David's Instruments and Contemporary Worship

What do David’s instruments reveal about worship today? Do David’s instruments have a place in true worship?

Before David, God had not commanded the use of musical instruments in worship to Him. Five hundred years after Moses received the Law from Mt. Sinai, God commanded King David to use musical instruments when he brought the Ark of the Covenant and all the worship of Moses’s Law into Jerusalem (1 Chr 16). God instructed David to establish worship with “the musical instruments of God” (1 Chr 16:42 ESV). Until this point, there was no mention of instruments in tabernacle worship under Moses unto David. In Moses’s Law, God only commanded the use of two silver trumpets for Israel’s call to worship (Num 10:1–2, 9–10). The Old Testament does mention prophets worshiping with instruments before King David instructed musical instruments for temple worship in Jerusalem.

David’s Instruments

When Solomon dedicated the Temple, the Levites worshiped with “instruments of the music of the LORD, which King David made to praise the LORD” (2 Chr 7:6). God commanded David to make specific instruments for use only by the Levites in worship to God (2 Chr 7:6; 29:25–27; cf. 8:14). The instruments were the harp, lute, lyre, cymbal, tambourine, and horn (Ps 150). God commanded these instruments, and no one changed these instruments. These were God’s instruments that God commanded David to make. When Israel’s leaders restored worship over three hundred years after David, King Hezekiah restored only David’s instruments to worship (2 Chr 29:25–27). No one took from the instruments of contemporary culture. Then five hundred years after David, priests returned from captivity and restored David’s instruments to their worship (Ezra 3:9–10; Neh 12:27, 36). They respected God’s command and did not add or take from them (Deut 4:2; 12:32).

If today people seek to worship as David did, should they restore all of God’s commands back from David? What is the biblical precept and precedent? Would this mean that only Levite men can play musical instruments in worship? If believers would restore David’s instruments for Moses’s Law, why not the rest of Moses’s Law of worship?

Changing David’s Instruments

Many churches point to David for a reason to worship with instruments, but they do not apparently use the instruments that God commanded David, but they take freedom in choosing instruments by their own discretion from contemporary culture. Why? David, Solomon, Hezekiah, and Jeshua did not choose to use instruments from contemporary use or from the surrounding peoples. Why not use the instruments that God commanded? Many churches are now changing from using one instrument like the organ and to using other more contemporary instruments like drums and guitars.

What wisdom and motives would God have His followers use to discern what is right for Christian worship? Would God have told His worshipers what music is for true worship?

David’s Worship and True Worship

What did Jesus say about worship? Christ revealed true worship in John 4 as he expressed, “Woman, believe Me, the hour is coming when you will neither on this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, worship the Father” (John 4:21). Why did Jesus say that worship would no longer be on that Samarian mountain or in Jerusalem? David brought the temple worship to Jerusalem. However, Jesus taught that worship must now remain in spirit and Truth (John 4:23–24). Why is true worship different from David’s worship in Jerusalem?

Jesus and True Worship

In John 4, Christ taught, “But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.” Was Jesus contrasting the worship in Jerusalem from true worship in spirit and truth? Yes, this is apparent. For those desiring to become true worshipers, John 4:19–24 includes that Christians should worship in spirit and truth apart from how David worshiped in the Old Testament. Should worship conform to Jesus’s words for New Testament worship or according God’s words in the Old Testament?

Jesus distinguished true worship from worship in Jerusalem. The temple of God changed from the material temple to the spiritual temple, which is the church (1 Cor 3:16; Eph 2:21). Likewise, the worship changed from physical to spiritual (1 Pet 2:5). The priesthood of Levites and their physical worship ceased. They were the only ones commanded to worship with David’s musical instruments (Heb 7:12). Christians are the priests of God’s spiritual temple, the church, in which true worshipers offer spiritual offerings unto God (1 Pet 2:5). With Christ as the atoning offering for sin (Heb 9:22–26), Christians offer spiritual sacrifices of good deeds including praise that is the fruit of their lips (Heb 13:15–16). The true worshipers make melody in their hearts to the Lord (Eph 5:19).

Music in True Worship

What music did Jesus command for Christians as true worshipers? True worshipers can certainly know that Christ’s music for His church is the most beautiful, spiritual, and pure form of musical praise. True worship consists of singing. “Therefore by Him let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name” (Heb 13:15). God commanded verbal music — singing — for worshipful praise and spiritual teaching in the New Testament Scriptures (Matt 26:30; Mark 14:26; Acts 4:24; 16:25; Rom 15:6; 1 Cor 14:15; Eph 5:19; Col 3:16; Heb 2:12; 13:15; Jas 5:13; Rev 15:3–4). If God wanted Christians to worship Him by singing with musical instruments, would He have specified that the music included instruments?

Shadows of True Worship

The letter to the Hebrews teaches that the sacrificial worship of the Old Testament was symbolic consisting of “fleshly ordinances” for “that present time […] until the time of reformation” (Heb 9:9–10). Christ has replaced that fleshly worship with spiritual worship (1 Pet 2:5). The ordinances of worship from Moses and David were shadows without the substance of Christ (Col 2:16-17; Heb 8:4–6; 10:1). The apostle John interpreted the worship from Moses and David with an altar, sacrifices, incense, and instruments as symbolic for New Testament worship. John described the voices of Christians singing from heaven sounding like many waters, thunders, and many harps (Rev 14:1–3). The apostle John represented Christian prayers with incense and symbolized Christian singing by harps that they never played (Rev 5:8–14; 15:1–2).

What happened to the Old Testament and its fleshly worship? “For if that first covenant had been faultless, then no place would have been sought for a second” (Heb 8:7, 13). Keeping the Law of Moses includes keeping the curse: “For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse” (Gal 3:10). The apostle Paul warned against continuing “in all things which are written in the book of the law,” because doing so adds and annuls to God’s new covenant (Gal 3:15). This is certainly legalism to keep the carnal law. Moses’s Law was only until Christ, because Moses’s Law was weak and impoverished (Gal 3:19; 4:9–11). “But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons” (Gal 4:4).

Why did God allow instruments in the Old Testament? These were physical and carnal as the Scriptures reveal when God gave commands while they had hardness of hearts (cf. Matt 19:1–9). True worship is perfect and better than the obsolete Law of Moses and the Old Testament (Rom 7:1–7; 2 Cor 3:7–18; Gal 3–5; Eph 2:14–22; Heb 8:13).

Lifeless Instruments

All those who seek to become true worshipers consider Christ’s words as written by His apostles and prophets. The apostle Paul noted that musical instruments are “lifeless,” which literally means “without soul” or “soulless” in the original Greek text (1 Cor 14:7). Comparing these instruments to unknown tongues, Paul spoke against teaching, singing, and praying with unknown languages instead of worshiping with the spirit and the mind and expressing meaningful words (1 Cor 14:9–15). Likewise, instruments are impotent of teaching, praying, and singing meaningful words. God’s Spirit never commanded the use of musical instruments in true worship. Therefore, every Christian is free from man-made worship borrowed from contemporary culture, manmade traditions, and conflicting opinions.

Follow Christ in True Worship

True worshipers admire and revere their Savior. How would Jesus worship if He was bodily in Christian assemblies? Jesus professed, “I will declare Your name to My brethren; In the midst of the assembly I will sing praise to You” (Heb 2:12; cf. Ps 22:22). What was the last thing that Jesus did with all of His disciples before they went to the garden the night of His betrayal? Jesus sang a hymn with his disciples (Matt 26:30, Mark 14:26). Christians must follow the example of Christ.

Where is the love of Christ for true worship? All Christians seek to worship in spirit and truth, and for this reason, they should leave the instruments of David’s worship in Jerusalem. Jesus declared, “He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me” (John 14:21, 23–24; cf. 1 Cor 16:22). For these reasons, the churches of Christ emphasize congregational singing and do not sing with musical instruments.