he would be commanding the church to sing after the time of Christ and we do not do those giant festivals.

Psalm in psalm 81 is the Hebrew Zimrah meaning music, melody or song. It still does not include instruments and therefore they are NAMED.  It would not be included for ordinary purposes.

Zemar (h2170) zem-awr'; from a root corresp. to 2167; instrumental music: - musick.

That at what time ye hear the sound of the cornet, flute, harp, sackbut, psaltery, dulcimer, and all kinds of musick, ye fall down and worship the golden image that Nebuchadnezzar the king hath set up: Da.3:5

Zamar (h2168) zaw-mar'; a prim. root [comp. 2167, 5568, 6785]; to trim (a vine): - prune.

Chalal (h2490) khaw-lal'; to wound, to dissolve; fig. to profane (a person, place or thing), to break (one's word), to begin (as if by an "opening wedge"); denom. (from 2485) to play (the flute): gather the grape thereof, take inheritance, pipe, player on instruments, pollute, (cast as) profane (self), prostitute, slay (slain), sorrow, stain, wound.

The instruction was to the Chief Musician who would have to be of the Tribe of Levi.  The title is upon Gittith (h1665) is derived from  "a wine press" and therefore "a musical instrument? from Gath? and used in three Psalm titles - 8, 81, 84; a song title used for the Feast of Booths."

Gath (h1660) gath; prob. from 5059 (in the sense of treading out grapes); a wine-press (or vat for holding the grapes in pressing them): - (wine-) press (fat).

Sorry, but this is the universal symbol of new wineskins and music.

Nagan (h5059) naw-gan'; a prim. root; prop. to thrum, i. e. beat a tune with the fingers; espec. to play on a stringed instrument; hence (gen.) to make music: - player on instruments, sing to the stringed instruments, melody, ministrel, play (-er, -ing..

Naga (h5060) naw-gah'; a prim. root; prop. to touch, i. e. lay the hand upon (for any purpose; euphem., to lie with a woman); by impl. to reach (fig. to arrive, acquire); violently, to strike (punish, defeat, destroy, etc.): - beat, (* be able to) bring (down), cast, come (nigh), draw near (nigh), get up, happen, join, near, plague, reach (up), smite, strike, touch.

Psalm 81:1 Sing for joy to God our strength; shout aloud to the God of Jacob!
Psalm 81: 2 Begin the music, strike the tambourine, play the melodious harp and lyre.
Psalm 81: 3 Sound the ram's horn at the New Moon, and when the moon is full, on the day of our Feast;
Psalm 81: 4 this is a decree for Israel, an ordinance of the God of Jacob.

If you look at the whole Psalm you will see that this is a mark of God's judgment: the sang God's praise but refused to obey His commandments and therefore went into captivity and death.

To return to Israel coming out of Egypt note that:

First, Miriam was not leading congregational worship. Moses wrote the Law and God said that Israel should not "veer off either to the left or right." We have that Law in its fullness. There is no command for instruments other than the silver trumpets or shofars. Neither of these are musical instruments.

Miriam's use of instruments simply continued the practice of the women in Egypt. Miriam would have been grouped with the "princesses" and as such had the duty to "prophesy with instruments" in the worship of Osiris as Hathor the cow or Apis the "golden calf."

Second, we noted above that the law is specific: the trumpets could "call assembly" begin the marches or to panic the pants off the enemy in warfare or be used in the national festivals. Sounding the triump of singing and shouting was specificially outlawed when the "congregation assembled" which was usually for instructions:

But when the congregation is to be gathered together, ye shall blow, but ye shall not sound an alarm. Nu 10:7

Third, the law specificially commanded the sounding of the signal trumpets or horns for the three major yearly festivals. The Jubilee was also given over to playing the "Yobels" or "Jubals" because it was a national festival of restoring the lands. Jesus has fulfilled the final Jubilee and Passover.

Fourth, the Spirit of Christ was always careful to separate the "trumpets of God" and the "instruments of David." This could never happen if God commanded David to invent music when the law did not.

And both the singers and the porters kept the ward of their God, and the ward of the purification, according to the commandment of David, and of Solomon his son. Neh 12:45

For in the days of David and Asaph of old there were chief of the singers, and songs of praise and thanksgiving unto God. Neh 12:46

And all Israel in the days of Zerubbabel, and in the days of Nehemiah, gave the portions of the singers and the porters, every day his portion: and they sanctified holy things unto the Levites;

and the Levites sanctified them unto the children of Aaron. Neh 12:47

By the way, the priestly class, porters and singers got only 1% of the food and none of the cash. These musical guilds were organized in a "like the nations" civil state after Israel rejected the theocratic rule of God.

Fifth, look at what the passage really says:

A: That which was invented by David:

Psalm 81: 1 Sing for joy to God our strength; shout aloud to the God of Jacob!
Psalm 81: 2 Begin the music, strike the tambourine, play the melodious harp and lyre.

B: that which was commanded by God for the festivals and new moons. We have abandoned that by being in Christ:

Psalm 81: 3 Sound the ram's horn at the New Moon, and when the moon is full, on the day of our Feast;
Psalm 81: 4 this is a decree for Israel, an ordinance of the God of Jacob.

It is important to remember that in recording the Word of God not everything happens as quickly as the writer takes to write it. For instance, look at the genealogy of Jesus:

THE book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham. Matthew 1:1

Now, we know that Abraham was not the grandfather of Jesus. Therefore, the writer just hits the high points to show the sequence. Now, look at Psalm 81 to see that not everything in these four verses are performed at the same time.

If we leave out the verse number divisions notice that in the KJV this is three complete sentences:

First sentence: SING aloud unto God our strength: make a joyful noise unto the God of Jacob.

Now, notice the time lapse to fetch the drums and select a Psalm:

Second sentence: Take a psalm, and bring (fetch) hither the timbrel, the pleasant harp with the psaltery. Psalm 81: 2

We are told that David invented the musical worship and from all of the earlier Bible we understand that music had not been a part of worship which before the law was under the Patriarchial period.

Therefore, Psalm 81 unless other wise noted describes what happened after the Law of Moses

Next, notice a very long time lapse. It might be another month before this was actually performed. It will happen at the New Moon and when the moon is full. Then, they were to sound the ram's horn as an ordinance of God:

Third sentence: Sound the ram's horn at the New Moon, and when the moon is full, on the day of our Feast;

this is a decree for Israel, an ordinance of the God of Jacob. Psalm 81: 3NIV

Sound the trumpet! Come to the joyous celebrations at full moon, new moon, and all the other holidays. Psalm 81: 3LIV

The approved trumpets or rams's horns were not commanded by David and therefore the command of God did not include them.

Then the Bible clearly proves that it was not a purely religious purpose but to give employment to the Levites who used loud musical noise to panic the enemy. Therefore, it was not the prophet or the priest who ordained musical performance but the civil and military:

David (secular king), together with the commanders of the army, set apart some of the sons of Asaph, Heman and Jeduthun for the ministry of prophesying, accompanied by harps, lyres and cymbals. Here is the list of the men who performed this service: 1 Chronicles 25:1NIV

All these men were under the supervision of their fathers for the music of the temple of the LORD, with cymbals, lyres and harps, for the ministry at the house of God. Asaph, Jeduthun and Heman were under the supervision of the king. 1 Chronicles 25:6

Therefore, we have proof that the Instruments were commanded by David. Furthermore, the singers and intrumentalists made NOISE and not music in our sense. This was outside the Holy Place as a type of the church of Christ and OUTSIDE of the Most Holy Place where worship occurs. Not even in the vilest pagan temple could the singers, musicians and speakers enter into the holy precincts.

The Levitical Warrior musicians made PANIC. Their service was HARD BONDAGE and they served the PRIESTS. In type they musically mocked the innocent animals just as they would do to Messiah when the final sacrifice was completed and the "instruments" silenced.

However, the trumpets were commanded by God through Nathan. We know this because the command was in the Law long before David lived:

Sound the ram's horn at the New Moon, and when the moon is full, on the day of our Feast; Psalm 81:3

For this was a statute for Israel, and a law of the God of Jacob. Psalm 81:4

He established it as a statute for Joseph when he went out against Egypt, where we heard a language we did not understand. Psalm 81:5 

Now surely it is clear that David didn't command musical instruments when they went out of Egypt as an everlasting ordnance or testimony. God commanded the trumpets and outlawed musical rejoicing (Numbers 10:7) when the congregation was to be assembled.

God commanded the ram's horn when the moon was full over four hundred years before David and the commanders of the army commanded musical instruments.

This means that where there is a misunderstanding of 2 Chronicles or Psalm 81 we should interpret them in light of numerous other passages as well as the inspired record of what God commanded.

Asaph, the Psalmist, understood that the instruments of musical rejoicing were not from the law of Moses. He knew that the ram's horns or trumpets were according to the Law.

Furthermore, we have the command for the trumpets in the Law of Moses
........ and do not have the musical rejoicing in the Law of Moses. .

Nu 10:7 explicitly forbids it when the "congregation" comes together for instruction.

David commanded musical instruments to force the people to fall or bow when the animals were being burned. However, these were national sacrifices connected with the civil state which God gave Israel when they rejected His direct rule.

However, God said:

But when the congregation is to be gathered together, ye shall blow, but ye shall not sound an alarm. Nu 10:7

However, it was loud musical rejoices which was both a cause and a symptom of Israel's rejection of God's effort to educate them in a collective assembly. As a result, God demanded that the trumpets could be used to call the people into congregational assembly but they could not be used for musical rejoicing.

To blow the trumpet was the Hebrew:

Taqa (h8628) taw-kah'; a prim. root; to clatter, i. e. slap (the hands together), clang (an instrument); by anal. to drive (a nail or tent-pin, a dart, etc.); by impl. to become bondsman (by hand-clasping): - blow ([a trumpet]), cast, clap, fasten, pitch [tent], smite, sound, strike, * suretiship, thrust

The alarm was:

Ruwa (h7321) roo-ah'; a prim. root; to mar (espec. by breaking); fig. to split the ears (with sound), i. e. shout for alarm or joy: - blow an alarm, cry (alarm, aloud, out), destroy, make a joyful noise, smart, shout (for joy), sound an alarm, triumph.

The Alarm was to create the PANIC to cause the movements of the tribes or for warfare. It means to "blow wind instruments and 'make a joyful noise before the Lord'." This was "worship" only in the sense that it was most nations' warrior chant.

The congregation is Qahal or synagogue. This existed at the time of Moses. Stephen used the Greek ekklesia which has the same basic meaning of the Greek "synagogue."

For Moses of old time hath in every city them that preach him, being read in the synagogues every sabbath day. Ac.15:21

But even unto this day, when Moses is read, the vail is upon their heart. 2Co.3:15

Read is:

Anaginosko (g314) an-ag-in-oce'-ko; from 303 and 1097; to know again, i.e. (by extens.) to read: - read.

The "church" is the ekklesia and when the people gather Paul usually used a form of the word "synagogue." There was never any praise service in the synagogue.

Till I come, give attendance to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine. 1Ti.4:13

There was no God-given ordinance for the Levites to perform these priestly functions. Josephus notes that it was against the Law, was put down (see Ezekiel 40f in the idealized temple), and reared its ugly head in his own day.

The "everlasting ordinance" from God:

Keep Psalm 81 (the proof-text) in mind. Asaph wrote:

Sound the ram's horn at the New Moon, and when the moon is full, on the day of our Feast;

this is a decree for Israel, an ordinance of the God of Jacob. Psalm 81: 3NIV

The original commandment was given as an ordinance after Israel came out of Egypt and after Mount Sinai when the second law defined how Israel would live among idolaters:

The sons of Aaron, the priests, are to blow the trumpets. This is to be a lasting ordinance for you and the generations to come. Nu 10:8NIV

When you go into battle in your own land against an enemy who is oppressing you, sound a blast on the trumpets. Then you will be remembered by the LORD your God and rescued from your enemies. Nu 10:9

Also at your times of rejoicing--your appointed feasts and New Moon festivals--

you are to sound the trumpets over your burnt offerings and fellowship offerings, and they will be a memorial for you before your God. I am the LORD your God." Nu 10:10

But, again, the congregation is the synagogue or a HOLY CONVOCATON which excludes animal sacrifices and therefore excludes the TRUMPETS as an everlasting memorial:

But when the congregation is to be gathered together, ye shall blow, but ye shall not sound an alarm. Nu 10:7

Qahal (h6950) kaw-hal'; a prim. root; to convoke: - assemble (selves) (together), gather (selves) together).

Unless you are of the tribe of Levi, are a warrior panic "musician" and unless you are a son of Aaron you cannot blow the trumpet which was to call attention or to SEND SIGNALS to direct the warriors in battle.

Paul understood that all of this had been done away in the new covenant:

Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross; Col 2:14

And having spoiled principalities and powers, he made a shew of them openly, triumphing over them in it. Col 2:15

Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days: Col.2:16

For ye are not come unto the mount that might be touched, and that burned with fire, nor unto blackness, and darkness, and tempest, Hebrews 12:18

And the sound of a trumpet, and the voice of words; which voice they that heard intreated that the word should not be spoken to them any more: Hebrews 12:19

(For they could not endure that which was commanded, And if so much as a beast touch the mountain, it shall be stoned, or thrust through with a dart: Hebrews 12:20

The pagans triumphed by singing and playing instruments in honor of Bacchus or Dionysus. The clergy tried to force Jesus into this choral dance as they "piped" like children. However, Jesus does not triumph by blowing his own horn but by resurrecting after the cross.

The Levites had no authority for musical instruments. However, when Israel "fired" God and demanded a king like the nations so that they could worship like the nations, David reassigned the Levites to be musicians for the civil state. David had not authority over the "worship services" of the people under the priests.

Judas as Satan's agent and the clergy tried to triumph over Jesus to make Him dance to the effeminate, Bacchus music. Jesus turned the tables and triumphed over them by an open show and not in the pretend musical triumph.

Paul said that we no longer come to the sound of the trumpet.

Psalm 81 continues to indicate that music was a prelude to judgment:

But my people would not hearken to my voice; and Israel would none of me. Psalm 81: 11

So I gave them up unto their own hearts lust: and they walked in their own counsels. Psalm 81: 12

When Israel demanded a king so that they could worship like the nations, God turned them over to their own lusts. David, not God, added musical instruments to the trumpets of God.

At every high place they burned incense, as the nations whom the LORD had driven out before them had done. They did wicked things that provoked the LORD to anger. 2K.17:11

Therefore this is what the Sovereign LORD says: You have been more unruly than the nations around you 
        and have not followed my decrees or kept my laws. 
        You have not even conformed to the standards of the nations around you. Eze.5:7

You say, "We want to be like the nations, like the peoples of the world, who serve wood and stone." But what you have in mind will never happen. Eze.20:32

Notice carefully where this originated:

Claim of proof for instrumental music for worship:

He established it as a statute for Joseph when he went out against Egypt, where we heard a language we did not understand. Psalm 81: 5

He says, "I removed the burden from their shoulders; their hands were set free from the basket. Psalm 81: 6

In your distress you called and I rescued you, I answered you out of a thundercloud; I tested you at the waters of Meribah. Psalm 81: 7

But this is going to be an indictment against them and not a direct command for Christian worship.

"The statute, law, ordinance here mentioned manifestly relates especially to the feast of the passover, which, when it occurred at the new moon, was attended with the solemn blowing of trumpets, as the parallel passage shows: Ex. 13:8, 9, 14-16.

If this is not deemed satisfactory, let the statute, law or ordinance be pointed out which enforced the use of timbrels, harps and psalteries upon the Israelites in connection with their exodus from Egypt. Until that is done loose assertion will avail nothing." (Girardeau, George, Instrumental Music in Church Worship, p. 76).

"NO command of God was ever so ascribed to man. The use of the instruments of music in the Old Testament were of man, not of God." (Tract on music, David Lipscomb).

"At the dedication of the later edifice, the priests blew the trumpets at the same time that the Levites sang and played upon instruments of music, so as 'to make one sound;' but it is evident that on that great occasion of rejoicing, what was aimed at was not musical harmony, but a powerful crash of jubilant sound. We are shut up to the conclusion that there was nothing in the tabernacle-worship, as ordered by Moses, which could be justly characterized as instrumental music." (George Girardeau, p. 29 - a Presbyterian).

The only authrity which Psalm 81 could give would be in connection with the civil state which was the result of Israel's total rejection of God. For this, they would go into captivity and almost total destruction as a nation.

The Rest of Psalm 81

Hear, O my people, and I will testify unto thee: O Israel, if thou wilt hearken unto me; Psalm 81 8
There shall no
strange god be in thee; neither shalt thou worship any strange god. Psalm 81 9 

They shall lift up their voice, they shall sing for the majesty of the Lord, they shall cry aloud from the sea. Isa 24:14

H5375 This is the Hebrew word for the Pleasuring or creating excitement Paul outlawed in the synagogue in romans 15.

From the uttermost part of the earth have we heard songs, even glory to the righteous.

Zamiyr (h2158) from 2167; a song to be accompanied with instrumental music: - psalm (-ist), singing, song

But I said, My leanness, my leanness, woe unto me the treacherous dealers have dealt treacherously; yea, the treacherous dealers have dealt very treacherously. Isa 24:16

In the next chapter: 

Thou shalt bring down the noise of strangers, as the heat in a dry place; even the heat with the shadow of a cloud: the branch of the terrible ones shall be brought low. Isa 25:5 

Zamar (h2167) zaw-mar'; through the idea of striking with the fingers]; prop. to touch the strings or parts of a musical instrument, i. e. play upon it; to make music, accompanied by the voice..

I am the Lord thy God, which brought thee out of the land of Egypt: open thy mouth wide, and I will fill it. Psalm 81 10

But my people would not hearken to my voice; and Israel would none of me. Psalm 81 11

As a result of rejecting the Covenant of Grace at Mount Sinai God gave them the Law of Moses to regulate sinful people. The Law was given because of transgression and it had no spiritual value. Later, they rejected God's rule and demanded a king to allow them to worship like the nations: 

So I gave them up unto their own hearts lust: and they walked in their own counsels. Psalm 81 12
Oh that my people had hearkened unto me, and Israel had walked in my ways Psalm 81: 13
should soon have subdued their enemies, and turned my hand against their adversaries. Psalm 81: 14

The haters of the Lord should have submitted themselves unto him: but their time should have endured for ever. Psalm 81: 15

He should have fed them also with the finest of the wheat: and with honey out of the rock should I have satisfied thee. Psalm 81:16

In the next Psalm God gave His usual definition of true religion and worship:

How long will ye judge unjustly, and accept the persons of the wicked? Selah. Psalm 82:2
        Defend the poor and fatherless: do justice to the afflicted and needy. Psalm 82: 3
        Deliver the poor and needy: rid them out of the hand of the wicked. Psalm 82: 4

They know not, neither will they understand
        they walk on in darkness: all the foundations of the earth are out of course. Psalm 82: 5

Claims of proof for instrumental music for worship from Psalm 81 proves just the opposite: it was God who ordained the silver trumpets but it was David who added instrumental music to make a great noise during animal sacrifices for dedication or purification of kings, clergy and buildings and grounds -- never for worship.


Kenneth Sublett  

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