Within the storehouse of classic children’s tales is the story of the Pied Piper of Hamelin — the fervent flutist who first drew away the town of Hamelin’s rats, and afterwards its children, with his hypnotizing music. While the tale is meant to demonstrate the values of trustworthiness and keeping one’s word, it also shows that those of earlier days recognized the emotional, psychological and physiological power of music.
Music makes a wonderful servant, but a very bad master. Music was employed by the children of Israel to praise the Lord after their deliverance at the Red Sea (Exod 15), but also as an aid to immorality and idolatry shortly afterward as the people sinned before Mount Sinai (Exod 32). Solomon was aware of its power for good, when the united voice of the singers’ praises caused the presence of the Lord to fill the temple (2Chron 5:13). And Nebuchadnezzar expertly manipulated music’s power for evil when he employed a variety of instruments to coerce the people to bow down to his image in Dan 3.
According to experts, music is considered the single greatest factor that shapes character in a young person. Music can define a generation. And that’s because, by the time a young person finishes high school, they have heard more music than they’ve actually spent hours in education. Some statistics from the pre-iPod era suggest that the average student has listened to well over 10,000 hours of pop music by that time. As a teacher having witnessed the rise of portable music de- vices in schools in the last decade, I would suggest that this number could well be significantly higher today, given that a good portion of today’s students listen to music during instructional time! It’s considered that the ages of 15 to 25 are the crucial years for the development of musical tastes in most of us.
Historically, the music industry has had greater annual revenue than the movie industry. And we can rest assured that in their drive to attract consumers, the music industry isn’t going to be appealing to the spiritual man or spiritual tastes. And it’s quite evident in the lyrical content of today’s music, as well as the image the artists choose to portray.
The chart shows common themes in the lyrics of the top 40 songs on the Billboard Top 100 Pop Songs of 2011.
Besides the themes repre- sented above, other common themes included: gious sentiments; unrealistic or unhealthy outlooks on relationships; anti-rules and order; and the elevation of self. Similar content is found in the lyrics of other styles of contemporary music (Country, R&B, Rock, Latin Rock, Rap, etc.).
But does listening to these songs really affect us? As long as we are committed to living godly lives, isn’t there room to enjoy this kind of music, while doing our best to block out the more offensive elements? Especially since we aren’t condoning or engaging in these behaviors ourselves?
The Apostle Paul warns in Rom 1:32 that those who are aware of God’s perspective of ungodliness should neither participate themselves, nor “have pleasure in them that do them”. He is just as emphatic in Gal 6:7-8: “Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting.”
Each of us knows from experience that the flesh needs little feeding. Many know the annoyance of how easily lyrics and images from songs heard long ago, as well as experiences associated with them, so easily spring into our minds with the mildest of triggers. Today’s musicians well understand this, and they want that access into our minds.
The music of Egypt
The children of Israel grew impatient at Sinai during Moses’ long absence, and under their pressure Aaron used the gods and music of Egypt to placate the mob whose minds pulsed with memories of Egypt’s “bounty”. The Egyptians knew the power of music and harnessed it in the worship of their gods (e.g. Isis), to work devotees into a state of hysteria and therefore to “enhance” their religious experi- ence — primarily, engagement in a sexual fertility rite.
“And the Lord said unto Moses, Go, get thee down; for thy people, which thou broughtest out of the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves… And when Joshua heard the noise of the people as they shouted, he said unto Moses, There is a noise of war in the camp. And he said, It is not the voice of them that shout for mastery, neither is it the voice of them that cry for being overcome: but the noise of them that sing do I hear. And it came to pass, as soon as he came nigh unto the camp, that he saw the calf, and the dancing: and Moses’ anger waxed hot, and he cast the tables out of his hands, and brake them beneath the mount…” (Exod 32:7, 17-19)
It was after witnessing their music-driven behavior that the tables of God’s law were broken, surely highlighting that the word of God and the music of Egypt are incompatible. The children of Israel used the music of Egypt as a soundtrack for their behavior — and it led to the loss of their garments, and ultimately their lives (v. 28).
“And when Moses saw that the people were naked; (for Aaron had made them naked unto their shame among their enemies.) Then Moses stood in the gate of the camp, and said, Who is on the Lord’s side? let him come unto me. And all the sons of Levi gathered themselves together unto him” (Exod 32:25-26).
The chart above demonstrates the manipulation of sexuality (by innuendo and explicit references) in modern music. The artists and promoters of today’s music — like the Egyptians — recognize the power of music. The image that they sell meshes perfectly with the content of their lyrics and the pulsating beat and sensual style of much of their music.
Many iconic musicians of the modern era have acknowledged this connection. The term “rock and roll” was coined by Alan Freed, Cleveland disk jockey, who took the term from the street slang for fornication.
David Bowie — “Rock has always been the devil’s music.” (Rolling Stone, Feb. 12, 1976, p. 83)
Lita Ford — “Listen, rock’n roll AIN’T CHURCH. It’s nasty business. You gotta be nasty too. If you’re goody, goody, you can’t sing or play it. . .” (Los Angeles Times, August 7, 1988)
Blessed is he that keepeth his garments
Like the children of Israel at Mount Sinai, we’re awaiting the return of our Deliverer, who’s been separated from us, for a long duration: Jesus Christ, the great Judge. And like the children of Israel, we’ve come “out of Egypt” and are trying to leave the world’s influences behind and retain our spiritual garments.
During Moses’ absence, the people had become “naked unto their shame among their enemies” (Exod 32:25). Jesus Christ warns us that when he returns, there will be some who have laid their garments aside, who have become “spiritually naked” by adopting the behaviors of the world.
“Behold, I come as a thief. Blessed is he that watcheth, and keepeth his gar- ments, lest he walk naked, and they see his shame” (Rev 16:15).
We live in a world that tempts us to cast off our spiritual garments and commit spiritual fornication. By putting corrupt things into our heads — they’re winning the battle of the mind. And that’s where it all starts.
A local radio station in my area advertises itself as “107.5 Sun FM — the soundtrack of your life”. If our iPods were presented to the Lord, what would he determine to be the “soundtrack of our lives”? As one brother put it: “The mind is insensibly affected by the stream of thought passing through it”. A stream that is constantly spiritual and Biblically-focused produces the man or woman of Scripture. But if our mind is constantly listening to and being washed by another, more polluted stream, we will become a very different person.
Music in the battle against sin
One of the greatest examples of faith under trial comes to us in 2Chron 20, as King Jehoshaphat prepared to lead the army of Judah against an imposing Moabite confederacy. After offering a moving prayer on behalf of the nation, and subse- quently receiving a promise of victory through Jahaziel’s spirit-guided response, a most unusual tactic was adopted: they determined to send out the choir in front of the army!
“And when he had consulted with the people, he appointed singers unto the Lord, and that should praise the beauty of holiness, as they went out before the army, and to say, Praise the Lord; for his mercy endureth forever. And when they began to sing and to praise, the Lord set ambushments against the children of Ammon, Moab, and mount Seir, which were come against Judah; and they were smitten” (2Chron 20:21-22).
As a military strategy it was ridiculous. As an act of faith, it was astounding. God had answered Jehoshaphat’s prayer through Jahaziel the son of Asaph, so Judah chose the Asaph musicians to lead them into battle! This episode reinforces a weighty spiritual principle: that spiritual music can be a powerful weapon in the battle against sin. It wasn’t until the people lifted up their voices that the enemy was slain.
Imagine, however, that on the morning of the great battle, the sons of Asaph are notably absent. Judah’s army needs a soundtrack for the battle against a very imposing force. Imagine the only source of music available is your iPod. When it is plugged it in to provide the army with a song of victory… what music will they find? Would the music on the iPod have the effect of encouraging the army of God in their battle against the army of sin? Or would the music be strengthening the Moabites — the old man?
Is sin subdued, or energized as a result of our music? While not all of the music we listen to will be unequivocally spiritual, none of our music should draw our focus to ungodliness — whether that’s by the style of music, the image of the artist, the content of the words, or its worldly association.
From our first waking moments each day, the world endeavors to press us into its mold. An excellent way to let this happen is to allow a steady stream of its beliefs, values, and ambitions into our lives through the airwaves and earphone wires that compose the “soundtrack of the world” on our minds.
We do well in this area of our lives, as in so many others, to pay close attention to the positive, powerful and life-changing words of the apostle Paul:
“Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things” (Phil 4:8).
The parable of the seven spirits (Matt 12:43-45) counsels us not only to remove negative spiritual influences from our lives, but also to replace the empty space they leave with more positive alternatives — to “overcome evil with good” (Rom 12:21). The present generation of Christadelphians is blessed with much solid Scripturally-based spiritual music produced within the brotherhood to fill this need, to help us “Set [our mind] on things above, not on things on the earth” (Col 3:2).
Let us fill our minds in these last days with music that strengthens the spiritual warrior and gives honor to our Heavenly Father. May we sing with Judah and the house of Asaph: “O give thanks unto the Lord; for He is good; for His mercy endureth for ever” (1Chron 16:34).
Dan Osborn (Okanagan Central, BC)