Moses & Music -- A Parallel
by David R. Kenney
Recently a parent told me that their now adult child, who had been taught by them that the use of the instrument in worship is sinful, is now questioning the sound teaching of their parents. This should be a wake up call to all of us that the issues of the past will resurface if we fail to teach the fundamentals to a new generation and reemphasize them to the current generation (Hebrews 5:12). The argument used by the child was “It does not say that you cannot use the instrument in the New Testament and they used it in the Old Testament. So what is the big deal?” An illustration from the Pentateuch should explain what “the big deal is”.
When the Israelites set out on their journey from Egypt to the promised land of Canaan, there were several times they allowed their physical needs to affect their judgment. In spite of the divine demonstration against the gods of Egypt with ten plagues (Exodus 7-12), salvation of the Lord at the Red Sea (Exodus 14), and turning bitter water sweet for consumption (Exodus 15:22-27), they would murmur and complain all along the journey. Imagine a trip from Egypt to Canaan that should have taken a few months turning into approximately 40 years because of Israel’s unbelief and grumbling. Two of the events closely related yet strikingly different teach us a valuable lesson – drawing water from two rocks by Moses on two separate occasions (Exodus 17:1-7; Numbers 20:2-13).
The first time that Moses drew water from the rock was after the feeding of Israel the bread from heaven to satisfy their hunger (Exodus 16). The Israelites had made camp at Rephidim. The Israelites became thirsty and became so enraged with Moses that he thought they were close to stoning him (Exodus 17:4). God told Moses to take his rod, go to the rock in Horeb, strike the rock, and water would come out of the rock. This is what Moses did and the water came as God had promised. Moses called the place Massah, meaning “tempted” and Meribah, meaning “contention”. So Moses, with God’s help was able to meet the needs of the people and press on to Canaan.
The second recorded time that Moses drew water from the rock was nearly forty years later at Kadesh in the Wilderness of Zin (Numbers 20:1). The majority of the Israelites from the first episode had perished because of their lack of faith in God’s promise of inheritance of the land of Canaan (Numbers 14:1ff). Apparently the new generation was similar to the previous. Notice their grumbling: “If only we had died when our brethren died before the Lord!” (Numbers 20:3). Moses and Aaron fell on their faces before the Lord for guidance. God told Moses to take his rod, assemble the congregation, and speak to the rock (Numbers 20:8). Moses took the rod as God had commanded him, gathered the people as God had commanded him, approached the rock, and rather than speaking to the rock he struck it with his rod twice (Numbers 20:9-11). He did not do as the Lord had commanded him. Even though the water came forth, the Lord did not just overlook his error. Moses was not permitted to lead the Israelites into the promised land because of his transgression. Moses would be permitted to see the land of Canaan from Mount Nebo but would die in the land of Moab (Deuteronomy 32:48-5; 34:1ff.). One would think that maybe Moses was too old to lead the people, but this was not the case at all as revealed in Deuteronomy 34:7, “Moses was one hundred and twenty years old when he died. His eyes were not dim nor his natural vigor abated”.
Many lessons can be learned from the exodus from Egypt; c.f., Hebrews 3ff. One lesson that comes to my mind from these two events relates to Bible authority and instrumental music in the worship of the Lord today. Some, in favor of the instrument in worship, ask “where in the Bible does it say we cannot use the instrument in worship to God?” The question is not where does the New Testament say you may not worship with the instrument but where in the New Testament does it say one may worship with the instrument?! That is the crucial question and the answer relates to authority, who has given the authority, and to whom the authority was given. The two events at the rocks illustrate a valuable lesson for us to follow the will of God as He has authorized it and when He has authorized it.
A person needs to study Bible authority very closely. The apostle Paul wrote: “Do your best to present yourself approved to God, an unashamed workman, interpreting correctly the message of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15, FHUV.) Notice that God changed the instructions at the second rock, from the first time that Moses brought water from the rock. God did not just overlook Moses’ disregard for his latest instructions. Moses was punished for his lack of obedience. Obedience to God’s specific commands is important. Now if Moses missed the promised land of Canaan because he followed the old instructions rather than the new way that God had given him, then what will be the condition of those who practice the philosophy that says “Instrumental music may not be in the New Testament but it is in the Old Testament”? God gave specific instructions that he expected to be followed. Notice that the first drawing of water was prior to the Mosaic law but the second was during the Mosaic law. God held Moses accountable for his transgression of His new instructions even though only a few years had elapsed since the earlier instructions. Less than forty years had passed from the change in God’s instructions to Moses but hundreds of years had elapsed between the Old and New Testament. Why cannot people see that they need to apply the laws given to them in the New Testament and not look back for regulations of worship in the Old Testament?
The churches of Christ have long pointed out that instrumental music in worship to God is sinful. It is sinful for the same reason that Moses sinned at the second rock – because God’s instructions had changed and Moses failed to obey the new instructions. The argument that the instrument was used in the Old Testament justifies its use today is not a new argument. For example, in a debate between Foy E. Wallace Jr. of the church of Christ and Sam P. Jones of the First Christian Church at Moundsville, WV in 1932, this was one of the arguments used by the pro-instrument side. The argument was made that “The fact that God indorsed its use in his worship before and during the giving of the law at Mount Sinai approves its use in Christian worship today.” Foy E. Wallace, Jr. was reported to have responded that “…the fault in Jones’ logic was that he had no major premise; that if he could establish the major premise, that everything that was in the worship before hand at the giving of the law should be in Christian worship, his conclusion would follow and the argument would stand. All things that were in the worship before and at the giving of the law should be in Christian worship. Instrumental music was in the worship at that time; therefore, instrumental music is Scriptural in Christian worship. But Jones had never even attempted to prove the major term of his proposition. Brother Wallace showed that animal sacrifice was before and after the giving of the law, and still Jones would not contend for animal sacrifice.” Another argument Jones used was similar: “The fact that God commanded and indorsed its use in the worship of the Jews approves its use in Christian worship today”. Foy E. Wallace pointed out that the same logic would apply to burning of incense in the worship today.
From this event in the life of Moses, we should all realize the grave importance of studying the word of God daily and follow His instructions as He has delivered them to us. Is risking the eternal promise land worth doing what we think is right rather than what God has specified in His word?
 Nobel Patterson and Terry J. Gardner, Editors, Foy E. Wallace-Soldier of the Cross, Fort Worth, TX: Wallace Memorial Fund, 1999, p. 187.
This article orginally appeard in Gospel Advocate, Vol. 142, No. 5, May 2000, pp. 32-33.