Inspiring Music: The Connection Between Song and Prophecy

Years ago when I was studying the topic of prophecy in the Bible, I noticed a link between prophecy and music that I thought seemed strange at the time. When we think of prophecy, we typically think of foretelling future events. We might also think of “inspired speaking,” which is the more general sense of both the Hebrew naba (H5012 “prophecy”) and the Greek propheteia (G4394 “prophecy”). Thus, a prophet (nabiy [masculine] or nebiyah [feminine] in Hebrew and prophetes in Greek) is someone who shares a message inspired by God; they’re a spokesperson for Him.

It’s likely impossible to read the Bible without noticing the importance of music, especially in the Psalms. People of God sing a lot, often accompanied by lively music and dancing. With this in mind, perhaps the link between music and prophecy shouldn’t surprise me, but it did. I hear this much less often now, but when I was a teen I was warned repeatedly against the dangers of getting too caught up in the emotions of worship music. Those emotions could stir you up to ignore theologically questionable lyrics or make a fool out of yourself swaying and back and forth in church (or so the argument went). And yet, people in the Bible deliberately sought out music as part of not only their praise but also to help them hear God’s voice.

Prophets as Singers

Revisiting this study started with my mom suggesting that someone should put together a study on music for our monthly scripture writing group. So far, I’ve come up with 20 scriptures for the topic “Inspiring Music.” They’re not all direct links between prophecy and music, but they all have to do with inspiration and singing or playing musical instruments. Several of these verses have to do with prophets and prophetesses who used music when sharing inspired words.

Miriam the prophetess, the sister of Aaron, took a tambourine in her hand; and all the women went out after her with tambourines and with dances. Miriam answered them,

“Sing to Yahweh, for he has triumphed gloriously.
He has thrown the horse and his rider into the sea.”

Exodus 15:20-21, WEB

Now Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lappidoth, judged Israel at that time. …

Then Deborah and Barak the son of Abinoam sang on that day, saying,

“Because the leaders took the lead in Israel,
    because the people offered themselves willingly,
be blessed, Yahweh!

Judges 4:4; 5:1-2, WEB

With two of the Old Testament prophetesses singing like this, Brown-Driver-Briggs dictionary even includes “gift of song” as part of their definition for nebiyah. The Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament notes that it’s rare, but musicians are “designated nebi’im” (entry 1277). We see another example of this when David appointed “some of the sons of Asaph, Heman, and Jeduthun to prophesy as they played stringed instruments and cymbals” (1 Chr. 25:1-3, NET). It shouldn’t come as any surprise to us that music can be divinely inspired, but seeing it linked with prophecy underscores the importance God places on musical praise, worship, and teaching.

Inspired By Music

In addition to these examples of prophets and prophetesses as musicians, we also have an example of a prophet who listened to music.

Elisha said, “As Yahweh of Armies lives, before whom I stand, surely, were it not that I respect the presence of Jehoshaphat the king of Judah, I would not look toward you, nor see you. But now bring me a musician.” When the musician played, Yahweh’s hand came on him. 

2 Kings 3:14-15, WEB

Here, three kings came to Elisha asking him to talk with God for them. Though he wouldn’t have responded to the kings of Israel and Edom, Elisha said he would seek God’s guidance out of respect for the king of Judah. In order to do that, he asked for a musician and it was while he listened to music that “Yahweh’s hand came on him.” It’s a fascinating precedent for someone using music to help them communicate and connect with God.

Music was a key part of worship in God’s temple, particularly after King David appointed singers and musicians for worship in the tabernacle. That type of ministry through music continued into Solomon’s day and beyond whenever kings and righteous leaders reinstituted true worship (1 Chr. 6:31-32; 2 Chr. 23:18; Neh. 12:44-46).

He [Hezekiah] set the Levites in Yahweh’s house with cymbals, with stringed instruments, and with harps, according to the commandment of David, of Gad the king’s seer, and Nathan the prophet; for the commandment was from Yahweh by his prophets.  The Levites stood with David’s instruments, and the priests with the trumpets. Hezekiah commanded them to offer the burnt offering on the altar. When the burnt offering began, Yahweh’s song also began, along with the trumpets and instruments of David king of Israel. All the assembly worshiped, the singers sang, and the trumpeters sounded. All this continued until the burnt offering was finished.

2 Chronicles 29:25-28, WEB

Share Your Song

The emphasis on music isn’t just an Old Testament thing. Much as there was music in the physical tabernacles and temples of old, God expects to see music in His spiritual temple that’s made up of all faithful believers.

 Let the peace of Christ be in control in your heart (for you were in fact called as one body to this peace), and be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and exhorting one another with all wisdom, singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, all with grace in your hearts to God.

Colossians 3:15-16, NET

When God looks at His church, there are some specific things He expects to see. He wants us to be at peace with each other and have peace inside us. He wants to see Jesus’s words in us “richly,” overflowing in “teaching and exhorting with wisdom.” And He wants to see us “singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.” The context indicates that singing is part of our teaching and exhortation (our inspired and inspiring words); a conclusion reinforced by another letter Paul wrote.

And do not get drunk with wine, which is debauchery, but be filled by the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing and making music in your hearts to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ,

Ephesians 5:18-20, NET

When we’re filled with the Spirit, that’s going to inspire music both aloud and in our hearts. I know it can be hard sometimes to get excited about singing. Maybe you don’t like the way your voice sounds or you’re turned-off by the style of music at your church. I like singing, but there are some hymns that sound an awful lot like a funeral dirge to me and I just can’t work up much involvement singing those. But there are other hymns that I love, and when I’m at home I’m free to pick a style of Christian music I like and dance around singing them all I want. If we want to make music part of our worship, surely we can all find songs that match our tastes well enough that we can sincerely use them to glorify God. At the very least, we can appreciate the words of the music we sing at church and recognize the value God places on music.

In addition to the encouraging and exhorting aspect of “speaking to one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs,” there’s also a link to thankfulness. Thanksgiving is a key aspect of praise and of song, and it should accompany our teaching, exhorting, and singing. (2 Sam. 22:50, Ps. 33:2, and others). In this as in so many other things, it comes down to the state of your heart. When we have God’s spirit inside us, want to encourage others, and have a thankful attitude, then godly music is one of the ways for us to both express our appreciation for the Lord and strengthen our relationship with Him.

Featured image by Wolfgang Heubeck from Pixabay

Favorite INFJ Songs Playlist

A couple weeks ago, Susan Storm asked me to write an article about songs that INFJs love. When I asked some INFJs on Facebook for feedback on that topic, I was overwhelmed by the responses. It was far more than I could fit in just one article! I’ve compiled a Spotify playlist with the recommended songs, albums, and artists that you can click here to listen to. It’s over 6 hours long, and growing with each new comment. I’ve found several new favorites, and I hope you will too!

Coincidently, I finished writing this article shortly before I finished listening to Jordan Peterson’s “Maps of Meaning” lecture series. In the final lecture, he spends a few moments talking about music.

“Virtually everyone gets intimations of meaning from music. And I think music is hierarchically structured patterns that are representative of being laying itself out properly.  … It is an abstract representation of proper being.” — Jordan Peterson, 2017 Maps of Meaning 12, time signature 1:51:00.

Music is meaningful to us on a level that I doubt most of us (me included) really understand, at least consciously.  And, in the case of many of the songs INFJs list among their favorites, it really does prompt us to think about “being.”

Some of these songs represent irrepressibly hopeful ideas of the world, while others dive deep into brokenness and pain. Some are raw, some are happy, some beautiful, some hard to listen to. But for at least one INFJ out there, the different songs on this playlist are expressing the sorts of things “which cannot be said and on which it is impossible to be silent” (to quote Victor Hugo).

How Do You Hold on to Hope When You’re Fighting Anxiety and Depression?

Anxiety and depression are two of the most common mental illnesses, and they often occur together. Just because its relatively common, though, doesn’t make dealing with both feel any less weird. Exhibit A, this image I ran across on Pinterest:

It’s overly simplified, of course, to say “depression is when you don’t really care about anything” and “anxiety is when you care too much about everything.” Still, these comments capture part of how strange it feels to simultaneously (or alternately) deal with depression and anxiety. “Having both is staying in bed because you don’t want to go to school and then panicking because you don’t want to fail. Having both is wanting to go see your friends so you don’t lose them all, then staying home in bed because you don’t want to make the effort.”

Anxiety and depression are going to show up a bit different for everyone who struggles with them, but for me it’s like one day I’m on-edge, jittery, and so distracted by my inner anxiety monologue that I struggle to remember how things actually happened. Then the next day I feel like a weight’s pressing down on me snuffing out all motivation and hope. And some days, the smothering feeling is there but I’m also anxious about stuff I should care about and there’s this weird fight going on in my head. It’s exhausting.

Holding on to hope isn’t easy when you’re fighting a struggle inside your mind that tells you the worst could happen and there’s no point in trying to do anything about it. But we’re also not helpless victims of our own minds. We can change the patterns of our thoughts. We can choose to hold on to hope even when there seems no reason for it, and the easiest/best way to do this is with the Lord’s help.

Read more

Mental Illness and Musicals

The theater where my sister and I hold season tickets is getting the touring Broadway production of Dear Evan Hansen for its 2019/2020 season. Pretty exciting, right? Actually, I’m excited about the entire upcoming season. It’s packed full of musicals, and they’re all such good titles that I can’t say there’s one that I’m least exited to see.

I can, however, tell you that Dear Evan Hansen is one I’m most excited about. Two years ago, this musical was nominated for nine Tony Awards and won six, including Best Musical, Best Score, and Best Actor in a Musical for Ben Platt. And it more than earned those accolades with brilliant scrip, music, characters, and acting all coming together to tell a story that contributes to an important conversation about mental illness. Read more

What’s Behind The Facade?

Yesterday my sister and I went to see a community theater’s production of the musical Jekyll and Hyde. It’s a show that our cousin introduced us to years ago through the soundtrack and we were excited to it on stage. I’m not sure I’d call this a favorite play, but the music is fantastic and the story line prompts some intriguing questions about the nature of human kind and how our personalities work.

Jekyll and Hyde is a classic tale of good and evil. The play is quite different from Robert Lewis Stevenson’s novel, The Strange Case of Doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. In the original version, Jekyll develops a serum to separate his darker side because he’d already started indulging his vices and wanted to keep doing so without fear of discovery. The play offers a more compelling protagonist; a Jekyll searching for a cure to evil on a grand scale. If you’re curious, you can watch a really good high school production of the play on YouTube by clicking here.

This isn’t the sort of play that I recommend frequently. It’s dark. It’s complicated. It’s more sexual than the scandalized ladies sitting behind me expected. It doesn’t end happy (don’t look at me like that — you don’t get spoiler warnings when the book’s 132 years old). But it’s also a deeply compelling story that dives head-first into tough questions about the nature of man. Read more

Even If You Don’t: Holding On To Hope In Dark Times

We know God can do anything. So how do you react when He doesn’t do something that you beg him to? When your loved one isn’t healed? When your heartbreak feels unbearable and then something else piles on top of that? When you just don’t know how to go on, yet you have to anyway?

I’ve been going through a rough patch emotionally, especially over the past few weeks but really for a few months now. And I feel like God has thrown me some songs as “lifelines” in this time. First it was “I Am Not Alone” by Kari Jobe and more recently it was “Even If” by MercyMe.

I know You’re able and I know You can
Save through the fire with Your mighty hand
But even if You don’t
My hope is You alone
I know the sorrow, and I know the hurt
Would all go away if You’d just say the word
But even if You don’t
My hope is You alone

I didn’t much want to sing this when it popped into my head. Actually, I couldn’t at first since all I remembered was the “But even if you don’t” line. But I looked the song up, grasping for some hope to anchor my soul, and after playing through it a few times I could breath and pray again. I’ll admit, though, that there was still a part of me crying out, “Why?” when I thought about Him choosing not to take away the sorrow and hurt. And it’s okay to do that. As my counselor said, God is big enough to handle it when His kids are frustrated with Him.

Hope is one of the key things that gets us through the times when we’re frustrated with God and don’t understand what He’s doing. And it’s something I don’t think we talk about enough. Paul tells us “faith, hope and love remain”  (1 Cor. 13:13, WEB). They’re all three virtues that aren’t going away, but we talk about faith and love a whole lot more than hope. Which is a shame, because hope is something that’s very much needed in this world. Read more