So we have been seeking to understand both the history and theology of singing praises to God as the gathered people of God so we can know with certainty why we have been called to do this. And so we can then carry out this call to corporate praise with ever greater faithfulness and devotion.
What are the consequences of not doing this? What fruit and blessing and activity on God’s part can be expected when we carry out this call faithfully? These are a couple of the questions we are seeking to answer in this study.
In our first post, we covered Genesis through II Chronicles. In this post I’m going to begin in Ezra and see where we end up.
The book of Ezra is concerned with the return of 42,360 Jews (among whom were 200 appointed singers) from their Babylonian captivity to Jerusalem and Judah; and then the restoration of the Temple; and the purification of God’s people. Restoring the temple from all its ruins was no small task. Nor was purifying the Israelites from all the corruption and defilement of the culture of Babylon. Thus when the foundation of the temple was laid, the priests “stood in their apparel with trumpets, and the Levites, the sons of Asaph, with cymbals, to praise the Lord according to the directions of King David of Israel. They sang, praising and giving thanks to the Lord, saying, “For He is good, for His lovingkindness is upon Israel forever.” And all the people shouted with a great shout when they praised the Lord because the foundation of the house of the Lord was laid.” (3:10,11). Progress in restoring the place of worship of God’s people in their covenant land was to be celebrated, and celebrate they did! They knew that could not have happened apart from God’s goodness and favor, and thus they gave glory to Him through their praise.
Now we come to the book of Nehemiah. These two books cover the same basic time period and the same basic topics – that being the restoration of the temple and all of its practices, and the purification of the Jews as God’s people. Nehemiah and Ezra were contemporaries and co-workers, though Ezra was more of a teacher/priest; and Nehemiah was more of a governor/leader. God used these two men in tremendous ways to bring about His purposes. The role of singing and praise is much more emphasized in Nehemiah’s rendering of that time period than Ezra’s.
It should be noted that at various points Nehemiah will write a progress report and chapter seven opens with one. “Now when the wall was rebuilt and I had set up the doors, and the gatekeepers and the singers and the Levites were appointed,..” (vs. 1). In Nehemiah’s mind, appointed singers are as important as gatekeepers or even Levites or priests (see vs. 73, and 10:28, 39). Later in vs. 44, the number (148) of these singers who had Asaph as their father or who were descended from Asaph are noted. Then a little later in the chapter Nehemiah gives the total count of the people who had joined him in his rebuilding mission, wherein he notes that there were “…245 male and female singers.”
One of the important themes in the book of Nehemiah is that of his zeal for the “house of God”. I believe that is one reason why he experienced such favor from God on his life and work. It is especially seen and noted in chapters 8 through 13 with 8 references to it therein. At the end of chapter 10 Nehemiah and those closest to him vowed that they would not “neglect (or forsake) the house of our God.” (vs. 39). In chapter 13 Nehemiah brought strong correction to two different abuses of the house of God (see vs. 5-11). I point this out to say that the proper regular functioning of the singers was crucial in Nehemiah’s mind to make sure God’s house was honored and not forsaken or neglected. “For there was a commandment from the king concerning them (“them” probably refers to the Levites and the singers – see 11:22) and a firm regulation for the song leaders day by day.” (11:23).
The dedication of the wall that they had labored over for so long was a big celebration for Nehemiah and company. Central to that celebration was “…hymns of thanksgiving and ..songs to the accompaniment of cymbals, harps and lyres.” (12:27) To facilitate that celebration “….the sons of the singers were assembled….” (12:28).
What I find fascinating in this book is how involved and hands on Nehemiah as a governing leader was in facilitating appropriate singing and playing of instruments both for day to day worship, and for special celebrations such as is accounted for in great detail in chapter 12 vs. 31-47. It is a grievous error for lead pastors to delegate all matters of worship to their worship leaders so they can focus on other things. Nehemiah was extremely busy. His normal day was filled with pressure and enemies of the work he was doing for God were on all sides.
There is nothing more important in God’s house in that day and in Christ’s church in our day than the facilitating of God honoring worship in song and with instruments. Even with a full time paid worship pastor, this can never be taken for granted. Please note that in vs. 31 Nehemiah himself “….appointed two great choirs”. When it came to the worship of God’s people, Nehemiah was not a minimalist. It was not just a formality to him. He took it very very serious. He evidently believed he could not accomplish his work of restoration of all that had been devastated and corrupted unless he and all of God’s people worshipped Him regularly and devoutly with songs, instruments, choirs – all facilitated by appointed worship leaders.
The book of Esther is not relevant to this discussion.
There are a handful of isolated texts in the book of Job. I mentioned one in my first installment of this series (Job 36:24). I’ll skip a few obscure ones, and make short comment on a couple. First I would bring your attention to the fact that one of things God does is – He gives songs to His people. “….God my Maker, Who gives songs in the night.” (35:10). The best songs, like the best sermons, are the ones He gives. Second, God Himself informed Job and thus us that before the earth was created, “…the morning stars sang together, And all the sons of God shouted for joy..” (38:7). The sons of God were most likely angels. All of this to say, singing songs and praises to God started way before God created humanity. And it is the normal natural response of all of His creation.
Up next – the Psalms! :)