Music That Pleases God
Music has been described as “the oldest and most natural of all the fine arts.” Like language, it is a remarkable gift that sets humans apart from beasts. Music stirs the emotions. It can delight the ear and linger in the mind. Above all, music can please God.
AS THE Bible shows, the Israelites were a musical people. Music was “a prominent art in ancient Biblical times,” comments Unger’s Bible Dictionary. As a part of everyday life, both vocal and instrumental music featured in their worship. But it was the human voice that was used most prominently.
King David appointed representatives among the Levites “for the direction of the singing” at the tabernacle, before the temple built by Solomon, his son, was inaugurated. (1 Chronicles 6:31, 32) When the ark of the covenant, representing Jehovah’s presence, arrived at Jerusalem, David arranged for some of the Levites “to call to remembrance and to thank and praise Jehovah.” They accompanied their vocal praise “with instruments of the string type and with harps, . . . with the cymbals playing aloud, . . . with the trumpets.” These men were “designated by names to thank Jehovah, because ‘to time indefinite is his loving-kindness.’”—1 Chronicles 16:4-6, 41; 25:1.
The refrain “[Jehovah’s] loving-kindness is to time indefinite” appears many times in the Psalms, the Bible book most associated with music. For example, it forms the second part of each of the 26 verses of Psalm 136. “Its brevity renders it adapted to a people’s lips,” observes one Bible scholar. “Every one, having heard it, could remember it.”
The superscriptions to the psalms indicate the widespread use of musical instruments. Psalm 150 makes mention of the horn, harp, tambourine, pipe, and cymbals, in addition to strings. Nevertheless, the primary appeal is to the human voice. Ps 150 Verse 6 exhorts: “Every breathing thing—let it praise Jah. Praise Jah, you people!”
Since music expresses our feelings, mournful thoughts in Bible times prompted dirges or chants. This form of singing, however, was limited in the repertoire of Israel’s music. “Only in a dirge or lamentation would the chanting style be preferable to either the melody of music or the modulation and oral emphasis of pure speech,” observes the Bible encyclopedia Insight on the Scriptures. *
Jesus and his faithful apostles sang praises to Jehovah on the night before Jesus’ death, doubtless intoning the words of the Hallel Psalms. (Psalms 113-118) How this must have strengthened Jesus’ disciples to face up to the loss of their Master! More than that, their resolve to remain faithful servants of the Supreme Sovereign of the universe, Jehovah, must have deepened as they five times sang the refrain “for his loving-kindness is to time indefinite.”—Psalm 118:1-4, 29.
The early Christians of Ephesus and Colossae sang “psalms and praises to God” (literally, “hymns”). To these they added “spiritual songs” that were sung in their hearts. (Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16) By both song and speech, they fittingly used their mouths to express praise. Had not Jesus declared that “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks”?—Matthew 12:34.
Music That Displeases God
Not all music mentioned in the Bible pleased God. Consider the incident that occurred at Mount Sinai, where Moses was receiving the Law, including the Ten Commandments. When Moses descended the mountain, what did he hear? “Not the sound of the singing over mighty performance,” “not the sound of the singing of defeat,” but “the sound of other singing.” This was music associated with idolatry, a practice that evoked God’s displeasure and resulted in the death of about 3,000 of those music makers.—Exodus 32:18, 25-28.
Although humans can compose, play, and enjoy all manner of music, it does not follow that all of it pleases God. Why not? The Christian apostle Paul explains: “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) Pagan fertility rites, the doctrine of the immortality of the human soul, and the veneration of Mary as “mother of God” are often featured as themes of musical compositions. Yet, these beliefs and practices dishonor the God of truth, for they are contrary to what is revealed in his inspired Word, the Bible.—Deuteronomy 18:10-12; Ezekiel 18:4; Luke 1:35, 38.
Making a Wise Choice of Music
The choice of available music is bewildering. The covers of compact discs are designed to move customers to purchase all manner of musical recordings. But if the worshiper of God wishes to please Him, he will exercise caution and select wisely to avoid vocal and instrumental music that is inspired by false religious beliefs or that focuses on immorality and demonism.
Albert, who once served as a Christian missionary in Africa, admits that he had little opportunity to play the piano there. He did, however, listen over and over again to the few long-playing recordings he had taken with him. Back in his home country, Albert now visits Christian congregations as a traveling overseer. His time for listening to music is limited. “My favorite composer is Beethoven,” he observes. “Through the years, I have collected recordings of his symphonies, concertos, sonatas, and quartets.” Listening to these has brought him a great deal of enjoyment. Of course, each person has his own taste in music, but as Christians we bear in mind Paul’s counsel: “Whether you are eating or drinking or doing anything else, do all things for God’s glory.”—1 Corinthians 10:31.
Music and Dedication
Susie’s first love was music. “I started to play the piano at the age of 6, the violin at 10, and finally the harp at 12,” she explains. Susie later attended the Royal College of Music in London, England, to study the harp. She studied for four years with a famous Spanish harpist and a further year at the Paris Conservatoire, gaining an honors degree in music as well as diplomas for playing the harp and teaching the piano.
Susie became associated with a congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses in London. There she found genuine interest and love among fellow Witnesses. Gradually, her love for Jehovah grew, and her zeal for his service prompted her to seek ways to serve him. This led to dedication and baptism. “Having music as a career is a dedicated way of life, so a life of dedication was not unfamiliar to me,” Susie observes. Her time for concert performances decreased as she engaged in the Christian ministry of preaching the good news of God’s Kingdom in obedience to Jesus’ instructions.—Matthew 24:14; Mark 13:10.
Now that she spends only a limited time performing music, how does she feel? “Sometimes a little frustrated that I don’t have more time to practice,” she admits, “but I still play my instruments and enjoy music. Music is a gift from Jehovah. I enjoy it more now that I have put his service first in my life.”—Matthew 6:33.
Music That Praises God
Albert and Susie along with the nearly six million other Witnesses of Jehovah regularly praise Jehovah God with music. At Christian meetings held in Kingdom Halls in 234 lands, they begin and end their meetings, where possible, by singing songs to Jehovah. In major and minor key, beautiful melodies carry Scripturally based lyrics in praise of Jehovah God.
All in attendance raise their voices to sing warmly that Jehovah is a caring God (Song 44). They sing a song of praise to Jehovah (Song 190). Their songs recognize the joys and responsibilities of Christian brotherhood, Christian living, and Christian qualities. Adding to their delight is the variety of musical styles that Witnesses from Asia, Australia, Europe, and North and South America used when composing the melodies. *
“Sing to Jehovah a new song. Sing to Jehovah, all you people of the earth. Sing to Jehovah, bless his name,” are the opening words of a grand royal anthem penned in the psalmist’s day. “From day to day tell the good news of salvation by him. Declare among the nations his glory, among all the peoples his wonderful works.” (Psalm 96:1-3) This is what Jehovah’s Witnesses are doing in your locality, and they invite you to join in singing this praise. You will be welcome at their Kingdom Halls, where you can learn how to praise Jehovah with music that pleases him.
^ par. 7 Published by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc.
^ par. 22 These songs are featured in the book Sing Praises to Jehovah, published by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc.
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Singing praises to Jehovah