Readers often find the opening chapters of 1 Chronicles stultifying. These pages contain list after list of names, with occasional mini-biographies thrown in to break up the monotony. Chronicles is hardly the first place we turn to for deep insight into human nature.
Yet the fact that Chronicles begins with ‘adam, the name of the first human being, is a hint that large issues are afoot. Whatever Chronicles is about, it’s something as fundamental as Adam.
Structure gives a clue. Commentators have noted that the genealogies are arranged by the mirror-image literary device known as “chiasm.” “He who has found his life will lose it, and he who has lost his life for My sake will find it,” Jesus said. Found/life/lose | lost/life/find: Jesus’s rhetoric is as cruciform as his message.
The unique central section of a chiastic text is frequently the key to the whole, and at the center of the Chronicler’s genealogy is Levi, the priestly tribe of Israel. A history that begins with Adam hinges on clans of priests within the priestly people. God fathered Adam so that Adam could father generations of palace servants. (Along similar lines, the entire genealogy ends with a description of the duties of Levitical gatekeepers.)
We can be more specific. The genealogies of Chronicles center on a particular set of Levites, the singers and musicians. Heman from the clan of Kohath stands between the Gershomite Asaph on his right and the Merarite Ethan on his left. They form a triad like the pyramid of Moses, Aaron, and Hur who stood on the mountain holding God’s rod as Joshua battled Amalekites in the valley below (Exodus 17). Heman is another Moses, supporting Israel with the powerful rod of song.
So we can gloss the earlier suggestion: God created Adam so that he could produce singers. God made man so that man could make music.
That doesn’t seem right. Surely, we are made for something more than music. In Scripture, though, music encapsulates the vocation of human beings. We are made to be singers because we are made to be priests, kings, and prophets.
In Chronicles, Levites are the primary singers, and their song is a form of priestly ministry. In Leviticus, priests turn animal flesh to smoke that ascends as a soothing aroma to the Lord. In Chronicles, priests offer their own life-breath as a pleasing sound to Yahweh. Chronicles marks an advance in the history of sacrifice: Instead of animals, Levites offer themselves as living sacrifices.
David the king organizes the Levitical choir and orchestra. It’s fitting business for David, sweet Psalmist of Israel, harpist of Saul’s court, inventor of musical instruments, whose hands fight with the sword while his fingers fight with the lyre (Psalm 144). It’s fitting business for any king. Lamech, Scripture’s first king, was father to Jubal, himself “the father of all those who play the lyre and pipe” (Genesis 4).
The link between music and kingship is not accidental. To sing, we have to rule our bodies and breath. To enhance our singing with musical instruments, we cut and trim trees, pull guts into strings, and train our fingers to pluck. We mine metals, shape them into flutes and pipes, and learn to blow melodically. Music is a signal of dominion already accomplished. Every orchestra is a royal orchestra, every choir a company of kings and queens.
Music also makes us into kings and queens. The Spirit evokes music: “Be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord” (Ephesians 5). And it works the other way round: Music inspires spirit. Soldiers march and sing to prepare for battle, to train them to act as a unit. The pounding beat of the warm-up music fills athletes with the spirit of the game. Martyrs go to the arena singing Psalms and hymns. Music channels spirit, also the Spirit.
That is Elisha’s assumption when he calls for a minstrel to help him prophesy (2 Kings 3). Song can be a form of prophecy (1 Chronicles 25:1), and prophecy can become song. Isaiah sings Yahweh’s love song to his vineyard, Israel (Isaiah 5). Like a soprano shattering a champagne glass with a high C, Jeremiah’s dirge plucks up and breaks down, destroys and overthrows (Jeremiah 1). Prophets hear and deliver God’s word. Caught up into God’s presence, they catch his melody and sing it to Israel.
To say God made Adam to make musicians is to say that God made Adam to produce priestly singers, royal musicians, and Spirit-mad prophetic chanters. God made us to make music, and to be made by the music we make.
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