The Song of Moses and the Lamb
June 9th, 1985 @ 7:30 PM
THE SONG OF MOSES AND THE LAMB
Dr. W. A. Criswell
6-9-85 7:30 p.m.
This is the pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, delivering the message entitled The Song of Moses And The Lamb. David, our minister of music, said to me some while ago that the national conference of our musicians, our music directors, are meeting this week—to meet this week in our dear church. And their sessions are held in this sanctuary. And they wanted to know if I would deliver the message on Sunday night. So, I said, “Yes.” And this is the first time in my life I have ever tried to preach a sermon on the music in the Bible, but I have enjoyed studying it. I have enjoyed collating it, putting it together.
There are a whole lot of things about singing in the Bible that I have never heard of, I have never thought of, and I was never introduced before. And one of the things is—and you are going to see: they did it loud. I mean loud, loud, loud, loud.
And they did it with cymbals. And I am going to talk about that tonight. And I looked over there for cymbals. And there is not a one here in the sight of the Lord.
Well, they have got it. That’s great. In the Bible, it’s called—and you are going to see—a “high sounding cymbal.” I never heard it. We got to do better than that when we play in this orchestra.
Now, let’s begin. Get your Bible, all of us. And we are going to read out loud together 2 Corinthians 5, beginning at verse 11 to the end of the chapter. Second Corinthians; 2 Chronicles, 2 Chronicles—I am as confused as that cymbal player over there. Second Chronicles, chapter 5, beginning at verse 11. And when you get down there, these Levites are Asaph and Heman and Jeduthun. Now, are you ready? Second Corinthians, chapter 5—2 Chronicles 5. I can’t ever remember preaching from Chronicles. So this is a new song we are dedicating to the Lord.
Now you have it: 2 Chronicles 5, beginning at verse 11. Now all of us, out loud together:
And it came to pass, when the priests were come out of the Holy Place: (for all the priests that were present were sanctified, and did not then wait by course;
Also the Levites which were the singers, all of them of Asaph, of Heman, of Jeduthun, with their sons and their brethren, being arrayed in white linen, having cymbals and psalteries and harps, stood at the east end of the altar, and with them an hundred and twenty priests sounding with trumpets:)
It came even to pass, as the trumpeters and singers were as one, to make one sound to be heard in praising and thanking the Lord; and when they lifted up their voice with the trumpets and cymbals and instruments of music, and praised the Lord, saying, For He is good; for His mercy endureth for ever; that then the house was filled with a cloud, even the house of the Lord;
So that the priests could not stand to minister by reason of the cloud: for the glory of the Lord had filled the house of God.
[2 Chronicles 5:11-14]
And that happened—and that happened when the singers and the orchestral instrumentalists praised God with the sound of music [2 Chronicles 5:13].
There is an old Hebrew legend that when God created the earth, the angels said to Him, “There is one thing lacking. There is no music to praise our great Lord and Creator.” Then the Lord answered by creating the instrument of music and the instrument of song in our souls. And in Job 38:7: “The morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God, all of the angels, shouted for joy.”
Ancient Israel loved music. It was the only art that they cultivated. And could I parenthesize to add to this day the Jewish people, the Israelite nation, are the first and foremost among all mankind in music. It was the only art cultivated by Israel. Painting and sculpture and kindred arts were prohibited by them, because of the second commandment [Exodus 20:4]. That is why you have no portrait of the Lord Jesus. Nothing of painting, nothing of statuary, was ever created by the people of God. But they magnified music. It was the one art that they cultivated.
Now in 1 Chronicles we have a description of the whole body of temple choruses and orchestral groups. The singers numbered four thousand [1 Chronicles 23:5] and the instrumentalists numbered two hundred eighty-eight [1 Chronicles 25:7]. They were trained and they were conducted in twenty-four divisions, called “courses,” by the sons of Asaph, Heman, and Jeduthun [1 Chronicles 25:1]. And in each group those who were gifted in song and the neophytes, the novices, were placed together [1 Chronicles 25:8].
Now the orchestra is an interesting and descriptive group. “I,” said one of these brethren in the South, “I is gonna get me a eucalyptus and I is gonna play in the orchestra.” And a fellow said, “Listen, a eucalyptus is no name of an instrument. That is the name of a book in the Bible.”
In 1 [Chronicles] 25 [1 Chronicles 25:7], these two hundred eighty-eight were divided into stringed instruments, the favorite of all, the harp, the psaltery, the lyre, and the viol; then, the wood, the wind instrument, the flute and the pipe, a most ancient and popular instrument of music; and finally, the cymbals, the timbrels, the tambourines, the percussion instruments. And they were more vitally a part of the praise of God than today we realize.
In the one hundred fiftieth Psalm, and the fifth verse, it says: “Praise Him upon the loud cymbals: and praise Him upon the high-sounding cymbals” [Psalm 150:5]. I looked all that up in Hebrew. That word, the “loud cymbals,” shameh—that refers to the cymbals of hearing. It is a word used for the good, glad tidings, when they are announced—that kind of a cymbal. And then the high-sounding cymbals: that word, teruah—that word you will find many times in the Bible—teruah, teruah, the cymbals of tumult. That word teruah refers to the shout of victory and war. And it refers to the shout of joy in religious praise to God.
For example, in [1 Chronicles 15], and in those verses in the middle of the chapter there: “Thus all of Israel brought up the ark of the covenant of God with teruah, shouting, and with the sound of the cornet, and with the trumpets, and with cymbals, making a noise with psalteries and harps” [1 Chronicles 15:28].
And once again, in Ezra, when the foundation of the temple was laid, they sang together praising and giving thanks unto the Lord. And people shouted with a great shout, teruah, when the foundation of the house of the Lord was laid [Ezra 3:11]—just a brief descriptive word of the tremendous praise and glory to God of these instrumentalists and singers who by the thousands lifted their voices before God.
Every revival in the Bible is featured by a resumption of those temple choruses. Hezekiah, in the great turning to God under that good king, in 2 Chronicles 29:
And when the burnt offering began, the song of the Lord began. . .
And the congregation worshipped, and the singers sang, and the trumpets sounded. . .
And the Levites sang praises unto the Lord with the words of David, and of Asaph the seer.
[2 Chronicles 29:27, 28, 30]
Don’t you wish you could have been there to listen to those four thousand Levites praising God [1 Chronicles 23:5], and the two hundred eighty-eight instrumentalists playing on their harps and blowing their trumpets? [1 Chronicles 25:7]. In the tremendous revival under Josiah, it says: “And the singers the sons of Asaph were in their place” [2 Chronicles 35:15]. And in the days of Ezra and Nehemiah, when the foundation of the temple was laid, it was laid in the singing and trumpeting and playing of the singers and musicians [Ezra 3:10]. And when Nehemiah built the wall, and they had finished it, it says: “And the singers sang loud so that the joy of Jerusalem was heard afar off” [Nehemiah 12:27, 42-43]. I love to hear people sing as you have sung today. It thrills my soul just singing to the top of your voice till you are blue in the face. It’s great.
Now what that music was, we don’t know. It is unknown to us. We just know that some of their songs, their hymns, their psalms, were antiphonal. They would sing here and answer back here. They would sing many of them, of course, in unison. They sang with percussion instruments and with rhythm, and I just love that. I don’t know if that’s the country in me or not, but I love that. And I love percussion instruments. I love a drum. I love to hear them beat time. And I love to hear them crash those cymbals, which I am never able to get them to do in this church because this is too elite a congregation. Man, forget it! Bang them! Bang them!
Well, and they often wonder what selah means in the Bible. Well, apparently it was a pause filled with the orchestral interludes. And I love that too. I love to hear you play.
There is a long, long history of music in the Old Testament Scriptures. It begins that way. In Genesis 4:21—and I was dumbfounded at this: “Jubal—Jubal, the father of all such as handle the harp and the organ.” Now you look at that. Jubal is the proto-musician, named first before his half-brother Tubal-cain, the first artificer in brass and iron, and he’s named along side with his brother Jabal, the father of all such as have cattle [Genesis 4:20]. From the beginning, God made this wonderful world of music, by which we lift up our souls to God. And they are named first, first before these who raise cattle and before these who deal in brass and iron [Genesis 4:20, 22].
In Genesis 31:27, singing music at leave-taking, Laban said to Jacob: “Wherefore didst thou flee away secretly, and didst not tell me, that I might have sent thee away with songs, with timbrel, and with harp?” They just played music upon every occasion.
In the fifteenth chapter of Exodus, there is the Song of Moses. And Miriam, with her women, sang of the triumph of the people of Israel when they were delivered at the Red Sea [Exodus 15:20-21; Exodus 14:21-31]. I haven’t time here to speak of the singing at family feasts, the singing at religious feasts, the singing at harvest festivals, the singing at patriotic festivals, the singing at the court of the king.
When Hezekiah gave a gift to Sennacherib, he gave him men singers and women singers. In 1 Samuel 10:5, Samuel the prophet said to Saul, “You shall meet a company of prophets praising the Lord in song, and you will join them.” That was a sign of God’s calling Saul to be king over His people. And when Saul met the inspired singers, he joined them, praising God in music [1 Samuel 10:6].
In 1 Samuel 16:23, and in 1 Samuel 18:10, all of us are familiar with the story of Saul, when he was afflicted by an evil spirit, and David, who had sung to his flocks with his harp out in the sheepfolds—David came and played on his harp and sang before Saul, and the spirit was exorcized, and Saul was healed.
In 2 Kings 3:15, the prophet Elisha said, when Jehosophat asked him: “What shall we do? What shall we do?” Elisha said: “Bring me a minstrel.” And while the minstrel played, the spirit of prophecy came upon Elisha, the man of God. And he told the king what to do [2 Kings 3:16-20]. I can tell you truly the music that you all make has that effect upon me. I weep while you sing. It is a wonderful thing to me just to hear you raise your voices and play these instruments before the Lord.
In the Book of Psalms, 120 to 134, there are fifteen “songs of degrees” [Psalm 120:1-134:3]. There are two kinds of people who explain that. A song of degree, some of them say, these are the songs they sang when they went up to Jerusalem for the feast. There are others who say there were 14 steps up to the holy temple, and they sang these songs step-by-step up to the house of God. Whatever it is, it was a beautiful and a wonderful thing, praising God as they went up to the house of the Lord, or praising God on the steps of the temple. The beauty of their songs was universally recognized. When they were carried away into Babylon, the king and the people of Babylon said, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion” [Psalm 137:3].
Now in the church—in the church, in the church, we are admonished to be “filled with the Spirit; speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord” [Ephesians 5:18-19]. Music expresses an emotion that you can’t verbalize. You can’t put it in language or speech.
In Colossians 3:16: “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another”—not just by the Sunday school lesson and not just by the pastor’s studied message, but teaching and admonishing and encouraging one another—”in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord” [1 Colossians 3:16]. That’s God’s commandment to us. This music is a vital part in the pedagogical assignment of the church, and in our praise and worship of our blessed Lord.
For the first ten centuries of the Christian faith, the church did that. They all gathered and they sang and praised the Lord. But the following five centuries thereafter, trained musicians did it, singing in a foreign tongue, and the people did not participate. They had most excellent music, which we have today, but it was removed from the people. They were only spectators. They had no part in it. And that’s bad. I think that is bad anywhere.
I read this week, in preparing this message on music—which, I say, is new to me—I read this week about three girls, working girls, shop girls, who were in a dinner theater. And there was a selection being played up there by the orchestra.
And one of them said, “That’s divine. I wonder what it is?”
And one of them said, “Well, that’s the sextet from Lucia.”
And the other said, “No, no, that’s The Tales from Hoffman.”
And the other one said, “There’s a card up there. I am going up there and find out.”
So she went up there, and came back and said, “You’re both wrong. You’re both wrong. It’s the ‘Refrain from Smoking.’” That’s what a spectator does to you. They need to be involved in the music of the worship of our Lord.
And that was the great thrust and power of the Reformation. Now I may, of course, be wrong in my judgment, but as I have studied and read the Reformation, it seems to me that Luther did more by his hymn singing—such as, “A Mighty Fortress is Our God”—he did more with his singing than he did with his theological perspective and preaching and writing. He got all Germany singing the songs of God. And it moved the Reformation mightily and powerfully.
Back yonder in those days, there was a great duet of composers: Johann Sebastian Bach, the greatest harmonist of the evangelical faith, and one of the greatest composers of all time. And his contemporary was almost as gloriously gifted: George Frederick Handel. Handel lived 1684 to1759, and Bach 1685 to1750. They were contemporaries, and their music was a powerful witness to people who would not listen to the gospel message as it was preached by the witnessing preacher.
A hundred years later, there came another marvelous and gifted man. Felix Mendelssohn, 1809 to1847; died so young. His oratorios, Saint Paul and Elijah, lift our souls to heaven today.
Then came the dissenters. And the cause of music multiplied unto them. They became steadfast in the tradition of singing psalms. But these dissenters sang spiritual hymns. They wrote music. And John and Charles Wesley launched the great evangelical modern evangelistic movement today symbolized by the Methodist church. They did that in the wonderful songs that Charles wrote, and the Methodist people and finally the Baptists, sang. So we have come to see, as we study the Bible, that the music of our church has a vital and dynamic part in teaching our people the Word and way of the Lord.
So many times, for the purpose of technical parade and the shining of a soloist, those things, ever in the church like that, don’t help us when somebody sings just to show off, or somebody sings just to show a technical, fastidious, fine way of being gifted. All those things don’t help us in our hearts. What we want to do is to sing so that the people are lifted up and we magnify the Lord Jesus. But that doesn’t mean we want musicians singing up here who don’t do it right.
There was an accompanist who was a foreigner, and the soloist flatted and flatted and flatted. And he waved for silence, and he said, “Madam.” And he said it so mournfully, “It is no use. I give up the job. I play the black keys. I play the white keys. And always you sing in the cracks.” Now we don’t want that. We don’t want that.
A fellow made a scientific discovery. And he said, “Singing warms the blood.”
And a guy said, “Boy, I have heard that before. Singing sometimes I have heard makes my blood boil.”
We want to sing the best we can, but always, always with the tremendous dedication that we are going to magnify the Lord. We are going to lift up His name. We are going to praise God for His wonderful goodness to us.
I cannot pass by a word about the orchestra. When I a little boy in a little, tiny church in a town of about three hundred people, my kinswoman played the piano and I played the trombone by her side, every service. We had an orchestra of two. We had her playing the piano, and they had me playing the trombone. I have always loved the orchestra. I just do. I love to hear you play.
In the Bible, they had the organ. In the Bible, they had the stringed instruments. They had the wind instruments. But today we sort of have a tendency to cut out the percussion instruments and the timbrels and the tambourines and the cymbals. And we have them in the church with psychological difficulty.
Now that’s not good. I am, as you know, a Bible preacher. And as I have studied the music sermon this week, I have come to the conclusion that I want us to get us some percussion instruments over here. And I want us to raise the roof. Man, pull us out of our chairs. Just sing it—just sing it! We are going to play the harp in heaven; but down here in this wicked world, we are going to play with cymbals and tambourines.
Now here again, I don’t want us to think that we are just doing this in order to make a noise. A fellow said, “Does my practicing the cornet make you nervous?”
And he replied, “Well, at first it did, when I heard the neighbors and what they are going to do you. But I have just decided, I don’t give a hoot what the neighbors do to you.”
A fellow advertises “Cornet for sale.” And the guy said to him, “Why are you going to sell your cornet?”
Well, he said, “I saw my neighbor over here buying a shotgun, and I thought I had better get rid of it.”
A fellow said, “I thought you were an organist. What has happened to you?”
Well, he said, “My monkey died.”
A fellow said, “Do you sing or play very much?”
He replied, “No, just to kill time.”
And he said, “Well, you certainly have chosen an excellent weapon.”
Well I can tell you truly, I have never had a more happy assignment. Could I thank you musicians who asked me to preach tonight. I have never had a more happy assignment than this one of studying music in the Word of God, in the Bible.
Now I want to close with something out of my own life, just taking a page out of the things that I have experienced with singing. I’m no good singer. I wouldn’t even propose to think of myself as such. But there have been times, and I am going to speak of two of them—there are times in my life when singing did something just precious for me. One of them, as our people know, for about thirty-seven years, every summer I would take an extended missionary journey, preaching on a foreign field. And many of those times were in South America.
And I became acquainted in those days with Uncle Cameron Townsend, who founded the Wycliffe missionaries. And I loved to go into South America with him. Some of the things that happened down there in that Amazon jungle made an indelible impression upon me. I do not know why it was, but Cameron Townsend asked me to go to visit the Auca tribe. They had killed five white missionaries, had speared them to death. And Rachel Saint had gone back into the tribe. Her brother was one who was speared to death. And she and Elizabeth Elliot had won them to the Lord. And the Aucas, Stone Age Indians, had become Christians.
So Cameron Townsend wanted me to go to visit that Auca tribe. And the little plane in a little place, opened by machete knives—the little plane landed, and I was left there. And the little plane went away. And when I got out of the plane and the little plane left, I could easily see that Rachel was very, very disturbed. And she said to me, “You shouldn’t be here. This is the last thing in the world that Cameron Townsend should have done, was to send you here. And I want you to know that I will not be responsible for your life.”
Man, what an invitation! What a welcome! “Well,” I said, “I had nothing to do with this. Cameron Townsend wanted me to come and wanted me to visit this tribe.”
“Well,” she said, “He should not have done it. He does not know the situation here.” She said, “The larger Aucas are down river. And we have received word that the down-river Aucas are coming up. And they are going to decimate this whole group up here, and that includes me. And if you are here, that includes you. They are coming up here to spear them all.”
Well, I was ashamed of myself. I was afraid—and here I am, supposed to be a minister of the gospel of Christ, and a soldier for Jesus, and trusting His gracious goodness, and I am scared to death; just afraid. I could see those down-river Aucas behind every tree of that jungle. It was terrible. And I was so ashamed of myself. And I prayed about it, and it didn’t do any good to pray. I just might as well not had prayed at all. I was just scared, and I couldn’t understand why I was scared.
On one of those journeys down there in the jungle, the plane crashed into the vast, vast, vast below. That jungle down there is larger than the United States. There is not a bridge in it. There is not a road through it. It is a vast impenetrable jungle about 300 feet deep, and when you go down in it, you just disappear. They never see or hear of you again.
Well, I went down in that plane in a plane crash and I wasn’t afraid. All I did was, I asked God that I not be left with my back broken, or my mind gone because of a concussion. But I wasn’t afraid when that plane went down in the jungle. I was not afraid. I was left in one of those tribes way out there by myself. I was not afraid. Time and again in those instances; such as, I have flown over the Andes with an oxygen mask over my nose in a little one-seated plane. I have flown over those Andes, not afraid at all.
But I was afraid. I could not understand. I was afraid. Here was that woman, white woman, Rachel Saint; she was there, and she didn’t look like she was afraid of those people coming up and spearing them. And yet I was afraid. I was just ashamed of myself before the Lord.
Well, Kimo, a wonderful, beautiful, bronze-bodied Auca said—and he was the leader of the tribe—he said, “Let’s have church. Let’s have church. And let’s have this minister preach to us.”
Well their church is built up on a high platform—high, high platform with a thatched roof over the top of it. And there is a stairway that goes up. And all the Auca men and boys they just shimmied up those poles just like that. And all the pregnant women and I, we walked up the steps together. Oh, dear! Made me wonder just what I am fit for.
Well all the tribe was there, just filled that pavilion, opened on four sides. And so when they sat down and they began the service, why, Kimo said to me, now talking through Rachel Saint, the translator, “Would you sing us a song? Would you sing us a song?”
And here I am, scared to death and my heart just pounding like that. And I just expected to die by being speared any minute. And I am going to sing them a song. “Well,” I said, “all right. I am going to sing you a song.” So I sang the first stanza of “Amazing Grace.” Then, in some psychological jump that I cannot explain, I began singing the third stanza, not the second one. “‘Twas grace that taught my heart”—no.
Through many dangers, toils and snares
I have already come.
‘Twas grace that brought me safe thus far
And grace will lead me home.
[“Amazing Grace,” John Newton]
And I had, singing that third stanza, one of the most unusual psychological turns I have ever experienced in my life. While I was singing it—“Through many dangers and toils and snares . . . ‘Twas grace that brought me safe thus far, And grace will lead me home”—while I was singing that, there came into my soul and into my heart an indescribable peace and rest. And all of my fear was gone, all of it. I cannot explain that, but the song did it to my soul.
Just one other: I was for ten years, as you know, a country pastor out there in an open field where a church house was built, in a very small village. And in my country pastorate, there was a young woman about, oh, seventeen years of age, who was sick and dying, and she sent for me. So I came to that poor house, tenant house, and there she lay, just facing an immediate death. I sat by her side and she said, “Dear pastor, would you read to me out of the Bible?” And I read out of the fourteenth chapter of John. Then she said, “Would you pray for me?” And I prayed for her the best that I could. Then, she said, “Would you do one other thing? Would you sing me a song?” And I sang:
There is a land that is fairer than day,
And by faith we can see it afar,
For the Father waits over the way
To prepare us a dwelling place there.
In the sweet by and by…
[“In the Sweet By and By,” Sanford F. Bennett]
And when I sang the chorus to that stanza, she said, “Thank you, sweet pastor. I will meet you in heaven.” And she closed her eyes and died.
There is something about singing and the songs of Zion, and the words, and the lyrics, and the melody, that lifts our very souls to God. And I love to be a part of a church and a congregation that magnifies its music program.
I don’t think we can praise God too much. I have said to David, “I don’t like for us to come up here and sing about ourselves. You look at ourselves and we get discouraged. I love for us to sing about God. Let’s sing about the Lord. Let’s praise our Savior. Let’s exalt His glorious and keeping name.”
And when we do, God does something for us. It lifts up my soul. It takes my mind and my thought and my eyes away from myself, with all of the foibles and weaknesses of my life. And I find strength and glory in the Lord Jesus who reigns over this earth and someday is coming to be a visible and open and personal King [Matthew 25:31].
God bless His name forever. And the Lord bless you wonderful musicians, as you magnify the Lord with us.