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The Sabbath and Worship Music


Music was rigidly controlled in the Temple worship to ensure that it would be in harmony with the sacredness of the place. Just as the Sabbath is a holy day, so the Temple was a holy place, where God manifested his presence “among the people of Israel” (Ex 25:8; cf. 29:45). Respect for God’s holy day and holy place of worship, demanded that no music or instruments associated with secular life be used in the Temple.

The connection between the Sabbath and the sanctuary is clearly affirmed in Leviticus 19:30: “You shall keep my Sabbaths and reverence my sanctu- ary: I am the Lord.” Keeping the Sabbath is equated with reverence in God’s sanctuary, because both are sacred institutions established for the worship of God. This means that secular music that is inappropriate for the Sabbath is also inappropriate for the church, and vice versa. Why? Simply because God has set aside both of them for the manifestation of His holy presence.

Lessons from the Temple’s Music. Four major lessons can be drawn from the music performed at the Jerusalem Temple as well as in the heavenly sanctuary. First, church music should respect and reflect the sacredness of the place of worship. This means that percussion instruments and entertainment music which stimulate people physically are out of place in the church service. Out of respect for the presence of God, such music was not allowed in the Temple ser- vices, nor is it used in the liturgy of the heavenly sanctuary. In the next chapter, we shall see that the same was true in the worship service of the synagogue and the early church. This consistent witness of scripture and history should serve as a warning to the church today, when the adoption of pop music for worship is becoming the “in” thing to do.

Second, the music of both the earthly and heavenly Temples teaches us that instrumental accompaniments are to be used to aid the vocal response to God and not to drown the singing. In Revelation, it is the harps’ instrumental ensemble that accompanies the singing of the choirs, because the harp’s sound blends well with the human voice, without supplanting it. This means that any loud, rhythmic music that drowns the sound of the lyrics is inappropriate for church worship.

Third, church music should express the delight and the joy of being in the presence of the Lord. The singing of the various choirs in Revelation is heartfelt and expressive. They sing with a “loud voice” (Rev 5:12; 7:10) and express their emotions, saying “Amen, Hallelujah” (Rev 19:4).

A balance must exist between the emotional and intellectual sides of life in religion and worship. “Musical expression in worship must have an emotional and intellectual aspect because that is the nature of man, the nature of music, and the nature of religion. At its best, music should demonstrate this life-religion- music unity in worship by a well-proportioned, reasoned, feeling approach to composition.”25

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