1. The most ancient music.—The inventor of musical instruments, like the first poet and the first forger of metals, was a Cainite. We learn from Gen. 4:21 that Jubal the son of Lamech was “the father of all such as handle the harp and organ,” that is, of all players upon stringed and wind instruments. The first mention of music in the times after the deluge is in the narrative of Laban’s interview with Jacob, Gen. 31:27; so that, whatever way it was preserved, the practice of music existed in the upland country of Syria, and of the three possible kinds of musical instruments, two were known and employed to accompany the song. The three kinds are alluded to in Job 21:12. On the banks of the Red Sea Moses and the children of Israel sang their triumphal song of deliverance from the hosts of Egypt; and Miriam, in celebration of the same event, exercised one of her functions as a prophetess by leading a procession of the women of the camp, chanting in chorus the burden of the song of Moses. The song of Deborah and Barak is cast in a distinctly metrical form, and was probably intended to be sung with a musical accompaniment as one of the people’s songs. The simpler impromptu with which the women from the cities of Israel greeted David after the slaughter of the Philistines was apparently struck off on the spur of the moment, under the influence of the wild joy with which they welcomed their national champion, “the darling of the sons of Israel.” 1 Sam. 18:6, 7. Up to this time we meet with nothing like a systematic cultivation of music among the Hebrews, but the establishment of the schools of the prophets appears to have supplied this want. Whatever the students of these schools may have been taught, music was an essential part of their practice. Professional musicians soon became attached to the court.
2. The golden age of Hebrew music.—David seems to have gathered round him “singing men and singing women.” 2 Sam. 19:35. Solomon did the same, Eccles. 2:8, adding to the luxury of his court by his patronage of art, and obtaining a reputation himself as no mean composer. 1 Kings 4:32. But the temple was the great school of music, and it was consecrated to its highest service in the worship of Jehovah. Before, however, the elaborate arrangements had been made by David for the temple choir, there must have been a considerable body of musicians throughout the country. 2 Sam. 6:5. (David chose 4000 musicians from the 38,000 Levites in his reign, or one in ten of the whole tribe. Of these musicians 288 were specially trained and skillful. 1 Chron. 25:6, 7. The whole number was divided into 24 courses, each of which would thus consist of a full band of 154 musicians, presided over by a body of 12 specially-trained leaders, under one of the twenty-four sons of Asaph, Heman, or Jeduthun as conductor. The leaders appear to have played on the cymbals, perhaps to mark the time. 1 Chron. 15:19; 16:5. All these joined in a special chant which David taught them, and which went by his name. 1 Chron. 23:5. Women also took part in the temple choir. 1 Chron. 13:8; 25:5, 6. These great choirs answered one to another in responsive singing; thus the temple music must have been grand and inspiring beyond anything known before that time.
3. Character of Hebrew music.—As in all Oriental nations, the music of the Hebrews was melody rather than harmony, which latter was then unknown. All, old and young, men and maidens, singers and instruments, appear to have sung one part only in unison, or in octaves. “The beauty of the music consisted altogether in the melody”; but this, with so many instruments and voices, was so charming that “the whole of antiquity is full of the praises of this music. By its means battles were won, cities conquered, mutinies quelled, diseases cured.”—Ed.)
4. Uses of music.—In the private as well as in the religious life of the Hebrews music held a prominent place. The kings had their court musicians, 2 Chron. 35:25; Eccles. 2:8; and in the luxurious times of the later monarchy the effeminate gallants of Israel amused themselves with devising musical instruments while their nation was perishing (“as Nero fiddled while Rome was burning”). But music was also the legitimate expression of mirth and gladness. The bridal processions as they passed through the streets were accompanied with music and song. Jer. 7:34. The music of the banquets was accompanied with songs and dancing. Luke 15:25. The triumphal processions which celebrated a victory were enlivened by minstrels and singers. Ex. 15:1, 20; Judges 5:1; 11:34. There were also religious songs. Isa. 30:29; James 5:13. Love songs are alluded to in Ps. 45, title, and Isa. 5:1. There were also the doleful songs of the funeral procession, and the wailing chant of the mourners. The grape-gatherers sang at their work, and the women sang as they toiled at the mill, and on every occasion the land of the Hebrews during their national prosperity was a land of music and melody.