To the Choir Director: On the Hymn of Yahweh the Golden Calf

Would you sing the hymn of the golden calf?

In Exodus 32, the Israelites became anxious about Moses’ absence from the camp, and they went to their priest, the brother of Moses, Aaron, and demanded he make for them “gods who will go before us…” Aaron obliged, and crafted a molten calf, from the peoples’ gold jewelry (Exodus 32:2–4). You’re probably familiar with the story so far. But I want you to consider a few key details that people often miss in this famous account of idolatry.

“And he took this from their hand and fashioned it with a graving tool and made it into a molten calf; and they said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up from the land of Egypt. And Aaron looked and built an altar before it; and Aaron made a proclamation and said, “Tomorrow shall be a feast to Yahweh.”
— Exodus 32:4–5 [emphasis added]
“Then Yahweh spoke to Moses, ‘Go! Go down at once, for your people, whom you brought up from the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves. They have quickly turned aside from the way which I commanded them. They have made for themselves a molten calf and have worshiped it and have sacrificed to it and said, ‘These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up from the land of Egypt!’’”
— Exodus 32:7–8 [emphasis added]
“Then Joshua heard the sound of the people as they shouted. And he said to Moses, ‘There is a sound of war in the camp.’ But he said, ‘It is not the sound of the cry of triumph, Nor is it the sound of the cry of defeat; But the sound of singing I hear.’”
— Exodus 32:17–18 [emphasis added]

A Couple of Things

Reading the actual text of this infamous passage reveals two details which are often sadly forgotten. First, the Israelites attributed the very name of Yahweh to the calf. Second, the Israelites attributed the acts of Yahweh to the calf.

The scene is this: The people of Yahweh gather, as Moses has gone to receive the Ten Commandments from the Lord, and they begin to sing, shout even, praises to Yahweh for bringing them out of the land of Egypt. Yet what does the true God of the Bible do? He condemns them all. He burns with anger so much that He is ready to start over with Moses alone (32:10). It is not enough for a worship song to use the true name of God, or even to sing of the true acts of God. A worship song is not divorceable from the context in which it is written. In order to be fully acceptable to God, a worship song must be written by someone who is actually worshiping God at the moment of writing.

I’m concerned even with the lightness of my heart as I write. What incredible weight and terror should fill me as I see the Israelites worship ‘Yahweh’ for bringing them out of the land of Egypt, and yet they are condemned for it! God’s people sing the name and the works of Yahweh, and yet this is not an example of true love, but rather the prototypical scene of idolatry! This is at the heart of the controversy with worship songs by Bethel, Hillsong, and Elevation. If the hymn of the golden calf was as simple as, “Praise Yahweh, for bringing us up out of the land of Egypt!” would God not still reject it? There is no detectable heresy or even false doctrine in that, yet Israel is  condemned for the very fact that they attributed the name and works of the true God, to a false god. Do you understand that this song— one addressed to ‘Yahweh,’ by name, in praise, for bringing the Israelites out of the land of Egypt— is not a moment of worship, but instead is the definite article of idolatry?! Is it not the same with Bethel, Hillsong, Elevation, and the like?

The Heart of Worship

Dear one, there is more to songs we sing to Yahweh than just the words! We must consider the meanings of the words, which is determined by the heart that wrote the words and the setting in which he wrote them (Isaiah 29:13). There is an absolute and fatal relationship between the author of a song and the meaning of a song. They are inseparable. Do we really contend that the God who searches the heart, looks only at the lyrics of a song and not the author as well (Jeremiah 17:9–10)? Are we really prepared to say that the God who wrote the Psalms to be studied and sang in light of their authorial intent, does not also judge our worship songs based on their original author’s intent? This one question I ask you: Not, ‘would you sing the song of the golden calf.’ No, this you must answer: Do you sing the song of the golden calf?

How can we speak out of both sides of our mouth? When we study and sing the Psalms, we insist on the author’s sovereignty over the meaning of the Psalm; and so do the scriptures themselves (Psalm 51:0). Yet when a modern author is obviously not saved, we happily divorce him from his text. If we were consistent with this kind of interpretation, then the Psalms are neither David’s words nor God’s words. The perfect example of this is the beautiful hymn It Is Well With My Soul by Horatio Spafford.

Spafford lost his four daughters, when the boat which his girls and wife were on went down while at sea. Only his wife survived, and the heartbroken Horatio got on a boat to eventually join her in Paris. As his boat crossed over the place where his daughters died, he penned his lament, It Is Well. We love this, the beautiful rawness of a man’s experience expressed in song. So we shout the value of understanding the background and author’s experience, because it helps us better understand what he really meant. Spafford’s references to ‘peace like a river,’ and ‘sorrows like sea billows,’ suddenly take on a truer depth when we understand not only that he was sailing at the time of writing, but also the significance of those particular waters to him.

The Unpicked Cherry

We weep and howl at the revelation of what happened to the Spaffords. What beauty and depth is brought to us as we learn about the author of the song and what it is that the song actually means. But there is more to the story. Most people don’t know this, but Spafford and his wife were the leaders of a cult called ‘The Spaffordites,’ or ‘The Overcomers,’ which was in many ways a proto-NAR. The Overcomers was a hyper-Charismatic, hyper-legalistic cult which went on to have aberrations including sexual promiscuity, denying the existence of Hell, Horatio’s wife (Anna Spafford) declared herself to be the ‘Bride’ of Christ,’ and one of the Prophetesses reported seeing a vision of the Lord with the face of Horatio. For a detailed account of this, read American Priestess by Jane Fletcher Geniesse, particularly pages 80–90, 103–106, 124, 136–138. Spafford was not a Christian.

Suddenly hundreds of choirs are quick to say that we should still sing the song; that it doesn’t matter where it came from. My dear friend, you have a choice to make. You cannot be partial, you must be consistent (Titus 2:6–7). If you divorce It Is Well from its author’s relationship with God, then you must also divorce it from its author’s relationship with his own daughters. Now It Is Well has nothing to do with the loss of the Spafford girls. Further, you would also need to divorce the background of every worship song from its author. Now I Can Only Imagine has nothing to do with Bart Millard’s testimony and the loss of his father. Yet worst of all, you would have to divorce the authors of the Psalms from the Psalms themselves. If that is that case, then Psalm 51 has nothing to do with David’s sin with Bathsheba, nor can it be truly called a Psalm of David; nor can it be truly called God’s word.


This was not meant to be a detailed explanation of the false teachings of Bethel and the like. If that’s an issue which you still wrestle with, here’s a systematic look at their false teachings. Nor is this an exhaustive intellectual defense of what I think the Bible teaches on worship music from unsaved writers. Rather, the intent of this article is aimed particularly at the worship leaders who know the heresies of these churches, and yet still play their songs for corporate worship. I am begging you to reconsider. If we draw upon the background and author to find the meaning of a worship song, then we must always do so and impartially do so. But if we banish the author, then we must always do so. If I presented the sheet music for the song of the golden calf to you, surely you would not make your church sing it, regardless of the fact that the words are orthodox by themselves. Yet I bring to you a song by Bethel Church— written by a songwriter who thinks themself a ‘little god,’ and to a Jesus with no divinity— and you play it every week! But unlike Aaron, you are not pressured into this by force, rather you force God’s flock to sing the song of the golden calf! The flock’s teeth are rotting. Dear shepherd, why do you put the hymn of the calf in our mouths? Sheep aren’t meant to ‘moo.’