Music can be a unique and powerful way to process our emotions—or just to have fun. There's a good chance that some of your favorite memories are tied to the song that was playing at the time. From the radio in the car to the loudspeakers in a grocery store to the Spotify playlists we share with our friends, music follows us wherever we go.
But what does the Bible have to say about music and how we should interact with it?
Music begins to weave its way through the Bible early on. The entire book of Psalms is exactly what you might guess from the sound of the title: songs. About half of these songs were written by King David. Some of the songs recorded here were used in temple worship, while others are personal prayers asking for rescue and praising God when help arrived.
But music's presence in the Bible goes back even further than that. In the books of Genesis and Exodus, which tell the earliest stories about creation and God's calling of the nation of Israel, musicians are often referenced. We first hear about Jubal, who was just the fourth generation descended from Adam and Eve (Genesis 4:21). In Exodus, when God safely leads the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt, their first response is to sing. In Exodus 15, we have on record the lyrics to a song that Moses himself sang in praise.
Songs continue to accompany the stories of the great Biblical heroes. After Moses, Joshua led Israel to literally bring the walls of Jericho down with musical instruments in Joshua 6. As mentioned above, King David, Israel's greatest leader, was a passionate musician. His son Solomon followed in his footsteps and is usually credited with two other full books of poetry and song: Ecclesiastes and Song of Solomon.
In the New Testament, we don't have any books that are completely made of songs. But we do continue to see music as a key part of human experience and an immediately present part of how the new Church responded to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. In Luke 1:46-55, you can read Mary's Magnificat—the song she sang in praise when she found out she had been chosen to be the mother of Jesus, God's Son.
Songs are mentioned throughout Jesus's ministry, maybe most powerfully after the Last Supper when it says that Jesus and His disciple sang a hymn at the end of their Passover meal (Matthew 26, Mark 14). One of the last things the disciples did as a group during Jesus's earthly ministry was worship with music.
When the disciples formed the early Church after Jesus's resurrection and ascension into Heaven, music was a part of their gathering and worshipping from day one. We know this because Paul talks about it in his letters to the growing churches in different locations (see Ephesians 5:19 & Colossians 3:16). In Paul's letter to the Philippians, we actually have lyrics for one of the very first hymns ever used by the early church. Philippians 2:5-11 is Paul quoting what is basically a very early worship song about Jesus, full of phrases like "though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men."
So now you know some of the major places that music appears in the Bible. But when Scripture sings, what is it singing about?
The songs in the Bible cover the full range of human emotions and experience. We mentioned how the Psalms contain everything from desperation to worship, sorrow to thankfulness. A lot of contemporary Christian music draws heavily from the Psalms. You might have sung some lyrics by King David during your own church worship without even knowing it.
The book of Lamentations is, beginning to end, songs about grief—specifically, grief over the loss of the city of Jerusalem and many Israelite lives at the hands of Babylonian invaders. Ecclesiastes asks hard questions about the meaning of life. These two books sometimes might even remind you of the sad songs you've heard. Song of Solomon is a straightforward song from Solomon to his wife, proving that love songs are not unique to pop songs on the radio—King Solomon did it first!
What we can take away from this is that God's people have always used music as a way of soundtracking their journey with Him, of relating to Him, of processing every part of their own lives and emotions. If you love listening to music that captures your mood or directs you to worship, you're not alone! We can see all over the Bible that the heroes of the faith felt the same way.
Music shows up throughout the Bible in a wide variety of situations—from worship to processing experiences and expressing emotions. This shows us that songs have always been a really important and special way that God and His people interact with each other.
Mary is a fan of stories about grace—whether they show up in writing, music, or photography form. She's been listening to and telling those stories as a professional writer for almost 10 years. Her most recent project is rockonpurpose.live, where she talks about rock music centered around truth and redemptive justice.