Many people are surprised by the many songs recorded throughout the Bible. Here is an overview of the works of musical praise God recorded for us.
God is surrounded by heavenly choirs, and His people have sung His praises from ancient times. Though most scholars would agree we don’t have enough information to reconstruct the music of the Bible, the lyrics alone provide inspiration and instruction about how to praise God in ways that are pleasing to Him.
Our article “Praise God” looks at why praising God is good for us. This article looks at examples of songs of praise that can help us learn to praise Him better, as the apostle Paul put it, in our “psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:19).
Old Testament songs
Although musical instruments are mentioned even before the Flood (Genesis 4:21), the first songs mentioned are the song of Moses and the song of Miriam. These songs were performed in celebration after God miraculously opened the Red Sea and saved the Israelites from the Egyptian army. (Interestingly, the “song of Moses” is mentioned again being sung in the end time, along with the “song of the Lamb” in Revelation 15:3.)
Exodus 15:1-7, 11, 15-18: “Then Moses and the children of Israel sang this song to the LORD, and spoke, saying:
“‘I will sing to the LORD, for He has triumphed gloriously! The horse and its rider He has thrown into the sea! The LORD is my strength and song, and He has become my salvation; He is my God, and I will praise Him; my father’s God, and I will exalt Him. The LORD is a man of war; the LORD is His name. Pharaoh’s chariots and his army He has cast into the sea; his chosen captains also are drowned in the Red Sea. The depths have covered them; they sank to the bottom like a stone.
“‘Your right hand, O LORD, has become glorious in power; Your right hand, O LORD, has dashed the enemy in pieces. And in the greatness of Your excellence You have overthrown those who rose against You; You sent forth Your wrath; it consumed them like stubble. …
“‘Who is like You, O LORD, among the gods? Who is like You, glorious in holiness, fearful in praises, doing wonders? …
“‘All the inhabitants of Canaan will melt away. Fear and dread will fall on them; by the greatness of Your arm they will be as still as a stone, till Your people pass over, O LORD, … whom You have purchased. You will bring them in and plant them in the mountain of Your inheritance, in the place, O LORD, which You have made for Your own dwelling, the sanctuary, O Lord, which Your hands have established.
“‘The LORD shall reign forever and ever.’”
Exodus 15:20-21: “Then Miriam the prophetess, the sister of Aaron, took the timbrel in her hand; and all the women went out after her with timbrels and dances. And Miriam answered them:
“‘Sing to the LORD, for He has triumphed gloriously! The horse and its rider He has thrown into the sea!’”
Moses also taught Israel a song as a witness against Israel, to remind them not to forget God (Deuteronomy 31:19-22). This song also begins with praise for God:
Deuteronomy 32:1-4: “Give ear, O heavens, and I will speak; and hear, O earth, the words of my mouth. Let my teaching drop as rain, my speech distill as the dew, as raindrops on the tender herb, and as showers on the grass. For I proclaim the name of the LORD: ascribe greatness to our God. He is the Rock, His work is perfect; for all His ways are justice, a God of truth and without injustice; righteous and upright is He.”
The Bible also records the victory song of Deborah and Barak after God helped them defeat King Jabin and his commander Sisera:
Judges 5:1-5, 12, 31: “Then Deborah and Barak the son of Abinoam sang on that day, saying:
“‘When leaders lead in Israel, when the people willingly offer themselves, bless the LORD!
“‘Hear, O kings! Give ear, O princes! I, even I, will sing to the LORD; I will sing praise to the LORD God of Israel. LORD, when You went out from Seir, when You marched from the field of Edom, the earth trembled and the heavens poured, the clouds also poured water; the mountains gushed before the LORD. …
“‘Awake, awake, Deborah! Awake, awake, sing a song! Arise, Barak, and lead your captives away, O son of Abinoam! …
“‘Thus let all Your enemies perish, O LORD! But let those who love Him be like the sun when it comes out in full strength.’”
The prophet Isaiah even records future prayers of praise that will be sung to God during the Millennium.
Isaiah 12:1-2: “And in that day you will say:
“‘O LORD, I will praise You; though You were angry with me, Your anger is turned away, and You comfort me. Behold, God is my salvation, I will trust and not be afraid; for YAH, the LORD, is my strength and song; He also has become my salvation.’”“‘O LORD, I will praise You; though You were angry with me, Your anger is turned away, and You comfort me. Behold, God is my salvation, I will trust and not be afraid; for YAH, the LORD, is my strength and song; He also has become my salvation.’”
Isaiah 26:1-6: “In that day this song will be sung in the land of Judah:
“‘We have a strong city; God will appoint salvation for walls and bulwarks. Open the gates, that the righteous nation which keeps the truth may enter in. You will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on You, because he trusts in You. Trust in the LORD forever, for in YAH, the LORD, is everlasting strength. For He brings down those who dwell on high, the lofty city; He lays it low, He lays it low to the ground, He brings it down to the dust. The foot shall tread it down—the feet of the poor and the steps of the needy.’”
The biggest treasure trove of songs in the Old Testament (and the whole Bible) is the book of Psalms.
The songbook of the Bible—the book with the largest collections of songs—is the book of Psalms. Of the 150 Psalms, 73 are attributed in the superscription to King David, the “sweet psalmist of Israel” (2 Samuel 23:1). Other named composers include Asaph (12 psalms), descendants of Korah (11 psalms), Solomon (Psalms 72 and 127), Heman the Ezrahite (Psalm 88), Ethan the Ezrahite (Psalm 89) and Moses (Psalm 90).
As a sample of the songs of praise in the Psalms, let’s look at the last one.
Psalm 150:1-6: “Praise the LORD! Praise God in His sanctuary; praise Him in His mighty firmament! Praise Him for His mighty acts; praise Him according to His excellent greatness!
“Praise Him with the sound of the trumpet; praise Him with the lute and harp! Praise Him with timbrel and dance; praise Him with stringed instruments and flutes! Praise Him with loud cymbals; praise Him with clashing cymbals!
“Let everything that has breath praise the LORD.
“Praise the LORD!”
Learn more about the Psalms in our article “The Book of Psalms.”
Six of the psalms talk about a “new song” (Psalms 33:3; 40:3; 96:1; 98:1; 144:9; 149:1), showing that God’s hymnal is not complete. He is a God of variety and creativity, so it is fitting that the prophecies of Isaiah and Revelation also talk about new songs.
Isaiah 42:10-13: “Sing to the LORD a new song, and His praise from the ends of the earth, you who go down to the sea, and all that is in it, you coastlands and you inhabitants of them! Let the wilderness and its cities lift up their voice, the villages that Kedar inhabits. Let the inhabitants of Sela sing, let them shout from the top of the mountains. Let them give glory to the LORD, and declare His praise in the coastlands. The LORD shall go forth like a mighty man; He shall stir up His zeal like a man of war. He shall cry out, yes, shout aloud; He shall prevail against His enemies.”
Revelation 5:9-10: “And they sang a new song, saying, ‘You are worthy to take the scroll, and to open its seals; for You were slain, and have redeemed us to God by Your blood out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation, and have made us kings and priests to our God; and we shall reign on the earth.’”
Read more about the biblical teaching about why, how and when we should praise God in the article “Praise God.”