What does Genesis 4:21 teach us about music?

Having finished reading the Bible yesterday, I began reading it again today and read Genesis 1-4. Genesis 4:21 is the earliest recorded instance of human musical activity on the earth:

Genesis 4:21 And his brother's name was Jubal: he was the father of all such as handle the harp and organ.

What truths does this verse teach us about music?

9012 reads
RajeshG's picture

In determining what a passage teaches, it is often helpful to determine what a passage does not teach. Genesis 4:21 does not teach any of the following:

1. God created the music of Jubal

2. God accepted any of the music of Jubal

3. Jubal invented the harp and the organ (he may have invented them, but the Hebrew verb rendered as "handle" in this verse does not mean to invent)

4. Jubal was the first human being to produce music

5. Jubal was trying to produce music to please God

6. Genesis 4:21 is a record of people singing and playing musical instruments at the same time

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

... that people have been making music for a very long time.

... that people have been teaching music to other people for a long time.

(There is no "organ" in Gen 4:21... the עוּגָב is almost certainly some kind of flute, and the כִּנּוֹר only resembles what we know as a "harp." Closer to a lyre.)

The reference to music here is consistent with a number of truths we know from other passages (e.g., that humans are creative as those made in God's image, that we're supposed to do creative things, etc.).

That's about it.

RajeshG's picture

Aaron Blumer wrote:

... that people have been making music for a very long time.

... that people have been teaching music to other people for a long time.

(There is no "organ" in Gen 4:21... the עוּגָב is almost certainly some kind of flute, and the כִּנּוֹר only resembles what we know as a "harp." Closer to a lyre.)

The reference to music here is consistent with a number of truths we know from other passages (e.g., that humans are creative as those made in God's image, that we're supposed to do creative things, etc.).

That's about it.

The verse reveals that Jubal and others were playing two classes of instruments: stringed and wind.

It's interesting that this is the only recorded reference to human musical activities prior to the Flood.

Another thing to note is that the earliest mention (from a chronological standpoint) of percussion instruments is not until the time of Job in Job 21:12. I wonder why the Spirit revealed the info in Genesis 4:21 to us about the use of stringed and wind instruments prior to the Flood but He did not reveal anything to us about the use of any percussion instruments prior to the Flood.

 

Kevin Miller's picture

RajeshG wrote:

I wonder why the Spirit revealed the info in Genesis 4:21 to us about the use of stringed and wind instruments prior to the Flood but He did not reveal anything to us about the use of any percussion instruments prior to the Flood.

Perhaps the use of percussion was so common that the creation of something else then became noteworthy. After all, you don't even need an instrument for percussion. A person can strike one's hands against another body part and have percussion.

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Also no brass, no reeds, no whatever class bagpipes are in.

Little can be inferred from silence in this case, but it may be that

  • The lyre and flute (or whatever exactly they were) had just been invented, while brass and percussion were already commonplace and not noteworthy 
  • The opposite: brass, percussion  etc. had not been invented yet.
  • Or some mix of the above. Brass is more difficult to invent and construct than a simple drum, so it seems likely to me that the latter would have taken Adam about 35 seconds to invent, once he got interested in the idea.

(Edit: Kevin  I think we were writing at the same time, didn't see your post.)

RajeshG's picture

Kevin Miller wrote:

 

RajeshG wrote:

 

I wonder why the Spirit revealed the info in Genesis 4:21 to us about the use of stringed and wind instruments prior to the Flood but He did not reveal anything to us about the use of any percussion instruments prior to the Flood.

 

Perhaps the use of percussion was so common that the creation of something else then became noteworthy. After all, you don't even need an instrument for percussion. A person can strike one's hands against another body part and have percussion.

 

People can whistle to make sounds similar to some of the sounds that flutes and other similar instruments make.

For whatever it may be worth, I do not think that Genesis 4:21 is a record of the creation of the instruments mentioned in those passages.

RajeshG's picture

Just as Genesis 4:21 speaks only of stringed instruments and wind instruments but not percussion instruments, so the references to music in Revelation only mention stringed instruments and wind instruments in heaven but not percussion instruments. Is this a significant parallel or not?

Kevin Miller's picture

RajeshG wrote:

Just as Genesis 4:21 speaks only of stringed instruments and wind instruments but not percussion instruments, so the references to music in Revelation only mention stringed instruments and wind instruments in heaven but not percussion instruments. Is this a significant parallel or not?

I think the only way we can draw a parallel is if the lack of mention in Genesis 4:21 actually told us anything about percussion. As we've already discussed, the lack of a mention does not tell us whether percussion already existed and the lack certainly doesn't tell us whether God approves or disapproves of percussion. In Revelation 5:8, Revelation 14:2, and Revelation 15:2 we have harps mentioned, but no other stringed instruments. Wind instruments are treated the same as percussion in those passages in that they are ignored. The lack of a mention does not tell us anything about the existence of other instruments in heaven or about God's approval/disapproval. There are verses about trumpets being sounded, but they are used in a proclamation manner, rather than being played in musical sense. The verses about trumpets also do not mention stringed instruments or percussion.

I just don't see how we can draw a significant parallel from a lack of a mention, when the lack of a mention doesn't tell us anything specific.

 

RajeshG's picture

You are correct that the references to music in Revelation do not specifically mention the use of trumpets on those occasions; yet, unlike percussion instruments, which are not mentioned at all in Revelation, trumpets are mentioned in several places.

We already know that God approves of the use of percussion instruments from many other passages so I'm not suggesting that we are to infer anything about their disapproval by the lack of mention in Revelation.

 

Kevin Miller's picture

RajeshG wrote:

We already know that God approves of the use of percussion instruments from many other passages so I'm not suggesting that we are to infer anything about their disapproval by the lack of mention in Revelation.

I never said that YOU inferred that. You simply wondered why they weren't mentioned, and then you asked if there was a parallel with the lack of mention in Revelation. Specifically, you asked if there is a "significant" parallel. Why bother wondering? Seriously. What's the point? Are there any possible inferences that really CAN be made from the lack of a mention? I noted two possible things that didn't seem logical to infer, that of non-existence and that of God's disapproval. Again, I didn't say YOU were inferring those things. I just mentioned those two things as things that couldn't be inferred. I don't think anything can realistically be inferred from the lack of a mention. Do you?

RajeshG's picture

Kevin Miller wrote:

 

RajeshG wrote:

 

We already know that God approves of the use of percussion instruments from many other passages so I'm not suggesting that we are to infer anything about their disapproval by the lack of mention in Revelation.

 

I never said that YOU inferred that. You simply wondered why they weren't mentioned, and then you asked if there was a parallel with the lack of mention in Revelation. Specifically, you asked if there is a "significant" parallel. Why bother wondering? Seriously. What's the point? Are there any possible inferences that really CAN be made from the lack of a mention? I noted two possible things that didn't seem logical to infer, that of non-existence and that of God's disapproval. Again, I didn't say YOU were inferring those things. I just mentioned those two things as things that couldn't be inferred. I don't think anything can realistically be inferred from the lack of a mention. Do you?

Pondering the theological implications of the lack of mention of something in one or more passages is an important and highly controversial subject. To profit fully from what God has revealed, we have to consider thoroughly why God has said what He has said and also what He has chosen not to say.

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

It's not about "theological implications." It's about clear thinking. Whether the form of communication is a letter to a friend, an email, a speech, a novel, an essay, the U.S. Constitution or inspired Scripture, you can usually infer little or nothing from silence.

I say "usually," because there are situations where a pattern of including a term or phrase or topic has a long history and in a similar context it's absence is conspicuous. Still, there are always many ways to explain a silence and this is why any one explanation is "very low probability" on its own. If you pull in lots of other evidence, it's possible to make a case for one explanation or another. But then you're no longer drawing an inference from silence, you're explaining a silence using nonsilence (additional evidence)... in which case you might as well just unclutter your argument by using the additional evidence by itself and ignoring the silence.

M. Osborne's picture

Context, context, context.

God told people to be fruitful and multiply and have dominion over the earth.

People sinned.

God said He'd put enmity between the offspring of the woman and the offspring of the serpent.

Cain kills Abel.

Genesis 4 and 5 give us two genealogies, one for Cain, and one for Seth.

The seventh in Cain's genealogy is Lamech, a boorish and vengeful character; the seventh in Seth's genealogy is Enoch, who walked with God.

get the sense (though we can't establish for certain) that Cain's line was generally ungodly, and Seth's line was generally godly.

So it's ironic that the advances in "civilization" are all mentioned in Cain's line: city-building, music, metallurgy.

What I infer is something like common grace: God gifts even wicked men to build cultures. But the common-grace gifts are not to be thought more valuable than walking with God.

It's hard to learn anything about music as such from this passage; in fact, it seems you have to bring a pre-understanding of music to make sense of why music is mentioned here at all. I admit that I bring the preunderstanding that the ability to make music is a pre-moral good and a gift from God.

Michael Osborne
Philadelphia, PA

RajeshG's picture

M. Osborne wrote:

So it's ironic that the advances in "civilization" are all mentioned in Cain's line: city-building, music, metallurgy.

What I infer is something like common grace: God gifts even wicked men to build cultures. But the common-grace gifts are not to be thought more valuable than walking with God.

It's hard to learn anything about music as such from this passage; in fact, it seems you have to bring a pre-understanding of music to make sense of why music is mentioned here at all. I admit that I bring the preunderstanding that the ability to make music is a pre-moral good and a gift from God.

It's ironic that this is an argument from silence based on the lack of mention of these things in Seth's line. See Aaron's comment immediately preceding yours.

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Ramesh. I'm not seeing any argument from silence there. You are maybe unclear on the definition? 

RajeshG's picture

Aaron Blumer wrote:

Ramesh. I'm not seeing any argument from silence there. You are maybe unclear on the definition? 

Implying that the lack of mention in Seth's line of references to music, etc. is proof that they did not have music is an argument from silence.

Michael's implying that the mention of certain things in the line of Cain is proof that those things originated with Cain's line is an unprovable assumption.

M. Osborne's picture

Forgive me for quoting myself:

...the advances in "civilization" are all mentioned in Cain's line...

What I infer is something like common grace: God gifts even wicked men to build cultures.

For me, I'll do my best to make my arguments, implications, and inferences explicit, and I'll even try to tag my inferences with phrases like "What I infer is..." (as above).

Rajesh, please do your best to interact with what's written, so that
"God gifts even wicked men to build cultures" isn't turned into "Seth's line didn't have music"
or "Cain's line originated [advances in civilization]."
I didn't say it; I didn't imply it; I don't think I was unclear about it, either.
 

 

Michael Osborne
Philadelphia, PA

RajeshG's picture

M. Osborne wrote:

Forgive me for quoting myself:

...the advances in "civilization" are all mentioned in Cain's line...

What I infer is something like common grace: God gifts even wicked men to build cultures.

Michael,

I disagree. I believe that you do imply that such advances were not in Seth's line when you say, "The advances in "civilization" are all mentioned in Cain's line." Your use of the word "all," in my opinion, is an observation that argues that the corresponding lack of mention/silence about such advances in Seth's line has significance. You may not have intended to imply that, but I see your comparing the two lines and then using the word "all" to do that very thing.

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Rajesh, it's pretty futile to insist that someone means something different from what they're saying... when someone tries to make up both sides of a conversation, he's really only talking to himself.

As for "the advances in 'civilization' are all mentioned in Cain's line"... this is simply a statement of fact. It's what's in the text. Noting that something is said of A but is not said of B is not an argument from silence. It's contrast.

RajeshG's picture

Aaron Blumer wrote:

Rajesh, it's pretty futile to insist that someone means something different from what they're saying... when someone tries to make up both sides of a conversation, he's really only talking to himself.

As for "the advances in 'civilization' are all mentioned in Cain's line"... this is simply a statement of fact. It's what's in the text. Noting that something is said of A but is not said of B is not an argument from silence. It's contrast.

Yes, it is a statement of contrast, but the importance/significance that is at least implicitly being placed on the contrast is one that I disagree with.

RajeshG's picture

The NT illumines our understanding of who Cain was in a way that we would never have known from just the OT record of his life:

1 John 3:12 Not as Cain, who was of that wicked one, and slew his brother. And wherefore slew he him? Because his own works were evil, and his brother's righteous.

Because Cain was of the devil, our understanding of his wickedness and the wickedness of his descendants must account for this crucial revelation that God has given us. What relevance does this information have for our understanding of Genesis 4:21?

Dave White's picture

RajeshG wrote:

The NT illumines our understanding of who Cain was in a way that we would never have known from just the OT record of his life:

1 John 3:12 Not as Cain, who was of that wicked one, and slew his brother. And wherefore slew he him? Because his own works were evil, and his brother's righteous.

Because Cain was of the devil, our understanding of his wickedness and the wickedness of his descendants must account for this crucial revelation that God has given us. What relevance does this information have for our understanding of Genesis 4:21?

RajeshG's picture

Dave White wrote:

Am I getting warm?

 

No, you are not getting warm.

 

Joe Whalen's picture

RajeshG wrote:

Because Cain was of the devil, our understanding of his wickedness and the wickedness of his descendants must account for this crucial revelation that God has given us. What relevance does this information have for our understanding of Genesis 4:21?

What do you mean by "crucial"?

RajeshG's picture

Joe Whalen wrote:

 

RajeshG wrote:

 

Because Cain was of the devil, our understanding of his wickedness and the wickedness of his descendants must account for this crucial revelation that God has given us. What relevance does this information have for our understanding of Genesis 4:21?

 

 

What do you mean by "crucial"?

Anytime the Spirit illumines our understanding explicitly in the NT of a previous event that is also recorded in Scripture, we know that He is giving us vital information that He wants us to know about that previous event. As I said earlier, had the Spirit not given us the information that He did in 1 John 3:12, we would have no knowledge that Cain murdered his brother Abel because Cain was of the devil. Consequently, we cannot rightly interpret what we have in the OT about Cain and his descendants apart from accounting for the additional information that the Spirit has given us in the NT.

Joe Whalen's picture

Okay.

Kevin Miller's picture

RajeshG wrote:

Anytime the Spirit illumines our understanding explicitly in the NT of a previous event that is also recorded in Scripture, we know that He is giving us vital information that He wants us to know about that previous event. As I said earlier, had the Spirit not given us the information that He did in 1 John 3:12, we would have no knowledge that Cain murdered his brother Abel because Cain was of the devil. Consequently, we cannot rightly interpret what we have in the OT about Cain and his descendants apart from accounting for the additional information that the Spirit has given us in the NT.

I'm not sure what Cain being "of the devil" has to do with the information in Genesis 4:21. Yes, Jubal was a descendent of Cain, but is being "of the devil" something that is passed on genetically, such that all of Cain's physical descendants would then be classified as "of the devil"?

It seems to me that being "of the devil" has to do with committing particular works of evil. Cain's work of evil was murder. In John 8:44, Jesus tells the Pharisees, "Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it." In these verses, the works of evil are described as following the lusts of the devil, was was a murderer and liar from the beginning.

Genesis 4:21 doesn't list any works of evil from Jubal. It just says that he is the father of those who play instruments. In what way, if any, would Jubal be "of the devil"?

RajeshG's picture

Kevin Miller wrote:

I'm not sure what Cain being "of the devil" has to do with the information in Genesis 4:21. Yes, Jubal was a descendent of Cain, but is being "of the devil" something that is passed on genetically, such that all of Cain's physical descendants would then be classified as "of the devil"?

It seems to me that being "of the devil" has to do with committing particular works of evil. Cain's work of evil was murder. In John 8:44, Jesus tells the Pharisees, "Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it." In these verses, the works of evil are described as following the lusts of the devil, was was a murderer and liar from the beginning.

Genesis 4:21 doesn't list any works of evil from Jubal. It just says that he is the father of those who play instruments. In what way, if any, would Jubal be "of the devil"?

In the verse that you cited about the devil, we read that Jesus revealed that the devil was "a murderer from the beginning" (John 8:44). Whom did he murder at the beginning and how did he do it?

Kevin Miller's picture

RajeshG wrote:

In the verse that you cited about the devil, we read that Jesus revealed that the devil was "a murderer from the beginning" (John 8:44). Whom did he murder at the beginning and how did he do it?

Would being a motivating force behind a murder count as being a murderer?

RajeshG's picture

Kevin Miller wrote:

 

RajeshG wrote:

 

In the verse that you cited about the devil, we read that Jesus revealed that the devil was "a murderer from the beginning" (John 8:44). Whom did he murder at the beginning and how did he do it?

 

Would being a motivating force behind a murder count as being a murderer?

Yes. God/Nathan said that David murdered Uriah (2 Sam. 12:9), but he was not the one who actually killed him. Similarly, Herod killed John, but he was not the one who actually beheaded him.

Pages