When King David appointed Levitical singers to accompany the sacrifices at the altar, he also appointed them to sing with stringed instruments, harps and lyres. “David spoke to the chiefs of the Levites to appoint their relatives the singers, with instruments of music, harps, lyres, loud-sounding cymbals, to raise sounds of joy” (1 Chronicles 15:16).
These haps and lyres were not ordinary instruments. They were created for use in the temple services just like Moses made the instruments or vessels of the tabernacle. “The priests stood at their posts, and the Levites also, with the instruments of music to the LORD, which King David had made for giving praise to the LORD” (2 Chronicles 7:6).
The instruments of David were the harps, lyres, and cymbals in distinction from the instruments of the priests, the trumpets. “The Levites stood with the musical instruments of David, and the priests with the trumpets” (2 Chronicles 29:26). But only the harps and lyres actually accompanied the sacred song. “And with them were Heman and Jeduthun with trumpets and cymbals for those who should sound aloud, and with instruments for the songs of God” (1 Chronicles 16:42).
As we have seen, the cymbals, standing with trumpets, symbolized the proclamation or the preaching of the Word in connection with the sacrifice. The response was praise with Psalms accompanied with harps and lyres. As part of the Old Testament ceremonial system, what do the harps and lyres symbolize? The visions of the book of Revelation help us. We find harps mentioned first in Revelation 5:8. “When He
In this vision, the twenty-four elders represent the church, both Old and New Testament. Each of them has a harp in one hand and a bowl of incense in the other. The bowls of incense represent the prayers of the saints. What about the harps? The text continues, “And they [the elders] sang a new song” (Revelation 5:9). If the bowls of incense symbolize prayer, the harps seem to symbolize singing praise.
Revelation 14:2 confirms this thinking. “And I heard a voice from heaven, like the sound of many waters and like the sound of loud thunder, and the voice which I heard was like the sound of harpists playing on their harps.” Verse 3 adds, “And they sang a new song before the throne.” The voice is a heavenly choir. This vision says the voice sounds like “harpists playing on their harps.” There are no actual harps but the united voice of the choir is like harps. The harps symbolize singing sacred song.
The vision also says the sound of the choir is like “many waters.” Revelation 1:15, part of a vision of Christ, tells us “His voice was like the sound of many waters.” The choir sings with the spiritual power and voice of Christ. The harps therefore symbolize singing Spirit empowered sacred song. The Old Testament Levitical choir singing in response to the sacrifices with harps and lyres therefore typifies Spirit empowered sacred song.
The use of harps and lyres in Old Testament worship is not a warrant for you to revert to the things of the ceremonial law and use various stringed instruments in your worship. God gives you the Holy Spirit to fill your hearts for singing sacred song. The apostle Paul enjoins, “Be filled with the Spirit…singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:18-19).