The Quest for Music Miracles
NOTE 1.8: The Jewish Preference For The Shophar
The ram’s horn might have been the first instrument played on earth. The ‘father of all those who play the lyre and pipe’ was Jubal, a name related to the Hebrew word for ram (Genesis 31:27). It is such a primitive instrument as to raise the question of why its use continued throughout the Old Testament era. There were pipes, end-blown flutes, double clarinets, double oboes, and – in the Greco-Roman period – ‘terra-cotta rhyton-shaped wind instruments’. In fact, unlike the metal trumpets used in the Bible times, the ram’s horn is still used today!
Part of the answer for its continued use is probably that despite musical limitations, rams’ horns were effective noise-makers. Perhaps the other half of the answer lies in the fact that they were literally horns from rams. To the Hebrew mind, horns were potent symbols. Not only did they symbolize physical power, (e.g. Deuteronomy 33:17) but the holy altars designed by God – both the sacrificial altar and the altar of incense – had horns (Exodus 27:1-2; 30:1 ,f) and the Lord Himself is the ‘horn of our salvation’ (2 Samuel 22:3; Psalm 18:2). Furthermore, each shophar came from an animal suitable for God-ordained sacrifice and the animal had, presumably, actually died. In addition, horns (shophars) carried the divine anointing oil (1 Samuel 16:1). Then there’s the fact that, relative to most other instruments, an animal horn is divinely made. Finally – and perhaps least significantly – horn-blowing was a way of involving nature in praise to the Creator.
In their choice of instrument, ancient Jews were not beyond considering its tone (Mishna, Arakhin 2:3 – a reed-pipe was preferred to a pipe of bronze because its sound was sweeter). At least in the post-Old-Testament era, however, factors other than sound assumed great significance. For instance, cow horns were forbidden for ritual blowing, (Mishna, Rosh Ha-Shanah 3:2) apparently because cows were not sacrificial animals (the Jewish Talmud). According to the Jewish Mishnah, the voice of a sacrificial victim is multiplied seven times when it dies because its horns become shophars, its two leg-bones become flutes, its hide becomes a drum, its entrails are used for lyres, and its chitterlings for harps (Mishna, Kinnim 3:6) According to a Jewish legend, David’s harp strings were made from the gut of the ram Abraham slew on Mount Moriah. In the synagogues ram’s horns were used as a reminder of that ram sacrificed in Isaac’s stead.
NOTE 1.9: Identifying The Bible’s Songs
The exact number of songs in the Bible is difficult to determine. There are many songs in Scripture, clearly identified as such, outside of the Psalter (Exodus 15:1-18,21; Numbers 21:17-18; Deuteronomy 31:22-32:44; Judges 5:1-31; 1 Samuel 18:7; 2 Samuel 3:33-34; 22:2-51; 1 Chronicles 16:7-36; Song of Solomon; Isaiah 5:1 ff; 23:16; 26:1 ff; Habakkuk 3:2-19; Revelation 5:9-10,13; 15:3-4). With poetry being so common in Scripture, it would have been fairly easy to set large portions of it to music. Many passages appear to be songs although Scripture does not specifically call them songs or indicate that they were intended to be set to music (e.g. 1 Samuel 2:1-10; the entire book of Lamentations; Isaiah 6:3; 23:15-16; Ezekiel 19:1-14; 22:2 ff; 32:2,16; Jonah 2:2-9; Daniel 2:20-23; 4:34 b-35; Amos 5:1-2; Luke 1:46-55, 68-79; 2:14,29-32). Some of these read so much like psalms it is hard to read them without imagining them being set to music (see for yourself: 2 Samuel 1:17-27; 1 Chronicles 29:10-13; Isaiah 12:1-6; 38:9-20; Jonah 2:2-9; and verses around Isaiah 42:10; 44:23; 49:13; Jeremiah 20:13; Zephaniah 3:14,17). If some were not originally set to music they seem to cry out for music so loudly that it is hard to conceive of them being bereft of music for long.
Some Bibles, by printing poetry in lines of uneven length, make it immediately obvious which parts of Scripture are poetry. Consulting such a Bible opens a new dimension to Scripture, not just making possible songs easier to identify or adding interest for the musician and beauty for the lover of literature, but also aiding interpretation.
Possible songs pop up in the most unlikely places. In the search for fragments of Christian hymns, scholars have been drawn to many Scriptures, including John 1:1-18; Romans 3:13-18, 23-25; 8:31-39; 9:33; 11:33-35; 1 Corinthians 13:1 ff; Ephesians 1:3-14; 2:4-7, 10, 19-22; 5:14; Philippians 2:6-11; Colossians 1:15-20; 2:9-15; 1 Timothy 1:17; 3:16; 6:15-16; 2 Timothy 2:11-13; Titus 3:4-7; Hebrews 1:1-3; 1 Peter 2:6-7, 21-25; 3:18-22; Revelation 4:8,11; 5:9, 12-13; 7:10, 12; 11:15, 17-18; 12:10 ff: 14:7; 15:3-4; 19:1-2, 6-8. Unfortunately, most of this remains highly speculative.
Such an examination of the Old Testament would produce a huge list. The first Biblical song is said to be Genesis 4:23. Some Bible versions specifically call Numbers 21:27-30 a song (AMP, RSV and GNB, but not KJV, NKJV, NEB, LB or NASB).
There is another factor: Scriptures have been sung which were apparently not originally intended to be songs. The practice of reciting even the prose parts of Scripture in a singing voice may have extended back centuries before Christ. Psalm 119:54 could be relevant to this practice:
‘Your statutes have been my songs . . .’
Harold Best (Best, 4:316) believes that by Jesus’ time this practice may have been so established as to make it likely that Jesus employed it when delivering Scripture in the synagogue (Luke 4:16-20). Eventually, it came to be questioned whether it was acceptable to ever read Scripture without melody (The Talmud, Megillah 32a).
So, whether they were aware of it or not, contributors to the Old Testament ended up writing lyrics to songs. Who can authoritatively declare that this result was not in God’s mind when He originally inspired the writers?
NOTE 1.10: Hebrews 2:12 – The Son of God Singing
The highly esteemed Greek lexicon by Arndt and Gingrich, along with eleven of the thirteen translations I consulted, see in Hebrews 2:12 a reference to singing. This certainly seems to be the usual meaning of the key word. However, to be strictly unbiased, I should point out that this word is sometimes applied to spoken, rather than sung, praise. Singing seems to be hinted at, rather than emphatically stated.
NOTE 1.11: Divine Singing, Trumpeting And Whistling
God’s trumpet-playing is hinted at in Zechariah 9:14 and 1 Thessalonians 4:16. The problem, of course, is to know how literally this should be interpreted. Literal trumpet blasts from heaven are mentioned in the Bible but they might be unmusical signals (Exodus 19:6; 20:18; Psalms 47:5; Isaiah 27:13; Matthew 24:31).
Chapter 2 Notes – Celestial Choirs
NOTE 2.1: Drugs, Hallucinations and After Death Experiences
Dr. Karlis Osis and his associates analyzed the reports of over one thousand medical personnel who regularly worked with dying patients. They found that patients taking drugs or sedatives known to produce hallucinations were less likely to report an afterlife experience than those who took no medication. Likewise, those illnesses that produce hallucinations were associated with less afterlife reports than other illnesses. The patients’ experiences did not usually conform to what they expected and they appeared as frequently to people who fully expected to recover as to those who knew they were dying.
Dr. Charles Garfield, assistant professor of psychology at the University of California Medical Centre, states that life-after-death experiences are entirely different from drug-induced hallucinations or the sensations sometimes associated with severe pain. Dr. Maurice Rawlings agrees. ‘Drug effects, alcoholic delirium tremens, carbon dioxide narcosis, and psychotic reactions deal more with objects in the present world and not with situations in the next world.
NOTE 2.2: Errors In Non-Christian Analyses of ‘After Death’ Experiences
When researching anything related to spiritual matters, non-Christians inevitably get things hopelessly confused. In two excellent books, Dr. Maurice Rawlings does much to sort out the chaos.
He points out that only about twenty percent of resuscitated patients volunteer information about their experience. We are thus dealing with a very biased sample. He rightly asks, who would boast about being such a moral failure that one is sent to hell? Many people joke about it, but it’s a very different thing to be faced with the reality of hell.
Dr. Rawlings was desperately trying to save a postman’s life. In between times of clinical death, his patient kept screaming that he had been in hell. He pleaded with the reluctant doctor to lead him in prayer. His certainty that he was entering hell was so convincing that it removed the doctor’s personal skepticism. The patient survived the ordeal and became a Christian. He could recall the prayer and viewing his body from a distance, and yet he could remember nothing of his hellish experience. Apparently, it was so horrific that his mind had suppressed it.
Previous researchers had not personally resuscitated patients. They were content to interview people who had sufficient time to repress unpleasant experiences.
The doctor records another man’s description of his experiences after his heart stopped beating. It ended up being so horrendous that the patient was certain he had been to hell. It brought about his conversion. Yet the first part of his experience was blissful – floating above his body, feeling happy, at peace and free from pain. Had he been resuscitated at that point, his impression of life after death would have been vastly different.
Eighty-five percent of people resuscitated after suicide attempts reported being glad to be alive. Every account Dr. Rawlings has collected from such people has been ‘hellish’. Overall, he found that interviewing people immediately after resuscitation produced as many reports of bad experiences as good ones.
In line with Scripture’s affirmation that multitudes will have an unpleasant after-life, a number of people have reported hearing unpleasant sound, rather than beautiful music. Mention is made of ‘the awfullest, eerie sounds,’ ‘a roaring noise,’ and an unforgettable, ‘really bad buzzing noise’.
The bias that many people have is illustrated by the fact that Dr. Rawlings himself has been misquoted in a way that suggested all after-death experiences are pleasant.
We are justifiably dubious of experiences which cause some non-Christians to give glowing reports of ‘life after death’. However, it seems theoretically possible that even some of these could be in accordance with reality, though misinterpreted.
Certainly, most non-Christians have some pleasant earthly experiences which are neither Satanic deception, nor indicative of where they will spend eternity. I confess ignorance, but it seems theoretically possible that on the other side of the grave they could also have a few moments in pleasant surrounds before being ushered into a strikingly different abode.
The Bible seems to hint at this possibility. Before being hurled into the lake of fire, (Revelation 20:15) non-Christians will be brought before the great white throne (Revelation 20:11). Presumably, this is situated in a very beautiful, heavenly place. Hence, for at least this brief moment, it seems that non-Christians could be in lovely surrounds before being cast into hell.
Reports from resuscitated patients are usually consistent with the reality of hell. When correctly interpreted, even non-Christian data is more creditable than we might have imagined. So we are certainly justified in examining Christian reports with an open mind.
The Deceiver always tries to pervert the most beautiful, loving and holy acts of God into opportunities to amplify his evil. He bent the miraculous provision of manna into an occasion for the Israelites to murmur against their Lord (Numbers 11.5-6). He twisted God’s infallible Word into a weapon of deception against the holy Son of God (Matthew 4:5-6). He used Jesus’ power over demons to blaspheme Him as the prince of demons (Matthew 12:24). He turned divine judgment into an opportunity to curse God instead of repent (Revelation 16:10-11). Rather than list a hundred more examples, let’s focus on the point: if we failed to differentiate between an act of God and the evil interpretation with which Satan tries to tar it, we could end up labelling as satanic virtually everything God has ever done.
NOTE 2.3: More Information About Dr. Eby
I shudder at Dr. Eby’s apparently uncritical account of how his mother, as a girl, came under the influence of an American Indian medicine man. Nevertheless, I believe a careful reading of the whole book restores one’s faith in the genuineness of Dr. Eby’s Christian experience.
As biblical support for the reality of his celestial journey, Dr. Eby equates Paul (2 Corinthians 12:1-4) with the time the apostle was stoned and left for dead (Acts 14:19). Though I disagree, this in no way detracts from the genuineness of the doctor’s experience. The weakness in his argument is that even after ‘being caught up into paradise’, Paul did not know whether he had been in or out of the body, (2 Corinthians 12:2-3) in the stoning incident his body seems to have clearly been on earth. The doctor’s theory is based on the assumption that Paul actually died when stoned, something Scripture does not specifically state (Contrast Acts 14:19 with Acts 20:9). Finally, there is a chronological problem: the stoning does not appear to have occurred in the year referred to in 2 Corinthians 12:2 (i.e. not fourteen years prior to the penning of 2 Corinthians).
NOTE 2.4: More Reports Of Celestial Music
In the following instances, reports were too brief to add to our understanding of celestial music. Their mere existence, however, tend to confirm the reliability of the accounts recorded in the body of the book. Obviously, the larger the number of independent witnesses, the harder it is to escape the conclusion that heavenly strains have touched earthly ears. Moreover, some bear striking resemblances to incidents already cited.
August Hermann Francke (3-1727), a German clergyman and educator, is renowned for his important role in a spiritual movement intended to revive the Lutheran church at a time when it was becoming increasingly formal and lifeless. According to Basilea Schlink, he heard heavenly music as he was dying. It is said that even his family heard it. Return to Chapter 2 reference to Francke?
Prompted by the Lord, Rev. W. B. McKay’s wife closed the door, drew the curtains and commenced praying. Suddenly, the room was filled with a brilliant light. The Lord Jesus appeared, saying He had come to show her the splendors of heaven. Together with Jesus and a host of angels, she spiraled up to heaven, leaving her body behind. As they ascended, Mrs. McKay heard angelic music and singing which she says was indescribable. In the city of God, she witnessed many things, including the redeemed, some of whom she had known on earth, singing. The Lord declared that she and her husband would be given a healing ministry. He urged her to remain humble so that He could work through her.
The entire experience may have lasted seven hours. Her spirit then returned to earth.
Over her body were three highly concerned men: her husband, a doctor, and the Bible college president. Until that moment, the doctor had been unable to detect any pulse.
Mrs. McKay later testified that this heavenly encounter radically changed her life. Both she and her husband received the prophesied healing ministry.
This incident dovetails nicely with several of the accounts I have cited.
Numerous people have reported hearing ethereal music during, or on the verge of, clinical death. Perhaps all of these were born-again believers. The information given is sometimes too scanty to be sure. Only six of the hundred cases in Osis’ study heard ‘sacred music or heavenly choruses’. His sample was taken from the general population. Had he weeded out non-Christians, I suspect the percentage would have been much higher. Unfortunately, the nature of the music heard rarely receives any attention from researchers. One lady described the music as ‘majestic’. Another called what she heard ‘organ music’. (You may recall that Mrs. Grace Murphy also mentioned organ music in her attempt to describe the sounds she heard.) Other accounts were even less descriptive, merely using such words as ‘beautiful’ and ‘wonderful’.
So common is this phenomenon that when I saw a compilation about dying Christians I bought it, confident that I would find reference to celestial music. I was not disappointed. In five separate reports, dying Christians heard music with such vividness that they expected others in the room to be able to hear it and of such quality that with obvious pleasure, even excitement, they summoned strength to speak of it. ‘Hear that music!’ exclaimed Rev. Hiram Case, ‘they don’t have such music as that on earth.’ There were other reports beside these five, but of particular interest was about an African youth, not long converted from heathenism, who had been gored by an elephant. Though ‘not preconditioned to descriptions of heaven,’ in his last moments he described angels to missionary Paul Landrus ‘and spoke of music like Landrus knew he had never heard in his lifetime.’
Return to Chapter 2 Reference to Francke
Return to Chapter 2 Reference to other reports
Chapter 3: Notes – The Culmination of Music
NOTE 3.1: Ezekiel’s Temple and the Future of Music
In its description of the temple Ezekiel saw in his vision, the King James Version refers to ‘the chambers of the singers in the inner court’ (Ezekiel 40:44, KJV, supported by RV, NKJV, NASB, RSV marg only, NRSV, NIV, marg only, but not AMP, LB, Moffatt, NEB). Several English versions omit reference to singers here, preferring to follow the ancient Greek version, rather than the Hebrew. Depending upon your interpretation of this vision and whether you accept the reliability of the Hebrew (Masoretic) text at this point, you might see this as provision for the music ministry in the age to come.
NOTE 3.2: ‘Harps of God’
Theologian, Leon Morris points out that the term harps of God in the book of Revelation is ‘unusual’. King James Bible readers would be excused for not recognizing this. In their version, 1 Chronicles 16:42 uses a similar expression (instruments of God) to refer to earthly Levitical musical instruments. The apparent similarity of terms, however, is a quirk of the King James Version. It is not found in the ancient translations of 1 Chronicles 16:42, (Septuagint, Targum, Syriac, Arabic, Vulgate) nor in most modern versions. Not even Young’s literal, nor Jay Green’s Literal Translation, which both follow the King James text, nor the old Revised Version, has this expression. A more accepted translation is instruments of the songs of God. We find a similar expression to this elsewhere in even the King James Version – instruments of the music of the Lord (2 Chronicles 7:6).
As a further complication, however, the NIV employs the expression the Lord’s musical instruments and the Lord’s instruments of praise in 2 Chronicles (2 Chronicles 7:6; 30:21). This rendition is not followed by other versions consulted (i.e. not used in the RSV, NASB, LB, GNB, NEB, NKJV or KJV)
So although translation problems abound – further intensified by the fact that the New and Old Testaments were written in different languages – it seems that rather than reflecting Old Testament terminology, harps of God contrasts with the Old Testament term instruments of David. In fact, the closest biblical parallel is trumpet of God (1 Thessalonians 4:16). Obviously, this ‘trumpet’ is of non-human origin.