The Orchestra


1 Chronicles 6


Music in the Bible fascinates me. And music studies such as the scene in 1 Chronicles 16:37-42 is one of my must-sees once time travel is made safer. David is said to have invented musical instruments (Amos 6:5). The worship orchestra played “regularly” at the Ark of the Covenant. Heman (one of the sons of Korah, see Psalm 84 and others) and Jeduthun (father of 69 sons, 1 Chronicles 16:38) were featured on the cymbals and trumpets, but they played other instruments for sacred song. 1 Chronicles 6 tells us that Heman did much of the singing. Psalm 39 names Jeduthun as the Choirmaster. Asaph1 was one of the Chief musicians, and a distant cousin of Heman as seen in 1 Chronicles 6. David sometimes performed with them, when he wasn’t doing King stuff and musical-instrument-inventing stuff and writing songs. The size of this orchestra could have been in the hundreds! If anyone has tickets, I am definitely interested.


Some of the musicians were also song-writers. The sons of Korah, probably including Heman, wrote 11 songs, as recorded in 12 chapters of Psalms. David wrote several Psalms; some of them were written to be used by Jeduthun, such as Psalms 36 and 39. And Asaph was one of the major Psalm writers, including 77, 78 and 79. The quartet of Heman, David, Asaph and Jeduthun sang music that over time have touched more people than will ever be touched by “I Wanna Hold Your Hand.” I’d say that Heman, David, Asaph and Jeduthun are more popular than John, Paul, George and Ringo.


Psalm 36, 39, 77 and 78


Psalm 36, by David for the Choirmaster. The first stanza reads awkwardly because there is a poetic attempt to set up the transgression of the wicked as the opposite of the steadfast love of God in stanzas 2, 3 and 4. Transgression and Steadfast Love may be of opposite nature, but not really antonyms. Antonyms might have created an easier read. But the purpose of a Psalm is revelation, not making our reading easy.


Psalm 39, by David for the Choirmaster. All of us would like to cut down on the sins we commit with our words. And each of us is able to do just that – just stop talking altogether. But then you would not be able to sing praises to God either. When sung, there may have been a mood and tempo change between verses 3 and 4, as melancholy-adagio ends and upbeat-allegro takes over.


Psalm 77 and 78, by Asaph; Psalm 77 for the Choirmaster. Watch the movement of these songs of Asaph, and continuing on to Psalm 79. In these songs, God does mighty works. In Psalm 77, the singer seeks to keep himself reminded that God works great works. In Psalm 78, the focus is making the next generation aware of what God has done. In Psalm 79, the goal is that the outside nations will know. It all goes to show that we don’t need to multiply our messages. We need but one Message. But we do need to multiply our audiences.

More on the Orchestra


It is so easy when reading passages such as 1 Chronicles 1-9 to start glossing through, and not to pay attention to the reading itself. 1 Chronicles 6:1-3 reads: “The sons of Levi: Gershon, Kohath, and Merari. The sons of Kohath: Amram, Izhar, Hebron, and Uzziel. The children of Amram: Aaron, Moses, and Miriam. The sons of Aaron: Nadab, Abihu, Eleazar, and Ithamar.”


And you quickly see where this is headed. Through verse 30, I suppose you see correctly. First Chronicles 1-9 are like dictionaries, encyclopedias, and telephone books. Everybody had a collection of reference books. We use them frequently. But that doesn’t mean we read even a single page top to bottom. When the need came to know that Moses was the great grandson of Levi, we would know where to look.


But, unlike the phone book, 1 Chronicles 1-9 tells interesting stories from time to time.


These are the men whom David put in charge of the service of song in the house of the Lord after the ark rested there. They ministered with song before the tabernacle of the tent of meeting until Solomon built the house of the Lord in Jerusalem, and they performed their service according to their order. These are the men who served and their sons. - 1 Chronicles 6:31-33a


What follows is three descendent lines – one for each of the three sons of Levi. The end of the line of Kohath is Heman, and he is described as the lead singer. Since Korah is included in this line, Heman becomes the “face” of the sons of Korah.


The end of the descendent line for Gershom is Asaph, the Chief musician. 1 Chronicles 6:39 mentions that Asaph is Heman’s brother. According to the genealogies provided, the two were 14th cousins 7-times removed. This could be a broad understanding of “brother;” or this could indicate a common mother; or it could suggest they were raised as brothers.


The end of the descendent line for Merari is Ethan. Without being able to prove it, I lean to thinking that Ethan is the Jeduthun – the Choirmaster.


There seems no requirement that the Levites assume the role of the music function. But there seems no rule against it either. David was a prolific song-writer, but that was purely a hobby. There is no suggestion that any of their service in the worship orchestra relieved Heman, Asaph or Ethan of their duties as Priests. This was something they did because they loved to participate in singing praises to God. Even today, it is a powerful experience to participate in the Church music ministry.


A full performance is described in detail in 1 Chronicles 16:37-42: “So David left Asaph and his brothers there before the ark of the covenant of the Lord to minister regularly before the ark as each day required, and also Obed-edom and his sixty-eight brothers, while Obed-edom, the son of Jeduthun, and Hosah were to be gatekeepers. And he left Zadok the priest and his brothers the priests before the tabernacle of the Lord in the high place that was at Gibeon to offer burnt offerings to the Lord on the altar of burnt offering regularly morning and evening, to do all that is written in the Law of the Lord that he commanded Israel. With them were Heman and Jeduthun and the rest of those chosen and expressly named to give thanks to the Lord, for his steadfast love endures forever. Heman and Jeduthun had trumpets and cymbals for the music and instruments for sacred song. The sons of Jeduthun were appointed to the gate.”


Psalm 81 was written by Asaph, and given to (I suppose) Ethan. This was not a personal gift so much as Ethan turned around and performed it for the worship service at the Ark of the Covenant. It is a song about, well…. singing songs.


“Sing aloud…. Shout for joy…. Raise a song…. Sound the tambourine…. Sweet lyre…. Harp…. Blow the trumpet….” And that is just verses 1 through 3. Verse 4 clarifies that this is a statute in Israel – and this is something the poet can get away with, though the story narrator cannot. The poet gets some latitude.


Even today, the poet gets latitude. We sing “You ask me how I know He lives; He lives within my heart.” Good poetry, though when someone asks you how you know Jesus lives, I hope you can provide something with more substance than “He lives within my heart.”


I like the way Psalm 81:5 closes: “I hear a language I had not known.” There are a lot of the Psalm passages written in language I had not known. “Surely goodness and mercy will follow me.” Goodness and mercy have no human attributes, and they certainly do not follow me. But it refreshes me to hear that picture presented in this language I had not known.


Verses 7-16 present God’s message to a nation that doesn’t listen to His voice. We don’t sing songs like that any more – except to describe attitudes that no longer apply: “… a wretch like me;” “Years I spent in vanity and pride.”


Psalm 88 was written by Heman and the Sons of Korah, and again given to Ethan. I like ESV’s title, “I cry out day and night before you.” I like the testimony of those who persist in praying to God, even throughout the challenges that they seem to face. Many of the Psalms of the Sons of Korah deal with denouncing the riches of the world. But Psalm 88 focuses on trusting in the Lord, even when He does not seem to be blessing you.


Psalm 92 continues the theme of worship, though the author is not given. The title in Hebrew is “A Song for the Day of the Sabbath.” The great composer Franz Schubert set this Psalm to music. It is easy to find on the internet. But it is slow, dreary, and in German.


Early references to the lute, harp and lyre seem to date this song about the time of David’s reign, and it was probably set to song in Hebrew worship. Verses 6 and 7 echo the theme of Psalm 73, where David questions the prosperity of the wicked:


The stupid man cannot know; the fool cannot understand this: that though the wicked sprout like grass and all evildoers flourish, they are doomed to destruction forever;


The contrast follows immediately. As “forever” as the destruction of the fool, that same “forever” describes how long God lives on high. There is a lot in Psalm 92:10-15 that echoes the sentiment of Psalm 1.


Psalm 93 is the first of seven Royal Psalms (93-99). In focus in this Psalm are God’s eternity, God’s power, and God’s holiness. GOD’S ETERNITY: It’s easy to regard eternity future. Eternity extends into the past as well. Everlasting existence is not the same as eternal life: Souls in Hell have everlasting existence. When we were reborn, we entered into the life of Christ, who was in the beginning, and lives forever. GOD’S POWER is more powerful than the mightiest force the Psalm-writer could relate to. GOD’S HOLINESS was off the chart. The Psalm-writer didn’t even bother drawing us a comparison.


1Contrary to the way modern versions translate Matthew 1:7-8, Asaph was not part of the genealogy from Abraham to Jesus. Matthew 1:7-8 should read “Asa.”


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