If you’re following the schedule, you should read these chapters today: 1 Chronicles 24–25, 1 Peter 5, Micah 3, Luke 12. Click on any of those references to see all the passages in one long page on BibleGateway. If you can’t do all the readings today, read 1 Chronicles 24-25.
Buried in these two chapters of Levite names are these three statements: “David, together with the commanders of the army, set apart some of the sons of Asaph, Heman and Jeduthun for the ministry of prophesying, accompanied by harps, lyres and cymbals” (v. 1). “The sons of Asaph were under the supervision of Asaph, who prophesied under the king’s supervision” (v. 2). And, “As for Jeduthun, from his sons: Gedaliah, Zeri, Jeshaiah, Shimei, Hashabiah and Mattithiah, six in all, under the supervision of their father Jeduthun, who prophesied, using the harp in thanking and praising the Lord” (v. 3).
Did you notice that some variation of the word “prophecy” was used in a musical context in each of those verses? Verse 1: “...for the ministry of prophesying, accompanied by harps, lyres and cymbals,” verse 2: “The sons of Asaph were under the supervision of Asaph, who prophesied under the king’s supervision” and verse 3: “...who prophesied, using the harp in thanking and praising the Lord.” This is a curious use of the “prophecy” word group, especially if you think of prophecy as the act of foretelling the future. But, biblically speaking, foretelling the future is only a sliver of what prophets did. While some prophets did foretell the future, most of them reminded God’s people of his law and applied to their lives. This “reminding” often meant rebuke and applying it to their lives often meant repentance. So prophets were given to Israel to apply God’s law to the lives of God’s people. The foretelling the future aspect of prophecy, then, consisted of either (a) predicting that God’s judgment which was promised in the law for disobedience would come through the Assyrians or Babylonians or through drought or whatever or (b) prophesying a golden age for Israel through the Messiah which the Law also promised and the Davidic covenant further clarified. The predicting aspect of prophecy, then, was just one part of a larger category of applying God’s word to God’s people.
What does any of this have to do with music? The answer is that music makes learning things easier. If you sing the A, B, C song when you are putting something in alphabetical order or sing one of the books of the Bible songs when you’re trying to find a passage in the Bible, you know how powerfully music teaches. In a society where many people may not have been literate and where written books and documents were rare, songs were an effective way to teach God’s word to God’s people. These “prophets” among the Levites, then, were singers and musicians who created songs from God’s truth and taught them to the people.
Even in the New Testament we see allusions to this idea. Colossians 3:16 says, “Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.” You can see here how teaching and songs are correlated.
While it is not clear, singing may have been what Paul had in mind when he said to the Corinthians, “But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head…” in 1 Corinthians 11:5.
This is why the content of songs is just as important in church worship as the tune and singability of a song. Because a catchy song is easy to remember, it causes us to rehearse the truths in our minds over and over. I’ve found myself today singing a song we’ve been doing on Sundays—“Your Words” without thinking about it. I wish it were easier to find worship songs with rich, biblical lyrics than it is because of the teaching power that music has. May God continue to give us more and more skilled “prophets” like Asaph and his gang who dig deeply into His word and teach it to us with music.
Now for your thoughts: What stood out in your Bible reading for today? What questions do you have about what you read? What are your thoughts about what I wrote above? Post them in the comments below or on our Facebook page. And, feel free to answer and interact with the questions and comments of others. Have a great day; we’ll talk scripture again tomorrow.