Praising Jehovah With Music
MANY are the ways by which Jehovah’s servants can bring praise to him. Without a doubt, among the most beautiful and among the ones bringing great joy to his heart is that of ‘singing and making melody to him.’ (Psalm 105:2) It has well been observed that music is one of the “hallmarks of man’s humanity.”
Music has also been termed “that unique human gift, both creative and recreative.” Animals, whether wild or domestic, have no musical ability. True, some birds sing beautiful songs, but that is wholly by instinct. They no more have an appreciation of music than parrots have an understanding of any words they may be trained to speak. But with beautiful music, we can reach the hearts of others, even as with speech, we can communicate with others’ intellects.
Yes, music is a gift from the Creator to humankind, and what a gift it is! Recent research shows that babies even before birth indicate what music they like—sweet and melodious—and what music they dislike—powerful and noisy, such as rock music. We are also told that an unborn child can develop musical talent as it hears beautiful music. So music brings delight to humans not only from the cradle to the grave but even from the womb to the grave! Since music is not normally viewed as absolutely essential to human existence, the Creator’s making it possible for humans to compose music and to enjoy it is another example of his wisdom and love. “The Hebrews were an eminently musical people,” we are told. And it is indeed remarkable that music very early in human history was highlighted, along with agriculture and manufacturing, as one of the occupations of man.—Genesis 4:20-22.
Effects of Music
However, let us never overlook the fact that music can be either upbuilding or degrading. Good music combines the pleasant sounds marked by melody, harmony, and rhythm; it appeals to what is noble in man. But bad music appeals to man’s fallen inclinations. Such music has been termed: “The unholy trinity of . . . violence, sex and noise.”
Unfortunately, some musicians claiming to serve Jehovah God have come short in this respect. A few of such have hired themselves out to play at weddings and then betrayed a lack of appreciation of Bible principles by the kind of music they played. Their music was so loud that normal conversation was impossible. It seems that they forgot entirely that the wedding guests did not primarily come to hear musicians showing off their talents.
Good music serves many useful purposes. Soft background music may be soothing, relaxing. Much of what might be termed “great music,” such as symphonic music and that heard at an opera house, may appeal to the intellect, or it may stimulate the imagination and the emotions. Not to be overlooked are oratorios, usually based on Scriptural themes, the rendition of which involves large orchestras and choruses. One of the most noted is Handel’s “Messiah.”
Music can be a blessing to old folks, shut-ins, and those who are sick. It has been used to reach mentally handicapped children when all other efforts failed. It is claimed that certain music may serve a useful calming purpose in the offices of doctors and dentists. The right kind of music is said to have helped factory workers to do better and more work. Interestingly, the therapeutic value of music was appreciated more than 3,000 years ago by King Saul of Israel.—1 Samuel 16:14-23.
Of course, the best use to which music can be put is in praising Jehovah God. Such singing of praise goes back about 3,500 years to the time when Israel sang Jehovah’s praise after their deliverance at the Red Sea. (Exodus 15:1-21) Praising Jehovah with song and musical instruments was made very prominent in worship at God’s temple. The temple music involved more than one tenth of the total number of Levites. (1 Chronicles 23:3, 5) A huge orchestra and chorus were on hand at the dedication of Solomon’s temple. (2 Chronicles 5:12, 13) Most fittingly, the Hebrew Scriptures (especially in the book of Psalms) time and again urge us to sing and make melody to Jehovah God.
Coming to the Christian Greek Scriptures, we read of Jesus and his apostles singing at the time of the Lord’s Evening Meal. The apostle Paul and Silas sang when they were in prison in Philippi. (Matthew 26:30; Acts 16:25) First Corinthians 14:15 suggests that singing was a regular part of congregational worship in apostolic times. Most fittingly, Paul counseled as we read at Colossians 3:16: “Keep on teaching and admonishing one another with psalms, praises to God, spiritual songs with graciousness, singing in your hearts to Jehovah.” You will find similar instructions at Ephesians 5:18-20.
In keeping with these commands, from earliest times the modern Christian witnesses of Jehovah have made good use of the gift of music in their formal worship. The very first year Zion’s Watch Tower was published (1879) also saw the publication of a songbook, Songs of the Bride. In 1896 the Society published an issue of Zion’s Watch Tower that consisted entirely of songs composed by Bible Students. The next issue of the magazine stated: “The singing of the truth is a good way to get it into the heads and hearts of God’s people. . . . We thank God for the musical and poetic talents granted to some of his saints.” After a hundred years of publishing songbooks, the one revealing the greatest musical and poetic talent was published in 1984. It is entitled Sing Praises to Jehovah.
The newest songbook consists of twice as many pages as the previous songbook. It comes in a convenient pocket size and in a large size with words and music especially easy to read. Both the lyrics and the melodies have been contributed by Witnesses from the four corners of the earth, including Australia, Brazil, Canada, Denmark, England, Federal Republic of Germany, Finland, France, Italy, Japan, and the United States.
In contrast with all previous songbooks published by the Watch Tower Society, the traditional four-part harmony has been dispensed with. Instead, more melodious and more easily played accompaniments were prepared. Guitar notations were added too.
Two new melodies were composed for favorite words because it was learned that the melodies previously used had not been composed by Witnesses. How could that have happened? A composer may hear a little-known tune. When it later comes to his mind, he might imagine that he composed it.
Improvement in Thought Content
As the light shining on God’s truth became ever brighter in harmony with Proverbs 4:18, it was found necessary to change songs that had been in previous songbooks. That was true with the current Song 215. In 1974 we came to understand that Noah’s ark pictured our spiritual paradise, not the Kingdom. (See The Watchtower, 1974, page 634.) So the line in the older songbook “Flee at once to the ark of salvation, To the Kingdom of God that is here!” was changed to “Act at once! Make a full dedication; Serve the Kingdom of God that is here.”
Among other refinements in the interest of accuracy are the following: In the new system of things, there will be no more “evils” to dread, rather than no more “demons” to dread, for God’s people do not dread demons. (Song 129) In line with Jesus’ words at Matthew 6:22, Song 26 admonishes us to ‘keep our eye simple’ rather than ‘our sight single.’
In several instances a certain melody was given a new set of words that appeared to be more effective and useful. Song 60, “God’s Kingdom of a Thousand Years,” uses the melody of Song 86 in the previous songbook. The lyrics for Song 2, “Obeying God Rather Than Men,” are an expansion of those of former Song 79. It seemed that this theme deserved a full page rather than a half page.
The latest songbook is fittingly entitled Sing Praises to Jehovah, based on Psalm 96:1, 4. Many songs are directed to Jehovah and extol his qualities. Note just a few: “Great God, Jehovah!” (listing some 20 of Jehovah’s qualities or titles); “Jehovah, Our Best Friend”; “Jehovah Really Cares”; “Jehovah’s Blessing Makes Rich”; “Jehovah, Provider of Escape”; “Creation Reveals Jehovah’s Glory”; and “Jehovah, ‘the God of All Comfort.’”
We are told to ‘teach and admonish one another with psalms, praises to God and spiritual songs,’ and this songbook certainly does that. (Colossians 3:16) You can see this from such titles as: “Be Steadfast, Unmovable!”; “Carry On as Men”; “Do More—As the Nazirites Did”; “Forward, You Ministers of the Kingdom!”; “Loyally Submitting to Theocratic Order”; and “Stay Awake, Stand Firm, Grow Mighty.”
To help us heed the apostle Paul’s injunction, “Always rejoice in the Lord” (Philippians 4:4), we have: “A Song of Rejoicing”; “Be Joyful for the Kingdom Hope!”; “Joyful All Day Long”; “Sing the Song of Kingdom Cheer”; “Sharing Joyfully in the Harvest”; and “The Joys and Fruits of Kingdom Service.”
Kingdom blessings also get their share of attention in the latest songbook: “God’s Kingdom of a Thousand Years”; “God’s Promise of Paradise”; “Life Without End—At Last!”; “With Christ in Paradise.”
Our young folks especially have enjoyed such new songs as: “Youths! Imitate Their Faith”; “Youth’s Place in God’s Arrangement”; and “Children—Precious Gifts From God.” A song expressing appreciation for the fine work of our sisters is “The Women Are a Large Army.”
How can we show appreciation for these fine songs? In part, by taking seriously our privilege and obligation to sing them as part of our formal worship at our Kingdom Halls. We should try to arrive at meetings ahead of time, and stay until the end, so as to share in singing these songs. Let us sing with all our heart, mouth open wide, and with warmth and enthusiasm. We can also show appreciation for them by making use of them when we have social get-togethers. We can obtain tapes of the music from the songbook to play whenever we want to enjoy background music. Thus we can be built up spiritually every time we enjoy such beautiful music.
Most important of all, let us show appreciation for these beautiful songs by daily living up to their fine sentiments, as regards both our daily conduct and our ministerial obligations.