Ancient Musical Instruments and Psalm 5 – Jehovah Hears the Cry of His People

To the chief Musician upon Nehiloth, A Psalm of David.

1 Give ear to my words, O LORD, consider my meditation.

2 Hearken unto the voice of my cry, my King, and my God: for unto thee will I pray.

3 My voice shalt thou hear in the morning, O LORD; in the morning will I direct my prayer unto thee, and will look up.

4 For thou art not a God that hath pleasure in wickedness: neither shall evil dwell with thee.

5 The foolish shall not stand in thy sight: thou hatest all workers of iniquity.

6 Thou shalt destroy them that speak leasing: the LORD will abhor the bloody and deceitful man.

7 But as for me, I will come into thy house in the multitude of thy mercy: and in thy fear will I worship toward thy holy temple.

8 Lead me, O LORD, in thy righteousness because of mine enemies; make thy way straight before my face.

9 For there is no faithfulness in their mouth; their inward part is very wickedness; their throat is an open sepulcher; they flatter with their tongue.

10 Destroy thou them, O God; let them fall by their own counsels; cast them out in the multitude of their transgressions; for they have rebelled against thee.

11 But let all those that put their trust in thee rejoice: let them ever shout for joy, because thou defendest them: let them also that love thy name be joyful in thee.

12 For thou, LORD, wilt bless the righteous; with favor wilt thou compass him as with a shield.

A prayer to God against the iniquities of men.  Learning how to get to the Lord in the morning in order to keep our focus on God’s house.

Ancient Musical Instruments

The Harp in the Ancient World
The harp has always been known to be a beautiful sounding stringed instrument.

The above painted sketch is from an actual harp in ancient Biblical times.

In ancient times the harp was played with the hand while walking.

It had multiple strings and sometimes a sounding board.

“And Saul’s servants said unto him, Behold now, an evil spirit from God troubleth thee. Let our lord now command thy servants, which are before thee, to seek out a man, who is a cunning player on an harp: and it shall come to pass, when the evil spirit from God is upon thee, that he shall play with his hand, and thou shalt be well (1 Sam 16:15-16).

A modest number of remains of musical instruments have been recovered by archaeologists.  We do, however, have abundant evidence in ancient texts (such as the Psalms) and art (such as Egyptian tomb paintings) that attest to the varied use ancient peoples made of instruments to create music.  

Thus, the paucity of relics of ancient instruments is a matter of their fragility, not their scarcity.  Indeed, a few of the more durable ancient instruments that have been found, such as cymbals, can still produce sound.  Also, the vocabulary of musical instruments in Biblical Hebrew is fairly extensive. 

There can be no doubt that such instruments were widely employed in the ancient world, including Israel.

Precise translation of Hebrew words of instruments is made difficult by the lack of  Biblical descriptions. 

Even ancient translators, such as those working on the Greek Septuagint, often had little understanding of the meanings of the Hebrew musical terms.  Also, modern associations with certain names can be misleading.

For example, shofar is often translated “trumpet,” calling to mind a brass instrument rather than what it actually was: a ram’s horn.

The English “tambourine” suggests a hand drum with metal rings that jingle when shaken, but ancient Israelite hand drums probably lacked the rings.

String instruments in Ancient Egypt included lutes, lyres and harps. All of these instruments were plucked and not bowed. Below are images of string instruments and inscriptions featuring string instruments.

On the other hand, ancient artwork from Egypt and Mesopotamia provides us with clear images of what many instruments looked like.  The Israelites, like their neighbors, used three basic types of instrumentation:

Stringed instruments, like the lyre and harp.  The Lyre is well attested from ancient Israel, but the harp is more problematic.  Some authorities argue that the word translated “harp” may actually refer to a kind of bass lyre or even to a lute.

On the other hand, an instrument that is obviously a harp is attested from ancient Egypt and thus may have existed in Israel as well.

Percussion instruments of two kinds: Drums and tambourines were constructed from animals skin stretched over a frame.

“Idiophones” produce sound by vibrating but have neither strings nor skin membranes.  Examples are bells, gongs, rattles, dappers, and cymbals.

Bronze Bells – Roman Period (2nd-4th centuries CE) from Karanis, Egypt
Percussion instruments in Ancient Egypt included rattles, hand-held drums, bells, castanets and the sistrum.

The sistrum was a rattle that played an important role in religious worship.

Rhythmic accompaniment was also achieved with hand clapping.

Below are images of percussion instruments and inscriptions featuring percussion instruments.

These may have been made of various materials, including metal, wood, hardened day or bone.  2 Sam 6:5 and Neh 12:27 both refer to their use.

Wind instruments, like pipes, trumpets, or the shofar (ram’s horn), are well-attested in the Bible (flute-like instruments at 1 Kgs 1:40; silver trumpets at Num 10:2; the shofar at Joel 2:1).

Ancient Woodwind Folk Instruments

Such instruments were widely used for entertainment and boisterous parties (Is 5:12), but also for celebratory worship (Ps 81:2; 150:1-5).

The first reference to musical instruments in the Bible in Gen 4:21, where Jubal, one of Cain’s descendants, is described as “the father of all who play the harp and flute.” 

Musical instruments were used at celebrations of various kinds (Gen 31:27; Job 21:11-12), including military victories (Ex 15:20).

The shofar was employed primarily for signaling, especially during war (Jud 3:27; I Sam 19:9), as well as the temple. 

Religious lyrics (such as those preserved in the Psalms) often called for instrumental accompaniment (Ps 150:3-5; Amos 5:23).

Psalm 4 – David’s Confidence in the Special Care of God

To the chief Musician on Neginoth, A Psalm of David.

1 Hear me when I call, O God of my righteousness: thou hast enlarged me when I was in distress; have mercy upon me, and hear my prayer.

2 O ye sons of men, how long will ye turn my glory into shame? How long will ye love vanity, and seek after leasing? Selah.

3 But know that the LORD hath set apart him that is godly for himself: the LORD will hear when I call unto him.

4 Stand in awe, and sin not: commune with your own heart upon your bed, and be still. Selah.

5 Offer the sacrifices of righteousness, and put your trust in the LORD.

6 There be many that say, Who will shew us any good? LORD, lift thou up the light of thy countenance upon us.

7 Thou hast put gladness in my heart, more than in the time that their corn and their wine increased.

8 I will both lay me down in peace, and sleep: for thou, LORD, only makest me dwell in safety.

The prophet teacheth us to flee to God in tribulation with confidence in Him.  Learning to contact Christ in the midst of our thoughts and reactions at the end of the day.

Psalm 3 – David’s Confidence in the Unchangeable God & The Psalm Superscripts

A Psalm of David, when he fled from Absalom his son.

1 LORD, how are they increased that trouble me! Many are they that rise up against me.

2 Many there be which say of my soul, There is no help for him in God. Selah.

3 But thou, O LORD, art a shield for me; my glory, and the lifter up of mine head.

4 I cried unto the LORD with my voice, and he heard me out of his holy hill. Selah.

5 I laid me down and slept; I awaked; for the LORD sustained me.

6 I will not be afraid of ten thousands of people that have set themselves against me round about.

7 Arise, O LORD; save me, O my God: for thou hast smitten all mine enemies upon the cheek bone; thou hast broken the teeth of the ungodly.

8 Salvation belongeth unto the LORD: thy blessing is upon thy people. Selah.

The Psalms Scroll (with transcription).
This impressive scroll is a collection of psalms and hymns, comprising parts of forty-one biblical psalms (chiefly form chapters 101-50), in non-canonical sequence and with variations in detail.

It also presents previously unknown hymns, as well as a prose passage about the psalms composed by King David.

One of the longer texts to be found at Qumran, the manuscript was found in 1956 in Cave 11 and unrolled in 1961.

Its surface is the thickest of any of the scrolls–it may be of calfskin rather than sheepskin, which was the more common writing material at Qumran.

The script is on the grain side of the skin.

The scroll contains twenty-eight incomplete columns of text, six of which are displayed here (cols. 14-19).

Each of the preserved columns contains fourteen to seventeen lines; it is clear that six to seven lines are lacking at the bottom of each column.

The scroll’s script is of fine quality, with the letters carefully drawn in the Jewish book-hand style of the Herodian period.

The Tetragrammaton (the four-letter divine name), however, is written in the paleo-Hebrew script.

The prophet’s danger and delivery from his son Absalom mystically, the passion and resurrection of Christ.  Christ as our shield, our glory, and the lifter of our head to the midst of fear.

The Psalm Superscripts 

A psalm superscript is the brief informational note that precedes many psalms. 

In Psalm 3, for example, the superscript is “A psalm of David.  When he fled from his son Absalom.” 

Today many scholars disregard the superscripts, considering them untrustworthy, but two factors suggest that we do well to pay attention to them:

Some superscripts refer to incidents about which the books of Samuel and Chronicles say nothing. 

For example, the superscript of Psalm 60 mentions otherwise unknown battles with Aram Naharaim, Aram Zobah, and Edom. 

If a scribe had been inventing superscripts to tie the psalms artificially to historical events, he would probably have linked them to known episodes from the canonical text (such as David’s flight from Absalom, as in Ps 3).

But references to unknown events or persons imply that the superscripts were written by people with specific knowledge of events, many of which are now lost to us.

The superscripts use technical, musical terms.  Examples include song titles (like “The Doe of the Morning” in Ps 22).

References to instruments (such as “stringed instruments” in Ps 4) and special instructions (such as “for the director of music” in Ps 58).

Significantly, however, as early as the third century B.C. the true meanings of many superscripts were lost.

For example, the translators of the Septuagint evidently did not always know what to make of the Hebrew words of the superscripts and at times resorted to guesswork in translating these terms into Greek.

This implies that the superscripts themselves are quite old – perhaps as ancient as the psalms themselves.

Psalm 2 – God’s King: The Messiah

1 Why do the heathen rage and the people imagine a vain thing?

2 The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD, and against his anointed, saying,

3 Let us break their bands asunder, and cast away their cords from us.

4 He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh: the Lord shall have them in derision.

5 Then shall he speak unto them in his wrath, and vex them in his sore displeasure.

6 Yet have I set my king upon my holy hill of Zion.

7 I will declare the decree: the LORD hath said unto me, Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee.

8 Ask of me, and I shall give thee the heathen for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession.

9 Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron; thou shalt dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.

10 Be wise now therefore, O ye kings: be instructed, ye Judges of the earth.

11 Serve the LORD with fear, and rejoice with trembling.

12 Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and ye perish from the way, when his wrath is kindled but a little. Blessed are all they that put their trust in him.

The vain efforts of persecutors against Christ and His church.  Contacting the Anointed and Resurrected Christ to bring in God’s Kingdom.

Psalm 1 – The Just and the Unjust

1. Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful.

2. But his delight is in the law of the LORD; and in his law doth he meditate day and night.

3. And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper.

4. The ungodly are not so: but are like the chaff which the wind driveth away.

5. Therefore the ungodly shall not stand in the Judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous.

6. For the LORD knoweth the way of the righteous: but the way of the ungodly shall perish.

The happiness of the just and the evil state of the wicked.  Living day and night in the Word.