In many religious traditions, priests are not only a spiritual vocation but also a separate social caste. For instance, the Hindu Brahmins are both at the highest level in the social hierarchy and also the priests responsible for administering religious rites in the temples and studying the sacred texts. Monks in the Jain religion do not run the temples or social society, but they are set apart for a life of poverty and self-denial.
Israel’s priesthood was drawn from the tribe of Levi, descended from the third son of the patriarch Jacob. Those who served as high priest (vv. 4–15) were descended from Aaron, the brother of Moses. The priestly clans were descended from Gershom (sometimes referred to as Gershon), Kohath, and Merari, who were the three sons of Levi.
The priests “presented offerings on the altar of burnt offering and on the altar of incense in connection with all that was done in the Most Holy Place, making atonement for Israel, in accordance with all that Moses the servant of God had commanded” (v. 49). In David’s time a priestly order of musicians was also formed to aid in worship. Some of the psalms are attributed to Asaph, Heman, and Ethan (Psalms 50; 73–83; 88–89), who are mentioned in verses 33 and 39.
The fact that Heman is connected with Samuel the prophet in verse 33 is a reminder that the role of music in Old Testament worship was both instructive and prophetic. Its purpose was not to create atmosphere but to proclaim God’s word.
Music should serve the same purpose in the church’s worship. Through singing we both make music “to the Lord” and teach one another (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16).