Case in Point


This blog site will feature essays, columns and musings that deal with the intersection of Christianity and journalism and the American Songbook.

Jubal and the Biblical Prophets

Exegesis and Application

Now while I believe there is no split between sacred life and secular life, the fact that there were songs sung in the Old Testament that were not designed for formal worship or to be used in a prescribed sacred setting is meaningful if one believes that one can make many kinds of music while praising God and honoring Him in the rhythms of life. Genesis 4:21 thus sets the musical table for the rest of the biblical menu for there are songs in the bible for every occasion and my future blogs will note some of these mundane occasions away from the Tent of Meeting, the synagogue or the Temple. What I have noted are popular songs which are in the Great Israeli Songbook. The point I want to make here is that music for the follower of Christ has always included popular music, mass-market music, music to be made by the individual, music to move our emotions and our sentiments, music to appeal to everyday life and its relationships. I am heading towards Tin Pan Alley in all of this and will be arguing that the Bible urges me to sing the songs of my experience and life since all of life is a gift from God and is thus sacred. It is the song of the American Songbook.

*Isaiah 5:1, Isaiah’s “The Song of the Vineyard” (“I will sing for the one I love a song about his vineyard; my loved one had a vineyard on a fertile hillside.”). The exact meaning of this passage is in dispute but regardless of the object of love (i.e., vineyard, person, Israel, God) it is a passionate and sensuous type of love and not the Platonic intellectual and detached affection or a synagogue service song. Leupold interestingly says of this verse, “The prophet assumes the role of a sort of minstrel, or ballad-singer. He may have rendered this ballad for the first time at some public gathering, even, for that matter, at some major festival. It is well calculated to attract and hold attention. So by the ingenious device of minstrelsy the prophet has no doubt reached the heart and conscience of at least a few more of the chosen people, who by now had become well-nigh impervious to the stricture of the prophetic utterances. We may well believe that Isaiah spent much time and ingenuity on the planning of this device to reach his hearers. This inspired word gives evidence of having been most carefully worked out in detail and with sharp precision.”

*Isaiah 23:16, the well-known “The Song of the Prostitute” is the familiar mocking of the prostitute as she sings her songs to attract Johns. John Oswalt claims there is a “lilting, ditty–like atmosphere” to this tune.

*Isaiah 24:8-9, the common drinking songs (“noisy songs,” cf, Ez. 26:13) will not be sung in the time of Yahweh’s judgment of the earth (cf, Is. 5:12).

*Isaiah 30:29 God’s people will sing songs of joy and rejoicing in God’s righteous sovereignty over those that oppress them as if they were in a formal worship service.

*Isaiah 65:8, gives us another popular phrase of the time (“Don’t destroy it, there is yet some god in it,” Deut. 9:26; 1 Sam. 26:9) adapted for religious uses by the LORD Himself. This could be a Semitic cliché used for hundreds of years in the region.

*Isaiah 16:10, Moab is under the judgment of Yahweh as He has taken away the reason for Moabite singing (Hebrew = ranana) while they work. This is evidence the Mesopotamians whistled while they worked. Isaiah takes no satisfaction in the sadness or despair of the Moabite orchardists and vintners.

*Jeremiah 25:10, Israel’s exile years are described by Yahweh as the ceasing of the happy sounds of everyday life. The King Jimmy poetically translates this verse: “Moreover, I will take from them the voice of mirth, and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom, and the voice of the bride, the sound of the millstones, and the light of the candle.” The Septuagint has “the scent of myrrh” ceasing instead of the “sound of the millstones.” I like that better even if the text doesn’t warrant it. No more music in the land. The specifically joyful sounds of the wedding service and celebration will be silenced, “I will bring an end to the sounds of joy and gladness and to the voices of bride and bridegroom in the towns of Judah and the streets of Jerusalem” (Jer. 7:34; 16:9; 33:11).

*Amos 5:23. The power of music is starkly stated in Yahweh’s judgment against unbelieving Israel: “Away with the noise of your songs (“shir”). Here we have the power of music to sway and emotionally move people but there is no genuine faith in God in the words and music. The people should be helping the downtrodden but they would rather be drugged in an emotionally satisfying but false worship service. The assembly may have thought it was uplifting and joyous singing but God couldn’t stand the noise (cf, Is. 5:12; Ez. 33:32; Amos 6:5).

*Amos 6:5. If improvisation is at the heart of jazz, then David may have been the first jazz musician because Amos refers to him as a musical “improviser” (“inventor,” “devisor”) (Hebrew = khoshab) as Amos condemns the lukewarm Israelites. Bezaleel (Ex. 31:3-4) and “skillful men” (2 Chron. 26:15) are other examples of creative innovators described by the same term.


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