Instrumental Music in the Old Testament: Part 7 (Prophecy of the Messiah and the End Times)

Instruments regarding the Messiah

The people had been in mourning during the time of the Babylonian captivity. Jeremiah prophesies that the Jews will return from exile and that the coming of the Messiah will result in the restoration of instrumental music —

(Jer 31:2-13 ESV) 2 Thus says the LORD: “The people who survived the sword found grace in the wilderness; when Israel sought for rest, 3 the LORD appeared to him from far away. I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you. 4 Again I will build you, and you shall be built, O virgin Israel! Again you shall adorn yourself with tambourines and shall go forth in the dance of the merrymakers. 7 For thus says the LORD: “Sing aloud with gladness for Jacob, and raise shouts for the chief of the nations; proclaim, give praise, and say, ‘O LORD, save your people, the remnant of Israel.’ …

12 They shall come and sing aloud on the height of Zion, and they shall be radiant over the goodness of the LORD, over the grain, the wine, and the oil, and over the young of the flock and the herd; their life shall be like a watered garden, and they shall languish no more. 13 Then shall the young women rejoice in the dance, and the young men and the old shall be merry. I will turn their mourning into joy; I will comfort them, and give them gladness for sorrow.

This is unquestionably a celebration of the Messiah and the coming of the Kingdom, as shown by the next few verses, quoted in Hebrews 8 as speaking of the new covenant —

(Jer 31:31-34 ESV) 31 “Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, 32 not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the LORD. 33 But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34 And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”

While Zechariah doesn’t mention instruments, he clearly associates singing with the coming of the Messiah. Singing, like musical instruments, is about God’s approval and celebration.

(Zec 2:9-11 ESV) 9 “Behold, I will shake my hand over them, and they shall become plunder for those who served them. Then you will know that the LORD of hosts has sent me. 10 Sing and rejoice, O daughter of Zion, for behold, I come and I will dwell in your midst, declares the LORD. 11 And many nations shall join themselves to the LORD in that day, and shall be my people. And I will dwell in your midst, and you shall know that the LORD of hosts has sent me to you.

Instruments regarding the end times

When Isaiah prophesies God’s destruction of the earth at the end of time (see John N. Oswalt, The New International Commentary on the Book of Isaiah Chapters 1 – 39, pp 444 ff), he describes it in terms of the end of instrumental music as punishment for violating God’s “everlasting covenant.”

(Isa 24:7-10 ESV) 7 The wine mourns, the vine languishes, all the merry-hearted sigh. 8 The mirth of the tambourines is stilled, the noise of the jubilant has ceased, the mirth of the lyre is stilled. 9 No more do they drink wine with singing; strong drink is bitter to those who drink it. 10 The wasted city is broken down; every house is shut up so that none can enter.

Therefore, instrumental music has eschatological significance, symbolizing God’s pleasure, while the absence of instrumental music indicates his displeasure.

Of course, the coming of the Messiah and the coming of the Kingdom will be greatest possible cause of celebration. Therefore, the mourning that accompanied the Exile will be replaced with celebration and instrumental music.

When God ends the Messianic age and begins the eternal age, he’ll destroy the wicked and they’ll no longer enjoy their instrumental music. But the saved will be ushered into bliss with Jesus, where they’ll celebrate and worship with instruments, as is appropriate.

(Rev 14:2-3 ESV) 2 And I heard a voice from heaven like the roar of many waters and like the sound of loud thunder. The voice I heard was like the sound of harpists playing on their harps, 3 and they were singing a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and before the elders. No one could learn that song except the 144,000 who had been redeemed from the earth.

(Rev 15:2-4 ESV) 2 And I saw what appeared to be a sea of glass mingled with fire–and also those who had conquered the beast and its image and the number of its name, standing beside the sea of glass with harps of God in their hands. 3 And they sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying, “Great and amazing are your deeds, O Lord God the Almighty! Just and true are your ways, O King of the nations! 4 Who will not fear, O Lord, and glorify your name? For you alone are holy. All nations will come and worship you, for your righteous acts have been revealed.”

You see, it’s a mistake to dismiss the harps in the Revelation as “symbolic” and hence meaningless or being a part of a different age. The question isn’t whether the harps are symbolic. Of course, they are. They question is why John chose to use harps as symbols.

And the answer is that instrumental music has been a part of God’s worship, not only in the Temple, but in other times and places going back for millennia. The scriptures have uniformly associated instrumental music with God’s pleasure, with worship, and with celebration. And the scriptures have uniformly associated the absence of instruments with God’s displeasure and mourning. That’s why the symbols are chosen.

And what the use of those symbols tells us is that God, inspiring John, hasn’t changed his mind. Those associations make the symbols meaningful to readers of his New Testament book.

Avatar of Jay Guin

About Jay Guin

I am an elder, a Sunday school teacher, a husband, a father, a grandfather, and a lawyer. I live in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, home of the Alabama Crimson Tide. I’m a member of the University Church of Christ. I grew up in Russellville, Alabama and graduated from David Lipscomb College (now Lipscomb University). I received my law degree from the University of Alabama. I met my wife Denise at Lipscomb, and we have four sons, two of whom are married, and I have a grandson and granddaughter.
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13 Responses to Instrumental Music in the Old Testament: Part 7 (Prophecy of the Messiah and the End Times)

  1. aBasnar says:

    If you take the instruments in these passages literally, you must be consistant, Jay. Let's just stick with the text you quoted at the beginning. I'll make everything else bold, that – besides the instruments – are part of the Messianic age/prophecy.

    Jer 31:1 "At that time, declares the LORD, I will be the God of all the clans of Israel, and they shall be my people."
    Jer 31:2 Thus says the LORD: "The people who survived the sword found grace in the wilderness; when Israel sought for rest,
    Jer 31:3 the LORD appeared to him from far away. I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you.
    Jer 31:4 Again I will build you, and you shall be built, O virgin Israel! Again you shall adorn yourself with tambourines and shall go forth in the dance of the merrymakers.
    Jer 31:5 Again you shall plant vineyards on the mountains of Samaria; the planters shall plant and shall enjoy the fruit.
    Jer 31:6 For there shall be a day when watchmen will call in the hill country of Ephraim: 'Arise, and let us go up to Zion, to the LORD our God.'"
    Jer 31:7 For thus says the LORD: "Sing aloud with gladness for Jacob, and raise shouts for the chief of the nations; proclaim, give praise, and say, 'O LORD, save your people, the remnant of Israel.'
    Jer 31:8 Behold, I will bring them from the north country and gather them from the farthest parts of the earth, among them the blind and the lame, the pregnant woman and she who is in labor, together; a great company, they shall return here.
    Jer 31:9 With weeping they shall come, and with pleas for mercy I will lead them back, I will make them walk by brooks of water, in a straight path in which they shall not stumble, for I am a father to Israel, and Ephraim is my firstborn.
    Jer 31:10 "Hear the word of the LORD, O nations, and declare it in the coastlands far away; say, 'He who scattered Israel will gather him, and will keep him as a shepherd keeps his flock.'
    Jer 31:11 For the LORD has ransomed Jacob and has redeemed him from hands too strong for him.
    Jer 31:12 They shall come and sing aloud on the height of Zion, and they shall be radiant over the goodness of the LORD, over the grain, the wine, and the oil, and over the young of the flock and the herd; their life shall be like a watered garden, and they shall languish no more.
    Jer 31:13 Then shall the young women rejoice in the dance, and the young men and the old shall be merry. I will turn their mourning into joy; I will comfort them, and give them gladness for sorrow.
    Jer 31:14 I will feast the soul of the priests with abundance, and my people shall be satisfied with my goodness, declares the LORD."
    Jer 31:15 Thus says the LORD: "A voice is heard in Ramah, lamentation and bitter weeping. Rachel is weeping for her children; she refuses to be comforted for her children, because they are no more."
    Jer 31:16 Thus says the LORD: "Keep your voice from weeping, and your eyes from tears, for there is a reward for your work, declares the LORD, and they shall come back from the land of the enemy.
    Jer 31:17 There is hope for your future, declares the LORD, and your children shall come back to their own country.
    Jer 31:18 I have heard Ephraim grieving, 'You have disciplined me, and I was disciplined, like an untrained calf; bring me back that I may be restored, for you are the LORD my God.
    Jer 31:19 For after I had turned away, I relented, and after I was instructed, I struck my thigh; I was ashamed, and I was confounded, because I bore the disgrace of my youth.'
    Jer 31:20 Is Ephraim my dear son? Is he my darling child? For as often as I speak against him, I do remember him still. Therefore my heart yearns for him; I will surely have mercy on him, declares the LORD.
    Jer 31:21 "Set up road markers for yourself; make yourself guideposts; consider well the highway, the road by which you went. Return, O virgin Israel, return to these your cities.
    Jer 31:22 How long will you waver, O faithless daughter? For the LORD has created a new thing on the earth: a woman encircles a man."
    Jer 31:23 Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: "Once more they shall use these words in the land of Judah and in its cities, when I restore their fortunes: "'The LORD bless you, O habitation of righteousness, O holy hill!'
    Jer 31:24 And Judah and all its cities shall dwell there together, and the farmers and those who wander with their flocks.
    Jer 31:25 For I will satisfy the weary soul, and every languishing soul I will replenish."
    Jer 31:26 At this I awoke and looked, and my sleep was pleasant to me.
    Jer 31:27 "Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will sow the house of Israel and the house of Judah with the seed of man and the seed of beast.
    Jer 31:28 And it shall come to pass that as I have watched over them to pluck up and break down, to overthrow, destroy, and bring harm, so I will watch over them to build and to plant, declares the LORD.
    Jer 31:29 In those days they shall no longer say: "'The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children's teeth are set on edge.'
    Jer 31:30 But everyone shall die for his own sin. Each man who eats sour grapes, his teeth shall be set on edge.
    Jer 31:31 "Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah,
    Jer 31:32 not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the LORD.
    Jer 31:33 But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people.
    Jer 31:34 And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, 'Know the LORD,' for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more."
    Jer 31:35 Thus says the LORD, who gives the sun for light by day and the fixed order of the moon and the stars for light by night, who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar– the LORD of hosts is his name:
    Jer 31:36 "If this fixed order departs from before me, declares the LORD, then shall the offspring of Israel cease from being a nation before me forever."
    Jer 31:37 Thus says the LORD: "If the heavens above can be measured, and the foundations of the earth below can be explored, then I will cast off all the offspring of Israel for all that they have done, declares the LORD."
    Jer 31:38 "Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when the city shall be rebuilt for the LORD from the Tower of Hananel to the Corner Gate.
    Jer 31:39 And the measuring line shall go out farther, straight to the hill Gareb, and shall then turn to Goah.
    Jer 31:40 The whole valley of the dead bodies and the ashes, and all the fields as far as the brook Kidron, to the corner of the Horse Gate toward the east,
    shall be sacred to the LORD. It shall not be uprooted or overthrown anymore forever."

    You may take the instruments literally. But then the whole text has nothing to do with us, unless we become Jewish Proselytes, pack our suitcases and move to Palestine.

    Alexander

  2. Tom Forrester says:

    Jay said:

    “The question isn’t whether the harps are symbolic. Of course, they are. The question is why John chose to use harps as symbols.”

    In the Revelation passages cited above, the message extends to “all nations.” I believe it’s valid to point out that God is not going to use something he is displeased with as a symbol of gladness and worship. It would be like using adultery as a symbol for righteousness.

  3. aBasnar says:

    I think it is not the point whether God is pleased with IM or not. It is first of all the question what is meant with IM in these passages. In Revelation we encounter temple-language again! There is the tabernacle in heaven, the ark of the covenant, smoke, incense, an altar … and (accordingly) IM.

    If we start arguing from these passages that IM is pleasing to God, so we shlud (or at least may) have it, then we must be consistent and start burning incense and erect (at least) a tabernacle (may be more affordable than a huge temple building).

    Do you understand what I mean? It is this messed up hermeneutics that – actually – frightens me; because if this becomes an accepted method of reading the scriptures, we can proove everything by the Word of God.

    That's why I say: "If you want to use IM, start mixing cement for rebuilding the temple as well." But if you see the temple, the incense, the altar, the lampstand, the shewbread, the priesthoodm, the scarifices … as types for the spiritual realities in Christ, then you cannot exclude the instruments from this list.

    Alexander

  4. Alexander,

    The prophecy in Jeremiah 31 is evidently Messianic. Many times in Messianic prophecy, as here, "Israel" (that is, the 10 tribes of the Northern Kingdom) are used of the Gentile nations. See this as Paul in Romans 9:24-26 cites Hosea 2:23 (see also 1 Peter 2:10) and James in Acts 15:14-17 cites Amos 9:10-11.

    Hosea and Amos each prophesied to and in the Northern Kingdom. The words quoted by Paul and James spoke of the kingdom of Israel, the 10 tribes. Yet, the application as made by Paul and James was to the Gentiles coming into the kingdom of God. This is consistent with Galatians 6:16 where Paul uses the expression "the Israel of God" evidently meaning the church.

    Thus, Jeremiah 31 is a beautiful prophecy of the Messianic age when there will be a new covenant, when Israel will be restored to fellowship in the new Jerusalem. There is nothing here about us becoming Jews and immigrating to Palestine. It is about all of us – Jew and Gentile – who are in Christ, being a part of the new Jerusalem that is above as distinct from "the Jerusalem that now is (cf. Galatians 4:21-31).

    That instruments will be present in this restoration is significant whether these are symbolic or literal. The joy expressed by their use is Messianic. In this context, the point Tom Forrester raised in his last paragraph above is on target:

    "In the Revelation passages cited above, the message extends to “all nations.” I believe it’s valid to point out that God is not going to use something he is displeased with as a symbol of gladness and worship. It would be like using adultery as a symbol for righteousness."

  5. aBasnar says:

    Maybe we just wrote at the same time.

    My point is: YES, in fact all of the prüphecies in Jeremiah are to be taken in a spiritual sense (Israel = the church build up by Jews and Gentiles on Christ). And so non of the geographical or architectural aspects of the prophecy are to be taken literally – so WHY shall the instruments be the one great exception to this?

    This is enhanced and confirmed that

    a) instruments in the NT are only mentioned in Revelation, again in the conext of figurative temple-language
    b) One of the two reasones the ECF did worship a-cappella was their typoligical understanding of OT/NT, which includes the temple and its items (IM being part of them).

    The longer I engage in this discussion the more obvious this becomes to me. And therefore, again I just ask for consistency! It is not whether IM is evil in itself, or whether God enjoys IM. It is about His plan for the church and about the spiritual meaning of them. We completely miss HIS point, when we comclude from Jer 31 (and similar prophecies) that we may or even should use IM in worship.

    Alexander

  6. Price says:

    It does seem that those that prefer or at least allow IM are the most happy…

  7. Tom Forrester says:

    Alexander,
    Please accept my apologies if I missed your point or misrepresented what you were saying. I respect your opinion very much and always enjoy reading your comments. I’m speaking somewhat from a prejudiced background because most of the AC/IM discussions I’ve been involved with have centered around condemnation of IM while espousing AC as the only acceptable music.

    I realize your points are very specific to the Jeremiah. Mine are very general in nature. I don’t believe Jay’s post was meant to be a proof text that IM should/must be used in the church today. I believe his post is simply one more small piece of evidence that those who do use IM should not be condemned. In addition, I believe the prior posts and comments have shown that one must really manipulate the scriptures in order to get them to read that IM is condemned by God.

    Again, at the risk of misrepresenting your comments, I would question the logic that if we use something in our worship that was also used in worship under the old law, that we are bound to everything else commanded under the old law. God’s people also sang, praised, worshiped, prayed, etc under the old law, but that does not bind me to animal sacrifices in order to be consistent. Just my thoughts.

    I don’t want to miss your point, so perhaps you can expand a little on His plan for the church, spiritual meanings and what that has to do with whether I use IM or not. Have a blessed day.

  8. Alabama John says:

    Price makes a great observation!

    In all the civilizations of the world as far back as we find existence instrumental music of some kind including beating of tom toms or blowing through a reed flute was normal.

    To think instruments were only a Israel or Jewish era thing whether for religious reasons or not is mistaken in my opinion.

    Its born in man to keep time and have rhythm by patting their foot, slapping their hip, or patting their hand against something even if he is singing with out an instrument..
    Would that be considered playing an instrument? Must it make a sound or be mechanical? How about whistling a gospel song? Blowing Amazing Grace through your fist?

    Sure gets complicated huh? Lots of time wasted too.

    .

  9. Price says:

    Tom…you comments (God’s people also sang, praised, worshiped, prayed, etc under the old law, but that does not bind me to animal sacrifices in order to be consistent). caused me to consider this thought. however incoherent it may be..:) ..Should we also PRAY as the first century church prayed…Does that mean we must kneel or may we stand? Should we use the ole sackcloth and ashes thing ? Must we tear our clothing ? Do we emulate the style of prayer used by Moses, David or Paul ?? Must we sing the same songs because they were divinely inspired in the Psalms or is Fanny J. Crosby approved ? As silly as that sounds, it does seems like the purpose of some (with good intentions) is to force a particular style of worship favored by one generation upon another without clear and SPECIFIC instruction to do so….While it may be crystal clear what the traditions of a particular generation were (as History Guy as done), it is quite unclear, at least to me, that those traditions or preferences are mandated upon others.

  10. Steve Wilson says:

    Alexander, I hope that I misunderstood, but is your position on this that the New Covenant does not apply to us (Gentiles) and therefore the joyful use of instruments does not apply either? Unless, of course, we are willing to build a temple?

  11. aBasnar says:

    Oh, Tom, there is mo need for an apology – a written discussion will always fall short …

    As for this one: Here Jay actually is summing up and developing a thought Clyde Symonette brought into the debate a few months ago. Back then I brought the same counter arguments, and I feel they still are valid.

    OK – as for your question, maybe this helps:

    Today we read a passage in Matthew:

    Mat 13:13 This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. (+ surrounding verses)

    In our devotional, the following commetary was given: THe mysteries of the Kingdom are not revealed in plain language, because they surpass human understanding. But we get glimpses opf it and can grasp the essense if we have ears to hear. At the same time the message will reamin obscure to those outside the kingdom. These parables are like the guardian angel that blocks the way to paradise.

    Maybe a far stretch, but fresh from our spiritual breakfast. In the same time the tabernacle and the temple are reflections of the Heavenly Realities that are pointers, types and shadows. We are called to come closer to God that the Israelites. WE don#t worship in Jerusalem any longer, but in Spirit and Truth. This includes that we won't take the temple out of Jerusalem and carry it along with us, but that we grasp what all of the rituals, types and shadows point to.

    We are not bound by the letter of the Law any longer, but the essence of it, the "spirit of the Law" is still binding. If we start arguing from the Law (and the Prophets) that IM was even conmmanded in the OT therefore we should have it (I'm stretching Jay's argument a bit), then we go back under the letter of the Law.

    As you can imagine, there is a lot more to say. I just wanted to give you a hint, a direction for further study. In my experience this deepens our understanding of the church and adds meaning to our "five acts of worship" beyond the observation of ordinances or church traditions. Just one example which is more commonly known among us: Our Lord's Supper is directly connected to the Passover in Exodus. If we start reading the laws concerning this meal we will find that there are a lot of spiritual applications to us, one of them (which is observed by many CoC, too) that only those who belong to the people of God may eat from it –> closed communion, only for baptized Christians.

    As for the IM, I still believe that the mechaniocal instruments are replaced by our hearts. We become the instruments, as it is witten: "Let all that has breath praise the Lord" (Ps 150). This points beyond the cymbal, harp or psalter to the persons who worship God. And that's what I read in Eph 5:18-19 (the heart becomes the instrument), and that's the main point in the use of instruments in the Odes of Salomo: We are the Instrument on which the Holy Spirit plays.

    Alexander

  12. aBasnar says:

    On the contrary, but that's the outcome of Dispensationalism which tends to take all of these prophecies literally. My point was – and great someone asked that question! – if we insist on the literal meaning of the instruments, we must take everything else literally, too. And then the new Covenant has nothing to do with us.

    Joyfulness BTW is not bound to instruments. Otherwise most Christians could not rejoice because are not able to play an instrument.

    Alexander

  13. Steve Wilson says:

    Whew, good. I agree with your critique of Dispensationalism, but I wanted to make sure that you weren't throwing the whole New Covenant out with the tambourine.

    I understand that joyfulness is not bound to instruments. Good point. "Otherwise most Christians could not rejoice because they are not able to play an instrument." In the same way, I would say that it is not tied strictly to the voice either, otherwise mutes who play guitars or tambourines would not be able to rejoice. Man looks on the outward, but God looks at the heart.

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