We are exploring what the Bible has to say about the relationship between worship and music. Last time we looked at the first instance recorded in the Bible of God’s people in worship (Exodus 15 The Lord had just parted the Red Sea and the children of Israel had escaped the pursuing Egyptian army). Although there is, to be sure, a lot more that could be said in regards to this passage, we came away with the following observations:
1) Worship (including singing, music, and dancing) is a natural response to salvation.
2) Worship is not a spectator sport.
3) Worship (and the music that accompanies it) is to be 100% God centered.
Now, here we are in Exodus 32. Perhaps a year had gone by (not quite sure of exact time), and we find the Israel camped out at Sinai. They had seen God’s provision over the past year. They had eaten Manna, drank water from the Rock, dined on meat that God rained on them, and defeated Amalek in battle. We find in Exodus 32 that Moses had gone up the mountain to meet with God, leaving the people down below.
“When the people saw how long it was taking Moses to come back down the mountain, they gathered around Aaron. “Come on,” they said, “make us some gods who can lead us. We don’t know what happened to this fellow Moses, who brought us here from the land of Egypt.” (v1) Aaron makes an golden calf, offers it as a physical representation of God, builds an altar, declares a feast (to the Lord), and the people offer burnt offerings and peace offerings. So, “the people sat down to eat and to drink, and rose up to play”
God informs Moses of what is going on, and as he and Joshua make their way down the mountain, Joshua thinks he hears the sound of war in the camp. However, Moses says, “It is not the sound of the cry of triumph, nor is it the sound of the cry of defeat; but the sound of singing I hear.” Okay, so what can we learn from this account that helps us as we talk about God music?
Keep in mind the same people were involved in this incident (at least a great deal of them were) as in Exodus 15. They still employed the same musical style as when they had previously worshiped God after crossing the Red Sea; however, here they are using their music in an idolatrous way. I think a question should be asked at this point. What makes their singing acceptable as worship in Exodus 15 and idolatrous in Exodus 32? What constitutes God music versus golden calf music? Yeah, you know; it is the object of worship and the disposition of their hearts.
In Exodus 15, the people were singing to God and about God. Their hearts were exalting him as the only true, holy, eternal God. The utilized their music and singing to glorify his name. God had wrought a great deliverance and they celebrated their Deliverer with the musical style that was indigenous to their culture. Around the golden calf, we find a people who had become impatient, setting aside all that God had done for them and crafting for themselves a “right now god” they didn’t have to wait on, a god they could see. They made for themselves a god that would meet their emotional needs of the moment. It doesn’t even appear that they were attempting to cast aside Yahweh, but rather desired to make him who they wanted him to be, and worship him they way they wanted to worship him- same people, same musical style, but idolatrous in its essence.
I don’t even pretend to think we have exhausted everything we could glean from this passage, but let’s stop here. What have we observed from the golden calf incident that helps us in our little study? How about the following: Musical style is not the defining element of authentic worship. The same style of music can be used in both the true, spiritual worship of God, and idolatrous abandon. It is the Object of worship and the disposition of the heart that makes God music.
To be continued…