Amos, David, and Instruments of Music
“Does Amos 6:5 censure David’s introduction of instrumental music in worship — even under the old covenant? Does the text hint that musical instruments in the Old Testament were something God tolerated, like polygamous marriage, rather than being his ideal?”
This is a question upon which Bible expositors are not agreed. Let us first note the controversial text.
In his rebuke of the perverted worship of Israel in those days before the captivity of the northern kingdom, the prophet wrote:
“Woe to them … that sing idle songs to the sound of the viol; that invent for themselves instruments of music like David” (Amos 6:1,5).
Most commentators contend that what is condemned in this text is the corruption that was characteristic of the vile people of Israel — their excesses and their motives, that stood in stark contrast to the holy worship of God as practiced by David. Here is a typical explanation of the text.
“They fancy they equal David in musical skill (1 Chron. 23:5; Neh. 12:36). They defend their luxurious passion for music by his example: forgetting that he pursued this study when at peace and free from danger, and that for the praise of God: but they pursue for their own self-gratification, and that when God is angry and ruin is imminent” (Jamieson, et al., p. 797).
“The reference to David, who was the sweet singer of Israel, and of whose musical instruments express mention is made [in] Neh. 12:36, is manifestly ironical; implying that, while that monarch devoted his musical talent to the glory of God, the dissipated grandees of Israel consulted only their personal gratification, and that of those who joined their giddy circle” (Henderson, p. 165).
Laetsch argues the same case, contending that the Israelites “also invented for themselves, not to God’s glory, instruments of music.” He too opines that the comparison to David is “bitter irony” (p. 171).
But not all expositors agree with the majority view. Adam Clarke, whose scholarly works were produced over a span of forty years, and who likely was the most renowned scholar of the Methodist Church, wrote:
“I believe that David was not authorized by the Lord to introduce that multitude of musical instruments into the Divine worship of which we read; and I am satisfied that his conduct in this respect is most solemnly reprehended by this prophet; and I farther believe that the use of such instruments of music, in the Christian Church, is without the sanction and against the will of God; and that they are *sinful”* (p. 684, emp. orig.; in addition, see Clarke’s comments on 1 Chronicles 23:5; 2 Chronicles 29:25. Cf. also Coffman, pp. 180-183; Woods, pp. 26-30).
It may be impossible to arrive at a dogmatic decision relative to this matter, but several facts are worthy of consideration.
(1) If corruption in Israel exhausts the thrust of Amos’ censure, why mention David? The rebuke could have been adequately rendered without any allusion to the Lord’s illustrious ancestor. To suggest that Israel’s apostates were appealing to David cannot be substantiated for certain.
(2) The common theory, that a contrast was being drawn between the rebels of Amos’ day, and that of king David, does not conform to the grammar. The prophet does not say that David was applauded in what he did, and that the rebels of Israel acted in an opposite fashion. In some sense, the latter are said to be “like” David; that is, what they did was the “equivalent” of what David did.
This would not suggest that David was involved in the type of dissoluteness in which Israel reveled, but that in one particular, they were alike — they each invented for themselves instruments of music.
The term “invented” signifies to “devise” (Proverbs 6:18). It is kindred to a term meaning to “think,” i.e., that which proceeds from one’s mind (cf. Nehemiah 6:2). It appears to say that what David did was to “devise” instruments to enhance his own pleasure in the worship of God, and that in motive corrupt Israel followed in kind.
The idea that the comparison was merely ironical is not based upon anything in the text. It is a matter of interpretation, grounded upon a presupposition already in the commentator’s mind. It may be valid, but it is speculation, not exegesis.
(3) The expression “instruments of David” is found three times in the Old Testament.
“And the Levites stood with the instruments of David, and the priests with the trumpets. And Hezekiah commanded to offer the burnt-offering upon the altar. And when the burnt-offering began, the song of Jehovah began also, and the trumpets, together with the instruments of David king of Israel” (2 Chronicles 29:26-27).
“[A]nd his brethren, Shemaiah, and Azarel, Milalai, Gilalai, Maai, Nethanel, and Judah, Hanani, with the musical instruments of David the man of God; and Ezra the scribe was before them” (Nehemiah 12:36).
Notice how the phrase “song of Jehovah” is distinguished from the “instruments of David” in the Chronicles text.
The musical instruments are never said to be “instruments of Jehovah” in an isolated context. The only time a text even comes close to that, David is injected into the scene.
“And the priests stood, according to their offices; the Levites also with instruments of music [”the song of" ASVfn] of [to] Jehovah, which David the king had made to give thanks unto Jehovah, for his lovingkindness endures for ever, when David praised by their ministry: and the priests sounded trumpets before them; and all Israel stood" (2 Chronicles 7:6).
As Keil commented: “The Levites with the instruments of the song of Jahve, which David had made, i.e., with the instruments invented and appointed by David for song to the praise of the Lord” (p. 332).
When all has been said, and the controversy is still left “murky,” the issue actually is a non-issue. The real question is not whether David introduced the instruments on his own initiative, or at the bidding of God. Either way, the matter is of no relevance to the Christian.
The task that lies with those who wish to employ the instrument in Christian worship (along with other carnal items, e.g., incense burning — cf. Hebrews 9:10) is to find New Testament authority for the practice — and that does not exist.
This is why, in recent years, some advocates of instrumental worship have begun to argue that “authority” is not even needed; the matter of worship is entirely unregulated, and thus of one’s own “will” (cf. Colossians 2:23).
It is a matter of historical record that musical instruments were not used in “Christian” worship for at least several centuries after the commencement of Christianity. “The general introduction of instrumental music [in the church] can certainly not be assigned to a date earlier than the 5th or 6th centuries” (McClintock & Strong, p. 759).
The renowned Bingham wrote: “Music in churches is as ancient as the apostles, but instrumental music not so: for it is now generally agreed by learned men, that the use of organs came into the church since the time of Thomas Aquinas, anno 1250” (p. 315).
Even the supreme authority in popular Catholic literature notes: “Although Josephus tells of the wonderful effects produced in the Temple by the use of instruments of music, the first Christians were of too spiritual a fiber to substitute lifeless instruments for or to use them to accompany the human voice” (The Catholic Encyclopedia, p. 651).
Of course for many people today, neither “authority,” nor the record of history, is an issue of consequence. These folks are the “authority” unto themselves.
- Bingham, Joseph (1865), The Antiquities of the Christian Church (London: Henry G. Bohn).
- Catholic Encyclopedia, (New York: Encyclopedia Press, 1913), Vol. X.
- Clarke, Adam (n.d.), Clarke’s Commentary on the Holy Bible (Nashville: Abingdon), Vol. IV.
- Coffman, James Burton (1981), Commentary on the Minor Prophets (Houston: Firm Foundation), Vol. 1.
- Henderson, Ebenezer (1980 ed.), The Twelve Minor Prophets (Grand Rapids: Baker).
- Jamieson, Robert; Fausset, A.R.; Brown, David (1961 ed.), Jamieson, Fausset & Brown’s Commentary on the Whole Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan).
- Keil, C.F. (1978 ed.), Chronicles (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans).
- Laetsch, Theo. (1956), The Minor Prophets (St. Louis: Concordia).
- McClintock, John; Strong, James (1969 ed.), Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature (Grand Rapids: Baker), Vol. VI.
- Woods, Guy N. (1976), Questions and Answers (Henderson, TN: Freed-Hardeman University), Vol. 1.
About the Author
Wayne Jackson has written for and edited the Christian Courier since its inception in 1965. He has also written several books on a variety of biblical topics including The Bible and Science, Creation, Evolution, and the Age of the Earth, The Bible on Trial, and a number of commentaries. He lives in Stockton, California with his dear wife, and life-long partner, Betty.