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“Since our concern in this series is the nature and practice of worship as it is revealed in Scripture, we must give attention to a particular mention in the book of 1 Samuel to the use of musical instruments by a group of prophets. This unique situation took place in connection with Saul’s appointment by Samuel to the office of king in Israel. Specifically, Saul was told that he would meet ‘a group of prophets coming down from the high place with a stringed instrument, a tambourine, a flute, and a harp before them; as they will be prophesying.’

Some have cited this instance as proof that the use of musical instruments in the public worship of God is approved in Scripture, but let us examine the case more closely. First, it should be noted that these prophets were not engaged in the public worship of God in the presence of his gathered people. They were traveling along the road, and were more like a band of minstrels than a body of solemn worshippers. This is clearly not an example of the normative practice of a public worship assembly and therefore cannot be used to draw conclusions relating to such a setting.

Secondly, the use of musical instruments on this occasion was directly related to the activity of prophesying. Thus Brian Schwertley rightly concludes, ‘if this unusual instance did justify the use of musical instruments in public worship, it would only authorize their use in accordance with prophecy or direct revelation. Since the prophetic office ceased with the close of the New Testament canon, [sic] this passage is not applicable to the new covenant church.’

Third, the authorized use of musical instruments in the public worship assembly was restricted to priests and Levites. It is clear that the Jews never understood this passage as an authorization of the free use of musical instruments in the appointed services of God. There is nothing in this example which supports the contention of some that God permits or desires the use of instrumental music as an accompaniment to the singing of praise in public worship.

Musical instruments did come to have a particular place in the worship assemblies of Israel under the administration of David, and we will consider this in greater detail when we come to the institution of these ordinances, but that notwithstanding, the playing of instruments by this band of prophets is not an example from which we may conclude that God has commanded instruments to be played in the worship services of the Church. His fundamental law of worship stands: ‘Whatever I command you, be careful to observe it; you shall not act to it nor take away from it.’” (Comin 82-83)

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