God’s people have always used music to mark sacred events. These songs were passed down through the ages so that each new generation would remember God’s mighty acts, His loving kindness, and His supreme power. Many Biblical songs are even prophetic in nature. In fact, Biblical prophecy was often accompanied by music in the Old Testament.
“David, together with the commanders of the army, set apart some of the sons of Asaph, Heman and Jeduthun for the ministry of prophesying, accompanied by harps, lyres and cymbals.” (1 Chronicles 25:1)
“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, timbrels, pipes and harps being played before them, and they will be prophesying.” (1 Samuel 10:5)
“Elisha 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 pay any attention to you. But now bring me a harpist.’ While the harpist was playing, the hand of the Lord came on Elisha and he said, This is what the Lord says: I will fill this valley with pools of water.” (2 Kings 3:14-16)
“He [Saul] was prophesying in his house, while David was playing the lyre, as he usually did.” (1 Samuel 18:10)
Dirges and Lamentations
Not all songs in the Bible celebrate victories. The first mournful song in Scripture is found in 2 Samuel 1:17-27. David composes the song after he learns that his best friend Jonathan and King Saul were killed in battle, and he commands that all of Judah to learn the song—titled, the Song of the Bow.
“Saul and Jonathan—
in life they were loved and admired,
and in death they were not parted.
They were swifter than eagles,
they were stronger than lions.
“Daughters of Israel,
weep for Saul,
who clothed you in scarlet and finery,
who adorned your garments with ornaments of gold.
“How the mighty have fallen in battle!
Jonathan lies slain on your heights.
I grieve for you, Jonathan my brother;
you were very dear to me.
Your love for me was wonderful,
more wonderful than that of women.” (2 Samuel 1:23-25)
The book of Lamentations is also called the book of dirges. Each of Lamentations’ five chapters mourns Jerusalem’s fall to the Babylonians, using lyrical text and acrostics from the Hebrew alphabet (Lamentations 1-5).
Much of the book of Ezekiel is made up of laments about God’s necessary judgment against Israel and the surrounding nations. In fact, The prophets frequently express God’s grief over wayward Israel through dirges and songs of lament in Scripture (Amos 5:2, Habakkuk 3, Isaiah 23:15).