Saturday, February 8, 2014

Music of the Psalms

The Book of Psalms is the hymnal of ancient Israel. Psalms are ancient lyrics preserved with occasional musical notations. Most of these musical notations are found in the superscriptions or titles. For instance, many are directed "To the Chief Musician" (Psalm 31). Others call for musical accompaniment. For example Psalm 4 calls for stringed instruments, Psalm 5 for flutes, Psalm 6 for the eight-stringed harp, and Psalm 8 for the instrument of Gath. The titles sometimes specify the tune to be used, such as "Death of the Son" in Psalm 9, and "The Lilies" in Psalm 45. In this way the superscriptions contain hints of the musical nature of the psalms.

Church Choir of Boys and Girls Singing Joyfully

The Psalms present a balanced picture of the use of music in worship. In particular, the first three verses of Psalm 33 are instructive. As verse 1 suggests, the purpose of godly music is to rejoice in the God who has given us new life. This type of praise can come only from those who have been cleansed by God's grace and renewed by His Spirit. Indeed the psalmist describes this praise from the righteous as "beautiful," for God enjoys receiving praise from His people. For this reason, worshipful music is always directed "to Him" (vv 2,3). That is, God is always the audience for the music performed in His name.

Palette in the Sky with Musical Notes by Chuck Carlton

What kind of music can we present to God? The psalmist describes a variety of instruments, such as the harp and the instrument of ten strings, that join the human voice in giving praise to the Lord. But his exhortation to sing "a new song" (in verse 3) is not merely a call for new music and new hymnals. The phrase new song means to sing to God with a renewed sense of wonder at all He has done for us. 
The worship of God should never degenerate into something that we just do; we should always approach God with rejoicing. With the phrase play skillfully (in verse 3), the psalmist exhorts us never to approach our worship with a casual attitude. We are to "play skillfully" because we are playing to the Lord, and we must offer Him only our best. The psalmist's final exhortation in verse 3 is to play "with a shout of joy." Since God always considers our attitudes, genuine joy in the presence of our caring Lord is required for music to be truly worshipful.

Two Ladies One Playing the Harp the Other a Portable Organ by Henry Shaw 
Two Ladies One Playing the Harp the Other a Portable Organ


images courtesy of all posters 
references Psalm 31, 4, 5, 6, 8, 9, 45, 33:1-3

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