THE POWER OF MUSIC
By Pastor Glenn Pease
Paul Aurandt tells this fascinating historical example of the victory of the underdog. Sybaris was one of the wealthiest of Greek cities. The people lived in luxury and were the envy of others. But some people are never satisfied, and so one of the leaders persuaded the tribunal to confiscate all the wealth of the 500 richest men in the city. These 500 fled to the city of Crotan, which was 75 miles away. The Sybarites sent messengers to Crotan saying return the 500 or risk war. Crotan was only one third the size of Sybaris, and so it looked like a wise thing to do to cooperate.
They sent 30 diplomats to Sybaris and they were all killed. This made the Crotans so angry they decided to risk war even if the odds were against them. The amazing thing was that they won the war and totally demolished the city of Sybaris. They even diverted a river so that the very sight of the city was eliminated. How could they do it? By the power of music. As the two armies approached each other for battle the Crotans had their musicians play a favorite Sybarite tune. It was a tune they used in their parades. Their magnificent horses had been trained to dance to this music. Now in the midst of battle they began to dance and prance. The Crotans were able to sweep in and put the entire cavalry out of commission, and the Sybarites were defeated. There is power in music when it is rightly and cleverly used to even win a war.
Music has always been one of the weapons of warfare. The bugle, trumpet, drums, and the song have all been used to motivate men to march out to engage in battle. The sound of these instruments alone use to drive off the Indians when they signaled the coming of the cavalry. The Bible has examples of the power of music as a weapon. When Joshua fought the battle of Jericho, the priests were to march around the city seven times blowing the trumpets of rams horns. It was on the signal of a long blast from these trumpets that all the people were to shout, and when they did the walls came tumbling down. We have all seen the high pitch voice that breaks the goblet, but here was a spectacle of trumpets and voices breaking down a city wall.
When Gideon with his 300 men took on the vast hoard of Midianites he did so with 300 trumpets. All of his men blew their trumpet and broke jars. This threw the enemy into a state of panic, and they began fighting each other and defeated themselves. We know there is power in missiles, but we forget the power there is in music. Psa. 150:3 says, "Praise Him with the sounding of the trumpet." The trumpet can help win a war, or help us praise God, and numerous other things that demonstrate the power of music. Music has the power to give life meaning, and so one of the worse judgments God can inflict on a people is to deprive them of music. Listen to the punishment on the city of Babylon for its great wickedness. In Rev. 18:22 we read, "The music of harpists and musicians, flute players and trumpeters, will never be heard in you again."
There will be no music in hell, but there will be music forever in heaven, and it will be both vocal and instrumental. God enjoys singing, and the prophet implies that the trumpet of the Lord is really an instrument that He plays. Zech. 9:14 tells us that God shall sound the trumpet. It is important that we keep instrumental music in mind, for the Bible clearly exalts the power of both vocal and instrumental music. Because the early Christians did not use instruments it has lead to a history of controversy on the subject. The early Christians were a persecuted people, and so the blowing of trumpets, or even the playing of the harp, would not have been good for their health. When you were meeting in secret and trying to keep from being raided by the Romans, the one thing you would not do is play any type of instrument.
Unfortunately, many took this unusual situation as the standard for all time. They said Christians should not use instruments in worship. The Eastern Orthodox church uses only vocal music. There is a whole history of how primitive Baptist and Free Methodist, old Mennonites, and some Presbyterian groups fought the use of instruments. This prohibition is waning, however, and is most conspicuous in certain Churches of Christ whose leaders insist on strict adherence to the New Testament practice.
I don't want to take time debating the issue, but to simply point out that the New Testament does clearly reveal the use of instruments for making music in heaven. It also clearly makes the loss of musical instruments a severe judgment on Babylon. That ought to be sufficient evidence, even without the abundance of Old Testament references, which make it obvious that God is pleased with the music of instruments. This whole business of what instruments that are appropriate for Christian worship is so subjective. Don Hustad, Billy Graham's organist of many years, and teacher of music, tells of how in the mid 1960's many evangelicals opposed the use of guitar in the church because it was a symbol of the youth culture in their rebellion.
This all seems so ridiculous to him because he grew up with Norwegian Gospel music which used the guitar all the time. Way back in the early 1800's Oscar Ahnfelt popularized the guitar in Sweden. Scandinavian evangelicals developed string bands and they became as basic to them as the Gospel song. Hustad says he is very open minded and feels all instruments can be used in the church-all except the saxophone. He was joking of course, but that stuck me as funny, because in a church I served in Michigan one of the most frequent instrumentalists was a saxophone player who used his saxophone for the glory of God. The problem people have is that they associate certain instruments with the world, and this makes it hard to think of them as fitting for sacred music.
The issues around instruments can be so subjective. The real question should be, does the music have the power to move men for God? That is what William Booth asked as he sought to minister to the needs of the working people of England. His goal was to take the Gospel into the streets and touch people where they were. The organ and piano were not practical for this goal, and so he organized a band. It had to be loud to get attention, and so it was a brass band with drums, and by the power of these instruments he began a movement that has reached around the world. The Salvation Army may never have marched around the block had they used only the piano, but they marched to a different drum, and they reached people with the power of powerful music.
This influenced others like Billy Sunday. He had his song leader Homer Rodeheaver play his trombone. Other evangelists used trumpets or violins, and the dynamic Paul Rader, in the 1920's, used a full concert band which drew tremendous crowds. This may bother some of God's people, but the Bible has a band of its own. Listen to this list of instruments used in the Old Testament.
STRING WIND PERCUSSION
Psaltry of ten strings Cornet Cymbals
Dulcimer Flute Timbrals or Tabret
Harp Organ Hand drum
Sachbut Rams horn Triangle
Man is the greatest musical instrument himself, for he can use his voice to sing, to hum, and to whistle. He can use his body to move in rhythm, and he can clap his hands. Clapping the hands is not just an expression of appreciation, it is part of the music of life. It is the expression of joy by means of sound. The Jews used the clapping of hands as a synonym for singing. Psa. 98:8 says, "Let the rivers clap their hands; let the mountains sing together for joy." Isa. 55:12 says, "The mountains and hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands." Here in Psa. 47, the song begins with a call to the nations to express their joy with the voice, and with the clapping of the hands.
If you thought you could not play any instrument, wipe that false idea from your head, for the hands are a Biblical instrument of music, and by means of them we can make sounds that express joy and praise to God. Forget the old joke about all I can do is play the radio or the phonograph. You can play the same instrument that the great musicians of history have used-the hands. They have developed the ability to use the hands to play other instruments, but even the least musical of us can make some rhythmic sound with the hands by clapping them or tapping them on something else.
You may think I am stretching Biblical poetry too thin to make a point, but it is not so. A. Z. Idelsohn in his book Jewish Music In Its Historical Development tells us that the Arabic meter in music comes from the rhythmic movements of the body and the trot of the horse and the camel. Clippity clop, clippity clop, clippity clopping along. These animals trotting are another form of clapping the hands. The point is, this Arabic meter became a major influence in Jewish music.
The human body is an instrument of music, and not only the hands, but the heart as well. The first music a baby hears is the beat of the mother's heart. Tests have demonstrated that the soft rhythmic beat of the heart calms a child and gives them peace and security. Stop it and they become agitated and cry. The music of the mother's heart has power to calm and cheer. It is not just poetry, it is literally true that where there is life there is music. Luther Burbank said, "Music is fundamental-one of the great sources of life, health, strength, and happiness."
Louis Braille discovered the power of music to give life when he entered the National Institute for Blind Youth in Paris. He discovered that the blind are equal to the seeing in music, and, in fact, they often excel the seeing. More than 50 of the graduates at that time played as organists in the Paris churches. This is in the early 1800's. He took lessons on piano and organ, and learned he was richly talented. He would so enter into the music that he was caught up into another world where there was no stumbling, no hesitation, no fear. Music set him free from his earthly limitation. Music has this power to set men free and thus motivate them to go beyond their handicap. He did so, and helped the rest of the world of the blind to do so by developing the Braille system of reading. Music has tremendous healing power in all sorts of ways.
We all know how David, by the playing of his harp, calmed the demented soul of Saul, and brought peace and stability to his troubled mind. Music as medicine for the mind has been used by people all through history. Today it is a major field, and musical therapy is used for the mentally ill, and for health in general. Homer in both his Iliad and Odyssey gave illustrations of how music and song led to healing. To be sick meant to be out of tune and harmony according to the Greeks. Music could get you balanced and back into a state of harmony. Plato and Aristotle and other Greek philosophers all agreed that music affected the mind more than any other art, and, therefore, was a powerful form of therapy to aid in healing the mind.
The Roman physicians and priests followed in their steps and used music for therapy. The Arabs did also, and by the 17th century harpsicords were found with the inscription on them: "Music, the medicine of men's minds." This is not a new idea, and when you set in the dentists chair, or have minor surgery, and hear the pleasant music which is being used as a mild anesthesia, remember that man has been doing this all through the ages. When you hear the music piped into the office, where it has been proven to relieve fatigue, monotony, and stimulate moral and production, remember that music's power to do this same thing was used by the Egyptians to help the slaves in building the pyramids.
In Grove's Dictionary of Music he tells the story of Farinelli, the greatest Italian singer of his time. In 1737 he was on tour in Spain, and he came to Madrid. King Philip V was in a state of deep depression. For weeks he had taken no part in the affairs of state, and the whole country was in a critical situation. The Queen invited Farinelli to come and sing in an adjoining room where the king sat dejected, unshaven, and unkempt. When the king heard this lovely music, and the beautiful songs, he was moved out of his state of lethargy and sent for the singer to thank him. The king hired him to sing for him every night, and by the power of music he lived and ruled in a normal state of mind for the next 10 years. Mirandalo was right when he said, "Music produces like effects on the mind as good medicine on the body." The first history of music was written in the 1600's by Pierce Bourdelot. He was physician to the king of France and the Queen of Sweden. Music and medicine go together, for both have the power of healing.
Like all other powers, the power of music can also be corrupted. The forces of evil abuse and misuse the power of music to lead astray. The old German story tells of the Lorelei who songs were so irresistible they led men to drown in the Rhine. The ancient Greeks tell of the Sirens who could cast a spell on sailors with their songs, and lure them to destruction on the rocks. In Europe there is the Pied Piper legend. A strange man appeared in the rat-infested town and offered to purge the town of its pests. He played his flute, and all of the rats followed him to the river and were drown. When the ungrateful people refused to pay for his services he played again and all of the children follow him, hypnotized by his music, and they were never seen again.
These stories run all through history making clear that music has the power to entice people into the path of the demonic as well as the divine. It is a power for evil as well as good. This makes it all the more important for Christians to take the power of music seriously, and be zealous to use it for the glory of God. The music you love to listen to will affect your life. This power of music to change both character and conduct has been recognized by all men of wisdom. Plato warned in his day that bad music can even change the laws of a nation, and Aristotle said, "If one listens to the wrong kind of music he will become the wrong kind of person; but conversely, if he listens to the right kind of music he will tend to become the right kind of person." If non-Christians recognize this, how much more ought Christians to see the power of music in helping us be what God wants us to be.
The more I study music the more I realize it is one of life's greatest powers. But what makes it special is that it also enables man to have the power to please God. God is pleased when we pray, but prayer often has a selfish slant to it, but when we praise God it is because we are full of joy, and long to exalt Him who is the source of all that is precious. Music lifts man to the level where he lifts his voice and his clapping hands in praise to God. That is why we have the Psalms. "Hail heaven born music! By thy power we raise the uplifted soul to acts of highest praise."
The Jews read the Bible to music. The ancient Jewish Talmud said the Bible was to be read in public, and made to be understood in a musical sweet tune. Not to have a tune was to show disrespect for the Bible. That is how the Jews memorized so much Scripture. It was set to a tune, and anybody can remember a song they learned better than text they have read. I can hear a tune and remember the words even if I haven't heard that tune for many years. Music and the memory work as partners. The Jews used music as a key to religious education, and Christians followed in their steps.
Jesus grew up with song and the Scripture, and this is the path God expects all of His children to take. That is why the Psalms are a major part of His Word. There is power in music and song to guide and mold our values and character. One of the greatest powers of all is music which gives us the power to praise God. Music enables us to communicate our love and joy in God. The power of praise is one aspect of the power of music about which many have written. Music and song are essential in the communication of love. Sister Miriam wrote,
Give me the sun, a bird, a flower,
And I will sing you a song,
That will live an hour.
Give me a heart, a joy, a tear,
And I shall weave you a song,
That will live a year.
But give me a love death cannot sever,
And I will build you a song
To live forever.
There is power in music and song to lead, to lift, and to express love. Yet we often fail to use this power. We let the discords of life, which are very real and powerful, to drive out the song and harmony, and we become a part of the negatives of life without a song. We then sing the blues and increase the world's discord. If a Christian rightly grasps the power of music and song, they will never again be a practicing pessimist. They may feel pessimistic and have negative thoughts, but they will always act optimistic and sing praise to God. Those who do not use the power of music to aid them in being optimistic will become a burden to themselves and to the body of Christ. They will be a weight that drags down rather than wings that lift up.
Do not underestimate the power of music to help you fight off the temptations of life to give in to the disappointing, discouraging, and depressing realities that all have to face. Paul wrote to the Ephesians and told them not to be foolish but to be wise. He said they were not to let the world get to them, and drive them to choose its way of escape through wine. He said they were to be filled with the spirit instead, and speak to one another with Psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. They were to sing and make music in their hearts to the Lord. You are a powerful musical instrument is what Paul was saying to them. Use that power to praise, rejoice, and overcome the negatives of life that would defeat you and lead you astray. You can gain the victory every time if you recognize God's gift of the power of music.