Musical Praise in the Bible

The Bible is one of our original reference books for music in worship, since it is the story of the people of God and their relationship with God Almighty.  We cannot hear the music which was made in glory and praise to God, (though we believe some of the ancient liturgical hymns of the ancient churches such as the Chaldeans (aka Arameic) and the Armenians may approach them.  But as for the lyrics, we can read many of the words that the people used.  Below are a few examples.  

Most of them are songs of thanksgiving, made as a result of the Lord rescuing the people who sing to him. But there are also songs of Praise which are completely pure in that there has been no recent rescuing and there is no hint of supplication to God, such as the song of the three young men who have been cast into the furnace, in the Book of Daniel.  There the three young men were joined by a fourth whom many commentators believe to be Jesus Himself or a Holy Angel of God.  Although they were untouched by the flames, and in fact only felt a cool breeze (reminiscent of the breeze that Elijah felt in the cave when he was waiting to hear the voice of God 1 Kings 19) they had not specifically pleaded for their lives to God or to the king of the land in which they were living.  God rescued them anyway.  This, in itself, points to the action par excellence of God, by which, once incarnate he is known in his name: Jesus or Yeshua: meaning God Saves.  Clearly, by giving God dominion over our lives and by praising Him and glorifying Him, we then put ourselves into His saving power and He rescues us, whether or not we thought to ask Him. And because He is God, and therefore Lord of Time, He can do this at any moment of our life.  

This is how the Church views Mary of Nazareth, the mother of Jesus - as a woman who was rescued by God at the moment of the Incarnation and to the depths of her personhood (that is to say at the initiation of each of the cells of her body): right up into the moment of her conception, since she gave herself totally to the Immortal God in the first, second and third persons of the Holy Trinity and only such a dedicated vessel would have been adequate to hold and carry the holiness of Jesus.

These are but a few of the examples of songs of praise in the Bible, inspired by the Holy Spirit.

The Song of Moses

The song of Moses and the Israelites after crossing the red sea and being saved from Pharaoh’s army is an example of a song of Praise to God.  “I shall sing to Yahweh, for he has covered himself in glory…. Yah is my strength and my song, to him I owe my deliverance.  He is my God and I shall praise him, my father’s God and I shall extol him.  Yahweh is a warrior; Yahweh is his name…. Yahweh, who is like you, majestic in sanctity, who like you among the holy ones, fearsome of deed, worker of wonders?”  Miriam, Moses and Aaron’s sister, took up a tambourine as did the women in the crowd, and playing it and dancing they sang the refrain” (Exodus 15:1-21)*

The Psalms

There are 150 psalms, all written to God.  Many are clearly songs of praise, written by David, before and after he was king.  Many have been arranged to music and can be heard in concert halls, Churches, recordings and on the internet.  

Although there are numerous settings of the various psalms, going back over many centuries, and populating our hymnals, most recently an Australian band called ‘Sons of Korah’ have begun to set all the psalms to contemporary style music.  The name itself comes from Korah, a great grandson of Levi who led a rebellion against Moses (Numbers 16), who were swallowed up, with all their families, in an earthquake allowed by the Lord and seen as a punishment  for their rebellion.   Korah’s sons were not rebellious, and so they survived.  The actual sons of Korah (not the band) became known for writing some of the psalms, for instance Psalms 47, 48, 49, 84, 85, 87, Psalm 88… Psalm 47, for instance, is about revering and praising God:  “shout to God with loud songs of Joy! For the Lord, the Most High, is terrible, a great king over all the earth” . 

Another writer of the psalms was Asaph, son of Berechiah, a levite and seer at King David’s court and also Solomon, King David’s son, himself wrote Psalm 72 and seventeen others. The sons of Korah and Asaph were appointed by king David to be “in charge of the service of song in the house of the Lord, after the ark of the Covenant rested there.  They ministered with song before the tabernacle of the tent of meeting until Solomon had built the house of the Lord in Jerusalem.” (1 Chronicles 6:31-44)

The theme of praise to God runs throughout the psalms and that may be why so many people turn to the psalms before any other part of Holy Scripture to find solace and encouragement.  Psalm 150 - the very last psalm is used by the Coptic Church in its liturgy.  But all the last three psalms: 148, 149, 150 sound like the praises of the people of God when they have completed the ascent up to His throne. 

Psalm 150: 

“Praise the Lord!

Praise God in His sanctuary,

Praise him in his mighty firmament!

Praise Him for his mighty deeds;

Praise him according to this exceeding greatness!

Praise him with trumpet sound;

Praise him with lute and harp!

Praise him with timbrel and dance;

Praise him with strings and pipe!

Praise him with sounding cymbals;

Praise him with loud clashing cymbals!

Let everything that breathes praise the Lord!

Praise the Lord!”

The Song of Songs

The Song of songs is a love poem between two lovers.  Sometimes called the Song of David, it is viewed by the Jewish faith as celebrating the love of God and his people Israel.  For Catholics, it is an allegory of the love between Jesus and his Church, also known as the Bride of Christ.  Viewed as such, it can be considered a song of praise.  The Holy Spirit has inspired several composers to put parts of it to music, for example the Canticus Canticorum by Palestrina.

The Book of Daniel

The book of Daniel contains several poems, hymns and exclamations of praise, such as the song of three men in the fire: Daniel 3:29-68 of which: “Bless the Lord, all works of the Lord, sing praise to Him and highly exalt Him forever.  Bless the Lord, you heavens, sing praise to Him and highly exalt Him for ever.  Bless the Lord you angels of the Lord, sing praise to Him and highly exalt Him for ever.  Bless the Lord, all waters above the heaven, sing praise to Him and highly exalt Him for ever…”  This hymn of praise is used in the morning prayer of the Church on the first Sunday. 

The Magnificat - Luke 1

The Magnificat, spoken or sung by Our Lady has been set to music many times.  It is a great song of praise, echoing the praise throughout the Old Testament, in particular the canticle of Hannah (1 Samuel 1).  In terms of ancient or classical music  Canticum Magnificat, sung in latin by the Daughters of Mary is one example. The Magnificat in D minor by Thomas Attwood Walmisley is another.  Franz Schubert also wrote the music for the Magnificat - Magnificat in C Major.  Pachelbel also wrote many choral works including one in C major to celebrate the incarnation (Magnificat in C Major).  Johann Sebastian Bach is another major composer who wrote “Et Exultavit” which is a setting for the Magnificat, and Carl Philipp Emmanuel Bach wrote a more upbeat version in “Qui Fecit mihi Magna”.  Classical but contemporary is the Magnificat by Herbert Howell (1892-1983).

More modern settings include: “God my Savior” by Dan Schutte, and “My Soul Rejoices” by Jacklyn Francois.

The Lord’s Prayer

The Catholic Church and Orthodox Churches have used music for the Lord’s Prayer in liturgical celebrations from time immemorial.  Perhaps this is partly in order to help people remember the words. 

There are a number of modern musical versions, such as John Michael Talbot’s “The Lord’s Prayer” with guitar accompaniment, and Sir Cliff Richard’s version which uses the tune of a Scottish military marching song.  The more classical sounding versions are well re-presented for instance, by Andrea Bocelli with the Mormon Tabernacle choir.  

In complete contrast, the Orthodox Arameic Church, among other Orthodox Churches, has a timeless and very beautiful and soulful version of the Lord’s Prayer. 

Acts of The Apostles

In the Acts of the Apostles, which tells the story of the early Christian Church, we find that, as well as the breaking of the bread, the small Christian congregations early on established the tradition of singing to the Lord.

In Acts 16, Paul and Silas are thrown in prison in or near a place called Thyatira, near Philippi, where they had gone to stay with a new convert called Lydia.  On their way, they had cast out a spirit of divination from a slave girl and her owners had had them thrown in prison.  “But about midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them, and suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and every one’s fetters were unfastened.”  The jailer, on discovering this, was about to commit suicide when Paul shouted out to him that they were all still there.  As a result of this, the jailer and all his family were converted and baptised.  

Letters to the Ephesians and Colossians

In Ephesians 5:19, Saint Paul, writing to the Church in Ephesus, encourages the believers there to “be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with all your heart, always and for everything giving thanks in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God the Father”

In Colossians 3:16, Saint Paul, talking to the believers in Colossus, says, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teach and admonish one another in all wisdom, and sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs with thankfulness in your hearts to God.  And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”

The Book of Revelations

St John in the book of Revelation tells of a vision he had of Heaven.  In chapter 4, he sees and hears what he calls “Living Creatures” who look respectively like a lion, an ox, a man and an eagle but each with six wings and full of eyes all round and within who, day and night, never cease to sing, Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!”.  And he also describes twenty four elders who fall down “before Him who is seated on the throne and worship him who lives for ever and ever; they cast their crowns before the throne, singing “Worthy art thou, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for thou didst create all things, and by thy will they existed and were created.” 

In Chapter 5, He talks about the coming of the lamb (Jesus) who is the only one worthy to open the scroll and break its seals (the seals that, when open, allow out the ‘four riders of the Apocalypse’).  As the lamb appears, and when he has taken the scroll, from the right hand of Him who was seated on the throne, “the twenty four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and with golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints; and they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy art thou to take the scroll and to open its seals, for thou wast slain and by thy blood didst ransom men for God from every tribe and tongue and people and nation, and hast made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on earth.”

In Rev. 15:2-4, St John sees “those who had conquered the beast and its image and the number of its name, standing beside the sea of glass with harps of God in their hands. And they sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying, 

“Great and wonderful are thy deeds, O Lord God the Almighty!  

Just and true are thy ways, O King of the ages!

Who shall not fear and glorify thy name, O Lord?

For thou alone art holy.

All nations shall come and worship thee, for thy judgments have been revealed.”

Thus we see that in the Bible, from the beginning of the People of God’s adventure with the Lord rescuing them, to the end of time, the Praises of God will be sung and it is fitting to do so.

Praise and the Bible with Hozana

Hozana offers you many opportunities for prayer and praise through its many communities.  Try our community which sends out a word of love and encouragement to each of its members every day: A Daily Loving Word from our Heavenly Father.  Pray on a weekly basis, with St. Therese of Lisieux, so joyful in the Lord as she was: Pray with the Little Flower, refresh your spiritual vision with the Dominicans and The Beatitudes: A Vision of Gospel Joy or cultivate a spirit of thanksgiving with Countdown to Thanksgiving.