Life in Bible Times—Musicians and Their Instruments
“Praise [God] with the blowing of the horn. Praise him with the stringed instrument and the harp. Praise him with the tambourine and the circle dance. Praise him with strings and the pipe. Praise him with the cymbals of melodious sound. Praise him with the clashing cymbals.”—PSALM 150:3-5.
MUSIC and musicians have long played a vital role in the worship of Jehovah God. For example, when Jehovah miraculously delivered the Israelites through the Red Sea, Moses’ sister, Miriam, led the women in a victory song and dance. The dancers accompanied themselves with tambourines. This event demonstrates how important music was to the Israelites—they had just fled from the Egyptian army, yet many of the women had their instruments handy and ready to play. (Exodus 15:20) Later, King David arranged for thousands of musicians to play their instruments as part of worship at the tabernacle. This arrangement continued at the temple built by his son Solomon.—1 Chronicles 23:5.
What were these instruments made of? What did they look like? What sounds did they produce? And when were they used?
Kinds of Musical Instruments
The instruments described in the Bible were made of precious wood, stretched animal skin, metal, and bone. Some were inlaid with ivory. Strings were made of plant fiber or animal intestines. While almost no ancient instruments remain to the present day, pictures of them have survived.
The instruments used in Bible times can be divided into three basic categories: stringed instruments, such as the harp, the lyre (1), and the lute (2); wind instruments, such as the horn, or shofar (3), the trumpet (4), the much loved flute, or pipe (5); percussion instruments, such as the tambourine (6), the sistrum (7), cymbals (8), and bells (9). Musicians played these instruments to accompany poetic songs, lively dancing, and singing. (1 Samuel 18:6, 7) Most important, they used them in worship of the God who had blessed them with the gift of music. (1 Chronicles 15:16) Consider more closely each group of instruments.
Stringed Instruments The harp and the lyre were light, portable instruments with strings stretched over a wooden frame. David played a stringed instrument to soothe the soul of anguished King Saul. (1 Samuel 16:23) These instruments were used in the orchestra at the dedication of Solomon’s temple and on other joyous occasions, such as festivals.—2 Chronicles 5:12; 9:11.
The lute was similar to the harp, but it usually differed in shape. It often consisted of a few strings stretched over a frame that held a sounding board. The vibrating strings may have produced melodious tones not unlike the classical guitar of today. The strings were made of twisted vegetable fibers or animal intestines.
Wind Instruments These instruments are often mentioned in the Bible. One of the most ancient is the Jewish horn, known as the shofar. This hollowed-out ram’s horn produced loud, piercing tones. The Israelites used the shofar to assemble troops in battle and to direct the nation to action.—Judges 3:27; 7:22.
Another type of wind instrument was the metal-tube trumpet. A document found among the Dead Sea Scrolls indicates that musicians could play a surprisingly wide range of tones on these instruments. Jehovah instructed Moses to make two trumpets of silver for use at the tabernacle. (Numbers 10:2-7) Later, at the inauguration of Solomon’s temple, 120 trumpets added their mighty sound to the celebration. (2 Chronicles 5:12, 13) Artisans made trumpets of different lengths. Some measured at least three feet (91 cm) from mouthpiece to bell-shaped front.
A favorite wind instrument of the Israelites was the flute. Its happy, melodious sound lifted the spirit of people attending family gatherings, feasts, and weddings. (1 Kings 1:40; Isaiah 30:29) The flute’s lyrical voice could also be heard at funerals, where musicians played songs as part of the mourning ritual (see page 14).—Matthew 9:23.
Percussion Instruments When the Israelites celebrated, they used a variety of percussion instruments. The rhythmic sounds helped to rouse strong emotions. The tambourine, made of an animal skin stretched taut over a round wooden frame, produced a drumlike thump as the musician or dancer struck the instrument with his hand. When the musician shook the frame, loosely attached bells produced a rhythmic jingle.
Another percussion instrument was known as the sistrum. It had an oval-shaped metal frame and a handle, as well as crossbars that held loose metal disks. When rapidly shaken to and fro, a sistrum made a stark jingling sound.
Bronze cymbals made an even sharper sound. Cymbals were discs of two sizes. Large clashing cymbals were boldly struck together. Smaller melodious cymbals were played between two fingers. Both produced clashing sounds but of differing intensity.—Psalm 150:5.
Following the Pattern
Today, Jehovah’s Witnesses begin and end their meetings for worship with music and singing. At their larger gatherings, the orchestras that provide the recorded musical accompaniment include modern versions of stringed, wind, and percussion instruments.
By including music and songs in their worship, the Witnesses follow the pattern set by both the ancient Israelites and the first-century Christians. (Ephesians 5:19) Like God’s servants of Bible times, Jehovah’s Witnesses today enjoy combining poetry with melody to praise Jehovah.
[Pictures on page 23]
(Instruments not to scale)