The Spiritual Power of Music


David J. Finnamore March 2001

It's not customary in our time and culture to think of the earth as a spiritual place. But according to Eph 6:11-16, our little planet, wandering in the vastness of space, is a battleground for an age long war between the forces of good and evil. Human beings are the objects of that war: the territory or land, so to speak, to be won or lost. In the Spirit, we participate in defending ourselves against the forces of evil. Music is a part of our armory. With it we may, wittingly or not, invite or repel spirits, either good or evil, to and from our spirits, or quench the Holy Spirit.

In 1 Samuel 10:1-11* we read,

1Then Samuel took a flask of oil and poured it on Saul's head and kissed him, saying, "Has not the LORD anointed you leader over his inheritance? 2When you leave me today, you will meet two men near Rachel's tomb, at Zelzah on the border of Benjamin. They will say to you, 'The donkeys you set out to look for have been found. And now your father has stopped thinking about them and is worried about you. He is asking, "What shall I do about my son?"'
3"Then you will go on from there until you reach the great tree of Tabor. Three men going up to God at Bethel will meet you there. One will be carrying three young goats, another three loaves of bread, and another a skin of wine. 4They will greet you and offer you two loaves of bread, which you will accept from them.
5"After that you will go to Gibeah of God, where there is a Philistine outpost. As you approach the town, you will meet a procession of prophets coming down from the high place with lyres, tambourines, flutes and harps being played before them, and they will be prophesying. 6The Spirit of the LORD will come upon you in power, and you will prophesy with them; and you will be changed into a different person. 7Once these signs are fulfilled, do whatever your hand finds to do, for God is with you.
8"Go down ahead of me to Gilgal. I will surely come down to you to sacrifice burnt offerings and fellowship offerings, but you must wait seven days until I come to you and tell you what you are to do."
9As Saul turned to leave Samuel, God changed Saul's heart, and all these signs were fulfilled that day. 10When they arrived at Gibeah, a procession of prophets met him; the Spirit of God came upon him in power, and he joined in their prophesying. 11When all those who had formerly known him saw him prophesying with the prophets, they asked each other, "What is this that has happened to the son of Kish? Is Saul also among the prophets?"

Here we find that the Spirit of God comes upon Saul in power, not when Samuel anoints him with oil, but when (after being anointed) he meets the procession of prophets who are prophesying in song and playing instruments.

Years later, when Saul has repeatedly proven himself unfaithful, God chooses a new king for Israel, and Samuel anoints a high-spirited little shepherd boy named David. Here we find the most remarkable and directly stated episode of the spiritual power of music anywhere in Scripture.

1 Sam 16:13-23

13So Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the presence of his brothers, and from that day on the Spirit of the LORD came upon David in power. Samuel then went to Ramah.
14Now the Spirit of the LORD had departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the LORD tormented him.
15Saul's attendants said to him, "See, an evil spirit from God is tormenting you. 16Let our lord command his servants here to search for someone who can play the harp. He will play when the evil spirit from God comes upon you, and you will feel better."
17So Saul said to his attendants, "Find someone who plays well and bring him to me."
18One of the servants answered, "I have seen a son of Jesse of Bethlehem who knows how to play the harp. He is a brave man and a warrior. He speaks well and is a fine-looking man. And the LORD is with him."
19Then Saul sent messengers to Jesse and said, "Send me your son David, who is with the sheep." 20So Jesse took a donkey loaded with bread, a skin of wine and a young goat and sent them with his son David to Saul.
21David came to Saul and entered his service. Saul liked him very much, and David became one of his armor-bearers. 22Then Saul sent word to Jesse, saying, "Allow David to remain in my service, for I am pleased with him."
23Whenever the spirit from God came upon Saul, David would take his harp and play. Then relief would come to Saul; he would feel better, and the evil spirit would leave him.

So, we learn that music can deny evil spirits access to the listener. At least, instrumental harp music can, when skillfully played by someone who is filled with the Spirit. Moreover, we get an indication that the ancient Israelites considered harp music the standard form of therapy for spiritual affliction.

In addition to repelling evil spirits, harp music can invite the Holy Spirit for the purpose of prophecy. In 2 Kings 3, three kings come to Elisha to seek deliverance from the invading Moabites. In verses 14-17 we read his response:

14Elisha said, "As surely as the LORD Almighty lives, whom I serve, if I did not have respect for the presence of Jehoshaphat king of Judah, I would not look at you or even notice you. 15But now bring me a harpist."
While the harpist was playing, the hand of the LORD came upon Elisha 16and he said, "This is what the LORD says: Make this valley full of ditches. 17For this is what the LORD says: You will see neither wind nor rain, yet this valley will be filled with water, and you, your cattle and your other animals will drink. ..."

It's interesting that he didn't say, "Bring me my harpist," or "Bring me the harpist," but simply "a harpist." Maybe it didn't really matter, as long as somebody was playing something on a harp. Or maybe there were harpists (perhaps Levitical harpists?) who were routinely called upon by prophets for this purpose. I'd like to learn more about this from extra-Biblical Hebrew literature. In any event, the LORD chose in this instance to wait until the harpist had begun playing before speaking through Elisha.

Music is often associated with prophecy in the Old Testament: Exodus 15:20, Judges 5:1, 1 Samuel 10:5, 1 Samuel 18:10, 2 Samuel 23:1, 2 Kings 3:15, I Chronicles 25:1, 2 Chronicles 20:14-15 (the descendants of Asaph were the temple musicians), 2 Chronicles 29:25, 2 Chronicles 35:15. Much of the prophecy of Isaiah and Jeremiah consists of song lyric. More than one third of the references to music in the New Testament are in the book of the Revelations.

Music is also associated with priesthood. According to I Chronicles 15:16-27, singing and playing musical instruments in the tabernacle, and later the temple, was exclusively a priestly duty (although the musical Levitical priests' daughters, not only his sons, were part of the official choir and orchestra: 1 Chronicles 25:1-7, Nehemiah 7:67, Ps. 68:25).

God chose to enter the temple and fill it with the Shekinah glory to musical cues: 2 Chronicles 5:11-7:6, Ps. 68:24-25.

In 2 Chronicles 20:14-28 we read about Judah, under king Jehoshaphat, under threat by a hopelessly large coalition of surrounding countries. Under the prophetic advice of one of the Levitical temple musicians, the king sent the choir and orchestra out in front of the army, a strategic move that might be questioned by an experienced Army General. At the very moment they began to sing, "Give thanks to Yahweh, for His lovingkindness is everlasting," God set the armies of the coalition on each other, and they destroyed each other until not a soldier was left of Judah's enemy.

The use of praise music to seek God's deliverance from distress is generalized into a principle by Psalm 69:29-36:

29     I am in pain and distress;
     may your salvation, O God, protect me.
30     I will praise God's name in song
     and glorify him with thanksgiving.
31     This will please the LORD more than an ox,
     more than a bull with its horns and hoofs.
32     The poor will see and be glad-
     you who seek God, may your hearts live!
33     The LORD hears the needy
     and does not despise his captive people.
34     Let heaven and earth praise him,
     the seas and all that move in them,
35     for God will save Zion
     and rebuild the cities of Judah.
     Then people will settle there and possess it;
36     the children of his servants will inherit it,
     and those who love his name will dwell there.

And in Psalm 32:7 we read that God protects the Psalmist by surrounding him with "songs of deliverance."

Psalm 40:1-3 informs us that music that focuses the mind on the goodness and greatness of God can have the effect of instilling the fear of Yahweh in the listener. In fact, there is a frequent association in Scripture between music and the fear of Yahweh, especially in conjunction with the lyric, "Give thanks to Yahweh, for He is good, for His lovingkindness is everlasting."

Psalm 42:8 tells us that music can be a form of prayer.

In Acts 16:23-26 we find that vocal music, specifically hymns sung publicly, can release the power of God on our circumstances. Hymns are devotional songs of thanksgiving, composed in stanzas (at least since New Testament times), set to reverent melody.

Hymns have been a mainstay of Church music since the first Lord's Supper. Today's so called Praise and Worship movement eliminates or greatly minimizes hymnody, now considered stuffy & dry. It is treated as a mere relic of a previous generation, no longer relevant to the "needs" of post-modern Christianity. This is a shortsighted error with grave consequences. To cease singing hymns is to quench the Spirit. Eph. 5:15-19 - those who are filled with the Spirit, wisely making the most of their time in the midst of a corrupt society, minister to one another with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with their hearts to the Lord. It's interesting that Paul referred to making music in our "hearts," not "mouths" or even "minds." He knew that music proceeds from the spirit, and has spiritual effects.

Paul said more about this in I Corinthians 14:15:

So what shall I do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will also pray with my mind; I will sing with my spirit, but I will also sing with my mind.

Music comes from the spirit even as prayer does.

1 Corinthians 14:26 puts hymnody on par with preaching, prophecy, and interpretation of tongues in terms of edification of the church. Does not edification of the church require spiritual power?

What then shall we say, brothers? When you come together, everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. All of these must be done for the strengthening of the church.

Like the Israelites of old, we are under attack by the Enemy. He is daily assailing us with flaming missiles (Eph 6:10-18). Listening to and singing songs that faithfully & reverently embody Scripture are a means toward putting on the full armor of God. They have a way of taking Bible knowledge from our heads and helping us place it over and around our spirits where it can intercept the spiritual assault.

Music is more than a stream of semi-organized sounds that we happen, by some quirk of nature, environment, predisposition, or whim, to find pleasantly stimulating. It is a channel for spiritual forces. Some music, perhaps all music in varying degrees, can provide or deny good or evil spirits access to our spirits, to help or harm us, to strengthen or weaken us. Let us be careful, then, what kinds of music we choose to make and receive, both in our daily lives and in corporate worship.

*All Scripture references quoted from the New International Version

David J. Finnamore
Orlando, FL