He appointed some of the Levites to minister before the ark of the LORD, to make petition, to give thanks, and to praise the LORD, the God of Israel: Asaph was the chief, Zechariah second, then Jeiel, Shemiramoth, Jehiel, Mattithiah, Eliab, Benaiah, Obed-Edom and Jeiel. They were to play the lyres and harps, Asaph was to sound the cymbals, and Benaiah and Jahaziel the priests were to blow the trumpets regularly before the ark of the covenant of God. That day David first committed to Asaph and his associates this psalm of thanks to the LORD: Give thanks to the LORD, call on his name; make known among the nations what he has done. Sing to him, sing praise to him; tell of all his wonderful acts. 1 Chronicles 16.4-9.
The “he” with which this morning’s reading begins is King David. After an earlier, disastrous attempt to bring the ark of the covenant to Jerusalem (1 Chronicles 13), he has now succeeded and the ark is established in the tent prepared for it. But where the ark is, there, in a very particular way, God is. He is present to his people from above the mercy seat that forms the lid of the ark itself (Exodus 25.17-22) — see my post “The Mercy Seat” on 11 July 2008. And for David, that presence demands a response — the response described in this morning’s verses.
It is a music group — a band with strings, wind, percussion and voices — and its role is to petition God, to give thanks to him, and to praise him.
The ark had been brought to Jerusalem “with rejoicing” (1 Chronicles 15.25). The Levites accompanying it had sung “joyful songs, accompanied by musical instruments: lyres, harps and cymbals” (1 Chronicles 15.16). But now such music and song are to become a permanent feature of worship before the presence of God. And David gives the reason for that in the closing verses of the psalm he has written: “Give thanks to the LORD,” he says, “for he is good; his love endures forever” (1Chronicles 16.34).
Of course he is good; more good than even David knew. We know his goodness as it became incarnate in Jesus and went to the cross for us. We know his enduring love in a way that David couldn’t even begin to guess at. So small wonder then that music and song have, to this day, remained the chief way in which God’s people give their thanks and express their praise.
The music and song need not, of course, be audible (though it often will be): Paul tells the Ephesians, “Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 5.19-20). “Rejoice in the Lord always,” he tells the Philippians. “I will say it again: Rejoice!” (Philippians 4.4). “Be joyful always,” he tells the Thessalonians, “pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5.16-18).
There is no getting away from it: the Christian life — and that includes my life today — is to be marked by continuous, joyful, heart-felt, prayer and praise and thanksgiving, expressed outwardly and inwardly in music and song — what the King James Version calls “a joyful noise unto the Lord” (Psalm 66.1, 81.1, 95.1 etc). The same joyful noise that Asaph and his brother Levites were making three thousand years ago before the ark in Jerusalem. There is no place for joy-less, praise-less, miserable Christians. There never has been.