Searching the Scriptures:

Why Music Is Important in Worship

By Robert J. Matthews

Assistant Professor of Ancient Scripture
Brigham Young University

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    “Make a joyful noise unto the Lord. …” (Ps. 98:4.) Possessing a dimension of its own, music often exceeds the spoken word in expressing moods and feelings of the soul. The scriptures offer many such references as expressions of love and reverence for the Lord.

    At the dedication of the temple in the days of Solomon, “the priests waited on their offices: the Levites also with instruments of musick of the Lord, which David the king had made to praise the Lord, … and the priests sounded trumpets before them, and all Israel stood.” (2 Chr. 7:6. See also 2 Chr. 5:12–13.)

    At another time there were “cymbals, psalteries, and harps, for the service of the house of God. … [for] the songs of the Lord. …” (1 Chr. 25:6–7.)

    Later, the Psalmist spoke of praising the Lord with the sound of the trumpet, psaltery and harp, timbrel, stringed instruments and organs, loud cymbals, and high sounding cymbals. (Ps. 150:3–5.)

    It is also written in the Psalms:

    “O sing unto the Lord a new song; … make a joyful noise unto the Lord. …” (Ps. 98:1, 4.)

    “Sing unto him, sing psalms unto him. …” (Ps. 105:2.)

    “For in the days of David and Asaph of old there were chief of the singers, and songs of praise and thanksgiving unto God.” And this continued “in the days of Zerubbabel, and in the days of Nehemiah. …” (Neh. 12:46–47.)

    “Moreover Hezekiah the king and the princes commanded the Levites to sing praise unto the Lord with the words of David, and of Asaph the seer. And they sang praises with gladness, and they bowed their heads and worshipped.” (2 Chr. 29:30.)

    The prophet Alma encouraged the humble and obedient to “sing the song of redeeming love” because of their faith in Jesus Christ. (Alma 5:26. See also Alma 26:13.) We also learn that the saints shall “stand on the right hand of the Lamb, when he shall stand upon Mount Zion, … and they shall sing the song of the Lamb. …” (D&C 133:56.)

    In the New Testament it is written: “And I looked, and, lo, a Lamb stood on the Mount Sion, and with him an hundred forty and four thousand, … and they sung as it were a new song before the throne, … and no man could learn that song but the hundred and forty and four thousand, which were redeemed from the earth.” (Rev. 14: 1–3.)

    Soon after The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was organized, the Lord instructed Emma Smith to “make a selection of sacred hymns, as it shall be given thee, which is pleasing unto me, to be had in my church. For my soul delighteth in the song of the heart; yea, the song of the righteous is a prayer unto me, and it shall be answered with a blessing upon their heads.” (D&C 25:11–12.) To the Camp of Israel the Lord spake through the prophet Brigham Young: “If thou art merry, praise the Lord with singing, with music, with dancing, and with a prayer of praise and thanksgiving.” (D&C 136:28.)

    Although much is said in the scriptures about praising the Lord with music, there must be discernment, since not all music is praiseworthy or suitable for worship. Laman, Lemuel, and the sons of Ishmael and their wives “began to make themselves merry, … to dance, and to sing, and to speak with much rudeness. …” (1 Ne. 18:9.) And in the Old Testament Amos warned Israel that because of their wickedness the Lord did not want “the noise of thy songs,” nor “the melody of thy viols.” (Amos 5:23. See also Amos 6:1–6; Amos 8:3.)

    Music can lift one’s spirits and give courage. When King Saul was depressed, “David took an harp, and played … [until] Saul was refreshed. …” (1 Sam. 16:23.) Paul and Silas, in jail in Philippi, “prayed, and sang praises unto God” at midnight. (Acts 16:25.) And the people of Jared crossing the great sea “did sing praises unto the Lord” day and night. (Ether 6:9.)

    However, the Jews in captivity did not wish to sing for their captors: “By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion. We hanged our harps upon the willows in the midst thereof. For there they that carried us away captive required of us a song; … saying, Sing us one of the songs of Zion. How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?” (Ps. 137:1–4.)

    Music is used to teach the gospel. The apostle Paul wrote to the saints: “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace …” (Col. 3:16), and “making melody in your heart to the Lord” (Eph. 5:19).

    Mention has already been made of music at the dedication of the temple in Solomon’s day. And after Jesus and the Twelve had partaken of the last supper, they sang a hymn. (Mark 14:26.) Moroni also tells us that in church meetings, “as the power of the Holy Ghost led them whether to preach, … or to sing, even so it was done.” (Moro. 6:9.)

    The scriptures tell us of songs of the redemption of Zion:

    “Thy watchmen shall lift up the voice; with the voice together shall they sing: … break forth into joy, sing together, ye waste places of Jerusalem: for the Lord hath comforted his people. …” (Isa. 52:8–9.)

    “For the Lord shall comfort Zion: … joy and gladness shall be found therein, thanksgiving, and the voice of melody.

    “Therefore the redeemed of the Lord shall … come with singing unto Zion. …” (Isa. 51:3, 11.)

    And in that day the saints “shall lift up their voice, and with the voice together sing the new song, saying:

    “The Lord hath brought again Zion; The Lord hath redeemed his people, Israel. …” (D&C 84:98–99.)