God, I will sing a new song to you;Psalm 144:9 (CSB)
I will play on a ten-stringed harp for you
In our modern context, it can arguably be said that the word we consider most synonymous with worship is music. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It is of course our most common, universal element of corporate worship. Imagine attending a worship service where there was no music… Would you even call it “worship?”
That connection is rooted in the customs of Israel’s worship. Taking a spin into the Old Testament, we see Scripture informing this relationship of music with worship. Of the tribe of Levi, those appointed as worship leaders, King David set apart three from the family of Kohath to be musicians: Heman (the singer), Asaph, and Ethan. These men and their sons would minister “with song in front of the tabernacle, the tent of meeting, until Solomon built the temple in Jerusalem…” (1 Chronicles 6:32). It is from those men, along with David himself, that we have the majority of the Psalms.
Looking at the word, ‘praise’, then, we also see a specifically defined Hebrew word set apart for music: zâmar (zaw-mar’). This is probably the most straightforward word as it relates to praise. It simply means to make music, or to celebrate in song and music. As you should expect, its use in the Psalms is very obvious, as well. Psalm 144:9: “I will sing a new song to You, O God; on a harp of ten strings I will zâmar [sing praises] to You.” Or, recalling our first Hebrew praise word, we see both yâdâh and zâmar in Psalm 7:17: “I will thank [yâdâh] the Lord for his righteousness; I will sing [zâmar] about the name of the Lord Most High.”
As we will see in the coming months, not all worship and praise is as strongly connected to music as yâdâh, hâlal, and zâmar. But we cannot completely disconnect the necessity of the gift of music as it blesses our Lord. Music moves us, conveys emotion, creates connections among us to each other and to our God. As we will see in the next two words we will uncover, music generates expectation for God’s presence and prepares the posture of our hearts for worship.