Music is an essential part of the life of nearly every culture on earth. The first thing a baby hears in the womb is the rhythm of their mother’s heartbeat, then as children grow they respond to lullabies and rhymes. In every form of celebration and life event we have music; from Christmas carols, to the birthday song, to funerals. Melody is part of the way we learn about and relate to our culture and it helps us to feel part of our community, as it reinforces our values and identity. Is it any wonder then, that many spiritual principles in the Bible were communicated through the Psalms, which were sung?
The first Psalm song was written not by David, but by Moses as a song of joy, when God had delivered Israel from Egypt.
Then Moses and the people of Israel sang this song to the LORD:
“I will sing to the LORD,
for He has triumphed gloriously;
He has hurled both horse and rider
into the sea.
The LORD is my strength and my song;
He has given me victory.
This is my God, and I will praise Him—
my Father’s God, and I will exalt Him!
The LORD is a warrior;
Yahweh is His Name!
Pharaoh’s chariots and army
He has hurled into the sea.
The finest of Pharaoh’s officers
are drowned in the Red Sea.
The deep waters gushed over them;
they sank to the bottom like a stone…” Exodus 15
That song is still sung as a testimony of God’s love, power and deliverance, today. I first learned a version of it in church twenty years ago.
The second Psalm Moses wrote was on God’s instruction. It’s purpose was sad.
“The LORD said to Moses, “You are about to die and join your ancestors. After you are gone, these people will begin to worship foreign gods, the gods of the land where they are going. They will abandon Me and break My covenant that I have made with them. Then My anger will blaze forth against them. I will abandon them, hiding My Face from them, and they will be devoured. Terrible trouble will come down on them, and on that day they will say, ‘These disasters have come down on us because God is no longer among us!’ At that time I will hide My Face from them on account of all the evil they commit by worshiping other gods.
“So write down the words of this song, and teach it to the people of Israel. Help them learn it, so it may serve as a witness for Me against them…” So that very day Moses wrote down the words of the song and taught it to the Israelites.” (Deuteronomy chapters 31-32 contain the song.)
These Psalms built on a wider cultural tradition which started centuries before Abraham lived in Mesopotamia, and which probably reaches back to the dawn of mankind. There are a number of pagan hymns to gods such as Ishtar, which have been found in the Mesopotamian area (modern Iraq.) Some use similar literary devices and strength imagery that David used in the Psalms, which further shows that the Israelites were connected to and influenced by a larger cultural community which thrived on music, as we do today.
Regardless of which time period you live in, it is normal for spiritual activities to be accompanied by music, which build a unified spiritual community and teach devotees their core ideas and values. David followed Moses in using this powerful medium, not just because it was the way things were done and because he liked music, but also as King David knew the impact it had upon people. The introduction to Psalm 60 says, “… A psalm of David useful for teaching, regarding the time David fought Aram-naharaim and Aram-zobah…” Psalms enabled David to *teach the people his testimony of God’s deliverance, reiterate the history of Israel and remind them of the principles of God’s Laws which were handed down through Moses. [Ref. Psalms 114 and 132]
Consider these factors which make music an effective teaching method:
- A catchy tune will be remembered and enables messages from a leader to be passed on across any distance.
- Every age is open to hearing and learning musically. Small children will remember and repeat lyrics whether they understand the message or not. There is no age where enjoying music stops.
- Popular tunes survive time, no matter what circumstances change.
- Agrarian lives make study impractical as labourers work from dawn to dusk to survive; include literacy issues and singing becomes more effective than reading.
- If you learn a song, if your house burns down, war comes, or some other calamity arises, you haven’t lost a book.
David has not only taught me how to worship through his Psalms, he has been a strong foundational teacher of who and how wonderful God is. The Psalms pick me up in hard times, as they remind me of God’s faithfulness and delivering power; and in times of joy, they accompany how good I feel. Take the time to learn them and you’ll never be short of the power of God’s Word in your life.
* In ages past, the Psalms themselves were sung in church and officials, such as Bishops, were not allowed to take office unless they knew the Psalms by heart. If you know the Psalms, you know all about God, His nature, His plan for His people and have a solid moral compass in life. It saddened me to learn that this was replaced in the church by the Book of Common Prayer, forcing the Psalms into a backseat which reduced their powerful role.
Psalms where David is clearly teaching include 36,37,53 and 119.
I have heard it stated that the first music was only used for spiritual purposes, and I have tried to research that claim and found it inconclusive. It seems illogical to me, that something which brings us so much enjoyment would only be used in such a limited manner; though I am open to being corrected. The precious can be sacred.
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