What Musical Instruments Were Used in Biblical Times?

by Pamela Rose Williams · Print Print · Email Email

Music and musical instruments were used in Biblical times just as they are today to praise, worship and even soothe the soul. So, what musical instruments were used in Biblical times? Do we still have the same name for these instruments today?

Similar Instruments of Today

Some of the instruments mentioned in the Bible that we may not recognize include the tabrets and timbrels which are very much like the modern-day tambourine. Also mentioned only one time in the Bible is the sackbut – much like the trombone. And then there is the psaltery which might resemble a dulcimer where the strings are plucked rather than struck with a hammer. And I imagine that the viol is much like a violin that was held vertically and played with a bow – like a cello.

Brass – Cornet & Trumpets

Used to Warn

Numbers 10:9 And if ye go to war in your land against the enemy that oppresseth you, then ye shall blow an alarm with the trumpets; and ye shall be remembered before the LORD your God, and ye shall be saved from your enemies.

Joshua 6:4 And seven priests shall bear before the ark seven trumpets of rams’ horns: and the seventh day ye shall compass the city seven times, and the priests shall blow with the trumpets.

Judges 3:27 And it came to pass, when he was come, that he blew a trumpet in the mountain of Ephraim, and the children of Israel went down with him from the mount, and he before them.

Job 39:24 He swalloweth the ground with fierceness and rage: Neither believeth he that it is the sound of the trumpet.

Ezekiel 33:3–4 If when he seeth the sword come upon the land, he blow the trumpet, and warn the people; Then whosoever heareth the sound of the trumpet, and taketh not warning; if the sword come, and take him away, his blood shall be upon his own head.

Used to Celebrate

Leviticus 25:9 Then shalt thou cause the trumpet of the jubile to sound on the tenth day of the seventh month, in the day of atonement shall ye make the trumpet sound throughout all your land.

Numbers 10:10 Also in the day of your gladness, and in your solemn days, and in the beginnings of your months, ye shall blow with the trumpets over your burnt offerings, and over the sacrifices of your peace offerings; that they may be to you for a memorial before your God: I am the LORD your God.

Nehemiah 12:35 And certain of the priests’ sons with trumpets; namely, Zechariah the son of Jonathan, the son of Shemaiah, the son of Mattaniah, the son of Michaiah, the son of Zaccur, the son of Asaph:

Psalm 98:6 With trumpets and sound of cornet Make a joyful noise before the LORD, the King.

Isaiah 27:13 And it shall come to pass in that day, That the great trumpet shall be blown, And they shall come which were ready to perish in the land of Assyria, And the outcasts in the land of Egypt, And shall worship the LORD in the holy mount at Jerusalem.

Percussion – Cymbals, Tabrets & Timbrels (Tambourines)

Genesis 31:27 Wherefore didst thou flee away secretly, and steal away from me; and didst not tell me, that I might have sent thee away with mirth, and with songs, with tabret, and with harp?

Exodus 15:20 And Miriam the prophetess, the sister of Aaron, took a timbrel in her hand; and all the women went out after her with timbrels and with dances.

2 Chronicles 29:25 And he set the Levites in the house of the LORD with cymbals, with psalteries, and with harps, according to the commandment of David, and of Gad the king’s seer, and Nathan the prophet: for so was the commandment of the LORD by his prophets.

Job 21:12 They take the timbrel and harp, And rejoice at the sound of the organ.

Psalm 150:5 Praise him upon the loud cymbals: Praise him upon the high sounding cymbals.

Ezekiel 28:13 Thou hast been in Eden the garden of God; every precious stone was thy covering, the sardius, topaz, and the diamond, the beryl, the onyx, and the jasper, the sapphire, the emerald, and the carbuncle, and gold: the workmanship of thy tabrets and of thy pipes was prepared in thee in the day that thou wast created.

Strings and Stringed Percussion – Dulcimer, Harps, Organ, Psalteries & Viols

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

1 Kings 10:12 And the king made of the almug trees pillars for the house of the LORD, and for the king’s house, harps also and psalteries for singers: there came no such almug trees, nor were seen unto this day.

Isaiah 5:12 And the harp, and the viol, the tabret, and pipe, And wine, are in their feasts: But they regard not the work of the LORD, Neither consider the operation of his hands.

Isaiah 14:11 Thy pomp is brought down to the grave, and the noise of thy viols: The worm is spread under thee, and the worms cover thee.

Psalm 33:2 Praise the LORD with harp: Sing unto him with the psaltery and an instrument of ten strings.

Psalm 137:2 We hanged our harps Upon the willows in the midst thereof.

Amos 5:23 Take thou away from me the noise of thy songs; For I will not hear the melody of thy viols.

Daniel 3:5 That at what time ye hear the sound of the cornet, flute, harp, sackbut, psaltery, dulcimer, and all kinds of musick, ye fall down and worship the golden image that Nebuchadnezzar the king hath set up.

Revelation 5:8 And when he had taken the book, the four beasts and four and twenty elders fell down before the Lamb, having every one of them harps, and golden vials full of odours, which are the prayers of saints.

Woodwinds – Flute & Pipes

Daniel 3:7 Therefore at that time, when all the people heard the sound of the cornet, flute, harp, sackbut, psaltery, and all kinds of musick, all the people, the nations, and the languages, fell down and worshipped the golden image that Nebuchadnezzar the king had set up.

Isaiah 30:29 Ye shall have a song, as in the night when a holy solemnity is kept; And gladness of heart, as when one goeth with a pipe To come into the mountain of the LORD, to the mighty One of Israel.

1 Kings 1:38–40 So Zadok the priest, and Nathan the prophet, and Benaiah the son of Jehoiada, and the Cherethites, and the Pelethites, went down, and caused Solomon to ride upon king David’s mule, and brought him to Gihon. And Zadok the priest took an horn of oil out of the tabernacle, and anointed Solomon. And they blew the trumpet; and all the people said, God save king Solomon. And all the people came up after him, and the people piped with pipes, and rejoiced with great joy, so that the earth rent with the sound of them.

Matthew 11:17 And saying, We have piped unto you, and ye have not danced; we have mourned unto you, and ye have not lamented.

Revelation 18:22 And the voice of harpers, and musicians, and of pipers, and trumpeters, shall be heard no more at all in thee; And no craftsman, of whatsoever craft he be, shall be found any more in thee; And the sound of a millstone shall be heard no more at all in thee

Final Thoughts

You don’t have to look far to see that the Bible includes a whole orchestra of instruments. Today, some have different names and may even look slightly unlike the instruments of old. But just like today, in Biblical times, they were used not only as a means to warn people, but as “instruments” of rejoicing, praise and worship.

Read more about music here: What Does the Bible Say About Music?

Resource – Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, King James Version

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