Can The Church Do What David Did

By Lewis Willis

Not long ago I received a request for written answers to some passages from the Psalms. Specifically, the inquiry concerned certain statements from David regarding mechanical instruments of music. The first passage was Psalms 149:3-4: “Let them praise His name in the dance: let them sing praises unto Him with the timbrel and harp. For the Lord taketh pleasure in His people: He will beautify the meek with salvation.” The second passage was Psalms 150:3-5: “Praise Him with the sound of the trumpet: praise Him with the psaltery and harp. Praise Him with the timbrel and dance: praise Him with stringed instruments and organs. Praise Him upon the loud cymbals: praise Him upon the high sounding cymbals.” It is evident from these two passages that David was speaking of worship to God engaged in by him and his peers. Furthermore, I would affirm that the worship to God was a worship with which God was pleased at that time. One would be hard pressed to deny that David used mechanical instruments in his worship. The question is not, “Did David worship God acceptably while using his instruments?” The question is, “Does David’s worship constitute a pattern for the worship of the church?”, or, “Are David’s actions authority for church action?”

I think that we could agree to the following. If these Psalms are to be used as authority for the worship of the church then everything mentioned would have to be included in that worship. So what would be the character of this worship? There would be singing of praises which would be accompanied with the following: timbrel, harp, trumpet, psaltery, stringed instruments, organs and loud and high sounding cymbals. If this is authority for the church then the church must have all – not some – of these instruments in its worship. But, wait a minute, that is not all. Both passages affirm that the singing of praise must be accompanied by the dance. Keep in mind, you cannot just pick and choose from Scripture the thing(s) that you want. In this case, everything involved in this worship is authorized if anything is authorized. Before you answer, “That’s fine with me,” you’d better stop to consider what this dance is that would be incorporated into the worship of the church.

Gesenius’ Hebrew-Chaldee Lexicon To The Old Testament is to the Hebrew language, in which the Psalms are written, what Thayer is to the Greek language and Webster is to the English language. The definition Gesenius gives to the word translated “dance” describes a rather interesting worship activity. He said it is “well compared to skipping” (p. 193). Additionally, he says it “is also done according to thythmical numbers, and is connected with singing and music” (p. 248). On page 260 he expands the definition of the term to include, “to go round in a circle …. to keep a festival, from the idea of leaping, and dancing in sacred dances …. especially of a public assembly.” On page 416 he says the meaning includes “to run.” Finally, he said the idea of “dance” denotes “to go in a circle, to revolve . . . hence to turn, to turn one’s self about, . . . to dance in a circle . . . to leap . . . to chirp, to twitter, as a bird” (p. 717).

What an interesting worship this would be – all of the mechanical instruments playing their wonderful sounds and all of the worshipers gathering in a circle. They skip and leap rhythmically, run and revolve around, chirping and twittering as birds. I wonder if the modern church is ready for this? It was this kind of dance Miriam engaged in after the Red Sea had been crossed (Ex. 15:20). Also, it was this sacred dance which David engaged in, “leaping and dancing before the Lord,” which caused his wife Michal to despise him for the spectacle he made of himself before the nation of Israel (2 Sam. 6:14-20). Keil and Delitzsch commented on the festive dance, noting “the chief instrumental accompaniment is the . . . tambourine” (“Psalms”, Vol. III, page 415). Can’t you image the modern preacher saying, “Honey, did you bring your tambourine for my sacred dance at worship this morning?”

Now remember, the advocates of the use of instrumental music in worship want to use these two passages to prove their practice is acceptable. But if they authorize and/or demand the use of an instrument in worship, then they authorize and demand sacred dancing in worship. The next time you hear about a preacher who is willing to accept the consequence of his position on Psalms 149 and 150, and incorporates sacred dancing in his worship, please contact me and let me know about it. I think I’d take a week’s vacation and drive to Kansas to see such a spectacle. And I would really go out of my way to see the application these fellows would make of the next verse in our first text, Psalms 149:5. The Scripture says, “Let the saints be joyful in glory: let them sing aloud upon their beds.” Some folks who like to sleep through sermons are anxiously awaiting the introduction of beds “into the worship.” I think I’ve seen a few times when beds would be the most appropriate thing to have. But don’t hold your breath until you hear bout it. No need to worry, the dance will not be incorporated, just the part that human minds want included. The rest will be rejected without any compulsions of conscience whatsoever.

What Did David Do?

Many never stop to consider the implications of arguing that we can do something because David did it. Does it not seem reasonable that if his acceptable action in one thing authorizes the church to do the same, his acceptable actions in other things are also authority for the church? Look at this list of things David did:

1. Offered animal sacrifices (1 Chron. 29:1-20; Psa. 118:27).

2. Burned incense (Psa. 66:13-15).

3. He was a good Jew so he practiced circumcision (Lev. 12:2-3; Deut. 10:16).

4. He worshiped on the Sabbath (Seventh) Day (1 Chron. 23:27ff; 2 Chron. 2:3-4).

5. He had seven or eight wives (2 Sam. 3:1-5).

If we are going to adopt David’s mechanical instruments, by what form of reasoning can the church reject his animal sacrifices, incense, circumcision and Sabbath worship? But before modern man begins to follow the example of David with regard to these things, they would be well advised to consult their wives to see if the lady of the house would be willing to allow them to follow the example of David and have a multitude of wives. I can’t speak for everybody, but I can tell you what the answer is at my house.

You know God could have helped us a great deal in determining what the church should do, if He had been a little more explicit. He didn’t say, “Thou shalt not listen to the voice of David,” or, “Thou shalt not do as David did.” I wonder what He meant, though, when on the Mount of Transfiguration He affirmed of Jesus, “This is my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased: hear ye him” (Matt. 17:5), After awhile it will be necessary for us to make up our minds, are we going to do as God said and listen to the Lord, or shall we listen to David and do as he did?

Rightly Dividing The Word Of Truth

One of the things carelessly overlooked by many religionists is the instruction Paul gave to Timothy to rightly divide or handle aright the word of truth (2 Tim. 2:15). This is one of the chief causes of Bible abuse in religious circles today. It is done so frequently and so lightly that many never pause to even consider it. “If it’s in the Bible, that’s all I need to know.” This position has such serious consequences that when noted, people cry out, “Ridiculous!” But it is not ridiculous, it is just logical and, if they will ever learn to rightly divide the word, they will not have to deal with charges that they consider ridiculous. Genesis 6 (Noah’s ark) and Psalms 150 (David’s mechanical instrument) were given under the direction of the Holy Spirit but they do not specify church action as Ephesians 5:19 does. If so, we must build that ark if we intend to introduce mechanical instruments of music.

Time, as dealt with in the Bible, logically divides itself into three parts. The first was a time scholars refer to as the Patriarchal Age. This was a period extending roughly from the creation to Mt. Sinai. During this time, God legislated directly and personally with the heads of families. Thus, He instructed Adam concerning his conduct in the Garden of Eden. He told Noah to build an ark and, He told Abraham to leave his homeland and family and go out to another place. All of these things were God’s instructions to men. But they have not the remotest application to the church today. If this is not so, the church would be obligated to leave its homeland, eat only certain fruits, and build an ark. To be sure, principles are involved which are applicable, but not the specific instructions.

The second period of time extends from Mt. Sinai until the crucifixion of Christ and is known as the Mosaical Age. God had separated the Jews from the rest of the nations and entered into peculiar covenant with them at Mt. Sinai. All aspects of the Law of Moses were bound upon them to discharge during the time that this law was in force. It remained in effect until Christ nailed it to His cross (Col. 2:14). When the Jew of that age wanted to know what God required him to do, he did not appeal to the instruction God gave to Adam, Noah or Abraham. He appealed to the law of Moses under which he lived and to which he was responsible. Everything that God wanted or permitted was authorized by that law. Jesus lived and died under the auspices of the Law of Moses. Jeremiah, during the days when the Law of Moses was in effect, predicted, “Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah . . .” (Jer. 31:31). He explained that the new covenant would not be according to the covenant that was given when Israel departed from Egypt. The Hebrew writer applied that prophecy to the New Testament, will, covenant, law or Gospel of Jesus Christ (Heb. 8:8-13).

Following His resurrection, Jesus announced “that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem” (Luke 24:47). When the apostles on Pentecost started preaching repentance and remission of sins (Acts 2:38), the third and final great age began. It is the Christian age. The Apostle John said, “For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ” (John 1:17). Those who lived under Moses were obligated to do as Moses said and those of us who live under Christ are obligated to do as He says. We do not consult Abraham to find out what we’re supposed to do. Or Moses. Or David. We consult Christ! Only His Gospel will save our souls (Rom. 1:16). It furnishes the church completely unto every good work (2 Tim. 3:16-17). Worship under Christ is a good work and the gospel of Christ specifies the character of the worship of the New Testament church. God’s dealing with man in the first two ages presents the church with many principles that can be profitably learned (Rom. 15:4). But this does not mean that we are to build arks, offer animal sacrifices, or burn incense. Nor does it mean that we can have mechanical instruments of music in our worship simply because David did. All it does is illustrate that God is to be worshiped according to the provisions of the law under which the people of each dispensation live. From the gospel we learn what kind of music God wants in the church. He tells us specifically to “sing” (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16, etc.).

When James P. Miller debated Morris Book in Orlando, Florida in 1955, Miller made this point: “My friends, when God commands one thing, that automatically excludes another. Let me show you now what I mean. You remember back yonder in that long ago when God told Abraham to take Isaac and offer him? He did not tell Abraham not to kill Ishmael too, did He? When God said, `Take Isaac,’ that left Ishmael out. When God said, `Take gopher wood’ that left out cypress. When God said, `Take a lamb’ that left out a pig. When God said, `sing,’ that leaves out every other kind of music . . . . You might as well say, `When God told Moses to speak to the rock it was right for him to strike it also,’ as to say when God said, `sing,’ it was right to play” (Book-Miller Debate, p. 90). God specified sing and that excludes everything else. And we find that from the law of Christ and not the law of David, Moses, Abraham or Noah. We who are in the churches of Christ listen to Jesus Christ.

Some Think They Find An Instrument In The New Testament

Through the years the subject of instrumental music has been the center of controversy. Those who advocate its use have been sorely pressed to find some authorization for the practice they insist on using. One of their more famous arguments has centered on the definition of the Greek word psallo which appears in such passages as Ephesians 5:19. M.C. Kurfees, in his book Instrumental Music In The Worship, quoted 17 Greek-English lexicons which give definitions of the word. He noted the great number and variety of meanings which this word has had at different times in history. At one time, it signified to touch the cords of a mechanical instrument. But he carefully noted that that was not the only meaning that psallo ever had. He lists five different meanings that have attended this word in Greek literature.

1. To pluck the hair.

2. To twang the bow string.

3. To twitch a carpenter’s line.

4. To touch the cords of a musical instrument, that is, to make instrumental music.

5. To touch the cords of the human heart, that is, to sing, to celebrate with hymns of praise.

The lexicons all affirm the use of these meanings. Kurfees said, “Now, in view of these facts, what shall we say is the meaning of this word? Out of five well-defined and distinct meanings, shall we select one of them, and then affirm …. that this is the meaning of the word? If so, which one of the five meanings shall it be, and why? As we have them here numbered, shall it be the first one? If so, why so? If not, why not? According to the highest standard authorities, the word at one time meant to `pluck the hair.’ Now, when Christians assemble to worship God, may they proceed, Nehemiah-like (Neh. 13:25), `to pluck off their hair’ as a part of that worship? If not, why not? Does the reader say that such an act in the worship of God would be silly? We reply that it would, indeed, be silly, and sinful, too, for that matter. But certainly not because that was not a meaning of psallo. Such worshipers could promptly defend themselves by appealing both to the Greek lexicons and to the Bible. They could show from standard Greek lexicons that `psallo’ had that meaning, and that the New Testament authorizes them . . . to `psallo’ ” (pp. 16-17).

Obviously, something governs and controls the definition of a word. The context of the New Testament Scriptures under which we live and by which we shall be judged, (Jn. 12:48), must determine the application the church makes regarding psallo. The use of it by Nehemiah, David, or Alexander the Great means nothing to the church. Church action is action that Jesus authorized and Jesus told us to pluck, twang, twitch or touch the human heart as the instrument in Christian worship (Eph. 5:19). Such is consistent with all the New Testament says on this subject and it is correct grammatical construction.


Therefore, we in the churches of Christ shall continue to worship God in song with the full assurance that such is authorized by the gospel, consistent with everything it says. Those who insist upon using instrumental music, appealing to David and others as authority, should do so with full understanding that they embrace David’s actions, while rejecting what Christ has said. We will not make their mistake!

Guardian of Truth XXVII: 8, pp. 225, 248-249
April 21, 1983