Musical Instruments In Worship

It seems to be assumed today that worship must have musical instruments played in worship. I am not aware of many churches that do not incorporate some sort of instrumental music, whether traditional (organs and pianos) or contemporary (rock band style). The general assumption seems to be that God does not care how we worship him so long as we are offering worship. I would like to spend the next few blog posts considering this assumption by walking through the development of musical instruments in worship as recorded in the scriptures to consider if God is indifferent toward instrumental music, or if God has expressed his will on this topic.

We begin with the first public/corporate worship with an instrument in the days of Moses & the tabernacle: Numbers 10:1-10. The only musical instrument used in the public worship of the tabernacle was the trumpet.

1 The LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 2 “Make two silver trumpets. Of hammered work you shall make them, and you shall use them for summoning the congregation and for breaking camp. 3 And when both are blown, all the congregation shall gather themselves to you at the entrance of the tent of meeting. 4 But if they blow only one, then the chiefs, the heads of the tribes of Israel, shall gather themselves to you. 5 When you blow an alarm, the camps that are on the east side shall set out. 6 And when you blow an alarm the second time, the camps that are on the south side shall set out. An alarm is to be blown whenever they are to set out. 7 But when the assembly is to be gathered together, you shall blow a long blast, but you shall not sound an alarm. 8 And the sons of Aaron, the priests, shall blow the trumpets. The trumpets shall be to you for a perpetual statute throughout your generations. 9 And when you go to war in your land against the adversary who oppresses you, then you shall sound an alarm with the trumpets, that you may be remembered before the LORD your God, and you shall be saved from your enemies. 10 On the day of your gladness also, and at your appointed feasts and at the beginnings of your months, you shall blow the trumpets over your burnt offerings and over the sacrifices of your peace offerings. They shall be a reminder of you before your God: I am the LORD your God.” (Numbers 10:1–10 ESV)

The trumpet, including the number of trumpets (two), was the only authorized use of an instrument in tabernacle worship. Further, notice that the priests were the only persons authorized to use the trumpets (10:8). The exact occasion in which the trumpets were used was also commanded: during the appointed feasts (10:10).

It was not until the days of king David, 500 years later, that any other musical instruments were authorized to be added into the public worship. As with all the other elements of the Tabernacle worship, the use of instruments were regulated by divine command. The ancient Egyptians were well known for their wide variety of musical instruments and the guilds of professional musicians. These instruments played a central role in the worship of the Egyptian gods. However, Moses was not at liberty to use an Egyptian trumpet or instrument. God even designated how the trumpet was to be made. (Cf. Acts 7:20 “Moses was educated in all the learning of the Egyptians.”)

In the next post we will consider the change of worship in the days under David’s reign as king.