In the Bible verses we examine today in the book of Exodus, the Israelites were singing again. However, this singing differed greatly from the singing they were doing after the Red Sea crossing. This music didn't have the sound of praise, but the chaotic sound of war.
And when Joshua heard the noise of the people as they shouted, he said unto Moses, There is a noise of war in the camp. And he said, It is not the voice of them that shout for mastery, neither is it the voice of them that cry for being overcome: but the noise of them that sing do I hear. And it came to pass, as soon as he came nigh unto the camp, that he saw the calf, and the dancing: and Moses' anger waxed hot, and he cast the tables out of his hands, and brake them beneath the mount.
What we can learn
While Joshua heard only "the noise of war" from the camp in the valley below, Moses distinguished the sound as "the noise of them that sing." The people of Israel made a major shift from the few chapters previous, where they had united together in a song of praise to God. Now, they had given up on Moses' leadership and ultimately, on God's leadership. In a brief period of time, they created an idol and began to worship and make sacrifices to, of all things, a golden calf.
The music that blared up from the valley caused Joshua to instantly take notice. Joshua did not hear a structured, orderly sound, but something that in intensity and discord caused him to think of the sounds of battle. The Israelites were throwing a party for their new self-created god. The music performed in honor of the golden calf, and the idol worship that it accompanied, was a far cry from the standard that God had just written in tablets of stone for Moses and the Israelites. The text suggests that this was a wild drunken party with inappropriate dress and behavior, and the music they were singing fit right in with it.
So how does this apply to our music? Singing and music is not the chief emphasis of this passage, and I'm not going to treat it as if it is. But without doing injustice to the text, I would like to make a few observations.
First, music can fit almost any situation. Music served as an medium of praise for Israel after the Red Sea, and now it was serving as a medium of self-indulgence and the worship of false gods. In whatever state the Israelites found themselves, they had music to fit the occasion. This truth carries through to today. The diversity of music in our world today is immense, and just about any human mood or condition can be reflected by a music style. Often the music of a people group simply shows externally the emotions and beliefs that they hold internally.
As Christians, we believe in absolute truth. Some behavior or actions are inherently wrong, and other things are absolutely right. And then there is the much debated "gray" area. But all logically thinking individuals would agree that absolute truth and falsehood exist. In fact, logic is not possible without the presence of truth. Since music is a medium of communication, it can carry messages and meanings that are either truthful or false as well, especially when paired with lyrics.
So, without getting into the "gray" areas of music, I can make a firm statement that some music supports right behavior, and some music supports sinful behavior. Not every style and type of music is appropriate for worship, just as not every type of music is suitable for a lullaby. Some music just does not fit the person and character of the God that we worship.
Where do we draw the lines of right and wrong? I will not even attempt to do that. But I would encourage this: that each leader or participant in church music look at the pertinent facts and come to personal determinations. Each of us has eyes, ears, and other sensing faculties for observing the world around us. Look at the behavior of people, look at the music that accompanies their lives, and look into the character of God through His Word, the Bible. Instead of making your music match your culture, make your music match the truth that God desires the world to know. Yes, the lyrics are important to the message; but the structure of the music itself will determine much of the emotional impact of the message. Does the music of your ministry support or undermine the message you are trying to convey?
I know that the message of this post is not as black and white as some of you might want it to be, but that is done on purpose. I would like to hear some of your thoughts on this topic.
Feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments. If you would like to have new blog posts sent to you via email, please sign up on our email list (top right).
Rick McDonnell is a vocalist, voice teacher, and the head blogger at Harmony Passion. Rick enjoys family time, barbershop quartets, singing at church and community events, personal finance, technology, P90X workouts, and studying and teaching the Bible as the youth director at his church. Rick and his wife Bethany use the knowledge gained by earning college degrees in music to teach voice and piano students in their home studio and in music studios in nearby Thomasville, GA.
Search the Blog
Subscribe via email
Find By Category