10 Key Bible Verses on Music

This article is part of the Key Bible Verses series.

All commentary notes adapted from the ESV Study Bible.

1. Psalm 150:1–6

Praise the LORD!
Praise God in his sanctuary;
      praise him in his mighty heavens!
Praise him for his mighty deeds;
      praise him according to his excellent greatness!
Praise him with trumpet sound;
      praise him with lute and harp!
Praise him with tambourine and dance;
      praise him with strings and pipe!
Praise him with sounding cymbals;
      praise him with loud clashing cymbals!
Let everything that has breath praise the LORD!
Praise the LORD!
Read More

This hymn closes the Psalter with its call for “everything that has breath” to praise the Lord with every kind of jubilant accompaniment. This psalm may have been intended for some particular liturgical use (say, the opening of a joyful service of celebration), but it now also serves as the final doxology of the whole book. The list of musical instruments in Ps. 150:3–5, with its mixture of wind, strings, percussion, and rhythmic dance, gives the impression of loud song and ceaseless motion—the worshiper’s whole body offering praise to God.

Praise Him with Music and Dance. Not only is the topic too great for merely human voices to do it justice; it also deserves the full expression of human energy and devotion, with instruments as varied as trumpet, lute, harp, strings, pipe, and various cymbals. The tambourine is commonly coupled with the dance (149:3; Ex. 15:20; 1 Sam. 18:6; Jer. 31:4) in a joyful procession. This builds to the final wish, let everything that has breath (all Israel, all mankind, all animals; cf. Ps. 148:10–11) praise the LORD: here is where they are most fully alive. Cf. Rev. 5:13–14. Hallelujah!

2. Colossians 3:16

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. Read More

The word of Christ probably refers to the teaching about Christ as well as the words of Christ himself, which were part of the oral traditions passed on to believers in the early years after Christ ascended to heaven, before the Gospels had been written. Psalms and hymns and spiritual songs is one means of teaching and admonishing. Corporate worship has a teaching function through the lyrics of its songs. This was particularly important in the oral culture of Paul’s day.

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3. 2 Samuel 6:5

And David and all the house of Israel were celebrating before the LORD, with songs and lyres and harps and tambourines and castanets and cymbals. Read More

Before the LORD, as in Ex. 28:29, means that the Lord himself was present above the ark (see note on 1 Sam. 4:3–4). Both this passage and 1 Sam. 4:1–7:2 show that the ark was not just an arbitrary symbol of God’s presence, but God himself manifested his presence in a special way where the ark was, so the ark should not be treated lightly. with songs and lyres. Music is part of worship in most societies, and it was an important part of Israelite worship. The prophets in 1 Sam. 10:5 were accompanied by harp, tambourine, flute, and lyre. David sings God’s praises in 2 Sam. 22:50, and in his old age he organized musicians to praise the Lord in the temple (1 Chron. 15:16; 23:1–5). The Psalms contain many references to using music in worship, as in Psalms 32; 71; 92; 149; and 150. The word translated castanets appears only here in the Bible. Since it means “shaking,” “castanets” is a reasonable guess. It might also be a “sistrum,” an instrument consisting of metal rings or disks shaken on rods. There were various types of cymbals in the ancient Near East; some were several inches in diameter. Some were held upright while playing, like the modern orchestral cymbal; in other cases, the two cymbals of the pair were held horizontally with rods, one above the other. If one follows the alternative translation in the ESV footnote (reading “fir trees” for “songs”) the meaning may be “branches of fir trees” (cf. Matt. 21:8), or “instruments made of fir wood.”

4. 1 Corinthians 14:26

What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up. Read More

When you come together. This verse gives a fascinating glimpse into the kinds of activities that took place when the early church gathered as the body of Christ to worship the Lord. The worship included a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. In order to prevent discord and confusion (cf. 1 Cor. 14:23, 1 Cor. 14:33), Paul concludes his description of early church worship by emphasizing that all of these activities must be “done decently and in order” (1 Cor. 14:40). The goal of building up is analogous to the building of the temple (see 1 Cor. 3:16; cf. Ex. 25:8).

5. 1 Chronicles 15:16

David also commanded the chiefs of the Levites to appoint their brothers as the singers who should play loudly on musical instruments, on harps and lyres and cymbals, to raise sounds of joy. Read More

This marks a turning point in the history of Israel’s worship: the Levites are appointed, under David, to a new ministry of music and praise, which will be conducted in the presence of the ark (on the significance of their leadership of worship for Israel, see 1 Chron.16:4–7). Solomon will follow in David’s footsteps in the organization of the Levites for the temple worship (2 Chron. 8:14).

6. Ezra 3:10–11

And when the builders laid the foundation of the temple of the LORD, the priests in their vestments came forward with trumpets, and the Levites, the sons of Asaph, with cymbals, to praise the LORD, according to the directions of David king of Israel. And they sang responsively, praising and giving thanks to the LORD,

“For he is good,
for his steadfast love endures forever toward Israel.”

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. Read More

all the people shouted with a great shout. The laying of the foundations occasions praise, which echoes the celebrations of King David when he prepared for the building of Solomon’s temple (cf. 1 Chronicles 16, esp. vv. 1 Chron. 16:7, 1 Chron. 16:34, 1 Chron. 16:37).

7. Ephesians 5:18–19

And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart . . . Read More

Wine was the staple drink of the ancient Mediterranean world and was fermented in order to preserve it from turning into vinegar. be filled with the Spirit. As earlier, Paul expresses a negative exhortation (what the saints are to stop doing) along with a positive command (what the saints are to start doing). Whereas wine can control the mind and ruin one’s judgment and sense of propriety, leading to debauchery, in contrast with this, being “filled with the Spirit” leads to self-control along with the other fruits of “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, [and] gentleness” (Gal. 5:22–23). The command in Greek (plērousthe) is a present imperative and does not describe a onetime “filling” but a regular pattern of life.

Being filled with the Spirit results in joyful praise through singing and making melody. This may refer to different kinds of psalms and hymns and spiritual songs found in the OT Psalter. It seems more likely, however, that Paul is referring both to the canonical psalms and to contemporary compositions of praise (see also Col. 3:16). “Spiritual” communicates the influence of the Holy Spirit’s filling (Eph. 5:18) in the believer’s acts of praise.

8. 1 Corinthians 14:15

What am I to do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will pray with my mind also; I will sing praise with my spirit, but I will sing with my mind also. Read More

The comparison between my spirit and my mind shows that Paul is not speaking of the Holy Spirit but of his own human spirit. When Paul uses the term “spirit” of human beings, he means an inner, invisible faculty that can be especially attuned to the things of God (see 2:10–15; 5:3–5; Rom. 1:9; 8:16). “Mind” refers to the human faculty connected with intellectual understanding (1 Cor. 14:19; 1:10).

9. 2 Chronicles 7:6

The priests stood at their posts; the Levites also, with the instruments for music to the LORD that King David had made for giving thanks to the LORD—for his steadfast love endures forever—whenever David offered praises by their ministry; opposite them the priests sounded trumpets, and all Israel stood. Read More

For he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever. Variations on this refrain from Psalm 136 occur several times in the book (see 1 Chron. 16:34; 2 Chron. 5:13; 2 Chron. 7:6; 2 Chron. 20:21) and may indicate a link between the author and the temple singers.

10. Psalm 96:1–6

Oh sing to the LORD a new song;
sing to the LORD, all the earth!
Sing to the LORD, bless his name;
tell of his salvation from day to day.
Declare his glory among the nations,
his marvelous works among all the peoples!
For great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised;
he is to be feared above all gods.
For all the gods of the peoples are worthless idols,
but the LORD made the heavens.
Splendor and majesty are before him;
strength and beauty are in his sanctuary. Read More

Sing to the Lord All the Earth, for He Is Great! The psalm begins by calling the inhabitants of all the earth to sing to the LORD. The activities (sing to the LORD, bless his name, tell of his salvation; cf. praised and feared) all describe the privilege of Israelite worship in God’s sanctuary; here the Gentiles are invited to join in (see also Ps. 96:8–9).

Verses 4-5 explain to the Gentiles that there is only one God truly worthy of worship. He is to be feared above all gods (because he made the heavens, while they are powerless, indeed unreal). The words gods (Hb. ’elohim) and worthless idols (Hb. ’elilim) sound alike, providing a play on words; in English this would be close to “these mighty beings are mighty useless!”

Splendor and majesty describe royal magnificence (Ps. 21:5; Ps. 45:3), which is suited to the theme of divine kingship (cf. Ps. 104:1; Ps. 111:3; Ps. 145:3; Job 40:10). These, along with strength and beauty, are attributes of God, into whose presence people come in his sanctuary.

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