"Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 'Take the rod; you and your brother Aaron gather the congregation together. Speak to the rock before their eyes, and it will yield its water; thus you shall bring water for them out of the rock, and give drink to the congregation and their animals.' So Moses took the rod from before the Lord as He commanded him. And Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly together before the rock; and he said to them, 'Hear now, you rebels! Must we bring water for you out of this rock?' Then Moses lifted his hand and struck the rock twice with his rod; and water came out abundantly, and the congregation and their animals drank. Then the Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron, 'Because you did not believe Me, to hallow Me in the eyes of the children of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land which I have given them.'" (Numbers 20:7-12)
We sometimes forget that the life of Moses ended, at least partly, in tragedy. After years of difficulty leading the Israelites out of their Egyptian bondage, one error caused him to miss out on the enjoyment of entering the promised land during his earthly life.
I often think of this story when considering the topic of instrumental music within the assembly of the church. You might think that rather odd, but I believe that the lessons learned from the error at Kadesh serve us well in regards to this issue.
The account in Numbers 20 is not the first of its kind. There was a previous scenario that played out prior to this which mirrored it save one detail.
"And the people thirsted there for water, and the people complained against Moses, and said, 'Why is it you have brought us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?' So Moses cried out to the Lord, saying, 'What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me!' And the Lord said to Moses, 'Go on before the people, and take with you some of the elders of Israel. Also take in your hand your rod with which you struck the river, and go. Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock in Horeb; and you shall strike the rock, and water will come out of it, that the people may drink.' And Moses did so in the sight of the elders of Israel." (Exodus 17:3-6)
Proponents of using instruments in the assembly of the church today will often cite the various examples of instruments used in worship to God that we find in the Old Testament. Consider 2 Chronicles 29:25 as an example:
"And he [Hezekiah] stationed the Levites in the house of the Lord with cymbals, with stringed instruments, and with harps, according to the commandment of David, of Gad the king’s seer, and of Nathan the prophet; for thus was the commandment of the Lord by His prophets."
There are various issues with arguing for the inclusion of mechanical instruments in NT worship from the position described above. For example, we know, firstly, that the Old Law was fulfilled and replaced by Christ (cf. Matthew 5:17-18; John 19:30; Colossians 2:11-14; Hebrews 8:6-13). Thus, attempting to justify ourselves by the Law is not only error, but causes us, as Paul stated, to become debtors to keep the entire Law!
"And I testify again to every man who becomes circumcised that he is a debtor to keep the whole law. You have become estranged from Christ, you who attempt to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace." (Galatians 5:3-4)
I don't know many who would be up for re-instating the offering of animal sacrifices in addition to their "worship band."
Secondly, the physical items and practices that characterized the Old Law were designed as shadows or types of the spiritual realities of Christ's kingdom, the church (cf. Hebrews 8:4-5; 10:1). As an example, all Christians under the new covenant serve as priests to God and offer spiritual sacrifices (cf. 1 Peter 2:5, 9; Hebrews 13:15). The physical pattern of the Old Law helps us to understand that honor and responsibility!
Coming back, though, to the example of Moses, do we not see illustrated in the examples cited above God's ability to alter what is acceptable to Him? Moses' first command was to "strike" the rock. His second was to "speak" to the rock.
Notice the language Paul uses when talking about acceptable music in the church:
"...speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord..." (Ephesians 5:19)
"Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord." (Colossians 3:16)
While "striking" a string was acceptable to God under the Old Law, under the New Law, He says "speak." God wills that we would make melody in our hearts thus engaging our spirits (cf. John 4:23-24).
I think it is worth mentioning that I write these things from the perspective of a musician. I have played the drums for many years. I've been in two different bands, played countless shows, recorded various CDs, and absolutely LOVE using what I consider to be a God-given talent.
God doesn't condemn us playing mechanical instruments. He has, though, specified what He desires in regards to our admonition of one another and praise to Him when we come together as His people. Will we respect His wishes?
At Kadesh, when Moses struck the rock, water was produced and the people drank, but God was not pleased. He was not pleased because He had told Moses to "speak." I can't help but fear that many repeat the same error of Moses today when they offer worship to God via methods He has not authorized. "Water" is produced, but is He pleased?
Think on these things.
"Everyone who goes on ahead and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God. Whoever abides in the teaching has both the Father and the Son." (2 John 9)