Why Kings Sing: A Biblical Theology of Monarchs and Music

From beginning to end, the Bible links music with kingship. Kings create music and make music. Kings sing.

Musical instruments are first mentioned in Genesis 4. It’s after the fall, after Cain has killed Abel, while the writer is tracing the line of Cain. Cain builds the first city, and his descendants take dominion over creation. Jabal keeps livestock. Tubal-cain makes tools of bronze and iron. Lamech is the first polygamist.

They’re an innovative family: animal husbandry, metallurgy, civic order, experimental marriages. Cain’s tribe is a clan of kings ruling creation, and in the midst of this royal genealogy is Jabal’s bother, Jubal, is the “father of those who play the lyre and the pipe” (Gen. 4:21). Along with shepherding and herding, making tools, founding cities, music is a form of dominion.

Singing and Coronations

Early in Israel’s history, women are singled out as singers. When Moses and the sons of Israel sing the Song of Moses after the Exodus, Miriam is singled out (Acts 15:20–21). After Israel defeats Jabin king of Canaan and his commander Sisera, Deborah composes a victory song, which she and Barak sing to taunt the Canaanites (Judg. 5). After the birth of Samuel, Hannah prays a poetic prayer that resembles the psalms and anticipates the song of Mary (1 Sam. 2).

These songs are like the songs of the women who greet David and Saul as they return from battle. Yahweh is a warrior who defeats his enemies. After his victory, he ascends to his throne, surrounded by songs of praise.

Songs accompany coronations all through the Bible. When David sets up Yahweh’s ark-throne in Jerusalem, there’s music (1 Chron. 16). When Yahweh’s glory fills the throne room of the temple, there’s music (2 Chron. 5:11–14). When the Lamb ascends to take the book from the Enthroned One, there’s music (Rev. 5). Yahweh always ascends in song.

When Israel gets a king, there’s an explosion of music in Israel. Saul meets a company of prophets prophesying and playing instruments (1 Sam. 10:3, 5). Saul is caught up in the prophetic Spirit and begins to prophecy—that is, he sings along. The Spirit makes him a new man, a singing man, a singing king. David is Israel’s greatest royal singer and musician, Israel’s “sweet psalmist” (2 Sam. 23:1). He organizes an orchestra and choir to offer a sacrifice of praise before the ark shrine and at the temple. David is a new Jubal who invents musical instruments, the “instruments which David had made” (1 Chron. 23:5; 2 Chron. 7:6; 29:26–27; Neh. 12:36).

Music as a Form of Dominion

The link between music and kingship isn’t accidental. Good singers train their whole bodies, not just their mouths and vocal cords. To enhance our singing with instruments, we cut and trim trees, pull guts into strings, and train our fingers to pluck. We mine metals, shape them into flutes and pipes and horns, and learn to blow melodically.

Like bread-making or wine-making, music-making is a paradigm of dominion. Whenever you see or hear a violin, you get a taste of the destiny of the world: creation, beautified by human labor, tuned to praise the Creator.

Music also inspires and prepares us for dominion. Music makes us kings and queens. Soldiers march and sing to prepare for battle, to train them to act as a unit. The pounding beat of the warmup music fills athletes with the spirit of the game. Martyrs prepare for their final combat, and for their ascent to heaven, by learning to sing the song of heaven (Rev. 14:1–5; 20:4–6).

Music as a Weapon of Warfare

Music doesn’t just prepare us for battle. Song is itself a form of warfare. Music is armor. Song is a weapon. When Samuel anoints the young David, the Spirit comes on him and, like one of the judges, he is immediately driven into battle (1 Sam. 16). It’s not normal war, but spiritual war. Before David fights Goliath with a sling and a stone, before he defeats Philistines, he fights off the evil spirit that plagues Saul. And he does it with his harp. He can fight the Philistine with a stone; he can put armies to flight with a sword. For a demon, he brings out the heavy artillery—a lyre of 10 strings—and fights with his fingers and voice.

Like David, we fight principalities and powers, spiritual forces of wickedness in heavenly places. And we fight as David did, with spiritual weapons, including the spiritual weapon of song. The Spirit is the Spirit of war, the Spirit of Yahweh the Warrior. The Spirit clothes Othniel, Gideon, Jephthah, and they fight. Four times, the Spirit comes on Samson, and he kills lions, defeats Philistines, rips through cords that bind him. The Spirit is Saul’s armor when he delivers the city of Jabesh-gilead from the Ammonites. When the Spirit falls, people get ready for battle. And, when the Spirit fills, he inspires song (Eph. 5:18–20). The church marches into her spiritual war singing; we fight our spiritual war by singing.

Our warfare is always a warfare of witness (Greek, marturia). Singing emboldens us to testify to Jesus in the face of threats and dangers, but singing is itself an act of witness. In the murmuring, raging hubbub of the world, we raise our voices and so testify to another King, Jesus, enthroned above all rule and authority, power and dominion. Every song is a song of martyrdom.

By Peter Leithart / https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/biblical-theology-monarchs-music/

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