The Legacy of Asaph – Learning to Sing in the Same Room

Yesterday I referred to the message I gave on The Future of Worship at WorshipGod09:From Generation to Generation, I spoke from Ps. 78:1-8 and shared the story of Asaph. My first point was that God commands us to tell the coming generations what he has done.

Psalm 78 is a maskil of Asaph, and one of 12 Psalms ascribed to Asaph. Whether Asaph actually wrote them or not, we can’t be sure. But one thing we can be sure of is that his influence lasted for centuries.

Asaph ministered at the tabernacle as a Levite. When David recaptured the ark of the covenant and returned it to Jerusalem, Asaph was appointed by the other Levites “to raise sounds of joy” on the cymbals (1 Chron. 15:16). Later on, Asaph was elevated from cymbal player to chief musician. David commissioned him to be among those who ministered and worshiped regularly in the tent of meeting, to invoke, to thank, and to praise the LORD (1 Chron. 16:5).

When David assembled other musicians for worship in the tent of meeting, he chose some who were the “sons of Asaph.” The “sons of Asaph” could refer to Asaph’s blood relatives or those he was mentoring. These “sons” were to serve the Lord by prophesying with lyres, harps and cymbals (1 Chron. 25:1-2).

Asaph and his sons served so faithfully under David that Solomon appointed them to serve at the dedication of the temple. It was there that “the song was raised, with trumpets and cymbals and other musical instruments, in praise to the LORD.” And they sang, “For he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever” (2 Chron. 5:13). Side-by-side, Asaph faithfully taught, instructed, and ministered with his sons and others, who in turn did the same to their sons, who in turn taught their sons, and on down the line for generations.

About 100 years later, king Jehoshaphat prayed for protection against the invading armies and received a prophetic word given by Jahaziel, one of the sons of Asaph (2 Chron. 20:14). 140 years after that, during when Hezekiah was king, the sons of Asaph were among the Levites who cleansed and consecrated the temple so worship to God could be restored. (2 Chron. 29:12-15)

80 years later, after the great apostasy and the Book of the Law was found, King Josiah wanted to celebrate Passover again. The singers turned out to be descendents of Asaph (2 Chron. 35:15).

When the Israelites returned to Jerusalem from their captivity in Babylon, nearly 400 years after the dedication of the temple, Ezra records that numbered the exiles included 148 “singers: the sons of Aspah.”  And when the foundation of the temple was laid, once again it was the sons of Asaph who led the worship (Neh. 7:44; 11:17).

Asaph and his descendents were purposeful and intentional in passing on the practice and understanding of musical worship to future generations. And their focus was unmistakeable: “God is good, for His steadfast love endures forever.” They took seriously the command to proclaim that truth to coming generations.

How seriously do we take the command to tell the coming generations what we know of God and worshiping God?

How many of our thoughts about music and worship revolve around what we like, what we prefer, what interests us, and what we find appealing? And how often is that attitude passed on to the next generation, who then focus on what appeals to them?

I suspect this may be one of the reasons churches develop separate meetings for different musical tastes. In the short run it may bring more people to your church. But in the long run it keeps us stuck in the mindset that musical styles have more power to divide us than the gospel has to unite us.

How do we pass on biblical values of worship to coming generations when we can’t even sing in the same room with them?

We have to look beyond our own generation, both past and future, if we’re to clearly understand what God wants us to do now. Otherwise we can be guilty of a chronological narcissism that always views our generation as the most important one. As Winston Churchill insightfully wrote, “The further back you can look, the further forward you can see.”

Enough thinking about ourselves and what kind of music we like to use to worship God. God wants us to have an eye on our children, our grandchildren, and even our great grandchildren. We have a message to proclaim: “God is good, for His steadfast love endures forever.”

Let’s not allow shortsightedness or selfish preferences keep us from proclaiming it together.

24 Responses to The Legacy of Asaph – Learning to Sing in the Same Room

  1. Josh Wright September 3, 2009 at 2:31 PM #

    Our church generally does three services on a Sunday morning. One “traditional”, one “contemporary” (for lack of a better name…), and then a “contemporary” service with the volume turned up a bit.

    This summer we did a series of “intergenerational” services (the last of which will this coming weekend), where we cut back to two identical services and each week did a different style of music. We kicked it off with out Vacation Bible School music team, and have had styles from traditional organ to folk to rock and/or roll.

    It’s been a lot of fun, and I think just about everyone was pleasantly surprised that if you take a moment to set aside yourself, you can experience God in a very wide range of worship settings. Hopefully this will only be the beginning of our ability and desire to bridge the generational divide.

  2. Kyle September 3, 2009 at 2:36 PM #

    Ha, and there it is! This message is one of the most important things for worship leaders (and pastors and lay people) to hear and embrace. Thank you for calling us to more than the status quo. May the Lord’s name be exalted for generations to come!

  3. David Paul Regier September 3, 2009 at 2:52 PM #

    Thank you so much for this post.

  4. Aaron September 3, 2009 at 6:35 PM #

    Pastor Bob,

    We also do many services on a Sunday with two different styles. We find that there aren’t clear generational lines being drawn, (i.e. there are many younger people at the traditional service).

    Because of the size of our building, we’d have more than 1 service anyway, so we decided to offer a few different styles.

    I’ve found, when we’ve tried to blend styles, that the songs really suffer because we don’t do the hymns majestic enough, and we don’t do the contemporary stuff loud or energetic enough. I realize the music is not ultimate or central in worship, but it almost creates new problems of “catering” and “watering down” the original intent of songwriters and/or musicians.

    I’d love to hear more on this issue besides the generational concerns, because that’s not always the outcome of offering different styles.

    Thanks for writing on this!

    Aaron

  5. Maria September 3, 2009 at 11:24 PM #

    i love the very last part of what you said…

    Enough thinking about ourselves and what kind of music we like to use to worship God. God wants us to have an eye on our children, our grandchildren, and even our great grandchildren. We have a message to proclaim: “God is good, for His steadfast love endures forever.”

    Let’s not allow shortsightedness or selfish preferences keep us from proclaiming it together.

    preeeeeeeach it..lol..

    +++

  6. Kyle September 4, 2009 at 12:37 AM #

    Aaron, I’m curious about your church’s experience with services of different styles. You mentioned that many younger people attend the traditional service – how many older people (like, 60+) attend the contemporary one?

  7. Paul Huxley September 4, 2009 at 4:40 AM #

    “Psalm 78 is a maskil of Asaph, and one of 12 Psalms ascribed to Asaph. Whether Asaph actually wrote them or not, we can’t be sure.”

    Huh? (I didn’t expect to read that). Is that because you think the titles aren’t inspired, or some other reason?

    • Bob Kauflin September 4, 2009 at 9:56 AM #

      Paul, I believe the subscriptions on the Psalms are inspired. But we don’t know if “A Psalm of Asaph” could mean a psalm written by Asaph, written by one of Asaph’s descendants, or written for Asaph. In at least two cases (Ps. 74-79), the psalms must have been written by a descendant of David because they describe events that happened outside of David and Asaph’s era. Derek Kidner’s commentary on the Psalms, pp. 32-36 contains more information on this, as does any solid commentary.

  8. Phil September 4, 2009 at 6:50 AM #

    Thanks for the insights Bob!

    Phil

  9. Aaron September 5, 2009 at 9:24 AM #

    Kyle,

    Yes, there are many older folks at our contemporary service as well.

    To be sure, there are more younger folks in the contemporary, and more older folks at the traditional. But, there is a lot of crossover. And, like I said, we’d be having more than one service anyway, so if that’s the case, why not have different styles?

    Our elders have not chosen to make (as covenant life’s have) a definitive statement about musical style, . . so we offer both.

    Aaron

  10. Paul Huxley September 8, 2009 at 5:37 PM #

    Bob,

    Thanks for the reply. I understand that the interpretive decisions on those Psalms are common and reasonable.

    There is another school of thought though. Psalms 74 and 79 immediately look like Babylonian captivity period, but aren’t actually all that specific. The other way to read them is to take the title at face value, and say that it’s describing events we don’t know about from David’s era. Remember that in his time there was plenty of civil war as Absalom and others rose up, events from which could be being described.

  11. Manon September 16, 2009 at 2:03 PM #

    Asaph is one of my favorite beside David,
    Asaph took seriously to pass worship and truth to the next generation….because the Spirit of the Fear of the Lord was on him….he at one point called the next generation Your children oh God.

  12. Jonathan September 22, 2009 at 12:33 PM #

    Bob, your ministry has had a profound impact on me as I endeavor to lead others to worship Christ. Thank you for your continued service to the kingdom.

    Another thing to consider, there will not be separate rooms to worship the Lamb in heaven. We will not separate ourselves from each other because we don’t care for a musical style. We will be enthralled and captivated with the glory of Christ! So why wait until then to lift your voice with your brothers and sisters? Why is His glory any less important now? Singing with one another now serves to remind us we are united one with another in our position to the cross of Christ – humbled and redeemed. Is my preference of style what matters most to Him, or is His glory what is most important?

  13. Joan N muwanguzi September 24, 2009 at 1:36 PM #

    Bob, i love what the lord is using you to impact lives for his Glory.
    Am wondering do you produce music or can you recommend.
    I want to record an album i go to convenant life church gaithersburg and live in germantown maryland.

  14. Cassie October 1, 2009 at 4:22 PM #

    Bob,

    Asaph is one of my favorite men written about in the Bible. How he passed the truth down to generation after generation is very encouraging to me.

    Could you tell me what your understanding of prophesying with our instruments is? That is something I ponder over often.

    Thanks!

    Cassie

    • Bob Kauflin October 1, 2009 at 5:25 PM #

      Cassie,

      Great question. Since Scripture doesn’t give us a lot of details about “prophesying with our instruments,” we need to be careful about becoming dogmatic. Music is a “non-truth” language, that is, it can’t definitely communicate what is true and what isn’t. But God does use it to affect our emotions, as we see in 2 Kings 3:14-16, 1 Sam. 16:23, and Mt. 11:17. God can use music to soften our hearts so that we’re more attentive to what He might be saying to us. But when we confidently assert that someone is “prophesying” through their instrument, it’s difficult to pin down exactly what that means. Is that helpful?

  15. Rev. D. Howard August 3, 2011 at 4:52 PM #

    I recently did a study of Asaph and was intrigued with the reference, “David delivered this psalm to thank the Lord into the hand of Asaph,” which certainly explains that David wrote the Psalm but Asaph was responsible for teaching and leading the other musicians/choirs to sing and play it since he was the chief overseer.

  16. Rev. D. Howard August 3, 2011 at 4:58 PM #

    I also discovered from another online source by Dennis McKorkle, that the melodious cymbals which Asaph sounded (I Chr 16:5,7) made a perfectly pure tone by which other instruments were tuned. When I studied Ps 81, I discovered a series of 5 instructions which were to followed. Yet, later on in the same Psalms it’s stated that Israel would not listen. God promises to subdue the enemy if they would, but they won’t. That’s pretty convicting testimony. Is today’s “what I want to hear” musical agendas responsible for the lack of victory over the enemy. Psalms 81 certainly declares it is.

    Email me if interested in the study notes from Psalms 81.

    http://musicofthebible.com/finger_cymbals.htm

  17. Sunny-Ekos Samuel (Sammydrums) June 21, 2013 at 2:44 PM #

    This post is a blessing and inspiration…its also an admonition that the place of good music and spiritual and truthfull worship is essential in the house of God as worship is a necessity.

  18. Sunny-Ekos Samuel (Sammydrums) June 21, 2013 at 2:45 PM #

    Psalm 33:3….

  19. Gen July 7, 2014 at 10:50 AM #

    Thank you so, so much for this article! I’m a worship leader and sometimes leadership is so difficult because of criticism by those who are not very involved. I really needed a reminder of why I’m called to do this and this encouraged me so much while also giving me some areas to work on to be more like the singers in the Old Testament. There is so much to glean here! Thank you!

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

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