Biblical Interpretation from Someone with no Training in Biblical Interpretation
David, together with the commanders of the army, set apart some of the sons of Asaph, Heman and Jeduthun for the ministry to prophecy, accompanied by harps, lyres and cymbals. Here is the list of the men who performed this service:
From the sons of Asaph:
Zaccur, Joseph, Nethaniah and Asarelah. The sons of Asaph were under the supervision of Asaph, who prophesied under the king’s supervision.
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.
As for Heman, from his sons:
Bukkiah, Mattaniah, Uzziel, Shubael and Jerimoth; Hananiah, Hanani, Eliathah, Giddalti and Romanti- Ezer; Joshbekashah, Mallothi, Hothir and Mahazioth. All these were sons of Heman the king’s seer. They were given him through the promises of God to exalt him. God gave Heman fourteen sons and three daughters.
All these men were under the supervision of their fathers for the music of the temple of the Lord, with cymbals, lyres and harps, for the ministry at the house of God. Asaph, Jeduthun and Heman were under the supervision of the king.(1 Chronicles 25:1-6)
Yesterday I was thinking about music and God and how the two should go together. The church I go to is pretty conservative when it comes to music and I’ve heard the term “devil music” used to describe rock and roll more than a few times. However, I’ve never been able to accept that, as I’ve listened to rock for quite a few years and while yes, there are certain elements that don’t agree with the Bible, there’s also a lot of joy coming from worldly music that is seemingly going unnoticed by the religious groups. I thought on this and realized that because rock and roll is largely rejected by the church, rock music fans are not feeling welcomed by the church community and are themselves being rejected for the kind of music they listen to. In this the church is failing. Now, there is something to be said about some churches being too free minded on ideas to the point of questioning scripture, but I do believe that any Bible-believing Christian should be ashamed of themselves for protesting outside of pop concerts or saying strong words against musicians. Why? Because we’ve created an unreached people group in the process that is in definite need of missionaries.
Wait, what? As Christians, we are called to preach the Word to EVERYONE, not just who we pick. And although mission work is going amazingly to even the most remote parts of countries, more and more in supposedly Christian countries, there is a growing group of people who are completely alienated by the church and have therefore begun to revolt against it. And people pick up on the lack of care to these groups and rally against the church, if the church is dying in America and in Europe, it has nobody to blame but itself.
While thinking about rock and roll (I use rock as the example because I have the most experience with it) the Holy Spirit reminded me of what God told Moses when Moses was afraid of public speaking, “The Lord said to him, ‘Who gave man his mouth? Who makes him deaf or mute? Who gives him sight or makes him blind? Is it not I, the Lord?’” (Exodus 4:11). So we must remember that God is the creator of all things, we speak (or sing) through our God-given mouths and hear through our God-given ears. And what’s more, “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like the shifting shadows” (James 1:17). I don’t think anyone would argue that music in and of itself is bad, right? Therefore, if somebody is a gifted singer that means that his talent came from the Lord, correct? Ok, well if that is the case, then why are we not listening for the Lord’s voice when it comes to pop music? I think a big issue is the source.
Take for example George Harrison, one of the former Beatles, he spent his entire life trying to find God, but because of his rock and roll background, the only people who really reached out to him properly were the Far East mystics. George Harrison was led to do things like meditate and follow other mystical ways to reach the Lord. Even his music screamed out for God. George never came to a belief in Jesus and died thinking that the Christian church was something bad, he is almost certainly is not in heaven due to not having a relationship with Jesus, but does that mean that his music is empty? Consider his song, “My Sweet Lord,” with lyrics like “I really want to see you, really want to be with you, really want to see you Lord, but it takes so long, my Lord.” Now the song is actually not a Christian song, George is singing to his religion’s pseudo Hindu God, which is hinted at later. But look at those lyrics; those are the sort of things you find in a gospel song. Another song he wrote, called “What is Life” take a look at some of these lyrics:
What I feel, I can’t say,
But my love is there for you any time of day.
But if it’s not love that you need
Then I’ll try my best to make everything succeed.
Tell me, what is my life without your love?
Tell me, who am I without you by my side?
As a Christian this song now means more to me than it ever did before I came into a relationship with Christ, in fact, I’ll go as far as to say that by becoming a Christian, this song now sounds even better to me. Why? It is better because now I see a very clear dialogue between Jesus and my heart in these words. Jesus offers his love, which is free and is always there, and even stoops down to say that he’s willing to do his best even if I am not looking for his love, and what does my heart do? It cries out to Christ the chorus, “What is my life without your love? Who am I without you?” George Harrison was not a Christian by any means, but his words touch my heart more now than they did before I let the Holy Spirit in. It is God who gave George his talent; could it also be God that gave him his words for us?
With this in mind, I thought back to what Paul did in his mission to spread the gospel. Paul realized that we needed to reach EVERYBODY not just those who easily fit into our view of what a good and proper Christian might be. Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 9:18-22,
What then is my reward? Just this: that in preaching the gospel I may offer it free of charge, and so not make any use of my rights in preaching in.
Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from god’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some.
Notice Paul’s focus, it is not to make good Christians. All Paul cares about is how important it is to save as many as possible and bring people to know God. After that, Jesus can take care of himself.
So, thinking more on this, the Holy Spirit led me to Athens (not to say I went to Athens, but I considered Paul’s trip there). While Paul was in Greece he was shocked to see that people were worshiping many many idols. In fact, some people were even worshiping at an altar for a mystery God (I suspect the person who made that altar was just too lazy to make up a name). Now, if Paul was a modern-day pastor he might have freaked out and condemned the people. But remember Paul’s focus: to save the lost. – Actually, it’s not even Paul’s focus; it’s Jesus’ focus from when he was alive. Jesus says in Luke 19:10, “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.”– Paul didn’t condemn the people, instead, he said,
“Men of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you” (Acts 17:22-23).
Paul didn’t accuse the Athenians of wrong doing, and in fact praised the good that they were doing, what was that good? They were reaching out to God. Should Paul hold it against the people of Athens that the gods they worshiped were not the one true God? Of course not, because nobody had preached the gospel to them. And so Paul takes something that he can use, in this case, the unknown god altar, and begins to tell them about our creator. Later he even quotes a song about Zeus to further the message of Christ. Well if Paul did it, why aren’t we?
I thought to myself, “How cool would it be if a musically inclined pastor, along with some really talented musicians put together a bunch of worldly music and went on a concert tour, using songs that everyone knows and loves to preach the gospel message?” Why do Christian pastors always push Gospel music and hymns only? It doesn’t make any sense when there is a whole group of people who don’t want to listen to hundred-year-old hymns, overly-repetitive gospel songs, and always-on-ballad-mode Christian rock (apologies to people who enjoy that music, I love hymns myself, but that is neither here nor there). Once, when Paul was arrested for causing a riot he tried to speak to his captors and was immediately hit with a question first. Acts 21:37 records this conversation,
As the soldiers were about to take Paul into the barracks, he asked the commander, “May I say something to you?”
“Do you speak Greek?” he replied.
Notice, the Roman doesn’t care about being saved, his first issue is “Do you speak my language?” The church is missing its chance on millions of young people because it refuses to speak to them in a language they’re willing to listen to and that they can easily understand.
Alright, getting back to the amazing part of the story, after all of this thinking, and even considering the feasibility of setting up such a tour and what songs could be use and so forth, I went to do my daily reading of four chapters in the Bible. I had already read three earlier, dealing mostly with the Levites (1 Chronicles hearts its lists). I opened it up and the title of Chapter 25 stared at me in the face, “The Singers.” As we read earlier, the chapter is about King David setting up the musicians at the temple. But this is where it really starts to come together. Notice in the passage, the Bible doesn’t actually call these men “singers,” but instead describes their jobs as “prophesying.” Why is this important? A prophet speaks the words given to him or her by the Lord. In this passage, God is telling us that music is prophecy.
The book of Jeremiah helps us understand prophecy a bit better. When Jeremiah first meets God, the Lord says to him,
“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
Before you were born I set you apart;
I appointed you as a prophet to the nations” (Jeremiah 1:5).
God tells Jeremiah that he has appointed him as a prophet and that Jeremiah will reach the nations. Now if music is considered a form of prophecy that means that the Lord knows every musician before he or she is even born. This also tells us that if said performer is heard around the globe that the Lord is behind it. The passage goes on further illustrating the giving of Jeremiah’s gift in verse 11, “Then the Lord reached out his hand and touched my mouth and said to me, ‘Now, I have put my words in your mouth.’” As we learned from James earlier, every good gift comes from God, so surely the Lord gives each singer his or her voice. Not only does God give the voice, but more often than we think, God is the one writing the lyrics too. Jeremiah later writes,
His word is in my heart like a fire,
A fire shut up in my bones.
I am weary of holding it in;
Indeed, I cannot (Jeremiah 20:9).
I know that feeling, and I would bet that many musicians do too. That overwhelming feeling that you have something to give to the world and it needs to come out, you try to hold it in but it bubbles up and explodes. That’s the Spirit of God. From what I’ve heard, the singer Norman Greenbaum (who was and is still a practicing Jew and doesn’t believe in Jesus) attests that his song “Spirit in the Sky,” which is a song about going to heaven because of knowing Jesus was the easiest song he ever wrote, it just came out- and incidentally, it is the only song of his anybody remembers.
But can people destined for the flame be prophets of God? This becomes the new question we must consider as Christians, for even if God is in their music, many musicians lives are anything but Godly. Enter Balaam. Numbers chapters 22 through 24 feature a strange story of a prophet, why is it strange? It is strange because Balaam is not an Israelite, and he most certainly went to hell. Numbers 22:2-6 sets up the story pretty well,
Now Balak son of Zippor saw all that Israel had done to the Amorites, and Moab was terrified because there were so many people. Indeed, Moab was filled with dread because of the Israelites.
So Balak son of Zippor, who was king of Moab that the time, sent messengers to summon Balaam son of Beor, who was at Pethor, near the River, in his native land. Balak said:
“A people has come out of Egypt; they cover the face of the land and have settled next to me. Now come and put a curse on these people, because they are too powerful for me. Perhaps then I will be able to defeat them and drive them out of the country. For I know that those you bless are blessed and those you curse are cursed.”
Now Balaam was a prophet and knew the rules for being a prophet, he could only speak the Word of God in his prophecies. So he properly warned Balak about his services saying, “Even if Balak gave me his palace filled with silver and gold, I could not do anything great or small to go beyond the command of the Lord my God”(Numbers 22:18). Even so, Balak tried three times to get Balaam to curse the Israelites, however, Balaam, could not do it. Balaam, filled with the Spirit of God told Balak,
“Balak brought me from Aram,
The king of Moab from the eastern mountains.
‘Come,’ he said, ‘curse Jacob for me;
Come, denounce Israel.’
How can I curse
Those whom God has not cursed?
How can I denounce
Those whom the Lord has not denounced?” (Numbers 23:7-8)
This happened three times, Balaam, gifted with prophecy, could not utter a curse on the Lord’s people. “Well how do you know he’s in hell then?” you ask. Because although he was a prophet, Balaam was greedy and although he couldn’t curse Israel, he still was able to figure out how Moab could defeat them, thus earning his treasure. Balaam advised the women of Moab to seduce and sleep with the men of Israel, and they encourage them to worship another God. Because of this, God became very angry at Israel, and struck them with a plague. Numbers 31:16 helps explain this and in several other places, Balaam is cursed for this action. So can a prophet of the Lord be hell bound? Yes, and many are today.
We Christians need to remember the last line of today’s passage, all of the singers were under the supervision of the king. Well now we have the King of Kings watching over us, you, me, and everyone else. Yet, the Lord doesn’t strike down all of the rock stars, and pop stars and the like. Why? Jesus is waiting for us to do our job and restore these people to the kingdom of God where they belong. The church often looks at singers with a cursed worldview. This view says that the world is cursed and as such is doomed, with only Christians being saved from the flames. This isn’t wrong, but it is incomplete, why? We often forget that the Lord called us to save the lost sheep. And if he hasn’t removed their pieces from the table, then they’re still useable for the kingdom of God and should be pursued for the sake of their souls.
I think about all of this every time I hear a Lady Gaga song. You can hear in her lyrics the conflict being fought inside of her, and see the conflicts raging about her on the outside. If you don’t know anything about her past, she was brought up in a strict Catholic school and quickly lost the taste of religion. Yet recently she released a single called “Judas.” It is a heartbreaking song that many Christians get fired up over and completely miss the point. The chorus states, “I’m still in love with Judas, baby.” One can see where Christians might get upset. But what I heard when I heard that chorus playing on the TV was a cry for help. Indeed many of us know how to get to heaven, but we, like Lady Gaga, are still in love with Judas (that is our sinful lives, worldly pleasures) and think that because of that we’re un-savable. Indeed, on closer inspection of the lyrics, the song is exactly about it. Gaga sings that she thinks that she’s unforgivable and that she can’t let go of her vices. That’s pretty much exactly the person who needs to hear about the love of Christ. But what are Christians doing? We’re staging protests outside of her concerts and burning her CDs. Who is going to reach out to this whole nation of people, desperately crying out and searching for answers, people who want more in life but don’t know how, or even if they qualify for it? Who is going to reach out to the unreached prophets and their fans?
“I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.”
-Jesus, Luke 15:7