Guard Against Unwholesome Music!
“Keep strict watch that how you walk is not as unwise but as wise persons, buying out the opportune time for yourselves, because the days are wicked.” —EPHESIANS 5:15, 16.
1. Why can music be called “a divine gift”?
“MUSIC . . . is a divine gift.” So wrote Lulu Rumsey Wiley in her book Bible Music. From earliest times, God-fearing men and women have recognized this sentiment. Through music, man has expressed his deepest emotions—joy, sorrow, outrage, and love. Music thus played an important role in Bible times, being mentioned throughout that sacred book.—Genesis 4:21; Revelation 18:22.
2. How was music used to praise Jehovah in Bible times?
2 It was in the worship of Jehovah that music found its noblest expression. Some of the loftiest expressions of praise ever made to Jehovah God were originally set to music. “I will praise the name of God with song,” wrote the psalmist David. (Psalm 69:30) Music was used in solitude as an accompaniment to prayerful reflection. “I will remember my string music in the night; with my heart I will show concern, and my spirit will carefully search,” wrote Asaph. (Psalm 77:6) In Jehovah’s temple, music was organized on a grand scale. (1 Chronicles 23:1-5; 2 Chronicles 29:25, 26) At times, massive musical forces were marshaled, such as at the temple dedication, when 120 trumpeters were employed. (2 Chronicles 5:12, 13) We have no record of how this majestic music sounded, but the book The Music of the Bible observes: “It will not be difficult to form an opinion of the general effect of Temple music on solemn occasions . . . If one of us could now be transported into the midst of such a scene, an overpowering sense of awe and sublimity would be inevitable.”*
The Abuse of Music
3, 4. In what way was the gift of music abused by God’s people and their pagan neighbors?
3 Music was not always put to such a lofty use, however. At Mount Sinai, music was used to spur on the idolatrous worship of a golden calf. (Exodus 32:18) Music was also on occasion linked with drunken behavior and even prostitution. (Psalm 69:12; Isaiah 23:15) Israel’s pagan neighbors were no less guilty of abusing this divine gift. “In Phoenicia and Syria,” says The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, “almost all popular music reflected the worship of Ishtar, the goddess of fertility. Thus, popular song was usually a prelude to sexual orgies.” The ancient Greeks likewise used music to accompany popular “erotic dances.”
4 Yes, music has the power to move, to enthrall, and to influence. Decades ago, John Stainer’s book The Music of the Bible even went so far as to claim: “No art is exercising such a strong influence over the human race at the present time as the art of Music.” Music continues to exercise a potent influence today. Hence, the wrong kind of music can pose a real danger for God-fearing youths.
A Need for Caution
5. (a) How big a role does music play in the lives of many teenagers? (b) What is God’s view of young people enjoying themselves?
5 If you are a young person, then you well know how important music—particularly various forms of pop or rock music—is to many your age. Music has even been called “part of teenage metabolism.” It is estimated that in his last six years of school, the average youth in the United States will listen to over four hours of rock music a day! That surely shows a lack of balance. It is not that there is anything wrong with enjoying something that makes you feel good or happy. Certainly Jehovah, the Creator of joyous music, does not expect young people to be sullen and miserable. In fact, he commands his people: “Rejoice in Jehovah and be joyful, you righteous ones; and cry out joyfully, all you who are upright in heart.” (Psalm 32:11) To young ones his Word says: “Rejoice, young man, in your youth, and let your heart do you good in the days of your young manhood.”—Ecclesiastes 11:9.
6. (a) Why do youths need to be cautious in their choice of music? (b) Why is much of the music today more objectionable than the music of previous generations?
6 Nevertheless, there is good reason for you to be cautious in your choice of music. The apostle Paul said at Ephesians 5:15, 16: “Keep strict watch that how you walk is not as unwise but as wise persons, buying out the opportune time for yourselves, because the days are wicked.” Some youths might object, as did one young girl: “Our parents got to listen to their music when they were young. Why can’t we listen to ours?” Some of the music your parents enjoyed at your age may also have had its objectionable aspects. Upon close examination, many of the popular standards turn out to have a surprising number of sexual innuendos and veiled references to immorality. But what was once only hinted at is now described explicitly. Observes one writer: “Children are now bombarded with explicit messages on a scale unlike anything our culture has ever seen.”
Rap Music—The Music of Rebellion
7, 8. (a) What is rap music, and what accounts for its popularity? (b) What might identify a person as adhering to the rap life-style?
7 Consider, for example, the current rage of rap music. According to Time magazine, rap has become “a certifiable, global rhythm revolution” and is enormously popular in Brazil, Europe, Japan, Russia, and the United States. Often completely devoid of melody, its lyrics are spoken, not sung, to the accompaniment of a powerful beat. It is that driving beat, though, that seems to be the secret of rap’s great commercial success. “When I listen to rap music,” says one Japanese youth, “I feel excited, and when I’m dancing, I feel free.”
8 Rap lyrics—often a brash mixture of profanity and street slang—seem to be another reason for the popularity of rap. Unlike traditional rock lyrics, many of which dwell on the subject of teenage romance, rap lyrics often have a more serious message. Some rap speaks out against injustice, racism, and police brutality. At times, though, the rhyming refrains are stated in the most foul, shocking language imaginable. Rap also seems to constitute a rebellion against standards of dress, grooming, and sexual morality. Not surprisingly, rap has become a life-style in its own right. Its adherents are identified by their flamboyant gestures, street slang, and garb—baggy jeans, unlaced high-top sneakers, gold chains, baseball caps, and dark glasses.
9, 10. (a) What factors should youths consider in determining if rap music and its life-style are “acceptable to the Lord”? (b) What do some Christian youths seem to take lightly?
9 At Ephesians 5:10, Christians are told to “keep on making sure of what is acceptable to the Lord.” Considering the reputation rap has made for itself, do you think it would be “acceptable to the Lord” for you to get involved with it? Would a Christian youth want to be identified with a life-style that is deemed unacceptable even by many people of the world? Note how one reviewer described a rap concert: “The rap singers vied with one another for shock appeal with profanity and explicit sexual lyrics. . . . Male and female dancers simulated sex acts on the stage.” Regarding a certain headline act, one of the concert promoters said: “Every other word out of their mouth is (obscene).”
10 Even so, the music played that evening was hardly considered out of the mainstream of rap. Said the concert hall director: “What you are hearing is average rap—the same as they’re buying in the stores.” How sad it is to report that among the 4,000 and more youths in attendance at that concert were some who claim to be Jehovah’s Witnesses! Some have apparently taken lightly the fact that Satan is “the ruler of the authority of the air.” He governs “the spirit [or, dominant mental attitude] that now operates in the sons of disobedience.” (Ephesians 2:2) Whose interests would you serve if you became involved with rap music or the rap life-style? Granted, some rap may be less objectionable in content. But does it make sense to cultivate a taste for any type of music that is predominantly offensive to Christian standards?
Heavy Metal—Sex, Violence, and Satanism
11, 12. What is heavy metal music, and what objectionable features characterize it?
11 Another popular form of music is heavy metal. Heavy metal is more than high-decibel hard rock. Says a report in The Journal of the American Medical Association: “Heavy metal music . . . features a loud pulsating rhythm and abounds with lyrics that glorify hatred, abuse, sexual deviancy, and occasionally satanism.” Why, the names alone of some of the more popular bands testify to the depravity of this brand of rock. They include such words as “poison,” “guns,” and “death.” Yet, heavy metal seems fairly tame in comparison with thrash metal and death metal—fringe musical genres spawned by heavy metal. The names of these bands exploit terms like “cannibal” and “obituary.” Youths in many lands may not realize how repulsive these names are because they are in English or another foreign language.
12 Heavy metal music has repeatedly been linked with teen suicide, depression, and drug use. Its connection with violent behavior caused one radio consultant to dub it “music to kill your parents by.” It is the connection with Satanism that alarms many parents—and police officers. One investigator claimed that some youths dabbling in satanic worship were initiated into the occult through this music. “They don’t know what they are getting into,” he concludes.
13. What is the danger in becoming involved with heavy metal music?
13 Christian youths, however, should not be “ignorant of [Satan’s] designs.” (2 Corinthians 2:11) After all, “we have a wrestling . . . against the wicked spirit forces in the heavenly places.” (Ephesians 6:12) How foolish it would be, by one’s choice of music, to invite the demons into one’s life! (1 Corinthians 10:20, 21) Yet, a number of Christian youths are evidently quite fond of this music. Some have even resorted to covert means to satisfy their musical tastes. Confesses one young girl: “I used to listen to heavy metal, sometimes almost all night long. I would buy heavy metal [fan] magazines and hide them from my parents in shoe boxes. I lied to my parents. I know Jehovah was not pleased with me.” She was brought to her senses by an article in Awake! magazine. How many other youths might still be ensnared by such music?
Reaping What You Sow
14, 15. Why can we be sure that listening to unwholesome music will have a negative effect? Illustrate.
14 Do not minimize the danger such music can impose. True, you might not be inclined to kill someone or to commit sexual immorality just because you listened to a song. Nevertheless, Galatians 6:8 says: “He who is sowing with a view to his flesh will reap corruption from his flesh.” Listening to music that is earthly, animalistic, and even demonic can only have a negative impact on you. (Compare James 3:15.) Professor of music Joseph Stuessy is quoted as saying: “Any kind of music affects our moods, emotions, attitudes and our resultant behavior . . . Anyone who says, ‘I can listen to heavy metal, but it doesn’t affect me,’ is simply wrong. It simply affects different people in different degrees and different ways.”
15 One Christian youth admits: “I was caught up in thrash metal so bad that my entire personality changed.” Soon he began experiencing problems with the demons. “I finally got rid of my albums and was released by the demons.” Confesses another youth: “The music I used to listen to dealt with either spiritism, drugs, or sex. Many youths say it doesn’t affect them, but it really does. I was virtually out of the truth.” A proverb asks: “Can a man rake together fire into his bosom and yet his very garments not be burned?”—Proverbs 6:27.
Keep on Guard
16. What can be said of the writers and performers of much of today’s music?
16 Paul wrote to Christians in ancient Ephesus: “This, therefore, I say and bear witness to in the Lord, that you no longer go on walking just as the nations also walk in the unprofitableness of their minds, while they are in darkness mentally, and alienated from the life that belongs to God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the insensibility of their hearts.” (Ephesians 4:17, 18) Could not this be said of the writers and performers of much of today’s music? More than ever, music of all genres reflects the influence of “the god of this system of things,” Satan the Devil.—2 Corinthians 4:4.
17. How can youths adjudge, or test out, music?
17 Concerning the “last days,” the Bible predicted: “Wicked men and impostors will advance from bad to worse.” (2 Timothy 3:1, 13) More than ever, then, you need to keep strict watch over what music you choose. Often, the unsavory title will disqualify an album. Job 12:11 asks: “Does not the ear itself test out words as the palate tastes food?” In a similar way, you can test out music by listening to a sample with a critical ear. What kind of feelings does the melody arouse in you? Does it promote wild, decadent behavior—the spirit of revelry? (Galatians 5:19-21) What about the lyrics? Do they promote sexual immorality, drug use, or other wrongs that are “shameful even to relate?” (Ephesians 5:12) The Bible says that such things should “not even be mentioned” among God’s people, much less set to a beat and repeated over and over again. (Ephesians 5:3) What about the album-jacket design? Does it contain spiritistic themes or sexually arousing pictures?
18. (a) What changes may some youths have to make when it comes to music? (b) How can youths cultivate a taste for more wholesome music?
18 Perhaps you need to make some changes in the type of music you choose. If you have records, tapes, and discs that carry immoral and demonistic themes, you should immediately dispose of them. (Compare Acts 19:19.) This does not mean that you cannot enjoy music; not all popular music is objectionable. Some youths have also learned to broaden their musical tastes and now enjoy certain classical, folk, light jazz, and other forms of music. The Kingdom Melodies tapes have helped many youths develop a taste for uplifting orchestral music.
19. Why is it important to keep music in its place?
19 Music is a divine gift. For many, though, it becomes an unhealthy preoccupation. These are like the Israelites of old who enjoyed the playing of “stringed instrument, tambourine and flute, . . . but the activity of Jehovah they [did] not look at.” (Isaiah 5:12) Make it your aim to keep music in its place and let the activity of Jehovah be your main concern. Be selective and careful about the music you choose. Thus you will be able to use—not abuse—this divine gift.
The nation of Israel apparently excelled in the art of music. An Assyrian relief reveals that King Sennacherib demanded Israelite musicians as tribute from King Hezekiah. Notes Grove’s Dictionary of Music and Musicians: “To demand musicians as tribute . . . was unusual indeed.”
Do You Remember?
◻ Why can music be called a divine gift?
◻ How was music abused in ancient times?
◻ What dangers do rap and heavy metal music present to Christian youths?
◻ How can Christian youths exercise care in their choice of music?
[Picture on page 23]
In Bible times, music was often used as a means of bringing praise to Jehovah