“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.” – Colossians 3:16

Why is Song Important to My Bible Study?

(Part 1)

This month, we’re going to take a small diversion from the how-to’s of study to take a look at a practice that ought to be a companion to our study time: singing!

Now, you may think that you are not a singer. Maybe you don’t like your voice, or maybe you think that singing isn’t really important. Or you may also think it’s not worth looking into good Christ-centred music because of all the do’s and don’t’s you may have been told, all the controversy that surrounds music in the Christian life and the church community.

And honestly, if that’s the case, I don’t blame you. The Christian community largely lacks grace to live in peace with those with whom they may disagree on the matter of music, and it has become a hostile and tense topic of conversation. I have observed that it is largely avoided.

The Significance of Music

Now, it cannot be argued that God thinks music is an integral part of the lives of His people so we do need to study the Word and develop principles for musical choices in our own lives so that our study of God’s Word is not lacking in the aspect of worship.

Worship, after all, is a critical goal of Bible study.

Examples

In fact, God thinks music is so important that He set aside specific people to focus solely on music as their contribution to Tabernacle/Temple worship in the Old Testament. For example, in 1 Chronicles 9:33, we learn that the care of those appointed to minister through song was to be covered by others because those in this ministry were “employed in that work day and night”. It was considered work, and work that was so significant, it had to be carried out every hour of the day so that they could not even concern themselves with their own physical needs.

Later in 1 Chronicles (chapter 15), King David was having the Ark of the Covenant returned to Jerusalem and there were a whole host of individuals who were designated to sing and play music in worship and praise to God. These men were chosen out by the chief men of the tribe of Levi, the tribe whose focus it was to perform tabernacle and temple service in worship to Jehovah. This was a significant and meaningful appointment.

God gives such significance to song in worship that He had an entire book of songs preserved forever in the Bible – the Psalms. This book contains 150 songs written by King David, Moses, the sons of Korah, and others that speak to the greatest joys and heartbreaks that God’s people face living on this sin-cursed earth. Some of the most raw truths we see in Scripture are verbalized in the Psalms and have given comfort to the saints for generations (i.e. Psalm 23).

So, if God believes that song is such an important part of our lives, it behoves us to evaluate whether or not our thinking is on par with what God says.

No, I am not going to speak on stylings of music or try to convince you to listen to this or that, or not listen to this or that kind of music. In sharing the fruits of this study, I pray that you will be encouraged to seek out God-honouring music that you can sing and meditate on. What you understand to be God-honouring will (hopefully) change and grow as you learn more about God, Who He is, and what He expects from those in His family.

What is Song in Scripture?

Song in Scripture has one key focus: God. God is always the centre point, in some way. Either His character, His acts, His promises, or a culmination of all these are the focus of these songs, over and over again. It’s never about the singer or the music or the performance. It’s never a human-focused affair, even in the darkest most hopeless songs we see in the Psalms. It’s never about having a good time or getting an emotional thrill or reaction to lyrics or music that makes the audience or writer feel some kind of way. Rather, the psalmists use this outlet to 1) praise and honour God, testifying about Who He is in joyful worship, 2) to vocalize their pain and questions to God while consistently and intentionally turning their hearts back to God in humble faith, or often 3) to seek God’s intervention in some circumstance at the time.

They are honest, yes, but always worshipful, and never self-serving.

There are many examples of music in the Scripture, and the first musicians are mentioned in Genesis 4 – the very next chapter after the record of Adam and Eve’s choice to indulge in sin. This first musician was a man named Jubal, and it is noted that he passed his musical knowledge down to his descendants. The Bible mentions this about Jubal immediately after noting that his brother, Jabal, was the father of those who dwelt in tents and raised cattle. Both were important aspects of human life.

“And his brother’s name was Jubal: he was the father of all such as handle the harp and organ.” – Genesis 4:21

Not too much further along are the first recorded song lyrics in Scripture. The song that Moses sang when God performed the miracle of parting the Red Sea is found in Exodus 15, and is full of praise and thanks to God for His mighty work. Moses and the Israelites could have just kept moving forward, but they took time to worship even as they were fleeing captivity. It was important to Moses to acknowledge God’s working on their behalf and to verbally express that acknowledgement to others in song.

A few books over, Judges 5 outlines the song of Deborah and Barak, judges who had saved Israel from the oppression of the Canaanites. Their song speaks to the great deliverance that God had given them from their enemies after twenty years of oppressive rule. This duet is honest and worshipful, admitting the failure of the Israelites that brought about their oppression by their enemies, the calling of Deborah and Barak to deliver by God’s hand, the description of the battle, and the final acts of Jael that brought about victory. And in conclusion, the credit is all given to Jehovah for what He had done.

The Greatest Song (Luke 1:46-56)

The last example of song that I want to give you is often referred to as, “the Magnificat” (this is based on the first word of the Latin translation called the Vulgate). Personally, I believe this is the greatest and most beautiful song in Scripture, and here’s why.

Do you recall the response of Mary, Jesus’ mother, when she found out that God had chosen her to bring the Messiah into the world? It’s a humbling and remarkable response, and I can’t imagine the fortitude she must have had in her faith to be able to sing the words,

“My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour. For he hath regarded the low estate of his handmaiden: for, behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.” – Luke 1:46-48

(Read through to verse 56 for the rest of her beautiful song of praise and thanksgiving!)

This song is such an example of faith and submission, and she was not wrong about how the generations to come would speak of her. They would call her blessed, which in the Greek is makariz┼Ź meaning “to beatify, that is, pronounce (or esteem) fortunate” (Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible). Another way to phrase it could be “to call blessed, to count happy”. This was a young woman who would have been ostracized by her community and family members. People would have assumed that she had been unfaithful to her betrothed husband and was pregnant by some other man, or perhaps even by Joseph. She would have received only condemnation by others who didn’t believe or understand, just as people today mock the validity of the virgin birth of Christ.

Even so, Mary understood that the generations after her – even if not the people around her at the time – would see the amazing privilege she’d been given and be in awe of that gift. From that understanding and faith was born this song that from its outset seeks only to magnify the God Who had chosen her for this role.

So, what initial observations can we make about music as we’ve considered these examples of music and song in the Scriptures?

    1. It is always about God, never about man. The goal is always, always worship.
    2. It is always truth that God has already revealed. They speak to the audience of established truth that teaches and encourages the hearer and singer toward God.
    3. It is always given as a response to God – either for Who He is, what He has done, what He has promised, or a faith-filled vocalization of what the singer knows God is going to do in the future despite heartbreak in the present moment.

It may seem like it doesn’t matter. It may seem like you’ve gotten along fine without it all this time. But as you begin to incorporate reading and/or singing truly worshipful hymns in your study time, I promise you will see an impact in your spiritual life that you won’t want to do without. As we continue to look at how singing should and does impact our study – and how the lack of worshipful singing can hinder – I want to leave you with a final thought. 

This is why I firmly believe that song and study go hand-in-glove:

It is turning our hearts to Truth, to look beyond the pain we were never meant to bear to see the face of the One Who bears it with us.

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