All the Sons of God Shouted for Joy
Encounters with Music
The orange-colored seats on the Air India plane brightened up the whole cabin. The spacious legroom and the personal TV screen in front of each seat washed away the former chaotic make-do scene in the cabin. Air India was no longer that makeshift airline which I had taken 12 years ago, where, when you asked for a diet coke, you would instantly get a pack of milk to substitute what the attendant could not find in the cart.
Only one thing had remained unchanged the Indian music, with its short but repeated syllables that floated around in the cabin. The music went on and on until its tune kept reverberating in my head, following me into the arrival hall of Heathrow airport.
End of May, I took Air India to London, UK, the city where time zeros. Once again, I realized how large this city is – the Tube journey from the airport to London Church took more than one hour – and yet, I had only traveled half the way across the city. The city seemed to be like the brethren from China whom I met later at London Church foreign but seemingly familiar.
Unexpectedly, more than a hundred mainland Chinese brethren had come to London since my last visit. Being foreigners in this country, they usually work on Saturdays to make a living, leaving no luxury for them to enjoy the Sabbath rest. For this reason, they gather every other Sunday evening from 9 pm to 3 am in the morning to sing hymns and have services. On one occasion, after dinner, a youth from London Church showed me a YouTube video. It sounded like a pop concert or a TV show, but then I realized that it was actually a presentation by a True Jesus Church choir. The showmanship of the soloist, with deliberate slurred diction and occasional outbursts of near screaming echoed through the large dining hall. Unprepared to hear a hymn presentation in such a showbiz- style, I was prompted to think of the music that flows through the Bible.
The Origin of Music
Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Tell Me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements? Surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it? To what were its foundations fastened? Or who laid its cornerstone, when the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy? (Job 38:4-7)
When God laid the foundations of the earth, the morning stars sang and the sons of God (angels) shouted for joy. Yet, music first appeared in human history in a completely different context. Genesis 4 mentions that Cain went out from the presence of God and lived in the land of Nod on the east of Eden, after he had killed his brother Abel. Later on, from Cain’s lineage, Jubal became the father and inventor of instruments (Gen 4:21). So, music and instruments initially had nothing to do with praising or worshipping God. Music exclusively served the purpose of entertainment and relaxation among men.
Music to Praise God
When Jacob’s wife Leah gave birth to Judah, she said, “Now I will praise the LORD.” Therefore she called his name Judah (literally “praise”) (Gen 29:35). Only then did music regain its original purpose, which is to praise God just as the angels did at the time when God laid the foundations of the earth.
More than 400 years later, when Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt and through the Red Sea, God plunged the tenacious Egyptian army and their horsemen and chariots into the sea. Following that, the children of Israel joyfully celebrated their deliverance. They joined Moses in an enthusiastic song of praise to God for His glory and power. Then Miriam the prophetess, Aaron’s sister, took the timbrel in her hand while all the women went out after her with timbrels and with dances. And Miriam said, “Sing to the LORD, For He has triumphed gloriously! The horse and its rider He has thrown into the sea!” (Ex 15:21).
The Israelites sang and danced for God, for the LORD Himself had become their strength and song.
The LORD is my strength and song, And He has become my salvation; He is my God, and I will praise Him; My father’s God, and I will exalt Him. (Ex 15:2)
When the chosen people eventually came to the east side of the River Jordan, God told Moses to command them not to offer sacrifices at any place of their own choosing once they entered the Promised Land. Instead God Himself would choose a dwelling place for His name. The people were to come to this place to ‘learn’ to worship and offer sacrifices during festivals, three times a year. God had sovereign control over the selection of the place for worship, where He would put His name (Deut 12).
After the Israelites had conquered most of the cities in Canaan under Joshua’s direction, the tent of meeting was set up in Shiloh.
Now the whole congregation of the children of Israel assembled together at Shiloh, and set up the tabernacle of meeting there. And the land was subdued before them. (Joshua 18:1)
Deviating from and Returning to God’s Instructions
But who would have thought that things would take a different direction? The 400-year period of the judges in Canaan ended with this remark:
In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes. (Judges 21:25)
All this time, God was with Israel and wanted to be their king to guide them. Yet His people were without a king in their hearts. Unable to see God’s presence, they conducted their lives according to their own liking and concepts. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes. Although they continued to go to Shiloh during the three festivals to sing, dance and be merry, these actions were no longer directed towards God (Judges 21:19-25). Instead, they were merely giving full reign to their emotions, entertaining themselves and others.
It was not until the time of David that music was given a whole new dimension and purpose. David played the harp with a heart of quiet servitude. Moreover, he used his harp music to drive out the distressing spirit from Saul. Thus, he elevated the purpose of music to a higher level it was used to please God and to ask for power from Him. Through his music, which was completely for God and directed towards God, David found favor in the eyes of the LORD and also received strength.
After David’s ascension to the throne, he longed to bring the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem. However, his first attempt failed, as he did not follow the Law, which prescribed that the ark had to be ministered to by the priests and carried by Levites. Due to his negligence and Uzza’s ignorance, God struck Uzza to death. Through this sobering incident, David realized that man should not superimpose his own ideals or creativity on the principles of God in service and worship. God has given man clear instructions on how to worship and serve Him. What man needs to do is to learn to follow these instructions. The second time, David had learned his lesson and used the proper way to usher the ark into Jerusalem. He not only commanded the priests and Levites to purify themselves before carrying the ark, but also appointed singers to sing praises before the procession. These singers, who were chosen from among the Levites, were to welcome the ark into the city of David with loud and joyful praises.
Focus On Purity and Sincerity
After they had set the ark of God in the tabernacle, David also appointed some of the Levites to minister before the ark of God, to commemorate, to thank, and to praise God (1 Chr. 16:4). He then separated these Levites into 24 divisions. They cast lots for their duty, the small as well as the great, the teacher with the student, so that they could be instructed to make music to God, and take turns to praise Him (1 Chr. 25:1-31). By then the first choirs were established.
The Levites were consecrated to God, replacing Israel’s firstborn males to serve God and to fulfill the sacred duties. They were separate from the rest of the people and sanctified. In a solemn manner, they sang praises to God.
Today, our choirs should do likewise. We are a royal priesthood (1 Peter 2:9), the spiritual Levites. As such, we need to be careful not to sing hymns to entertain or feed our emotions, but to thank and praise God. Most importantly, our hearts must be consecrated as we make music to Him. If our focus is on thanking and praising God with a pure and sincere heart, our own ideas will naturally take a backseat. Instead of using worldly methods to draw people to God, our reverent singing and praise will please the Lord and thereby attract those who have a heart to seek Him. … Consequently, the Holy Spirit will touch people’s inmost selves and guide them into God’s presence.
Speak to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in our heart to the Lord. (Eph 5:19)
As the sons of God, let us gaze at God’s creation and salvation as well as His unceasing mercy. Let us make Him our song … then, indeed, we will shout for joy!
This article ‘All the Sons of God Shouted for Joy’ by K. C. Tsai was excerpted from: Manna Magazine. Fall 2009. It may be used for study & research purposes only.