Oh, sing to the Lord a new song! Sing to the Lord, all the earth! (Psalm 96:1, N.K.J.V.)
Question: “How many years have to pass before a Baptist church sings a new song?” Answer: “It’s a trick question; Baptists never sing new songs.” Okay, okay, I’ll admit that’s an exaggeration. Even the songs we Baptists do sing had to be new at some point, right? That’s the thing about music — it’s all contemporary when it is first written, whether that happens in 1821 or 2021.
We read the Psalms as if we are reading poetry, but in reality they were songs. That’s why the book of Psalms has been called “Israel’s hymn book.” There is no heading over Psalm 96 to tell us precisely who wrote it, but our best guess is that the author was David. Many scholars and commentators belief that he wrote it as part of a collection of songs he wrote to commemorate the Ark of the Covenant being brought into Jerusalem (1 Chronicles chapters 15 and 16).
From ancient times, singing has been used as a prime means by which to praise God. According to the Biblical record, the playing of the harp and the flute — and presumably the creating of those instruments — goes all the way back to a man named Jubal. He was one of Cain’s descendants and is said to have been “the father of all those who play the harp and flute” (Genesis 4:21, N.K.J.V.). But the first actual song, complete with words and singing, that is mentioned in scripture doesn’t crop up until Exodus chapter 15. The Israelites have just crossed over the Red Sea on dry ground and watched as God has drowned Egypt’s army in that same sea. It is then that the men and women of Israel break out into that song.
The bulk of the first section of that 15th chapter of Exodus features Moses leading the Israelites in the singing of the words that are recorded in verses 1-18. Then, in verses 20 and 21, Moses’ sister Miriam and all the other women play their timbrels as Miriam sings her response to Moses’ song. That response is: “Sing to the Lord, For He has triumphed gloriously! The horse and its rider He has thrown into the sea!” I should also mention that Miriam and those other woman also dance about as a part of the celebration.
Singing a new song? Playing musical instruments? Dancing unto the Lord? My goodness, it kind of makes us wonder what heaven will be like! Along those lines, I think about Christ’s story of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32). In that story, when the younger son returns home from sowing his wild oats in the far country, the father throws a great celebration for him. When the older son comes in from working in the field, he hears that celebration taking place. And do you know what the Bible specifically says that he hears? He hears “music and dancing” (Luke 15:25, N.K.J.V.).
Now let me tell you what that little detail has to do with heaven. According to the symbolism of that story, the father represents God the Father and the father’s house represents heaven. By putting everything together, we can conclude that heaven is a place where music (and surely that includes singing) and dancing can be heard. Revelation 5:8-13 confirms all this, as it says that the 24 elders (who represent the entirety of the church) will each have a harp in heaven and will sing the following new song to Jesus:
You are worthy to take the scroll, And to open its seals; For you were slain, And have redeemed us to God by Your blood Out of every tribe and tongue. And have made us kings and priests to our God; And we shall reign on the earth.” (Revelation 5:9-10, N.K.J.V.).
Christian, your proper response to all this is to do your best to get in practice for it here on earth. Can you singing the classic hymns of the faith be a part of that practicing? Sure. But you should also sing some new songs as evidence that God isn’t forevermore trapped in the past. As for playing musical instruments and dancing, well, if you are like me, you’ll probably have to get to heaven before you start up with all that. As a matter of fact, now that I think about it, whenever I’m handed that harp in heaven, somebody had better also teach me how to play it. Hopefully, my musical abilities will be brought up to par in glory, but they sure do leave a lot to be desired right now.