God's Word is a Symphony of Praise
A Presentation to the
Dean Burgon Society Women's Meeting
July 14, 2004
Patricia L. Williams
A recent visit to a symphony concert was very
enjoyable. I delighted hearing Brahms Symphony No. 2 performed by the
Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. I did not realize at that time how God would
use that experience to give me a deeper understanding of His precious
In musical terms, a symphony is described as a compound
form. The classical symphony usually has four sections, or movements, and
while it is possible for each movement to be performed separately, that is
rarely done. The relationship between the movements, such as the interplay
of mood, the creativity of structure, or the unfolding of a story, is what
makes the listening experience complete.
Obviously, the Word of God is a compound form with 66
separate movements, or books. Each book can be read separately, but the
full satisfaction comes from recognizing how each section is skillfully
integrated into a meaningful whole.
There are two levels of appreciation when listening to
a symphony. The first and most elementary is the emotional response. Every
listener is able to appreciate on this level. However, the skill of the
conductor lies in his ability to direct the various emotions to a point of
unity. In other words, each listener will be directed toward the same
emotional response. That feeling of oneness generated in an assembly of
strangers is reason to visit a concert hall, as opposed to listening in
solitude, where one misses out on that experience.
When we read or hear the Words of God, each of us can
have an emotional response. We can marvel in awe at the act of creation,
or cheer with the Israelites when David slays the giant. We cry along with
Jeremiah and walk and leap and praise God with the lame man who was healed
by the Apostles. These are common emotional responses. The role of the
Holy Spirit, when we read or hear the Words of God, is to take us as
individuals and lead us to a point of unity in Christ. Similarly, just as
in a concert hall, for the blessing of unity to be realized, the
assembling of the saints together should not be forsaken.
The second level of appreciation for a symphonic
composition is reached through an understanding of the mechanics of
construction. The whole process begins with a design concept in the mind
of the composer who employs musical symbols on a printed page to transmit
his concept to others. It can readily be seen that Scripture began as a
design concept in the mind of the Almighty who chose to transmit this
concept to us living today, through the printed page, the Holy Bible. Less
obvious however may be the mechanics of this transmission, which will now
be examined in detail.
Musical notes can be arranged in two ways; the linear
arrangement which creates melody and the vertical arrangement which
creates harmony. A melody is a meaningful arrangement of tones that is
constructed with a plan or purpose. It is designed to attract our
attention and elicit a response. Symphonic compositions that have
delighted people through the ages are the ones that have immediately
recognizable melodies. These melodies that are elevated to prominence in a
composition are called themes.
Our beloved King James Bible has beautiful melodies
that sing out from the pages. Each melody is made up of a series of words,
for example, "For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten
Son". This melody abounds throughout the Bible, in many variations and in
many different contexts, but when we hear it, even if it has been
disguised, we remember that we have heard it before and it is familiar to
us. Or, consider the melody, "Behold the Lamb of God". When this theme is
encountered in the Bible and we remember the Lamb and think on Him, we
interact with that melody to the stirring of our very soul.
One of the marks of greatness of a classical composer
is his ability to manipulate melodic fragments into various constructs and
then reorganize them into even more meaningful patterns. Full enjoyment of
a symphony on this second, deeper level depends upon our ability to
remember the melodies heard previously, and when, after a sometimes
prolonged interlude, they reappear in all their majesty, it is like
reuniting with an old friend. The more familiar we become with the
composition, the more we anticipate the arrival of that recognizable
melody. The same is applicable to the Bible's major themes. Just as a
symphony, with its different movements, is united by its thematic
material, so is the Bible. The themes are manipulated, maneuvered,
transformed, and sometimes disguised, but study and meditation can often
reveal them. A musician who has studied the composition will understand it
in greater depth and see the marvelous intricacies better than someone
hearing it for the first time. However, the conductor, or in our analogy,
the Holy Spirit can guide us into a more complete understanding.
Let us digress at this point as we ponder the role of
the conductor. He (or she) never adds to, subtracts, or in any way
changes the score that the composer has written. The job of the conductor
is to interpret the information on the page and to lead, guide and direct
the musicians in the performance. As pertains to the matter of
interpretation, there are certain notations that may not be changed; for
example, the notes themselves may not be altered unless there is an
obvious misprint. The work must be performed in the same key that was
chosen by the composer because a certain mood or impression can be
generated through this choice of key. However, when the composer writes
"allegro" on the score, to define the speed at which the music is to be
performed, just how fast is "allegro"? If he writes "pianissimo" on a
section, just how soft is that? The conductor determines these criteria
within certain universal parameters and thus puts his signature on the
As the Holy Spirit clarifies God's words and brings us
to a knowledge of the truth, it is not accomplished by changing or
modifying those words in any way. What God has written is forever settled
and preserved for us. The role of the Holy Spirit is to equip us to
understand and perform God's Words as was intended by the composer
Himself. Just as a conductor cannot transmit the message without
participation by the musicians who bring their own special gifts and
abilities to the performance, the Holy Spirit uses the saints of God to
perform the Words of God.
Now we revert back to our study of the mechanics of a
symphonic composition. We have discussed the linear construction, or
melody. Next we consider the vertical structure, or harmony. The chordal
structure is implemented to support the melody by setting the melody in a
certain tonal environment. This setting, or context, then determines the
mood of the composition, much the same way that wall color determines the
mood of a room.
To illustrate this concept as it applies to The Words
of God, let us consider various books of the Bible and establish a
prevailing mood for each. For example:
The book of Psalms majestic
Song of Solomon intimate, playful
If we were musically notating the book of Ruth, we
would certainly not end it in a minor key. This book, with the underlying
theme (melody) of redemption, would undoubtedly end in triumph, the
genealogy of David triumphantly proclaiming the redeemer to come. Contrast
this with the book of Jeremiah "the weeping prophet", where the idea of
redemption is more obscure and the entire book would be musically
portrayed in a minor key. It is the harmonic construction that gives each
book its distinctive color, or mood.
The third element in a musical composition we have not
yet mentioned. It is the element of rhythm. One can readily understand
that even the most sophisticated progression of notes would be meaningless
without rhythm. Rhythm brings order; that order resulting from repeated
occurrences. God Himself established rhythm; in the seasons, in the
oceanic tides, and in the heavenly spheres, where events are repeated
enough to establish meaning. In fact, as early as the second verse in the
creation account (Gen 1:2) we see the earth without form and void until
the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. That word, "moved"
means, literally, "vibrated", producing rhythmic waves of energy. So, we
can see how the Creator used rhythm to bring order out of formlessness.
The examination of the subject of rhythm in God's Word
brings numerous examples to light. We have obvious rhythm in the book of
Judges, each leader punctuating the course of a nation's history, either
for good or for evil, one reign flowing rhythmically into the next with
the often repeated refrain, "And the children of Israel did evil in the
sight of the Lord." We see rhythm in the book of Joshua; in fact, it is a
marching rhythm as Israel conquers the Promised Land. We have obvious
rhythm in the Psalms, the structure of which is sometimes so precise and
the words so melodious, even in translation, they can be turned into song
without any modification at all. With the advent of computers, we have
discovered Bible codes, (an unfortunate term) where rhythm is being
discovered in the actual words themselves as they appear on the printed
page, and that rhythm pulses as intended so long as the words have not
been altered or changed. The truth is, if the Words of God are quick and
powerful, then they have the pulse beat or the rhythm of life itself.
As with any comparisons, more could be said. Perhaps
through this short musical journey where we have compared Scripture to a
finely constructed symphony, we have come to appreciate our KJB even more.
Unfortunately, as with any comparison of things earthly to things
heavenly, the earthly falls far short. One observation does remain true
however, the Words of God, although composed in eternity past, have been
completely recorded for us in book form and preserved by divine covenant.
We are able to hold this miraculously written letter from heaven, stained
with the blood of martyrs, in our very hands, translated into the English
language and infallibly preserved. Our beloved King James Bible resonates
with the harmonies of eternity and the rhythm of life. But it is the
glorious melody, that pervasive theme, composed of the notes of mercy and
grace, that saturates the whole so completely and lovingly. It is a melody
we can sing in our hearts. Jesus Christ, our blessed redeemer, is that
unchanging melody. Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, today and forever.
The foregoing treatise is an analogy that
perhaps gives one a greater understanding and appreciation for God's Word.
Comparing Scripture to a finely constructed symphony is a delightful
exercise, both intellectually and spiritually. However, if the treatise
ends here, is there any lasting effect? To make an impact, we must make it
apply to our lives. The remainder of this presentation will instruct you
on how to perform God's Symphony. You, the saints of God, are the
musicians called to perform the Words of God each and every day. Are you
Let's suppose for a moment that you are going to an
audition for participation in a symphony orchestra. Obviously, the first
requirement is that you are able to play your instrument; that you can
decipher the notes on the page and produce an accurate rendition. If you
are going to accurately decipher the Words of God for performance
purposes, the first qualification is faith. You must have faith in the
living Word, Jesus Christ, before you can acceptably perform God's written
Word. While it is true that there are those who attempt to perform the
Words of God without possessing a saving faith, their performance is not
pleasing because without faith it is impossible to please Him. (Heb 11:6).
The performance may be technically flawless, every note accurately played,
but there is no connection. The performance is lifeless; without heart;
dead. Why is that? We remember in the OT how God condemned the bringing of
offerings and sacrifices to Him without the right attitude of the heart.
Their performance was technically correct, but without understanding.
Faith is the qualification that makes us alive to the things of God and
gives us an understanding heart so that our performance may be acceptable
in His sight.
The second qualification is a desire to perform well.
While there is a place for amateurs in a youth orchestra, musicians are
expected to perfect their skills. This is impossible without practice;
many, many hours of practice. As a musician desiring to play God's
Symphony, you must also practice. You must study the notes (Words),
engrave them on your heart, meditate on them in your mind and thoroughly
understand them before you attempt to bring them to performance. Do you
have a musician's dedication?
This brings us to the question, "What will you do with
the difficult passages?" There are two possibilities. One is to practice
them unto perfection. The second is to allow the other musicians to carry
the difficult passages without you. Ladies, do you allow your husband's
commitment and dedication to carry you through the difficult passages? Do
you allow him to carry the load that is rightfully yours? Do you
understand that the trumpet cannot play the part that was written for the
violin? The performance of God's Symphony with your husband should be a
duet; each part in harmony with and complementing the other. The part he
has been given to play may be the more prominent, but he needs the
underlying harmonic support that has been written for you. We must study
the whole Word of God, being familiar with all, but we must, as
individuals, be dedicated to performing the passages written specifically
There is one more qualification that is absolutely
essential to symphonic performance. Each musician must be subject to the
authority of the conductor. Remember that previous imaginary audition?
Suppose you only agreed to perform on Sundays? Suppose you only agreed to
perform your musical version even though it was far different from
the original? Suppose you only agreed to perform at your convenience; in
your season? Suppose you insisted on being the final authority of how
those notes should be interpreted instead of being guided through the
performance by the conductor? You would soon hear the words, "audition
over" and your chance to shine would be extinguished. But Jesus says, "Ye
are the light of the world" (Mt 5:14) and "Let your light so shine before
men that they may see your good works (a pleasing and acceptable
performance of God's Words) and glorify your Father which is in heaven."
My prayer for all of us is that we learn to be
proficient, capable musicians, dedicated to the performance of a lifetime.
The house lights have dimmed, a hush has descended and the curtain is
rising. The audience is watching and prepared to listen. The musicians are
tuned up and ready to perform. All are anticipating the arrival of the
conductor who appears from the wings and makes his way to the podium.
There is no delay; he lifts his baton and the performance begins. The
Symphony of Praise rings out from the stage, fills the hall, and resounds
in all Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.
(Acts 1:8) The magnificent harmonies reach the heavens and enter into the
court of the composer Himself, where it is forever settled.
O God, we desire to bring honour and glory to you
through our performance of your precious, preserved Words. Under the
guidance and direction of the Holy Spirit, may those eternal Words become
A Symphony of Praise.