The Spirit has spoken about what took place in the Golden Calf Incident (GCI) in at least six passages in six different books of the Bible (57 total verses in Exod. 32, Deut. 9, Neh. 9, Ps. 106, Acts 7, and 1 Cor. 10). God has thus highlighted what took place in the GCI in a way that demands our careful attention to what He has revealed about that event.
Exodus 32, the longest record of that event, reveals that singing was a part of what took place on that occasion:
Exodus 32:17 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. 18 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. 19 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.
Because the Spirit has given this revelation to us about their singing, we know that He intends for us to profit from it. Does He want us to understand that their singing on this occasion was ungodly singing?
Was Their Singing Ungodly?
To answer this question, we note that the passage does not provide any record of an explicitly negative evaluation of the singing. The record, however, shows that from a distance the sound of the singing was not of such a nature that it would have led everyone who heard it to know definitively that it was the sound of singing.
We know that this is true because Joshua did not accurately interpret that sound that he was hearing as the sound of singing. For him, the sound was of such a character that he thought that the people were engaged in fighting a war (Exod. 32:17).
Moses, however, discerned correctly that the sound that they were hearing from a distance was the sound of singing (Exod. 32:18). Because the passage does not record any evaluative statements by Moses of the singing, we cannot determine its character from any direct statement by him.
A Broader Consideration of Their Singing
In order to evaluate further the nature of the sound of the singing that Moses heard, we have to examine the passage more broadly. When we do so, we find that this singing did not take place until the people had first engaged in eating sacrifices that had been offered to the golden calf:
Exodus 32:6 And they rose up early on the morrow, and offered burnt offerings, and brought peace offerings; and the people sat down to eat and to drink, and rose up to play.
Because the Spirit says that the people “rose up to play” after they had consumed the sacrifices and then He reveals to us specifically that what the people did was to sing (Exod. 32:18) and dance (Exod. 32:19), we learn that their playing on this occasion consisted at least of their singing and dancing.
Based on Moses’ anger waxing hot when he saw the dancing (and the calf; Exod. 32:19), we know that their dancing was ungodly dancing. Was their singing also ungodly?
The NT answers that question by revealing the divine evaluation of their playing on this occasion:
1 Corinthians 10:7 Neither be ye idolaters, as were some of them; as it is written, The people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play.
It is crucial to note that Paul writes that their idolatry included not just their eating and drinking those sacrifices but also their subsequent playing. This revelation tells us that their playing on that occasion was of a wicked, idolatrous nature and that God commands us through this revelation not to be idolatrous in that way.
Based on this NT revelation, we know that both their singing and dancing were of a wicked, idolatrous nature that God commands us not to engage in.
The sound that Joshua and Moses heard from a distance was the sound of people engaging in singing idolatrously—Exodus 32 is the record of an event featuring the sound of ungodly singing!