David told the Levites to appoint “singers to sing joyful songs, accompanied by musical instruments: lyres, harps and cymbals“. Heman was the first one they appointed (I Chronicles 15:16f) and he had two assistants ~ Asaph and Merari (I Chronicles. 6:39, 44). David put them in charge of the music in the house of the Lord and they performed their duties according to the regulations (verses 31f).
So what David appointed was a choir and orchestra. And these musicians had a full time job! They were to minister before the Lord “according to each day’s requirements” of sacrifices as written in the Law of Moses. Heman and the others were responsible for sounding the trumpets and cymbals and playing the other instruments ~ lyres, harps and cymbals (15:19-21) ~ for sacred song (16:37-42). In addition to playing the prescribed lyres, harps and cymbals, trumpets were to be sounded to announce sacrifices, etc. (16:4-6).
By the time David was old, there were “four thousand…to praise the Lord with the musical instruments” (I Chronicles 23:5. And what instruments were they still playing? Cymbals, lyres and harps “for the ministry at the house of God” (I Chronicles. 25:1 & 6).
Years later after David died and his son Solomon had completed the grand Temple in Jerusalem (II Chronicles. 5:1), “all the Levites who were musicians…stood on the east side of the altar dressed in fine linen and playing cymbals, harps and lyres, accompanied by 120 priests sounding trumpets. The trumpeters and singers joined in unison as with one voice to give praise and thanks to the Lord. Accompanied by trumpets, cymbals and the other instruments, they raised their voices in praise to the Lord” (verses 12-13).
Can you imagine such an orchestra and choir? The tinkling of the harps and lyres, with cymbals keeping the tempo, and trumpets calling attention to it all? And all those singers! Was God pleased? Indeed he was, for in the form of a cloud “the glory of the Lord filled the temple of God” (verse 14).
Three centuries later when Hezekiah was king, the same instruments were being played ~ cymbals, harps and lyres (II Chronicles. 29:25f). Why? Because they were prescribed by David, Gad the seer and Nathan the prophet as commanded by God through his prophets. (Acts 2:29-30 says David was a prophet too.)
Interestingly, although God specified every detail of the instruments that had to be played in the Old Testament, nothing like that was specified in the New Testament. Did God forget? Perhaps God took us to a higher plain in the New Testament era. We do know that in I Corinthians 14:15, we are told to both pray and sing with mind and spirit.
And in Ephesians 5:19 we are told to “Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord.” The term “make music” in the original Greek language of the New Testament is to play on strings. Since we are to make music in our hearts, then it looks like we are to play on the instrument of our heart. How beautiful!