A musical instrument of the woodwind class. Although there is some dispute as to which modern musical instrument corresponds to the Hebrew cha·lilʹ and its Greek equivalent au·losʹ, many modern translations render the words as “flute,” in harmony with the identification given by lexicographers. (1Sa 10:5; 1Co 14:7, AT, JB, NW, RS) The Hebrew root word from which cha·lilʹ is believed to have been derived signifies “pierce” (Isa 51:9; 53:5), and it may refer to a process used to make a simple flute, namely, to drill out the center of a section of reed, cane, or even bone or ivory and then to perforate it at suitable intervals. Egyptian inscriptions indicate that a variety of flutelike instruments existed in that country. One type was held in an oblique position, with the mouth against the side of the instrument; they also developed a double flute, with the mouth at the end of the two pipes.
The Greek au·losʹ appears to have been used also as a general designation that included instruments of two types: those utilizing a reed in the mouthpiece, as well as simple flutelike pipes. Cha·lilʹ may also have come to be a general term for all woodwinds, but in modern Hebrew the name is applied only to the flute, and traditional Jewish belief is that the cha·lilʹ of Scripture was the flute.
The flute was one of the most popular of all musical instruments, being played at joyous times such as banquets and weddings (Isa 5:12; 30:29; 1Ki 1:40), a custom imitated by children in public places. (Mt 11:16, 17) It was also played at times of sadness. Professional mourners were often accompanied by flutists playing mournful tunes.—Mt 9:23, 24.