Were Instruments of Music Authorized In Old Testament Worship?

Tom Wheeler
Beaver Dam, Kentucky

Sometimes modern man seems to think brains are of modern vintage and therefore almost all tools, devices and instruments are of modern invention. Instruments of music have been in existence almost from the beginning of, time.

"And his brother's name was Jubal; he was the father of all such as handle the harp and organ " (Gen. 4:21). Matthew Henry comments on this verse thusly: "Jubal was a famous musician, and particularly an organist, and the first that gave rules for that noble art and science of music. When Jubal had set them in a way to be rich, Jubal put them in a way to be merry. Those who spend their days in wealth will not be without the timbrel and harp, Job. 21:12-13. From his name, JUBAL, probably, the jubilee trumpet was so called; for the best music was that which proclaimed liberty and redemption." Mr. Henry may have gotten somewhat carried away with his comments. However, the word "father" in the verse must indicate that either the invention and refining of the instruments or the playing of them began with Jubal and continued with his children. I think it refers to both the instrument and its use. This does not show that mechanical instruments were authorized for worship in the Old Testament but does show that they were available.

The words "harp" and "organ" are from words that were more general in meaning. The New American Standard says "lyre and pipe." The words in the Hebrew apparently mean "string" and "wind" instruments. We do not know when percussion instruments came into being but they were of early origin and may have been the first.

I have no idea how many times reference is made to the instrument of music in the Old Testament. They were used upon occasions to summons the people. They were used to warn the people of danger. They were used during periods of rejoicing and they were used in worship to God.

There are many indications that the mechanical instrument of music was authorized of God in Old Testament worship. They are even called "instruments of God." "And with them, Heman and Jeduthun with trumpets and cymbals for those that should make a sound, and .with musical instruments of God. And the sons of Jeduthun were porters" (1 Chron. 16:42). "And the Priests waited on. their offices:, the Levites also with instruments of musick of the Lord, which David the king had made to praise the Lord,, because his mercy endureth for ever, when David praised by their ministry; and the priests sounded trumpets before them, and all Israel stood" (2 Chron. 7:6). On 1 Chron. 16:42, E.M. Zerr says: "`Musical instruments of Odd' is an inspired expression. David was never condemned, nor even criticized for making and using them. But it was a part of the procedure under the Old Testament regulations and has no bearing on the religious activities of the New Testament." He further states concerning 2 Chron. 7:6: "The priests did the part exclusively belonging to them, and the other Levites used `instruments of music of the Lord.' This is an inspired statement, so we must know that after David had made the musical instruments for religious service, the Lord accepted and blessed them."

Two places where we can read the account of the musicians being given their assignments are 1 Chron. 6:31-48 and 25:1-31. David begins preparation for the temple in 1 Chron. 22 and continues with this preparation, along with exhortation to the people, until his death in 1 Chron. 29. Appointing the musicians was part of this preparation and, as far as I can tell, was as well received by God as the rest of the preparation and exhortation.

In the account of the dedication of the walls of Jerusalem in Neh. 12:36 the musical instruments are called David's but in the same phrase David is called "the man of God." "And his brethren, Shemaiah, and Azarael, Milalai, Gilalai, Maai, Nethaneel, and Judah, Hanani, with the musical instruments of David, the man of God, and Ezra the scribe before them. " David said that he made the instruments used to praise God. "Moreover four thousand were porters; and four thousand praised the Lord with the instruments which I made, said David, to praise therewith"(1 Chron. 23:5). David admits that he made the instruments of music to praise God. David was a man of God. He was not condemned by God for making them and God accepted the worship; therefore, he must have authorized it.

Soon after Cyrus allowed Ezra and 42,360 to return from captivity, they restored the worship and began to rebuild the temple. One of the things they did was restore the use of the mechanical instrument of music in worship to God. "And when the builders laid the foundation of the temple of the Lord, they set the priests in their apparel with trumpets, and the Levites the sons of Asaph with cymbals, to praise the Lord, after the ordinance of David king of Israel" (Ezra 3:10). They must have thought this was important and there is no indication that God was not pleased with what they did.

The use of the mechanical instrument of music in worship predates David by many years: "Speak unto the children of Israel, saying, In the seventh month, in the first day of the month, shall ye have a Sabbath, a memorial of blowing of trumpets, a holy convocation" (Lev. 23:24). "And in the seventh month, on the first day of the month, ye shall have a holy convocation; ye shall do no servile work: it is a day of blowing the trumpets unto you" (Num. 29:1). As far as my sources of reference works go, they take for granted that worship is under consideration here. Looking at the verses and their context, it is obvious that if worship is not under consideration these verses are out of context.

"For because ye did it not at the first, the Lord our God made a breach upon us, for that we sought him not after the due order. So the priests and the Levites sanctified themselves to bring up the ark of the Lord God of Israel. And the children of the Levites bare the ark of God upon their shoulders with the staves thereon, as Moses commanded according to the word of the Lord. And David spake to the chief of the Levites to appoint their brethren to be the singers with instruments of musick, psalteries and harps and cymbals, sounding, by lifting up the voice with joy" (1 Chron. 15:13-16). What impresses me with this passage is the desire of David, the priests and Levites to do everything correctly this time. In 1 Chron. 13 they had started to bring the ark into Jerusalem and Uzzah was killed because things were not carried out according to God's rules which had been given to Moses concerning moving the ark. Now they are trying to do things correctly. If God had not authorized the use of the mechanical instrument of music, this would have been an excellent time to say so. No indication is given by God that he is not pleased with its use.

The number of references in Psalms authorizing (commanding) the use of the mechanical instrument of music in praise and worship unto God are numerous (Psalm 33:2, 43:4, 150:1-6 and others). For one to take the position that mechanical instruments of music are not authorized in worship in the Old Testament is to say "I do not believe the book of Psalms is part of the Old Testament." Surely, no other conclusion can be reached.

"And it came to pass, when the priests were come out of the holy place: (for all the priests that were present were sanctified, and did not then wait by course: Also the Levites which were the singers, all of them of Asaph, or Heman, of Jeduthun, with their sons and their brethren, being arrayed in white linen, having cymbals and psalteries and harps, stood at the east end of the alter, and with them an hundred and twenty priests sounding with trumpets.) It came even to pass, as the trumpeters and singers were as one, to make one sound to be heard in praising and thanking the Lord; and when they lifted up their voice with the trumpets and cymbals and instruments of musick, and praised the Lord, saying, For he is good; for his mercy endureth for ever: that then the house was filled with a cloud, even the house of the Lord; So that the priests could not stand to minister by reason of the cloud.- for the glory of the Lord had filled the house of God" (2 Chron. 5:11-14). If God's presence does not show approval for what took place here, then I do not know what it would take. If He approves one thing that took place, he approved all things that took place.

Sometimes people say that God allowed the mechanical instrument of music to be used but never was happy or pleased with it. They compare it to God allowing Israel to have a king and His allowing divorce. I can find that God never intended for Israel to have a king. In 1 Sam. 8:5-22 God said the people had rejected him in desiring a king but then He gave commandment for them to have one. God gave command for the use of divorce in Deut. 24:1-4; however, Jesus said this was not His intention from the beginning (Matt. 19:1-12). If someone will show that God did not want, but just allowed, the use of mechanical instruments of music in Old Testament worship we will agree that, that was the case. Until we see the passage that says such, we will not agree.

Some think that Amos 6:5 condemns David for making instruments of music. "Woe to them that are at ;ease in Zion, and trust in the mountain of Samaria, which are named chief of the nations, to whom the house of Israel came! Pass ye unto Calneh, and see; and from thence go ye to Hamath the great: then go down to Gath of the Philistines: be they better than these kingdoms? or their border greater than your border? Ye that put far away the evil day, and cause the seat of violence to come near; That lie upon beds of ivory, and stretch themselves upon their couches, and eat the lambs out of the flock, and the calves out of the midst of the stall; That chant to the sound of the viol, and invent to themselves instruments of musick, like David; That drink wine in bowls, and anoint themselves with the chief ointments: but they are not grieved for the affliction of Joseph. Therefore now shall they go captive with the first that go captive, and the banquet of them that stretched themselves shall be removed. The Lord God hath sworn by himself, saith the Lord the God of hosts, I abhor the excellency of Jacob, and hate his palaces: therefore will I deliver up the city with all that is therein" (Amos 6:1-8). Amos 6 is talking about God's judgment on Israel. Verse 4 talks about beds, couches, lambs and calves. Verse 5 talks about chanting to the sound of an instrument. Verse 6 talks about wine and ointments. Are all of these things wrong? Those who are at ease in Zion are condemned according to verse 1. Brother Homer Hailey says it well in his Commentary on the Minor Prophets (page 114) as he comments on verses 4, 5 & 6. "Their luxury and revelry are revealed in their lying on ivory inlaid beds, lolling on couches, banqueting on the best of fatted lambs and calves, having their depraved spirits lulled and soothed by lascivious songs and music, drinking their wine from large sacrificial bowls, and anointing themselves with the choicest of fine oils. But their debauched spirits were `not grieved for the affliction of Joseph,' the poor of their brethren. The coming ruin of the nation, as it was being heralded by the rising power of the conquering Assyrians and by the warnings of Amos, struck no responsive chord in their hearts that were satiated by revelry and carousing. The inventing of `instruments of music' `like (those of) David' did not refer to the instruments used in worship; nor can this passage be used as an argument against the use of such instruments in worship today as is done by Adam Clarke. They invented musical instruments to be used in the sordid revelry of their feasts and banquets of that day." Let us always be careful that we do not misuse a passage of scripture either in the Old Testament or in the New. Amos is pointing out the misuse of things that would be good used properly without show of wealth, revelry and a trusting in things.

Yes, I believe the mechanical instrument of music was authorized of God to be used in worship during Old Testament times. This has no bearing on our worship today.


  1. Are mechanical instruments of music of late or early invention?
  2. Who does the Bible say is the inventor of mechanical instruments of music?
  3. Name three basic types of mechanical instruments of music.
  4. When is the mechanical instrument of music first mentioned with reference to worship?
  5. Who is given the most credit for introducing the mechanical instrument of music into the worship?
  6. Name several ways the children of Israel used the mechanical instrument of music.
  7. When the children of Israel returned from captivity (under Ezra) and restored the worship, did they use the mechanical instrument of music?
  8. Does Amos 6:5 condemn David for using the mechanical instrument of music in worship to God? Give logical and scriptural arguments for your answer.

Truth Magazine XXIV: 20, pp. 322-324
May 15, 1980