Many people use Psalm 149 & 150 as their basis to support the use of all kinds of musical instruments in their Church worship service. They even insist that dancing is permitted since Psalm 149:3 says “Let them praise His name with the dance”.
Well, if we interpret Psalm 149 & 150 in this manner, we ought to use 2-edged swords & start “killing” in worship as well – since Psalm 149:6-7 says “Let the high praises of God be in their mouth, and a 2-edged sword in their hand, to execute vengeance on the nations, and punishments on the people…” So, obviously, Psalm 149 & 150 cannot be about what we can or cannot do in worship. To understand what these 2 Psalms are about, we need to appreciate their context and background.
In Exodus 14, Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt. They were pursued by Pharoah & his army all the way to the edge of the Red Sea. They were in a state of desperation – Pharoah’s army was about to kill all of them. In Ex 14:13-14, Moses said to the people “…Stand still, and see the salvation of the LORD,…The LORD will fight for you,…”
What happened thereafter was a miracle – God opened the Red Sea and the people crossed over. Pharoah & his army pursued them but were drowned as the Red Sea covered them. This was the salvation of the LORD; this was how the LORD fought for them. After settling down on the other side of the Red Sea, Israel celebrated their “salvation” and amazing victory. They actually did nothing except depended on God. Moses led them in a song praising God & Miriam led them in a jubilant dance. Psalm 149 is reminiscent of the Ex 14 incident. If you have just been delivered from death in such an amazing manner, you would celebrate in a similar manner and exhibit such joy & jubilation as well.
Old Testament history are types & symbols of salvation fulfilled in the New Testament. This Red Sea crossing is a type of how we are rescued from the effects of sin. We cannot save ourselves; as sinners, we are hell-bound. God, through the work of Jesus on the Cross, rescued us just as He did the Israelites at the Red Sea. Our enemies – Satan & death – are destroyed, just as Pharoah & his army were. We cannot do anything, except to repent & believe by faith. If we fully appreciate the mighty hand of God in our salvation, we too will leap with jubilation and celebrate the way the Israelites did after crossing the Red Sea.
So, Psalm 149 & 150 is NOT about what type of musical instruments ought to be used or what we can or cannot do in our worship service. When it comes to worship, God “…does not desire sacrifice….He does not delight in burnt offering.” What God will not reject is “…a broken spirit, a broken & contrite heart – These God will not despise” – Psalm 51:16-17.
At the end of the day, it is about our hearts when we come to worship God. Worship is not about us and what we get out of it. It is about God and whether He is pleased to accept it. The use of certain instruments may distract us and our hearts will not be right before Him. Are we so joyous in our salvation that it results in jubilant dancing? Well, before we can be so joyous, we will first be weeping for our sins. Hence, we need to carefully examine our intent and purpose when considering whether all kinds of musical instruments & even dancing should be used in worship. Will God be pleased to accept these from us? This is something that we need to be very careful about lest God is displeased.
‘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.”’ John 4:23-24
What does it mean to worship God in spirit and truth?
In spirit – because God is is spirit. He is omnipresent & omniscient. You need not be at Jerusalem or any specific place on earth in order to worship Him. You call out to Him in your spirit and He is right there. God is also not to be worshiped in any shape or form of an object. In fact, He specifically reminded us about this in the 2nd commandment – “You shall not make any image of God or bow down to it.” God is spirit. He is to be worshiped in spirit.
In truth – the truth as He has reviewed Himself in His word, the Bible. I was once acquainted with a follower of the cult group called the Moonies. I heard this friend pray – “my father, hallowed be your name“. Was he praying and addressing the same Father of my Lord Jesus Christ whom I believe? Obviously not! But what differentiated our prayers? It was the body of truth that we individually believed in. The body of truth that he held to was based on the teachings of Sun Myung Moon. This was totally different from the truths that I believed and understood from the bible. Hence, the body of truth that we believed in our spirit distinguished whom we were addressing our prayers to. And if the body of spiritual doctrines that you hold to is different from the essential ones in the bible, you are probably worshiping a different person altogether. This is a reminder to us that we should never belittle the importance of doctrines.
The bible teaches us that Jesus laid down His life for His sheep so that through Him, His redeemed people may approach God. If you believe this truth, your prayers are “directed” to the God of the Bible. It is this truth that distinguishes us as His children even as we obey Him to worship God in spirit and truth. May God help us worship Him in the way He prescribed.
Who has preceded Me, that I should pay him? Everything under heaven is Mine. Job 41:11
This is the declaration of God Himself. He tells us that no one existed before Him. Everything under heaven belongs to Him. Gen 1:1 tells us that God created the heavens and the earth when nothing existed. Let this truth and reality sink into us. Let us worship the maker and ruler of the universe.
Now at the dedication of the wall of Jerusalem they sought out the Levites in all their places, to bring them to Jerusalem to celebrate the dedication with gladness, both with thanksgivings and singing, with cymbals and stringed instruments and harps. Neh 12:27
This verse describes a special dedication worship service, a celebration of God’s help upon Israel in completing the re-construction of the wall of Jerusalem.
The Israelites used the occasion to acknowledge the blessing of God upon them. They expressed their joy and appreciation with singing, augmented with musical instruments. There are many differences in opinions with regard to the use of music in contemporary worship. In the context of this verse, we see that many different instruments were used for the expression of joy and appreciation to God.
The state of the heart is of utmost important when considering this matter. Appropriate use of music in worship lifts the soul to appreciate God and elevates Him. There is no “performance” involved. It is simply an expression of the heart that goes beyond what words can express in spoken sentences. The principle of 1 Cor 13:31 applies – “..therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”
““You shall not sacrifice to the LORD your God a bull or sheep which has any blemish or defect, for that is an abomination to the LORD your God.”Deuteronomy 17:1 NKJV
The ultimate sacrifice, our Lord Jesus Christ, is definitely without blemish or defect. Hence, the shadows that portray Him must similarly be likewise. Else it would be an inappropriate representation of Him. It would be an abomination to God and a misrepresentation of the perfect sacrifice for our sins.
This instruction also reminds us that we should not be giving God the “crumbs” of what we have as our offering to Him. The Jewish worshipper may be tempted to offer a bull or sheep that has blemishes. This could be because it was cheaper to do so. The farmer could be tempted to sell bulls or sheep without blemishes for a higher gain than to give them as sacrifices. But we are reminded that such acts are abomination to God. We must not relegate God to any place lower than first in our hearts. God deserves our best efforts & the first fruits of our labour. Do you give Him your best? Are you demonstrating a grateful heart? Are you a happy disciple who gives joyfully to God, understanding that you owe everything to Him? God loves a cheerful giver. 2 Cor 9:7