Instrumental Music in the Old Testament: In Response to Alexander

[Once again, my response to a thoughtful comment is too long for the comment section, and so I’m using the posting software.]

This is in response to the comment of Alexander (aka aBasnar):


I learn so much from your comments — not as much as you might wish, I’m sure — but a lot.

I’d never heard the connection of Mal 1:7 with 1 Cor 10:21, and it certainly seems valid, although it was a little hard to follow. You see, the Law only refers to the table on which showbread is placed as a “table.” And I really have a problem imaging the Lord’s table as an altar. But I think I figured it out.

Malachi says,

(Mal 1:7-8, 12 ESV) 7 By offering polluted food upon my altar. But you say, ‘How have we polluted you?’ By saying that the LORD’s table may be despised. 8 When you offer blind animals in sacrifice, is that not evil? And when you offer those that are lame or sick, is that not evil? Present that to your governor; will he accept you or show you favor? says the LORD of hosts. … 12 But you profane it when you say that the Lord’s table is polluted, and its fruit, that is, its food may be despised.

This is not likely a reference to the showbread. Rather, he’s plainly speaking of primary altar on which animals were sacrificed.

Paul writes,

(1Co 10:21 ESV) 21 You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons.

The image is not of sacrifice (which would be the Catholic interpretation) but of eating. (And it’s extremely important that we interpret these “types” precisely, or we could create some very bad theology.) The sacrifice, of course, happened 2,000 years ago. What is happening at the Lord’s table is eating the sacrifice. It’s a reference to a fellowship or peace offering.

(Lev 7:11-15 ESV) 11 “And this is the law of the sacrifice of peace offerings that one may offer to the LORD. 12 If he offers it for a thanksgiving, then he shall offer with the thanksgiving sacrifice unleavened loaves mixed with oil, unleavened wafers smeared with oil, and loaves of fine flour well mixed with oil. 13 With the sacrifice of his peace offerings for thanksgiving he shall bring his offering with loaves of leavened bread. 14 And from it he shall offer one loaf from each offering, as a gift to the LORD. It shall belong to the priest who throws the blood of the peace offerings. 15 And the flesh of the sacrifice of his peace offerings for thanksgiving shall be eaten on the day of his offering. He shall not leave any of it until the morning.”

(Deu 27:5-7 ESV) 5 And there you shall build an altar to the LORD your God, an altar of stones. You shall wield no iron tool on them; 6 you shall build an altar to the LORD your God of uncut stones. And you shall offer burnt offerings on it to the LORD your God, 7 and you shall sacrifice peace offerings and shall eat there, and you shall rejoice before the LORD your God.

This is a meal shared with God. Thus, Jesus is pictured both as an atonement sacrifice (for sins) and a peace or fellowship offering, a meal to be shared with God. The atonement is an accomplished fact. The resulting fellowship with God, however, lasts forever. And these sacrifices were ordinarily voluntary — a means of celebrating a blessing given by God. The people sacrificed, not to be forgiven, but to celebrate with their Lord by eating a meal with him. Indeed, it was a thanksgiving meal — a way to give thanks through table fellowship.

And so, yes, there is Temple typology in the Lord’s Supper. But not the assembly in general. There is no comparison of the assembly to the Temple, only the Lord’s supper to a fellowship offering. The Lord’s Supper takes place in the assembly, but analogies can only be pressed so far. For example, to what Temple element does preaching correspond?

This brings us to —

(Heb 13:15 ESV) 15 Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name.

This is not a reference only to singing. The writer defines his analogy for us: “the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name.” There is, of course, such a thing as praise music, but praise doesn’t have to be to a tune.

The word translated “praise” is found only here in the New Testament. But it’s also found many times in the Old Testament. For example,

(Psa 71:14-15 ESV) 14 But I will hope continually and will praise you yet more and more. 15 My mouth will tell of your righteous acts, of your deeds of salvation all the day, for their number is past my knowledge.

(Psa 145:21 ESV) My mouth will speak the praise of the LORD, and let all flesh bless his holy name forever and ever.

And this refers to speech, not singing, and is hardly limited to the Temple.

“Fruit of lips” is a phrase evidently taken from this obscure passage —

(Isa 57:18-19 ESV) 18 I have seen his ways, but I will heal him; I will lead him and restore comfort to him and his mourners, 19 creating the fruit of the lips. Peace, peace, to the far and to the near,” says the LORD, “and I will heal him.

This is paraphrased —

(Isa 57:19 NIV) creating praise on the lips of the mourners in Israel. Peace, peace, to those far and near,” says the LORD. “And I will heal them.”

The NIV concludes that the “fruit of the lips” is praise — which fits. So does —

(Isa 57:19 NET) I am the one who gives them reason to celebrate. Complete prosperity is available both to those who are far away and those who are nearby,” says the LORD, “and I will heal them.

“Fruit of lips” is the appropriate response to God’s healing of those who mourn — praise and celebration (which includes singing but isn’t limited to singing).

And, yes, we do this in the assembly, but I certainly hope we don’t limit our praise of God to the assembly! Indeed, one problem with an overly broad Temple typology is the false implication that the assembly becomes the place where we praise God — and so we don’t praise him elsewhere (a trap into which many have fallen).

The true “sacrifice of praise” is praise that is a sacrifice — praise where praise is costly, such as at the workplace or the gym, where you risk the loss of image or friends. There’s not much sacrifice in the assembly.

One final note. The fellowship offering passages in Lev 7 frequently refer to “thanksgiving,” which translates the Hebrew word accurately. But the Greek word used in the Septuagint is “praise” — the identical word as in Hebrews. Therefore, a “sacrifice of praise” is a fellowship offering — but this time, not the Lord’s Supper.

In some sense, praising God is a sacrifice of fellowship with God — the sharing of a meal.

(Heb 13:15-16 ESV) 15 Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name. 16 Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.

Another form of sacrifice commended to us is doing good and sharing with others — in the context of a fellowship meal. You see, we are closest to God — most in communion/community with him, when we act most like him. And that is when we sacrificially do good and share with others.

Thus, if you want to approach the holy presence of God, if you want to stand trembling at the entrance to the Holy of Holies and feel his glorious presence, praise him — but praise him by sharing with others and doing good for others and by praising him at personal risk and cost.

Hebrews 13:15-16 is not about just the assembly. Of course, all these things can and often do happen in the assembly, but only because that’s where Christians may be found. These sacrifices should take place wherever Christians may be found.

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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3 Responses to Instrumental Music in the Old Testament: In Response to Alexander

  1. Price says:

    Jay…You and Alexander both see so much that routinely escapes notice…Thanks for sharing..

    My "lay" concept of the "sacrifice of praise" has always been similar to the Isaiah 57:19 quote…that when in "mourning" it is indeed difficult to praise God, but somehow HE brings that praise into my heart and dispite the difficulty of the moment emotionally, I nonetheless, by His power, praise His name..

    But, it seems that your teaching suggests that this "sacrifice" might be more appropriately seen as an "offering" of praise out of the abundance of a thankful heart for what God has done, through Christ, for us.

    Perhaps there is some benefit in appreciating the need and benefit to US of praising God..both in times of sadness and gladness ?

    Wow !! Good stuff.. Glad I'm allowed to learn more about God on Saturday morning !!

  2. Jay wrote:

    "The true 'sacrifice of praise' is praise that is a sacrifice — praise where praise is costly, such as at the workplace or the gym, where you risk the loss of image or friends. There’s not much sacrifice in the assembly."

    This, I think, is very perceptive. It is easy to speak or to sing songs of praise in an assembly in a nation where freedom of religion is protected by law and custom (even if that protection is weakening in today's P.C. culture). It is more difficult to praise God among people who scorn His holy name. Then it truly becomes a sacrifice.

    One of the problems of today's church is our reluctance to praise God before the unbelievers of today's world.

    Thank you for sharing this insight!


  3. aBasnar says:

    Unless I overlooked something, I think we pretty much agree 😉
    I don't think, all of these types have relevance exclusively for the assemblies, but I think the way we worship should be in line with these types. And therefore they also shape the way we view and understand church.

    As for eating from the "table of the Lord": For me this (at leats in part) answers the question of how to understand the words "This is my body, this is my blood". Christ's body was given on the cross, once and for all. But taking and breaking the bread brings us in "communion" with this sacrifice. Thus it is more than a simple rememberance: We eat from the Lamb of God, sacrificed on the altar of the cross. So there is a spiritual reality there that cannot be described in any of the theories (transsubstatiation or consubstantiation or …), but can only be recognized as somthing beyond our understanding, because it surpasses the boundaries of space and time. John 6 now (in this light) gives the Lord's Supper its deepest and richest meaning.

    And probably this time it will be the Zwinglians who turn away in horror and disgust …


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