It seems as if the past few decades have thrown up cloned campaigners within the Church, armed with certain issues that, according to their adherents, are matters of life or death. Well, they certainly aren't underplaying their hand and, by recourse to the eternal issues at stake, we would do well to assess accurately the challenge that comes to us from such sides and see just what Biblical truth the Lord might be trying to get across to us.
The target for most of the shooting practise is as old an invention as the products are themselves - cinema, music...in short, the entertainment media that is certainly not fundamentally christian and which, to many, has horns and pitchforks! Because very few christians appear to be active in these industries, the production is definitely 'in the world’ and the question has to be asked just how far we can enjoy such things and yet remain in the will and purpose of God for our lives. We need to ask not so much 'How far might we dare to go?' but 'How far should we stay away?'
In these notes, I want to concentrate on the subject of 'secular music' - a subject which has become quite an issue in my own life that I've needed to address in recent months and which can only be adequately resolved by reference to Scripture.
Of course, principles that are levelled at subjects like 'music' must needs be levelled at other areas also. Should we not buy secular music because it's generated by ungodly people? Then should we buy food that has been generated by the same types of people or, worse, by people who are party to oppressive regimes and governments or who actively take part in organisations that are opposed to the advance of God's Church in the world?
But we shall concentrate on secular music.
If there are parallels with other areas then I'm sure that 'he who has ears to hear' will do just that.
1. The first Biblical reference
'[Jabal's] brother's name was Jubal; he was the father of all those who play the lyre and pipe' Genesis 4:21
a. The first musician
Most commentators see here a reference to Jubal as being the first musician but the text does not specifically say so. It records for us only that 'he was the father...', a phrase which could mean that the anointing that was upon Jubal is the same that rests upon all those who followed after him and who took up a like profession/hobby. In this case, he wouldn't so much be the inventor of music but the one who brought something to bear either positively or negatively upon the way music was developing that so changed its course in some unique way that he can be considered as the father of all that has developed down through history.
However, it seems quite right to accept Jubal as the pioneer who succeeded in defining 'music' by reference to musical instruments (for it seems hardly appropriate to state that not so much as one person hummed before Jubal came onto the scene! Neither is it reasonable to suppose that not one bird sang nor dog howled - the Creation today contains musical sound however 'primitive' and unrefined we might consider it) and who was also a musician - the first musician of all. If there is a sinister implication behind this character, or of the defining work he did with music, then the text must be referred to for evidence (evidence such as exists in the commentary of another 'father-figure' who appears in chapter 10 and 11, Nimrod).
b. The nature of Jubal's fatherhood
Jubal’s name means something like 'produce' or 'stream' (though the exact meaning is far from certain). The former certainly signifies that music was the defining 'production' of his lifetime and, perhaps, we may see in the latter the idea that what he began has continued or flowed throughout man's history to the present era. It should also be noted that all of which Jubal was the father, ended up in the Noahic family of 8 persons who survived the Flood in the next few chapters. If what Jubal introduced had had to have been rediscovered after the Flood then he could not have been considered as the 'father' of all who after him played musical instruments.
The genealogy of Jubal does not give us any definitive proof either, as to whether his influence on music was good or evil. Certainly, the male line through Cain was entirely wiped out from the earth during the Flood, but it is not right for us to say that among his entire line there were no men who God considered to be righteous before Him.
Lamech, Jubal's father, was unrighteous. The only incident of his life recorded for us in Gen 4:23-24 is a perfect example of what a lack of forgiveness and a desire for vengeance can achieve. The antithesis of this was brought home by Jesus in Matthew 18:21-22. But we can't say 'like father, like son' however we might be tempted - there are no grounds on the basis of what Jubal did with his own life that indicate to us whether his life was pleasing or otherwise to God. We have no description of even one incident from his life to be able to judge him by.
Worthy of note here is the possibility that the three brothers all had their names derived from Abel. Although linguistically this is asserted by some commentators, the relevance of it doesn't appear easy to grasp and certainly can't be used to prove that the three brothers' righteousness was therefore similar to that of Abel.
c. The Inherent nature of music
Important to our consideration of the entire subject of music are the professions of all three brothers, each one a son of unrighteous Lamech and each of which have no further history of their lives recorded for us:
Jabal - He was the father of those who dwell in tents and have cattle
Jubal - He was the father of those who play the lyre and pipe
T-C - He was the forger of all instruments of bronze and iron
Notice that Tubal-cain is not recorded as being 'the father' of successive generations (RSV).
Anointing and influence may not be in question here, the text is possibly only commenting on his chosen career. But with the first two it's somewhat different and the conclusions we draw from one must equally well apply to the other. As 'music' has often been labelled 'evil' or 'good', 'sinful' or 'righteous' (depending on religious bias and/or cultural background), it is better for us to get away from this issue for a moment, seeing as our reasoning is likely to be coloured by our own belief-structure and consider the easier proposition 'Is dwelling in tents and keeping cattle inherently evil or good?'. Our answer to this will necessarily be the answer to the same type of question we would ask concerning music.
Jabal's fatherhood concerns a way of life. No-one, I should hope, would insist that 'living in tents' is either inherently evil or good - certainly, I don't think a Scriptural foundation could be made for either viewpoint though I would offer the suggestion from personal experience that camping out at night under the stars is not one of my alternative accommodation options when I go away on holiday!
And 'keeping cattle' summarises a pastoral existence which, again, cannot be shown to be either inherently good or evil. Even though it wasn't until Gen 9:3 that mankind were given flesh to eat, Abel's flock of Gen 4:4 indicates to us that animals were kept for wool, skins and, perhaps, dairy products such as milk and cheese. We have to conclude that Jabal's profession of which he became the father of all who came after him was neutral - it neither represented anything inherently sinful or inherently righteous.
Therefore, Jubal, the father of all those who play musical instruments ('lyre and pipe' are taken to refer to the starting point of all musical instruments) was also involved in a pastime that was inherently neutral.
Zondervan’s Pictorial Encyclopaedia of the Bible states '[Jubal's] musicmaking is not religiously caused or primarily associated with worship, nor is it necessarily an activity which, by contrast, bears only the association of any number of so-called secular activities'
Jubal neither got so taken up with a revelation of the greatness of God that he felt that he had to express himself in a form that had hitherto been undefined, nor did he get so fed up with the plainness of day-to-day living that he wrote a musical piece to hum when life got on top of him. Music simply came about.
Music, of itself, therefore, is neither 'evil' nor 'good' but something that was waiting to be discovered, defined and ordered after it had been sown into the Creation by God Himself.
2. Biblical non-religious uses of music
a. Scriptural references
Genesis 31:27 - The going away of family and friends to distant lands from which they might never return was accompanied with music and singing.
Judges 11:34 - The celebration of a great military victory was demonstrated by the use of timbrels and dancing.
I Samuel 18:6-7 - The women of Israel met the returning victorious warriors with song and dance to demonstrate their rejoicing.
II Chronicles 23:13 - The coronation of a new king brought a celebration in music though, as this took place in the Temple, it may not have been totally secular.
Psalm 69:12 - The drunkards seem to have been somewhat renowned at being able to make songs up about people who they wanted to ridicule (a characteristic of men and women even today!!).
Isaiah 16:9-10 - Songs were sung over the harvest that was reaped in the vineyards.
Matthew 9:23 - The funeral of or, rather, the mourning for a deceased person was accompanied with the sound of flutes.
b. The place of music in ancient society
Music appears to have been such an integral part of secular, everyday life that, even when no mention is made of music being played in the Biblical narrative, it probably pervaded certain events.
'In the Ancient Near East, music was a normal and regular part of everyday living, reflected alike in song and dance, festal celebrations, laments, certain aspects of military life, liturgical worship and private devotion' (The New International Dictionary of Biblical Archaeology, first Edition, Blaiklock and Harrison, Zondervan).
For instance, Boaz's merriment at the harvest of his crops (Ruth 3:7) was probably not just a feast but a celebration in music and dance. And Samson's wedding (Judges 14:10-20) could hardly have continued without musicians who would have been there to lead the rejoicing and to provide a support for the festive dancing that took place at these times.
(NB - Music remains an integral part of weddings today - though we are not thinking of the hymns and choruses which make up the church service and which are very rarely sung in 'celebration' of the event. It is the reception afterwards which often ends up with a disco, barn dance or whatever else is in keeping with the modern age, because music, an inseparable part of the world's culture, is a medium that is used to express celebration, enjoyment and is used to 'have a good time': just the same as alcohol continues to be used in the same context)
It is probably quite true to say (even though it is not provable from Scripture alone) that wherever we read of a cause for celebration amongst a family unit or cultural or tribal group, music accompanied it. The same would possibly be true of disasters such as plagues, deaths, famines and droughts where more sombre music would be used to express the mood of the people and, if songs were used, they would be classed 'laments'.
The Bible is primarily concerned with recording the movements of God in space and time and to show the way He performed the one great redemptive act for Creation through the work of Jesus Christ. We cannot expect it to outline for us details of culture except where they are necessary to the overall purpose of its pages. Therefore, the relatively few Scriptures that we have recorded above shouldn't detract from the acceptance of non-Biblical evidence which shows that music has been an inseparable part of 'non-religious', secular life throughout both ancient and modern history.
I mention only one such archaeological discovery here before moving on and that is a tablet dated c.1850 BC discovered at Ras Shamra which had defied a total translation of all its characters. Although it was quite clear that it contained the words to an ancient love song, certain other markings withheld their meaning until 1972 when Anne Kilmer managed to decipher the symbols as being 'sheet music' - the earliest known attempt to record a musical composition for posterity. The find suggests that it's quite possible that Hebrew culture could have inherited and developed a similar structure which would have been used to both sing and play from (musical directions do occur in the titles to psalms such as 88 which instructs the musical director to play the song 'according to Mahalath Leannoth' - most probably a tune title. There would be no sense in referring to a tune if it wasn't easily accessible).
The music employed a seven note scale - similar to our own modern form - and pre-dated the origin of the Greek form of western written music by around 1500 years (Dictionary of Biblical Archaeology as above).
3. The christian's dilemma
a. The problem
When a person comes to trust in the work of the cross and to begin a totally new and radically different relationship with God, many different areas of his life are immediately transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit, even though the solution to the same area of different people's lives may be so diverse as to beg the question whether or not it's the same God who is doing it all!!
For example, take the consumption of alcohol. Some feel they must abstain while others discover a control over it they'd never before experienced. Yet others feel the need to crusade for a total abstention to be imposed on all believers (though with what Scriptural authority I have no idea). Still others, myself included, have found that their lives were so dominated and controlled by alcohol that total abstention was necessary for a time (in my case 10 years) but, after that, the controlling hand of God becomes so evident that alcohol can again be drunk but kept within reasonable limits.
Music raises its head into this same arena. Some find abstention from secular music a necessity.
To some, abstention from all music is needful (including christian releases) because of the dominating force (a 'god') it had become in their pre-christian days (this, again, was my experience for a number of years after my conversion). Others never had music as their master but as their servant and so they notice little change (except that they now listen to 'christian' music as well). The description of all the varied ways God deals with people with regard to music would be too time consuming and tedious to be worthwhile recording - God deals with people solely on the basis of what they need at the present time and, therefore, changes His strategies as and when necessary.
Nevertheless, many christians are plagued by doubts as to whether they should listen to secular music, whether there is anything inherently evil in doing so. Others are concerned that types of music may be intrinsically evil and not wise to use in christian composition and interpretation.
The aim of the following notes is to try and define certain parameters within which everyone's musical experience and orientation can be judged by themselves (not others’ musical experience judged by us!!!).
b. Some considerations
i. Music is neutral
It was very important for us to determine at the start of these notes that the Biblical narrative shows us the foundation that music is neither inherently sinful or righteous. This has a number of practical outworkings when we consider the very nature of a piece of music itself.
For instance, note sequences and timings do not define the moral uprightness of musical composition. Should we find an entire line of a 'christian' song or musical piece repeated exactly in a secular one, and yet both were composed independently, they could have different uses and different anointings (which I will deal with below) because the note structure does not define whether the music is inherently one thing or the other.
Likewise, musical style is also neutral because within the creation of music lies the totality of all that might be achieved - whether jazz, funk, classical, techno, rock, metal, folk, rap, choral or the like - all are different interpretations of the gift of music sown into Creation by God Himself.
Simply, then, musical structure is also neutral.
ii. What makes music 'evil' or 'holy'?
Well, certainly not musical structure. But there are two main considerations that will answer our question:
1. Lyrical content
This is only important, quite obviously, with songs though it’s not as important as the second point below. If a song deals with christian issues in a positive fashion, we could class the song as 'holy' - if the reverse were true, we could say it was 'evil' (that is, opposed to the ways of God). This would possibly be too simplistic as christians do write songs that have no direct reference to or teaching about God.
Certainly a lot of 'metal' uses overtly satanic lyrics and it would be difficult to see how any christian could sing along with such songs when they would be denying the Truth that they are seeking to demonstrate through their lives.
But, in my own experience, secular music can be open to more than one meaning - sometimes open to none (for instance, the lyrics of the group ‘Yes’, a band in my teenage years and who are still touring, I notice even today)! Which of us could honestly say that a believer who, through his relationship with God, is revealed Truth by the Holy Spirit from secular lyrics is in error? Even more, secular lyrics may teach us about the way society is going, what society believes - because music was given to man as a means of expressing what he feels. It may give the believer opportunity to reach the society in which he lives. Even negative songs - 'unholy' ones as opposed to direct satanically orientated ones - can often be used by God to give revelation.
It must be understood that though unbelievers live in rebellion to God, the image of God, though tarnished through sin, is still in man and the ideas and concepts that he sometimes expounds are ones that, with reservations, we can say 'amen' to. Yet, as with all secular pastimes, we must be careful not to become entrapped or side-tracked in our service of God.
Far more important than lyrical content is anointing.
We read of the anointing that can be upon music primarily in I Sam 16:14-23 in the incident concerning the evil spirit that used to come upon Saul and the solution that his servants offered.
Notice first that Saul’s servants thought that there was something inherently mystical in 'good music' - they say that a man who is skilful in playing the lyre is able to dispel and/or calm the evil spirit when it comes upon him. We have already seen from Scripture that this is incorrect (see part 1) but they get nearer to the truth when they add, almost in passing, ‘... and the Lord is with him' (v.18).
This was the source of the anointing that was on David's playing - God. It certainly wasn't the skill of the musician for then how could any church fellowship know God's presence unless they had the most accomplished musicians available? If anointing was on the basis of skill then grace would be void.
But, as it was, God's presence upon the music of David brought release and temporary deliverance to Saul.
An inference from this passage (though not directly provable from other Scripture as far as I know) is that, if there is a 'divine anointing' upon music on occasions, then there must also be a 'satanic anointing' that could be present. And, if God's anointing is active and, in this case, brought release, then a satanic anointing will not be passive but active also, probably bringing the obverse of freedom - that is, bondage.
Anointing, therefore, is more important than lyrical content because an evil influence can be present upon a song even when the lyrics look okay. This calls for each of us to use spiritual discernment when we listen to music and to be courageous enough to 'switch off' what has a wrong anointing.
But one thing needs to be pointed out in case we polarise each piece of music we hear into one of two camps - there is not an anointing (either 'good' or 'evil') upon every musical composition. Even upon religious, christian music there may be no anointing even though the lyrics are perfectly Scriptural.
I'm sure that we've all been in meetings where all the 'formats' have been in place but God hasn't seemed to show up in anything. The reasons for this are numerous (and space does not permit a discussion here - nor would it necessarily be beneficial) but the fact remains that it is not man's skill and organisation that brings anointing but God's grace.
I recently received an email from someone who said he disagreed with this web page on the basis of a truth that was found on this page - that is, he agreed with the web page and was using it to disagree with the web page as he thought it said something different.
He sent me a link to a video that, he said, showed a rendition of 'Happy Birthday to you' (a song, not stand alone music) that was sung in 'a sexual nature'. How or why he knew where the video was and how to access it, I didn't ask - or how many times he'd watched it to make sure it was offensive - but it made me realise that, very often, music and songs can be taken to be offensive either by the delivery of the person or by the intended recipient - my wife reckoned that Marilyn Monroe could have made one of Charles Wesley's hymns sound raunchy and, if I'm honest, I'd have to agree with her.
But this doesn't mean that music - or a song - is inherently evil or righteous. And, in the example given, is Charles Wesley an instrument of sin because a hymn was used in an evil way?
In these cases, the interpretation of a song is normally the product of the individual who's listening - what I mean is that, had I watched the video sent to me, I probably wouldn't have been 'aroused', simply because, being as old as I am, things like that don't have such a pull over me (get your hankies out everyone) because temptations are generally the result of the stimulation of 'the flesh', of 'desire'.
The person who was singing it, may have been aroused and trying to get others to be so - or it may just have been a party act - but whether or not the song was received as evil depends on the person who witnesses it.
Therefore, to speak only of the 'anointing' that can sit on music is only half the story - I would guess that most music and songs have no anointing at all upon them but that the perception of such comes from within the hearer (Titus 1:15).
iii. Master or slave, god or toy?
You may already agree that music is inherently neutral, that it was part of what God sowed into Creation to be used by all men. You may have struggled with the concept of secular music for years and have chosen either to abstain and listen to only 'christian' music or to listen to secular music while assessing each song's suitability with reference to lyrical content and with spiritual discernment. You could have done all these things and yet still fall foul of a verse of Scripture that Peter penned (II Peter 2:19):
'...whatever overcomes a man, to that he is enslaved'
And also one of the OT ten commandments (Ex 20:3):
'You shall have no other gods before (or, besides) Me'
Like all things that were formed as part of God's original Creation, music makes a great servant but a lousy master. In fact, it can become just another god in the life of any human being that pulls us away from a pure devotion to and service of God Himself. Listening to christian music can become just as much a god as secular music can become. Indeed, it's probably easier for it to become so because we can explain away an excessive preoccupation with it as being ministry, service , 'listening to God speaking' or ‘allowing the music to transform me’.
Music that demands more time to be played and heard is an overcomer not the overcome, the god that we worship rather than the toy that we play with.
When music begins to take larger and larger chunks out of our daily life then the time's come for us to face up to the need of rescheduling our lives to spend more time alone with God for direction. Music can become a timewaster that chips away at our effectiveness for Jesus if we allow it.
The primary danger, in my opinion, of listening to both secular and christian music is neither adverse lyrical content nor anointing, but of excessive 'playtime' that clutters up a life with service of part of the creation rather than service of the Creator.