What does ungodly worship music sound like? Two verses describe the sound of the music on a premier occasion of ungodly worship, the Golden Calf Incident:
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.
Scripture reveals here that the idolatrous playing in the GCI (cf. 1 Cor. 10:7) included corporate shouting that was an aspect of their singing. To understand why this was the sound of ungodly worship music, consider what these two men said about that sound.
Joshua’s Remark about the Sound of Their Idolatrous Worship Music
Joshua did not identify this composite musical sound emanating from the camp as music at all. Instead, he said that it was the noise of war.
Joshua certainly had heard godly Israelite worship music in the past (Ex. 15). He was was very familiar with its sound. His not identifying this sound as music shows that these idolaters were not playing instruments and singing in any godly Israelite style(s).
Moreover, the people, in fact, were not engaged in any battle yet their worship music sounded like war to Joshua. The Bible never says that any godly Israelite worship music sounded like war.
We know that these people were partnering with demons in their idolatrous playing (1 Cor. 10:20 applied to 1 Cor. 10:7). They were co-participants with demons in their unfruitful works of darkness (Eph. 5:11).
Certainly, therefore, the Spirit did not energize or control any of these idolaters to produce godly music (Eph. 5:18-20; Col. 3:16-17). Joshua’s testimony about their music shows that it did not display any of the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23).
Joshua’s testimony about the music of the GCI points to its being ungodly music.
Moses’ Response to Joshua Illumines What Ungodly Worship Music Sounds Like
Concerning the music of the GCI, Joshua remarked, “There is a noise of war in the camp.” Moses responded that the sound was not two specific sounds of war that they could recognize accurately, even from afar.
Moses first said, “It is not the voice of them that shout for mastery.” He explained that when people in a battle gain mastery over their opponents, they respond by shouting in a manner that communicates their victory in the battle.
The sound emanating from the camp was not the recognizable sound of people shouting in their singing to celebrate their mastery. Such people sing joyfully with a shout of triumph that has a distinctly recognizable sound even from a distance.
Moses then added, “Neither is it the voice of them that cry for being overcome.” Moses explained that there is a distinctively recognizable sound that people produce when they have lost a battle and are mourning at their defeat.
People defeated in a battle do not sing joyfully with a triumphant shout because they did not win the battle. Their shouting is the mournful sound of people bemoaning their having lost the battle.
The Combined Force of the Remarks of Both Joshua and Moses
Taken together, the inspired revelation in Exodus 32:17-18 about the sound of the singing in the GCI shows us that the musical composite sound emanating from the camp was neither the sound of people joyfully shouting in celebrating their victory nor the sound of people mournfully shouting in lamenting their defeat. This revelation, therefore, tells us that the war-like musical composite sound emanating from the camp sounded like the uncertain, indistinct, chaotic sounds of people engaged in a battle where neither side is winning the battle and the battle is still raging.
These musical sounds were not at all the distinctive sound of godly Israelites worshiping God with the joyful sound of people praising the Lord in a religious feast that pleased Him. Moses’ response to Joshua illumines Joshua’s remark by further showing that the musical sound emanating from the camp in the GCI was the ungodly composite musical sound of people celebrating in an ungodly way.
NT Revelation That Shows the Ungodliness of The Sound of Their Music
Explicit NT revelation shows us that the composite musical sound emanating from the camp was an ungodly sound because it did not at all meet the divinely revealed criteria of producing sounds that are distinctive such that they communicate clearly the meaning of those sounds:
1 Corinthians 14:7 And even things without life giving sound, whether pipe or harp, except they give a distinction in the sounds, how shall it be known what is piped or harped? 8 For if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle?
When worship music has an indistinct, uncertain sound, it does not meet God’s criteria for the proper use of music.
By comparing Scripture with Scripture, 1 Cor. 14:7-8 applied to Exodus 32:17-18 decisively shows us that the musical sound of the people shouting in their singing in the GCI was not the godly sound of people celebrating a religious feast in a godly way with singing and the use of musical instruments that produced a distinctively recognizable composite sound.
Instead, the composite musical sound emanating from the camp was an ungodly sound of people singing and playing musical instruments in ungodly ways. Their music did not sound like any of the godly worship music of Israel.
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Though our beliefs and convictions are to be based in Scripture, as you faithfully and regularly do, please allow me to share something from Justin Martyr, an early church father.
I do so because it is claim that our “concern” for music is especially a modern phenomenon with respect to modern pop music’s and its forms.
But that is not so. Here he states:
In his “Discourse to the Greeks” Martyr stated:
“Do not suppose, ye Greeks, that my separation from your customs is unreasonable and unthinking; for I found in them nothing that is holy or acceptable to God.”
“And your public assemblies I have come to hate. For there are excessive banquetings, and subtle flutes which provoke to lustful movements, and useless and luxurious anointing, and crowning with garlands.”
This isn’t a matter of advanced theology, either. It’s honestly about what is plain to see…”flutes which provoke to lustful movements”.
Thanks, Alex. It certainly is true that this is not just a problem in our day! Calvin Stapert’s book, “A New Song for an Old World: Musical Thought in the Early Church,” is a good source for other statements similar to these that you have shared. I appreciate your bringing these quotes to my attention!
I’m trying to figure out how this post is helpful. So what does ungodly music sound like? What does godly music sound like? What do we say is ‘distinction’ and what would we categorize as ‘uncertain’? Perhaps I’m just an audible learner, but I do not see a clear answer here as to how we could discern one from the other outside of our own prejudices.