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Doctrine of Religious Worship: History of Music in the Mosaic Period

October 23, 2022 Series: Great Doctrines of the Christian Faith

Scripture: Ephesians 5:18–20, Colossians 3:16–17


We are continuing our study of music in Scripture by looking at references in the Mosaic period.

Deuteronomy 12.29-32

  • After speaking of all of the worship practices of the Canaanite nations, and the abominations that they committed
  • The Lord says: What thing soever I command you, observe to do it: thou shalt not add thereto, nor diminish from it.

The Westminster Confession of Faith 21.1

  • The light of nature show us that there is a God who has Lordship and sovereignty over all, is good and doth good to all and is therefore to be feared love praise, called upon, trusted in and served with all the heart and with all the soul and with all the mind, but the acceptable way of worshipping the true God is instituted by himself, and so limited by his own revealed will, that he may not be worshipped according to the imaginations and devices of men, or the suggestions of Satan, under any visible representation, or any other way not prescribed in Holy Scripture.

Serious Nature of Worship

Primary Scripture: Eph. 5.18-20 / Col 3.16,17

Exodus 15

Last week we saw that music was used sometimes for joy, to express joy and gladness

  • We saw this with Laban and Jacob, when Laban said “had you told me you were going, we could have let you go with joy, with gladness, with mirth and with music”
  • We saw it used to express sorrow, in Job.

What we did not see was any reference of music in the Patriarchal age being used for worship.

  • Music was either not a part of the worship of God in the Patriarchal Age
  • Or the scriptures are silent on music being used in worship.
  • Regardless, there is no Scriptural instruction to us from the Patriarchal age with regard to music.

In the Mosaic Age, we have some references to music.

  • You remember Joseph and the 12 tribes of Israel and how they spent 400 years in Egypt until God raise dup Moses as a deliverer.
  • In Moses, we have a new era in redemptive history.
  • The people are going to come out of Egypt with a mighty hand
  • The Lord is going to conquer the Egyptians
    • He is going to blast them with 10 plagues,
    • He is going to defeat them at the Red Sea.
    • He is going to send the children of Israel out so that they may hold a service unto the Lord in the wilderness

It is for the sake of worship, at least that is the stated intention of the Lord

  • to commune with the Lord that they are brought out of the bondage of Egypt

The bondage in Egypt was so cruel

  • that they were not allowed the freedom to worship their God
  • The Sabbath fell into disrepair
    • Maybe not necessarily because the people had forgotten it
    • But maybe because of the slavery, the service, and the bondage of the hard taskmasters in Egypt.
  • The Lord say: Let My people go, that they may worship Me
    • That they may hold a feast unto Me
    • That they may serve me 3 days journey into the desert.
  • Moses goes in and out of the presence of Pharaoh.
  • Every time he goes in, he says, Let my people go.
    • And Pharaoh says, No, there is a plague.
    • The last plague is the death of the firstborn.

There is the background as we approach Exodus 15.

  • In chapter 14 the Egyptian army is destroyed
  • In chapter 15, the first mention of music in the Mosaic era.
Exodus 15.1-21

Then sang Moses and the children of Israel this song unto the Lord, and spake saying…

Is this a worship song?

Is it used for worship?

What is the import of this musical celebration here?

These are the questions that we want to answer

There are many opinions about this song

Arguments For a Worship Song as Part of a Service

  • Some have said that it is indeed the first instance of musical worship recorded in the scriptures.
    • Well, that may be true.
  • There are some elements that point to an act of worship

Notice that it is sung to the Lord. Right?

  • The first words of Moses in the song is I will sing unto the Lord.
  • We recognize that our worship serves are unto the Lord, right?
    • When we sing, we sing unto the Lord
    • When we sing, we are making an offering unto the Lord
    • These offerings are made with one voice
      • Offering up praise to God
      • The substance of that praise is somewhat at issue in today’s churches
    • Perhaps, since the Lord has been so very expressive on what offerings are acceptable
      • and how those offerings are to be made
      • Perhaps then the music that is offered to the Lord should be governed according to Him
      • This is really the essence of our study
    • Notice also, that it is sung in praise to God for deliverance from Egypt and its army.
    • So those two points would argue, perhaps for a worship service.

Arguments Against a Worship Service

  • Our Puritan forefathers held that this was not a worship ceremony, but a civil or a national celebration held at the defeat of a national enemy.
  • Note that there are also civil elements as well.

First, it would be well, for us to note that this is not a worship service.

  • There are particular indications that it is not a worship service. Listen carefully,
  • They were on their way to a worship service
  • They had not yet convened a worship service.
  • The worship service was 3 days in the wilderness
    • they were on their way to a place where they were going to hold a feast and a worship service to the Lord.
  • This song is rather the spontaneous breaking out of praise by an inspired prophet
    • and the people following him in that praise.


We might say that is an act of worship.

But is it indeed a worship service?

I do not think so.

  • First, we have we have a separation between the men and the women.
    • The men go on singing for a while it seems
    • Then the women go on singing
    • When the women sing, they take instruments and use them.
  • If we remember how music has been used up to this point, we can fully understand that this song and the instruments were used to express joy.
    • joy of being delivered from Egypt
  • We can see this not really a formal worship service but really an act of joy and celebration.
  • It might be an act of worship unto the Lord
  • It might be an act of worship unto the Lord on the part of the nation
  • But it is not an act of worship on behalf of the church assembly
    • There is no mention of elders
    • There is the Prophet Moses, what is he doing?
      • He is leading and writing the song.
    • If we would grant that this is a worship song
      • It can only be done basis that it is an inspired worship song.
      • It is inspired immediately on site by the inspired prophet

But they are not yet in a worship service.

  • There are several instances in the ramp up to this particular scripture
    • Exodus 3.18, 5.3, 8.27, 5.1, 7.16, 8.1, 8.20, 9.1, 9.13, 10.3
    • It is repeated: “Let my people go, that they may hold a service to me or hold a feast to me in the desert three days journey.”
    • They are indeed on the way to a worship service.
  • The separation of the men and women is not indicative of corporate worship
  • Dancing is not indicative of a corporate worship service
  • Dancing carries with it the indication of a civil celebration when it takes place in Scripture.
  • We do not see dancing in worship.
  • Dancing has never been in Scripture set forth as an act of worship.


One might respond that David danced when they brought the Ark of the Covenant into Jerusalem.

  • That is right, but it was a civil celebration.

What about the women when David killed Goliath?

  • That, also, was a civil celebration.
  • It was in response to the defeat of an enemy.

Let us look at other instances in the Scriptures referencing this type of celebration.

1 Samuel 18.6

David came into town, and they were singing and dancing. Saul has slain his 1000s. David has 10,000.

There is an antiphonal call between the women

  • Saul hath slain his 1000s/ And David his 10,000s

One group sang one line and the group answered.

Notice the singing and dancing and the instruments

  • all part of the civil celebration at the defeat of a wicked enemy.
1 Samuel 21.10-11

The servants of Achish, the King of Gath (this is where Goliath from from) remembered the civil celebration of the Israelites.

They would not have been able to participate in a formal religious worship service

1 Samuel 29.5

Another instance/ recording of the civil celebration.

2 Samuel 6.12-21

This is clearly a description of a civil celebration with everyone celebrating unto the Lord in their own way. Not a formal, corporate worship service.

Let us return to Exodus 15
  • This singing and dancing that takes place here is not indicative of a worship service.
  • If it was indicative of a worship service
    • then we would be required to sing like this with dancing and with cymbals

We need to be careful

If we want to say Exodus 15 is a formal worship service and not a spontaneous civil celebration with a song inspired immediately on site by a prophet.

  • Then we are going to have to say that this is a worship service
  • We are going to have to say that a formal worship service includes singing with dancing and cymbals
  • But there is not a place in Scripture that supports this understanding.
    • Even in the wild and wooly Corinthian worship, they did not have dancing.

Is Exodus a worship song or not?

I think it is a worship song.

  • For this particular use and at this particular time.

But it was used a part of a civil celebration and not part of a formal worship service, as we have seen.

Deuteronomy 31.28 - 32.47

This is an interesting piece of Scripture because it is identified as a song and remember, what we are doing is we are gathering up the music that we find in the Mosaic age.

  • This is a song that the Lord gave to Moses, and He told Moses to teach this to the children of Israel
  • We do not know exactly where they were told to sing it, but the song is not a song of praise at all.

In fact, it has little to do with praise.

  • It is a song of witness.
  • It is a song which the Lord Himself sings to the people through the mouth of Moses
  • And they are to sing it in their homes to remind themselves of the consequences of apostasy.

Is it a worship song?

Is it a praise song?

It would not be appropriate to call it a song of praise.

  • There is no praise in it.
  • It sounds good in the beginning (v. 1-4)
  • But then in v. 5 – end, we will see this is a song of judgment and warning
  • It is not a song of praise.
    • It is a song of warning

Moses was instructed to teach this song to the people as a warning song impending judgment

  • should they turn away from the Lord
    • 15-19 / v. 21-25

Statements/ songs like this are not typically found in the Psalms as it applies to the entire people of God.

  • We separate the wicked from the righteous
  • We speak imprecations against the wicked but in totality against the entirety of the people of God.

This is a judgment song that was given by the Lord

  • to indicate to the people of God that if they turned away from the Lord
    • he would turn away from them and strike them in his anger and break his covenant.

This is exactly what happened in Jeremiah 31.31 and Hebrews 8.1ff

  • we hear the Lord say, they continued, not in my covenant, and I disregarded them.
  • we hear Jesus in the Mount of Olives, saying, therefore your house has left onto you desolate.

Can Deuteronomy 32 be classed with the other praises that we find in the Psalter?

No, it does not appear that this was given as a worship song. It was given as a teaching song.

  • to be remembered, to remind Israel of the dangers of turning away from the Lord
  • we do not see any commands in Scripture to include this song (or Exodus 15) as part of any corporate worship throughout the Mosaic age.
Numbers 21.12

The next piece of music is one that some have deduced to talk about a worship song

It is a short song about a wandering people coming up on a well and getting water and so in their joy, they sang.

  • Clearly, this is not a worship service
  • It is not a worship song.
    • It is not to the Lord
    • It does not even pretend to be sung to the Lord
Numbers 10.1-8

Here instruments are mentioned again.

  • There are trumpets of silver
  • These were not trumpets used in musical service
  • These were more like a bugle
  • They were used for gathering the people

They were not really used as musical instruments.

Perhaps an effective way to think of it is like a warning signal or an alarm

  • They were to blow them over the sacrifices of the new moon and to signify movement

Visualize what this might have been like:

  • The people are a company of approximately 2 million
  • The eastern most are gathered with one alarm
  • The southern most are gathered with another

The horns were to be over the sacrifices

  • It was not a musical part of the worship
  • It was to let the people, which were scattered probably a couple of square miles, that the sacrifices were going forward on the new moon
  • And that that was a solemn assembly for them who were in the back really could not see what was going

So, the blowing of the trumpets over the sacrifices was not musical accompaniment to the worship.

  • Rather, it was letting everyone know when the sacrifices were taking place in the camp.

Conclusion/ Review

So, what have we seen during the days of Moses?

Exodus 15

  • the civil celebration of defeating the Egyptians
  • we looked at 1, 2 Samuel as other instances of civil celebrations

Deuteronomy 32

  • at the end of chapter 31, the Lord gives the purpose for the song of chapter 32.

Numbers 21

  • we have seen the song of the well.

Numbers 10

  • we have seen the trumpets used to gather the people together and to give them notice

That exhausts what we see in the Mosaic era.

  • None of what we have seen thus far are regular appointed worship songs

We never hear about the song of Moses again until the book of Revelation

  • I think that it there because it is coupled with the song of the Lamb.
  • That we are to think of it thematically as the song of the redeemed
    • the song of those who have been bought out of the market of slavery and placed into the freedom of sonship.

This comprises the use of music all the way through the Mosaic era and the Patriarchal age.

Next Week

We will look at Joshua, Judges, Ruth, and 1 Samuel

I expect we are going to see much of the same thing

  • that the worship of God even in and about the tabernacle was strangely silent.
  • that there was no music that was offered as a regular part of the worship service
  • that the Lord had not commanded it.

If the Lord had commanded it, there is no record of it.

All we have here are a couple of songs sung for varied reasons yet are not included in any command

Closing Thoughts

Brothers and sisters, let us think about this for a while as we close…

The Lord gave Moses detail after detail, specification after specification, requirement after requirement

  • the entire book of Leviticus, the second half of Exodus, and the history of its execution in Numbers is given about
    • how to worship
    • how to sacrifice
    • what parts of the animals to eat
    • what parts to take out and not eat
    • how to create the incense
    • how to build the altar
    • how to embroider the curtains
    • how to craft the candles and the basins
  • But with all of those minute details, not once did the Lord say “Sing this” as part of worship.

What can we infer from that?

  • I think we can infer is that there were no worship songs commanded to be part of the worship during the Patriarchal and Mosaic periods

But now we need to ask ourselves this question:

  • Since Christ is the King of the Church
  • And the King can rightfully say what form of worship is acceptable and what is not
    • Don’t we see that, as the Lord was teaching the early church how to properly worship
  • That if we are going to add anything to our worship of God, we better make sure we are commanded from the Lord to do so

So then, if we are going to hold that the Lord does approve of music in the worship service, we need to find out where He commanded that and what was it supposed to look like.

We do not want to be people who claim to worship God but then we come with all sorts of ideas and practices that have never been approved and then tell God what He should accept.

No, we want to worship God as He requires.

We want to be people of God – not people of ourselves.

Next week, we will look at Joshua, Judges, Ruth, and First Samuel up to chapter 10.


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