The Influence of Music

Whenever the evil spirit from God was upon Saul, David took the lyre and played it with his hand. So Saul was refreshed and was well, and the evil spirit departed from him” (1 Sam. 16:23).

- 1 Samuel 16:14–23

A prominent figure complained about the impact of music upon our young people. This “new music,” he said, “is promoting the moral degeneracy of our adolescents.” We might think this statement was made by someone within the past one hundred years. However, even though this sentiment has been echoed numerous times in recent history, it is actually a quote of the ancient Greek philosopher Plato.

Without question, music has a profound impact on human beings. Though we may differ over just how influential it is, music continues to shape and add color to the most important moments of our lives. Spouses have favorite songs that conjure up happy memories of courtship. Certain compositions are immediately associated with specific holidays or other special occasions. Music can be used to change or reflect different moods. As today’s passage indicates, even biblical heroes used music for this purpose.

The principles of proportionality, harmony, simplicity, and complexity introduced yesterday may be nowhere more apparent than when we study music. All sorts of sounds are heard everyday — a jackhammer’s pounding, the singing of a sparrow, the shattering of glass, the fight song played by a marching band. Yet only the second and the last of these examples can be called music. A jackhammer may be noise, but it does not exhibit the variation in tone or progression (proportionality) that the sparrow’s singing does. When glass breaks, it may be possible to determine that it shatters with the tone of A flat. Nevertheless, because this tone does not occur in a sequence (simple or complex), it is not deemed to be musical.

In reality, a musical score always follows certain mathematical rules. Certain chords sound harmonious because of their numerical relationship to each other. The artist may not be able to define it with arithmetic, but if the correlation does not adhere to a mathematical system of music, Western or Eastern, the tones only produce noise. If a progression of sounds completely violates the standards of aesthetics, our ears do not hear music.

Coram Deo

The Psalmist implores us to “make a joyful noise” unto the Lord, but the context makes it clear he is using “noise” as a synonym for music (Ps. 95:1–2). God is pleased when we praise Him with music, whether it be with voice or with the instrument. Do you worship Him eagerly in the public setting whenever it is time to sing? Endeavor this Sunday to sing or play eagerly unto Him, for He is the great God above all the earth.

Passages for Further Study

1 Chron. 23:2–6
Zeph. 3:17
Eph. 5:18–21
Rev. 15:2–4

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