Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Cutting a Musical Covenant

Illustration of Asa destroying the idols, in the Bible Historiale, 1372.
 Then they took an oath before the Lord with a loud voice, with shouting and trumpets and rams’ horns. And all Judah rejoiced at the oath, for they had sworn with all their heart and sought Him with all their soul; and He was found by them, and the Lord gave them rest all around. (2 Chr 15:14–15)

Over the weekend, I read a piece by Peter Leithart entitled “Musical Oath.” The setting is Asa’s reforms in Judah after receiving a word from the Lord through the prophet Azariah, the son of Oded. Asa showed himself to be a good king—cleaning up the idolatry (removing altars, high places, altars, and images), rebuilding cities, and relying on the Lord to defeat the Ethiopians (2 Chronicles 14). The prophet came to Asa with the promise of God’s peace and favor if the king continued to follow faithfully. This he did by further cleaning up idolatry, restoring the altar to its rightful place, and calling the people before the Lord in Jerusalem.

With the background set, we turn to the gist of Leithart’s article. As a result of all the Lord had strengthened the people to do, they returned sacrifices and an oath as part of the worship. It is here that a connection is made concerning the oath and how it was offered. Per Leithart:
Verse 14 says that they made the oath “with a loud voice, with shouting, with trumpets, and with horns.” Music expresses and enhances the joy of the occasion (v. 15), Judah’s joy in their own oath-taking and God-seeking, their joy in the fact that God allows Himself to be found.

But verse 14 indicates a more intimate link between music and the covenant oath. They swear to Yahweh with a fourfold sound – voice, shouting, trumpets, horns. It’s a musical covenant-making.
Let that sink in a minute. What the people of Judah offered in response to all the Lord’s goodness and provision was not a lighthearted musical ditty; neither was it a raucous, triumphalist fight song. What they offered up was an oath, a solemn declaration, “to seek the Lord God of their fathers with all their heart and with all their soul.” This was an intentional and determined desire by the people to follow the Lord according to His laws and commands with the result that “He was found by them, and the Lord gave them rest all around.” What is our goal for Sunday singing? Do we desire to simply set a proper atmosphere for the experience, or are we intent on holding fast to His revelation and expectation?

One cannot help but wonder whether or not we understand the serious nature of our Sunday morning music. To that end, I leave you with Peter Leithart’s closing remarks:
Think of that next time you open your mouth to sing at church. You’re not just expressing your joy in the Lord, though you are doing that. The music doesn’t exist only to enhance or elicit joy, though it does that.

Your singing is an oath-by-sacrifice, a commitment of body and soul to seek the Lord with everything you’ve got.

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