The Biblical Songbook, the American Songbook and the Church
Martin Luther wrote, quote “Music stands nearest to divinity. For it, I would not give what little I know for all the treasures in the world. It is my shield in struggle and adversity, my friend and companion in moments of joy, my comforter and refuge in despondency and solitude.” end of quote Luther was talking about the sacred and secular songs of his life that ministered to him.
There are numerous examples of treasured songs in the Great Biblical Songbook. Two Hebrew words for such songs of life are sir and negeenoh.
Let me start with sir. This word is used to refer to common, popular songs of human emotions and sentiment sung not directly to Yahweh but to each other. sir is used exclusively in the Old Testament for the lyrics or poetry of music and not for instrumental music. The most important use of sir occurs in the very title of the Old Testament’s love song – Song of Songs — or to use the Hebrew word, sir of sirs.
For bare instrumental music, we turn to the other important word negeenoh and it is found in 1 Samuel 16 (16-17) where David is asked to play for King Saul. quote “[David] will strum when the evil spirit from God comes upon you. So Saul said, ‘Find [David] who strums well and bring him to me.” end of quote
These two important terms — one for lyrics and one for instrumental — are used throughout the Bible for the everyday, popular songs from the Great Biblical Songbook. And I argue that the kinds of songs the Hebrews sang from the Great Biblical Songbook have a lot in common with the songs sung out of the Great American Songbook.
Both songbooks include:
*sad songs or blues
*relaxing and comforting songs
*work songs, and
As testimony to the variety of the Biblical Songbook, the Assyrian King Sennacherib had Hebrew musicians brought to entertain him in his capital city, Nineveh. We can be confident that the Hebrews weren’t in Nineveh to sing Temple songs to the Assyrians!
In the coming weeks, I am going to look at some of these songs of life from the Great Biblical Songbook and the Great American Songbook.
For now, this is Bob Case for “Singing in the Shower: The American Songbook and the Church.”