The character of the services at the Temple was carried on in accordance with the wealth and splendor there. Next to the sacrificial rites that went on there, hymnody was the next important thing that happened at any service there. In the days of David and Solomon, it must have been magnificent worship, but in New Testament times it was such that St. John could find no better imagery to portray heavenly realities and final triumph of the church than that taken from the service of praise in the Temple. John talks of the ‘twenty-four elders’ and the ‘144,000’ singing the ‘new song’. They appear as ‘harpers, harping with their harps’.
The real service of praise in the Temple was only with the voice. This is often laid down as a principle by the Rabbis. Any instrument only served to accompany and sustain the singer and song. Only the Levites could act as vocal singers, but other distinguished Israelites could take part in the instrumental music.
The blasts of the trumpets were blown only by priests and served no part of the instrumental music of the service, but were intended for entirely different purposes. Even the posture of the performers showed this. The Levites stood so they were facing westward, or toward the sanctuary; and the priests stood facing eastward.
On ordinary days the priests blew seven times, each time three blasts – a short sound, an alarm, and again a sharp short sound. These sounds were named Thekiah, Theruah, and Thekiah. The Rabbis expressed this as ‘An alarm in the midst and a plain note before and after it.’
The first three blasts were blown when the great gates of the Temple, especially the Nicanor Gate, were opened. Then, when the drink-offering was poured out, the Levites sung the psalm of the day in three sections. After each section there was a pause, when the priests blew three blasts, and the people worshipped. This was the practice at the morning and evening sacrifice. On the eve of the Sabbath a threefold blast of the priests’ trumpets summoned the people to prepare for the holy day. Then another threefold blast announced its actual commencement. On Sabbaths when an additional sacrifice was brought and the ‘Song of Moses’ sung, the priests sounded their trumpets an additional three times in the pauses of the Sabbath psalm. Below is an example of how this may have looked if they had been reading music.
THE INFLUENCE OF DAVID
David was definitely the originator of the music in the Temple. He was not only a poet and musical composer, but also invented musical instruments. One that is mentioned in the Bible is the ten-stringed Nevel or lute. The Rabbis talk of thirty-six different instruments, of which only fifteen are mentioned in the Bible, with five of these being in the Pentateuch.
The songs were not written in the modern sense as we know it. They didn’t have a certain meter, or regular rhyme to them. There were no musical notations in the way we would think. They had no harmony, they just all sang in unison the sweet, simple words of praise and adoration to God. They were accompanied by the instruments and only one pair of brass cymbals could be used. Although the brass was only used as a signal that the service was about to begin. None of the instruments were to overshadow the words to the song.
THE HARP AND LUTE
The two main stringed instruments were the harp (Kinnor) and lute (Nevel). The lute was probably used more for solos, but no less than two or no more than six of them could be in the Temple orchestra. There were to be no less than nine harps, but there could be as many of them as possible. The main difference in the stringed instruments was the harp was pretty much as we know it today and the lute was an early edition of our guitar today.
The priests also blew the Shophar or horn, besides blowing the silver trumpets. It was used at the new moon, on the Feast of the New Year, and also to proclaim the Year of Jubilee. Originally it was probably a ram’s horn, but evolved into one made of metal. The Shophar was used chiefly for its loud and far-sounding tones so that people could hear it a good distance away.
The flute ( or reed pipe) was played in the Temple on twelve special festivities. They were:
the day of killing – the first Passover
that of killing – the second Passover,
the first day of unleavened bread
the eight days of the Feast of Tabernacles
The flute was used in the festivities by bands on their journey to Jerusalem, and it was also played at marriage feasts and funerals. According to the Rabbinical law every Jew was bound to provide at least two flutes and one mourning woman at the funeral of his wife.
In the Temple there were no less than two and no more than twelve flutes to be played. Most of the time the end of the song was closed with just one flute. There is also evidence that a kind of organ was used in the Temple. Just exactly what its function was is not known.
THE HUMAN VOICE
As much as all the instruments added, though, the service of praise was mainly sustained by the human voice. A good voice was the one qualification that was needed for a Levite. In Ezra and Nehemiah singers in the Temple seem to have been employed. In the Temple of Herod, their place was supplied by Levite boys. The worshippers did not sing or take part in the praise anymore except just to say “Amen.” At this time, the people in general just sang on special occasions. It seems that the style changed over the years, but true worship was still recognized by a human voice with music that accompanied the voice to enhance it.