Music in the Temple - January 2016 Yavoh
When we see images of the ancient Jewish temple in Jerusalem, they are generally devoid of the activities that would have taken place there. We see the walls of the courts, the sanctuary and the altar, but we generally do not see the priests and those visiting the Temple with their sacrifices to worship the Lord. Moreover, we neither smell the sweet fragrance of the sacrifices on the altar nor hear the sounds of psalms being sung, accompanied by the harp, timbrels, and cymbals.
The largest book in the Bible is the book of Psalms, which is a compilation of the music that was a part of the worship in the Temple. Certain psalms were featured each week, on specific days of the week. Other psalms were part of the formal worship in the Temple during the appointed times for Biblical holidays such as Pesach and Sukkot. Actually, the book of Psalms is made up of five books compiled as a single book in our Bibles, composed by famous musicians and authors, including King David, Moses, and the sons of Korah.
Consider this for a moment: every psalm in the Bible was probably part of the music of the Temple. Sadly for us, we don’t hear them as they were played, we only have the words. Given that the words are picturesque, prophetic, and full of truth, can you imagine hearing them set to music?
There are some who contend that music is primal to mankind, meaning that every living person can relate to it in his deepest soul. It is as if our souls have a place where music, with its beat, its harmony, and its melody resonate in us. Music certainly is a “force multiplier” for our emotions. Musical arrangements can influence us to feel joyful, sad, or even fearful. A dirge, for example, is music to assist the mourner to draw out emotions of sadness. Lullabies are comforting and help babies and children to fall sleep. David played music for King Saul to soothe his stressed times.
So it came about whenever the evil spirit from God came to Saul, David would take the harp and play it with his hand; and Saul would be refreshed and be well, and the evil spirit would depart from him. 1 Samuel 16:23
Therefore, music is a powerful element in worship offered by the faithful. Some even contend that music is the path to unite the soul and spirit in the worship of the Almighty, although, in my opinion, not ALL music helps us to worship Adonai. Some music can be annoying, distracting, qualifying only as noise.
Here is another interesting thought concerning music. Along with developing tools for agriculture and hunting, early man discovered he could make a tool that made pleasing sounds. The making of instruments was an effort to make a beautiful sound beyond what the voice could produce, to join different sounds in a coordinated fashion that was pleasant and joyful.
Based on archaeological evidence of people playing instruments, even ancient peoples held music in high esteem, depicting it in their artwork. Further evidence suggests that the first cross-cultural sharing of different people groups usually included the types of instruments that had been developed and their music. The Bible also lends evidence relating to the use of music in ancient times, even prior to Temple worship.
The earliest archaeological evidence of musical instruments being depicted originated with Mesopotamia and the Egyptians and includes pictures of an ancient “psaltery.”
A psaltery was a stringed instrument like a harp or a lyre. The player’s fingers produced the sound; the structure of the harp and tension on the strings produced the tones and the notes. Consider what the strings would have been made of. There were several later technological developments before metal wire ever came into play. The first strings most likely used the sinew of animals or fibrous vegetable material to make cordage.
Along with the psalteries were wind instruments such as flutes or tubes.
A tube with holes for the fingers is the ancient flute. If you have ever blown over a bottle or a narrow tube to produce a deep tone, you have the know-how to use ancient “tubes.” The modern instrument “tuba” is a refined form of the earlier. The earliest of these instruments would have been hollow tubes from vegetation such as a cane stalk or pieces of wood hollowed out before metallurgy could form the tubal structure. The earliest metal tubes were probably made of copper or tin. Silver and gold would have also been used.
It follows that the trumpets and horns were another group of instruments using the blowing of air. Trumpets were actually formed out of metal (tin or silver); horns were made from a horned animal. The shofar of today is the same as was it was in ancient times: a ram’s horn with a mouth piece formed at the tip. The multi-twist shofar is primarily from the ibex. I’m certain that you have heard of something called a “bull horn.” Bull horns made both an excellent horn for music and a container for other items. The modern hand-held amplifier used in crowd control still bears the same name. As a side note, the Hebrew people do not use “bull horns” as that would be a reminder of the sin of the “golden calf.” The trumpet and the horn were the first musical instruments used in warfare because the sound could be heard over—or distinguished from—the other sounds of battle. The bugle is the modern equivalent.
Making a metal trumpet was no small feat. It was probably formed by pouring molten metal into a cast and then shaping it into the desired form. Moses instructed the children of Israel to make two silver trumpets. They were used to call the leaders and to assemble the children of Israel for certain activities.
Make yourself two trumpets of silver, of hammered work you shall make them; and you shall use them for summoning the congregation and for having the camps set out. Numbers 10:2
There were also instruments to set a rhythm. We classify those instruments today as percussion. The earliest percussion instruments were probably hitting a stick on something to produce a distinct sound. A drum could be formed by stretching an animal hide tightly over a frame and thumping it with a stick or the hand. The ancients, however, primarily depicted the use of clappers and castanets instead of drums. Percussion instruments can be played with the fingers or the hands.
If you connect several castanets (small castanet type devices that rattled or jingled) within a drum frame, you have a timbrel/tambourine. The tambourine is one of the oldest instruments, allowing the player to operate many castanets in a drum structure to strike or shake. The ancient timbrel was named the tambourine when it was introduced in Europe. Castanets and timbrels led to all forms of bells. A bell emits a single tone and pitch. The high priest of Israel had small bells attached to the bottom of his garment that produced a timbrel sound as he walked about. We don’t know if there were different tones harmonizing together or whether it was a single tone, ringing out multiple times.
They also made bells of pure gold, and put the bells between the pomegranates all around on the hem of the robe, Exodus 39:25
We should also mention the louder version of the clappers and castanets: the cymbal. The sound from this instrument was the loudest and certainly commanded the moment in music. Cymbals were a significant part of temple worship. Consider these references.
So the singers, Heman, Asaph, and Ethan were appointed to sound aloud cymbals of bronze; 1 Chronicles 15:19
Praise Him with loud cymbals; Praise Him with resounding cymbals. Psalm 150:5
The Apostle Paul made reference to the sound of cymbals, comparing it to a person speaking without love. A clanging cymbal can actually be an obnoxious and disturbing sound if it is not part of a musical pattern (the love part).
If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 1 Corinthians 13:1
Let’s summarize our list of ancient instruments that we can relate to today (basically, instruments for strummers, blowers, and bangers).
Stringed instruments included harps that ranged from 4 to 10 strings. Some of them were played upright or sideways—leading to our modern guitar. Other stringed instruments were played flat and horizontal. They may have led ultimately to what we know of today as a piano.
Give thanks to the Lord with the lyre; Sing praises to Him with a harp of ten strings. Psalm 33:2
I will sing a new song to You, O God; upon a harp of ten strings I will sing praises to You, Psalm 144:9
Wind instruments like the flutes and tubes of ancient times have become all manner of instruments today. Modern brass instruments are essentially tubes of various sizes and lengths with valves to change the notes. The entire line of modern woodwind instruments can trace their roots back to the flutes played by our ancestors.
Percussion instruments included instruments that were not strummed or blown; instead, they were struck or shaken, such as castanets and tambourines. The original tambourine was a hand drum with castanets to produce a distinct rhythmic sound. Other devices included the timbrel, bells, and cymbals.
All of these devices were the accompaniment for people who were singing words that were set to an agreed-upon series of tones, which is called music.
Most Christians are not aware that the actual Scriptures were rarely read aloud to the people. Instead, the people heard the Scriptures as they were “canted.” Canting the Scriptures is the singing of the Scriptures. In a traditional synagogue and in some Messianic assemblies, the traditional prayers and liturgy (repeated Scriptures and blessings) are all canted and are presented in musical form. The actual Torah portion is also “canted.” The reason: to make that which is heard by God to be pleasant and soothing to the souls of those worshipping. Most of our Messianic brethren are familiar with the Aaronic blessing of “The Lord bless you and keep you…” We usually hear it sung.
A codex is a book form of the content in a written scroll. Scripture was originally written in scroll form, but in the C.E. (Common Era) a codex of Scripture was formed. Some of the earliest codices of the Tanach (the acronym for the Torah, Prophets, and other Writings forming the Old Testament) also added the vowel markings in the Hebrew text. This was NOT done in the scroll form. The vowel markings were not inserted to clarify the pronunciation of the Hebrew text; they were inserted to assist a cantor in singing the text! This is why the Name of the Lord YHVH is written in a two-syllable form as “Yahweh” or “Yahveh” and as a three-syllable form as “Yehovah.” It was a way to direct the cantor in singing the Name! Orthodox Jews have inserted Adonai and HaShem in the cantorial so as not to speak the Holy Name. What is the correct pronunciation in straight speech? That is another discussion.
Before we leave the subject of ancient music and its instruments, we should not forget the element of dance that was a part of music and its celebration/worship form. Dance requires music, and music oftentimes results in dance because many times when the soul of a person is emotionally moved by the sound of music, it causes the body to move as well. Miriam, Moses’ sister, took a timbrel and led the Israelite women in a celebratory dance to worship the Lord after the crossing of the Red Sea and the destruction of the Egyptian chariots.
Miriam the prophetess, Aaron's sister, took the timbrel in her hand, and all the women went out after her with timbrels and with dancing. Miriam answered them, "Sing to the Lord, for He is highly exalted; the horse and his rider He has hurled into the sea." Exodus 15:20-21
Even the Psalms connect dancing with the use of musical instruments.
Let them praise His name with dancing; let them sing praises to Him with timbrel and lyre. Psalm 149:3
King David is one the most familiar dancers from Scripture, especially when He worshipped the Lord and escorted the procession of the Ark. Today, many Messianics dance in the procession of the Torah Scroll in a Torah service. On Simchat Torah, they actually dance with the scroll to joyous music.
5Meanwhile, David and all the house of Israel were celebrating before the Lord with all kinds of instruments made of fir wood, and with lyres, harps, tambourines, castanets and cymbals. 14And David was dancing before the Lord with all his might, and David was wearing a linen ephod. 2 Samuel 6:5, 14
King David was more into music than just playing a harp; he wrote some of the Psalms and danced in worship. David not only collected all of the materials for the construction of the Temple in Jerusalem (his son, Solomon, actually directed its building), but also materials for musical instruments and appointed the choir and the choir (musical director) leader.
Then David spoke to the chiefs of the Levites to appoint their relatives the singers, with instruments of music, harps, lyres, loud-sounding cymbals, to raise sounds of joy. 1 Chronicles 15:16
This was no small group, given that its task was to provide the music in the Temple. There is more evidence in this account:
…and all the Levitical singers, Asaph, Heman, Jeduthun, and their sons and kinsmen, clothed in fine linen, with cymbals, harps and lyres, standing east of the altar, and with them one hundred and twenty priests blowing trumpets in unison when the trumpeters and the singers were to make themselves heard with one voice to praise and to glorify the Lord, and when they lifted up their voice accompanied by trumpets and cymbals and instruments of music, and when they praised the Lord saying, "He indeed is good for His lovingkindness is everlasting," then the house, the house of the Lord, was filled with a cloud, 2 Chronicles 5:12-13
David also gathered others from the ranks of the army of Israel and assigned them the task of providing music to the army and in the worship of God.
Moreover, David and the commanders of the army set apart for the service some of the sons of Asaph and of Heman and of Jeduthun, who were to prophesy with lyres, harps and cymbals; and the number of those who performed their service was: Of the sons of Asaph: Zaccur, Joseph, Nethaniah, and Asharelah; the sons of Asaph were under the direction of Asaph, who prophesied under the direction of the king. Of Jeduthun, the sons of Jeduthun: Gedaliah, Zeri, Jeshaiah, Shimei, Hashabiah, and Mattithiah, six, under the direction of their father Jeduthun with the harp, who prophesied in giving thanks and praising the Lord. Of Heman, the sons of Heman: Bukkiah, Mattaniah, Uzziel, Shebuel and Jerimoth, Hananiah, Hanani, Eliathah, Giddalti and Romamti-ezer, Joshbekashah, Mallothi, Hothir, Mahazioth. All these were the sons of Heman the king's seer to exalt him according to the words of God, for God gave fourteen sons and three daughters to Heman. All these were under the direction of their father to sing in the house of the Lord, with cymbals, harps and lyres, for the service of the house of God. Asaph, Jeduthun and Heman were under the direction of the king. 1 Chronicle 25:1-6
Did you notice that this form of worship was actually referred to as “prophesying?” To prophesy is to “speak forth.” The Psalms many times are filled with profound and prophetic words.
In the second temple period, after the Babylonian destruction, Ezra the priest again re-established the music in the Temple following King David’s example.
Now when the builders had laid the foundation of the temple of the Lord, the priests stood in their apparel with trumpets, and the Levites, the sons of Asaph, with cymbals, to praise the Lord according to the directions of King David of Israel. Ezra 3:10
There is no question that there was music in the Temple and that it was a significant part of all worship before God. In our own expressions of faith today, we find music is a vital part of our public worship as well. It touches part of our soul and it assists us in making a connection of our spirits with the Spirit of the Lord.
I suppose it is ironic that I am writing this article about this subject. I have virtually no musical talent at all. I can’t sing on pitch or in the same octave with others. When I hear people harmonizing or singing the different parts for the alto, soprano, tenor, or bass I am utterly befuddled and confused. It is not that I don’t benefit from their effort; I just can’t join with them. I am also rhythm deficient. I can’t clap synchronously with the audience in worship or play a tambourine or percussion instrument with others. I’m so off-rhythm that I will share this “true” event from my congregational worship. I was at the back and picked up a tambourine to join the worship. I am not kidding about this… I am the only person who had the tambourine taken away from him and told to take a seat. And when it comes to dance, forget it! It is not “two left feet;” I get dizzy and feel like falling. And yet my daughter is as graceful as a gazelle and leads Davidic dance in the service! So here I am—I can’t sing, I can’t play, and I definitely can’t dance. This is why I teach about these things. They do, however, allow me to blow the shofar at the start of our services.