Archives For Interpretation

Scripture reveals that ancient Babylon was shockingly a nation characterized by an immense prevalence of human involvement in occult practices:

Isaiah 47:8 Therefore hear now this, thou that art given to pleasures, that dwellest carelessly, that sayest in thine heart, I am, and none else beside me; I shall not sit as a widow, neither shall I know the loss of children:
9 But these two things shall come to thee in a moment in one day, the loss of children, and widowhood: they shall come upon thee in their perfection for the multitude of thy sorceries, and for the great abundance of thine enchantments.
10 For thou hast trusted in thy wickedness: thou hast said, None seeth me. Thy wisdom and thy knowledge, it hath perverted thee; and thou hast said in thine heart, I am, and none else beside me.
11 Therefore shall evil come upon thee; thou shalt not know from whence it riseth: and mischief shall fall upon thee; thou shalt not be able to put it off: and desolation shall come upon thee suddenly, which thou shalt not know.
12 Stand now with thine enchantments, and with the multitude of thy sorceries, wherein thou hast laboured from thy youth; if so be thou shalt be able to profit, if so be thou mayest prevail.
13 Thou art wearied in the multitude of thy counsels. Let now the astrologers, the stargazers, the monthly prognosticators, stand up, and save thee from these things that shall come upon thee.
14 Behold, they shall be as stubble; the fire shall burn them; they shall not deliver themselves from the power of the flame: there shall not be a coal to warm at, nor fire to sit before it.
15 Thus shall they be unto thee with whom thou hast laboured, even thy merchants, from thy youth: they shall wander every one to his quarter; none shall save thee.

With at least seven statements in this passage about the occult practices of ancient Babylon, we understand that it was a nation whose people had pervasive contact with evil supernatural spirits. A right understanding of the wickedness of this nation must foremost account for this profound revelation.

Exodus 32 is an important passage in Scripture on the subject of worship. I recently engaged in a lengthy online discussion on Sharper Iron concerning that passage: “How Does God Want Christians to Profit concerning Worship from Exodus 32:17-20.”

I then conducted a follow-up poll on the question: “Is Exodus 32:17-18 divine revelation about worship music?

Respondents chose from 7 answers: “Yes, for sure; Probably; Maybe; Not sure; Probably not; No; or, Absolutely not.”

Poll Results

The results of the poll were shocking. Out of 22 respondents, 3 voted “No” and 14 voted “Absolutely not.” Only 2 people voted “Yes, for sure” and 1 voted “Probably.”1

Poll Analysis

Are the majority of the responses in this poll the correct view about Exodus 32:17-18? A careful analysis of the passage and of other relevant passages answers that question decisively.

Undeniably, Exodus 32:17-18 is divine revelation that has been given by inspiration of the Spirit:

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.

Because verse 18 mentions singing explicitly, these verses are undeniably divine revelation about music. The only question that remains is whether these verses are divine revelation about worship music.

Exodus 32:5 shows that what took place in the Golden Calf Incident (GCI) took place on an occasion that was supposed to have been a feast to the Lord, which would have been a divinely ordained occasion of corporate worship (cf. John 12:20). In addition, apostolic citation of Exodus 32:6 in 1 Corinthians 10:7 decisively shows that the GCI was an occasion of worship because it says that they were idolaters on that 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.

1 Corinthians 10:7 μηδὲ εἰδωλολάτραι γίνεσθε, καθώς τινες αὐτῶν· ὡς γέγραπται, Ἐκάθισεν ὁ λαὸς φαγεῖν καὶ πιεῖν, καὶ ἀνέστησαν παίζειν.

Furthermore, Paul specifies that their idolatrous worship extended to their eating and drinking what had been offered to the idol and to their subsequent playing. The Greek verb παίζειν that is rendered “to play” in this statement is used in the LXX to signify singing and playing of musical instruments:

1 Chr. 13:8 And David and all Israel played before God with all their might, and with singing, and with harps, and with psalteries, and with timbrels, and with cymbals, and with trumpets.

1 Chr. 13:8 καὶ Δαυιδ καὶ πᾶς Ισραηλ παίζοντες ἐναντίον τοῦ θεοῦ ἐν πάσῃ δυνάμει καὶ ἐν ψαλτῳδοῖς καὶ ἐν κινύραις καὶ ἐν νάβλαις ἐν τυμπάνοις καὶ ἐν κυμβάλοις καὶ ἐν σάλπιγξιν

This biblical data justifies holding that the idolatrous worship in the GCI included their singing.

Conclusion

In spite of the prevailing view to the contrary that is held by most of the respondents to this poll, a careful handling of Exodus 32:17-18 shows that it is definitively divine revelation concerning worship music.


Notes

1 One of the people who responded to this poll on SI conducted the same poll in a closed Facebook group of fundamentalist pastors. He found that 24 of the 30 pastors said that Exodus 32:17-18 is not divine revelation about worship music. If anything, his results are more shocking than mine are because of the nature of the group that he polled.

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.

Conclusion

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!

 

We are not told that Noah took any marine life into the Ark. The biblical data about the Flood itself does not indicate that the Flood destroyed all marine life.

Also, the Noahic Covenant was only between God and every living that was with Noah on the Ark, which implies that the Flood did not destroy all marine life:

Gen. 9:9 And I, behold, I establish my covenant with you, and with your seed after you;

Gen. 9:10 And with every living creature that is with you, of the fowl, of the cattle, and of every beast of the earth with you; from all that go out of the ark, to every beast of the earth.

Gen. 9:12 And God said, This is the token of the covenant which I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for perpetual generations:

Gen. 9:15 And I will remember my covenant, which is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall no more become a flood to destroy all flesh.

Gen. 9:16 And the bow shall be in the cloud; and I will look upon it, that I may remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is upon the earth.

If we were to have held that the Flood had destroyed all marine life as well as all terrestrial life (except for those that were on the Ark), it would seem that we would have had to have held that God had to have created anew all marine life after the Flood.

Why did God spare all marine life at this time but destroy all terrestrial life (except those that were in the Ark)?

The Golden Calf Incident (GCI) is an infamous biblical account of idolatrous worship. Exodus 32 provides the lengthiest record of what took place on that occasion and informs us that both singing and dancing were part of their worship:

Exodus 32:18 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.

Exodus 32:19 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.

In spite of the record of their singing and dancing, many people believe that the lack of mention of musical instruments in any of the passages that record the GCI means that there were no musical instruments used in their worship at that time. Is it a reasonable position to hold that these people sang a cappella and danced “a musica”1?

The Relevance of Exodus 15 to the Interpretation of Exodus 32

After the Israelites had crossed the Red Sea and God had drowned Pharaoh and all his hosts, the Israelites sang praise to God for the deliverance that He had provided them (Exod. 15:1-19). Miriam then led all the women in singing and dancing that was accompanied by the playing of timbrels:

Exodus 15:20 And Miriam the prophetess, the sister of Aaron, took a timbrel in her hand; and all the women went out after her with timbrels and with dances. 21 And Miriam answered them, Sing ye to the LORD, for he hath triumphed gloriously; the horse and his rider hath he thrown into the sea.

Exodus 15 thus establishes an important precedent that the Israelites used musical instruments in corporate worship of God that included both singing and dancing. Because we know that the Israelites had at least timbrels and had used them prior to the GCI in worship that included both singing and dancing, we do not have any biblical basis to hold that the Israelites did not use at least timbrels in the GCI.

Conclusion

Allowing Scripture to interpret Scripture, there is no reasonable basis to hold that the GCI was an occasion of idolatrous worship where the people sang and danced without the use of any musical instruments. Exodus 32 is not a record of singing and dancing without the use of musical instruments.


1“A musica” is a term that I coined to signify when dancing is done without the use of musical instruments to accompany the dancing.

I recently read through Ezekiel and was again struck by what God said that He would do when He would judge Tyre:

Ezekiel 26:13 And I will cause the noise of thy songs to cease; and the sound of thy harps shall be no more heard.

Based on conversations that I have had online with some other believers, it seems that the common interpretation of this text is that it is not revealing that there was anything bad or sinful about the music of Tyre; rather, the text communicates that God would bring to an end the enjoyment of music in Tyre.

I have never found this interpretation tenable. I think that there are at least the following four problems with it:

1. If the point of verse were that God would bring an end to their enjoyment of music when He would destroy them, why does the text elaborate by speaking of both their vocal music and their instrumental music instead of just saying that He would cause their music to end?

2. When a nation becomes wicked to the extent that God determines to destroy it, we do not have any good reason to think that their wickedness would not also express itself in what they sing, how they sing what they sing, what they play on musical instruments, and how they play what they play on those instruments.

3. In the immediately surrounding context of this statement, God’s judgment on many other nations surrounding His people is related, but none of the passages that relate His judgment of all those other nations speaks of His bringing their enjoyment of music to an end:

Ammonites (25:1-7); Moab & Seir (25:8-11); Edom (25:12-14); Philistines (25:15-17);
Tyre (26:1-28:19);
Sidon (28:20-26); Egypt (29:1-32:32)

Why is the cessation of music only said about the people of Tyre and not about any of the other nations that God was going to destroy at that time?

4. If the point is that destroying them will bring about the denial of their enjoyment of all good things, why does the passage mention explicitly both their vocal and instrumental musical activities instead of their art, dancing, literature, drama, sports, etc.? To put it differently, according to the denial-of-enjoyment-of-good-things view, how do you explain that the cessation of their music is specifically mentioned but there is no mention of the cessation of their enjoyment of any of these other cultural activities that people also enjoy?

Ezekiel 26:13 And I will cause the noise of thy songs to cease; and the sound of thy harps shall be no more heard.

Because God revealed that He would do this and inscripturated it, we can be certain that we are to consider what this statement reveals to us.

How does God want us to profit from this statement about what He would do to the sound of the harps of Tyre?

Here are some possibilities to consider:

God decreed that He would bring an end to the sound of their harps because . . .

1. The people of Tyre were ungodly people.

2. The people who were playing the harps were ungodly people.

3. The setting, purpose, motivation, etc. of the people who were playing the harps was ungodly.

4. The actual sounds of the music that was being produced by the harps were themselves ungodly.

What exegetical and theological principles do we use to determine whether God wants us to understand that one or more or all of these were true about His bringing the sound of the harps of Tyre to an end?

Many Christians today are quite dismissive of testimonies from secular rock musicians and music authorities who have said that rock music is perverse music that should be rejected, especially by Christians in their ministries. These believers argue that unbelieving musicians and music authorities are unable to judge spiritual truth accurately concerning whether rock music is fit for use in ministry.

I have previously presented evidence from two passages that counters this dismissiveness by pointing out that lost people were reliably able to give testimonies about spiritual realities. Judges 7 provides additional evidence to hold that unbelieving people can accurately assess spiritual realities.

Judges 7:13-14

During the period of the judges who ruled over Israel, the Lord directed Gideon to be His deliverer of the Israelites from the Midianites (Judg. 7:7). To alleviate possible fearfulness on Gideon’s part to carry out this mission (Judg. 7:10), the Lord directed him and his servant to go and hear what certain men in the host of Midian would say (Judg. 7:10-11).

The record of this incident reveals that an unsaved man in the camp of the enemies of Israel remarkably interpreted the spiritual significance of a dream with striking accuracy:

Judges 7:13 And when Gideon was come, behold, there was a man that told a dream unto his fellow, and said, Behold, I dreamed a dream, and, lo, a cake of barley bread tumbled into the host of Midian, and came unto a tent, and smote it that it fell, and overturned it, that the tent lay along. 14 And his fellow answered and said, This is nothing else save the sword of Gideon the son of Joash, a man of Israel: for into his hand hath God delivered Midian, and all the host.

Observing what transpired, Gideon was moved to worship God for the testimony that he had received through these two lost people:

Judges 7:15 And it was so, when Gideon heard the telling of the dream, and the interpretation thereof, that he worshipped, and returned into the host of Israel, and said, Arise; for the LORD hath delivered into your hand the host of Midian.

The biblical record of this incident is yet another passage that shows that lost people have given accurate testimonies to spiritual realities in spite of their being unbelievers. Just because people are unbelievers does not automatically invalidate anything that they say about the spiritual significance of any event or the spiritual fitness of any practice.

Conclusion

Christians should not dismiss the validity of testimonies by secular rock musicians and music authorities about the perverseness of rock music and its unfitness for use in Christian ministry simply because these authorities on music are unbelievers. Judges 7:13-14 and other passages provide evidence that doing so is not a right approach to such information.

Scripture warns true believers in many passages that they must not associate themselves closely with those who hate God. One of the most sobering warnings is found in the following account from the life of king Jehoshaphat:

2 Chronicles 19:1 And Jehoshaphat the king of Judah returned to his house in peace to Jerusalem. 2 And Jehu the son of Hanani the seer went out to meet him, and said to king Jehoshaphat, Shouldest thou help the ungodly, and love them that hate the LORD? therefore is wrath upon thee from before the LORD. 3 Nevertheless there are good things found in thee, in that thou hast taken away the groves out of the land, and hast prepared thine heart to seek God.

Jehoshaphat was a true believer in the Lord, yet a prophet of God said to him that there was wrath on him from the Lord because he had helped the ungodly and loved those who hate the Lord.

The prophet also made known that at the same time as there was wrath on him from the Lord, there were yet good things found in him. This revelation warns us that true believers can have good things about them and yet be at the same time a source of great provocation to God.

I recently polled my friends on Facebook about what caused Eve to transgress against God. Here is the exact way that I stated the poll:

Friends, I would like to do a poll about a theological question with *no discussion* about the answers. Please, no comments about the answers.

Did Eve transgress against God because of a wrong heart, wrong knowledge, or both?

To make it simple, please use the following to indicate your answer:

Like = wrong heart

Sad face = wrong knowledge

Angry face = both

Poll Results

Eighteen friends participated in the poll. I am surprised by the results:

Wrong heart – 10

Wrong knowledge – 4

Both a wrong heart and wrong knowledge – 4

Analysis

Given the choices in this poll, it is noteworthy that 10 out of 18 respondents chose a wrong heart over the two other choices, which addressed wrong knowledge as the cause or a contributing cause for Eve’s transgression.

The NT authoritatively interprets the OT account of Eve’s transgression in two passages:

2 Corinthians 11:3 But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtilty, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ.

1 Timothy 2:14 And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression.

Both passages explicitly speak of Eve’s being deceived, which highlights that she was presented with false information from an external source. Additionally, in the first passage, by how Paul applies to believers what happened to Eve, we learn that he stresses that her mind was corrupted.

I believe, therefore, that it is untenable to say that Eve transgressed because of a wrong heart in distinction from saying that she transgressed because of wrong knowledge.

Conclusion

Given the choices that were in this poll, the right choice for explaining her transgression was that both a wrong heart and wrong knowledge caused her to transgress against God.