King David is called “the sweet psalmist of Israel” in 2 Samuel 23:1. On top of that, he is the most frequently mentioned individual in the psalm headings throughout the book of Psalms. David is also largely responsible for the Old Testament tradition of instrumental music in worship, which began as he ascended the throne of Israel, and extended to the time of Christ.
Prior to King David, worship in ancient Israel was relatively silent, largely without the use of instruments. Beginning with David’s reign as king, though, there was an explosion of instrumental music, as evidenced in a wide variety of passages in 2 Samuel and 1 Chronicles. In 1 Chronicles 16, David formed a small orchestra of eight strings, two trumpets and one cymbal player to accompany the worship before the Ark of the Covenant. Seven chapters later, in 1 Chronicles 23, this orchestra seems to grow to four thousand players! How’s that for tremendous orchestra growth? Actually, some Biblical scholars think that figure may be an exaggeration on the part of the writer of Chronicles. Others feel that the Hebrew word, translated “thousand,” is more accurately understood as a clan or group. In 1 Chronicles 25, a more reasonable orchestra of twenty-five players is listed, closer in size to what we are accustomed in our worship.
The group of Israelites appointed by David as instrumentalists were from the tribe of Levi. These Levites were ancient Israel’s worship leaders, responsible for the care and transportation of the wilderness tabernacle and all its furnishings under Moses. Once the Tabernacle and the Ark of the Covenant were in their final resting place, the Levites’ job description changed. They were no longer the moving crew for the Tabernacle. Instead, David set about training the Levites to sing and play instruments, and then set them apart for the service of the Lord through music. 1 Chronicles 25:1 and 6-7 says:
“Moreover, David and the commanders of the army set apart for the service some of the sons of Asaph and of Heman and of Jeduthun, who were to prophesy with lyres, harps, and cymbals; All these were under the direction of their father to sing in the house of the Lord, with cymbals, harps and lyres, for the service of the house of God. Asaph, Jeduthun and Heman were under the direction of the king. And their number who were trained in singing to the Lord, with their relatives, all who were skillful, was 288 (there’s that word skillful again!).”
After the reign of King David, there were periods of moral and spiritual decline, followed by times of revival under kings like Hezekiah and godly leaders like Nehemiah. With these times of revival, worship was restored in the manner of King David, and that always involved the use of musical instruments. You can read about this in 2 Chronicles 29, Ezra 3, and Nehemiah 12.
Finally, one of our goals, when we gather each week for worship, is to glorify God and seek His presence among us. When Solomon dedicated the first Temple, he did it with musical instruments in the tradition of his father, David. In 2 Chronicles 5:11-14, we read:
“And when the priests came forth from the holy place (for all the priests who were present had sanctified themselves, without regard to divisions), and all the Levitical singers, Asaph, Heman, Jeduthun, and their sons and kinsmen, clothed in fine linen, with cymbals, harps, and lyres, standing east of the altar, and with them one hundred and twenty priests blowing trumpets in unison when the trumpeters and the singers were to make themselves heard with one voice to praise and to glorify the Lord, and when they lifted up their voice accompanied by trumpets and cymbals and instruments of music, and when they praised the Lord saying, “He indeed is good for His lovingkindness is everlasting,” then the house, the house of the Lord, was filled with a cloud, so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord filled the house of God.”
The Temple dedication service reached its climax when the instruments and singers were unified in praise of almighty God, and God, in turn, put His stamp of approval on the gathering by filling the house of God with His glorious presence, in the form of a cloud. Let us, as instrumentalists, seek to be unified in our praise, as we glorify God and seek His presence!