Leslie Basham: Here’s Nancy Leigh DeMoss.
Nancy Leigh DeMoss: Sometimes God takes us through difficult places. He doesn’t exempt us from Red Sea experiences, from coming right up to the tippy-toe edge and not knowing how we’re going to get through or how we’re going to survive and then watching Him part the waters. He doesn’t take us around them. He doesn’t help us avoid them. He takes us through those places and preserves us in the midst of them.
Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss. It’s Thursday, August 28. When you praise God and sing, the spotlight needs to be on God, not on you. We talked about that yesterday. But people do watch your example in worship. Find out how important your songs are for observers as Nancy continues in a series called Remember Miriam.
Nancy: One of my favorite experiences in recent memory was the night before the National Religious Broadcasters Convention started. It’s held every year. Those of us in broadcast ministry often see friends each year at that event.
The night before it started a couple years ago, some friends got together and said, “Let’s have a hymn sing.” So several of us—actually it ended up being, I don’t know, a hundred or a hundred fifty people—came together in a home in Orlando, Florida and spent an evening just singing hymns together.
We had sent ahead our favorites, those of us who had signed up in advance for it. There were different people who were in Christian broadcasting. I remember Joni Tada there and she sings hymns just as earnestly and eagerly as almost anybody I know. In fact, I’ve been with Joni in a lot of different settings, or a number of different settings, where she’s just broken out into singing hymns. She’s loves to sing to the Lord.
What an incredible evening it was as we came together with others who know the Lord and love the Lord, just singing to the Lord these great hymns of our faith, the hymns of redemption, the hymns of God’s character. We celebrated God’s goodness, God’s faithfulness, His mercy in our lives.
I think about that occasion when I come to Exodus chapter 15, which we’re looking at in this series on Miriam. We come today to a great hymn sing that took place on the outer banks of the Red Sea as the children of Israel had crossed over. God had delivered them out of bondage, captivity in Egypt. They had gone across the Red Sea, which was miraculous. Only God could have made that possible.
Then just as miraculously God had caused the enemy to drown in the sea and they stand on the other side and look back. They think about what God has done. The people of God are free for the first time in 400 years and what do they do? They have a hymn sing.
So we looked at that hymn in the last session. “Moses and the people of Israel,” verse 1 tells us, “sang this song to the LORD, saying, ‘I will sing to the LORD, for he has triumphed gloriously; the horse and his rider he has thrown into the sea.’”
Then we come down to verse 20, which is the passage we started looking at in the last session.
Then Miriam the prophetess, the sister of Aaron [and also the sister of Moses], took a tambourine in her hand, and all the women went out after her with tambourines and dancing. And Miriam sang to them: “Sing to the LORD, for He has triumphed gloriously; the horse and his rider he has thrown into the sea.”
So she leads the women in what is essentially an echo of what the whole congregation has been singing, a refrain, a repeated chorus, if you will. Now as I read that account, it reminds me of another example in the Scripture where women again celebrated and applauded a major military victory, which is what this was. God was the general. He was the commander in chief.
But another occasion—you read about it in 1 Samuel chapter 18. Let me just read the passage to you. It says,
As they were coming home, when David returned from striking down the Philistine [Goliath], the women came out of all the cities of Israel, singing and dancing, to meet King Saul, with tambourines, with songs of joy, and with musical instruments. And the women sang to one another as they celebrated, “Saul has struck down his thousands, and David his ten thousands” (verses 6-7).
So they were celebrating. They’re military heroes, David and Saul. As we come to the Red Sea hymn sing with Moses and Miriam, they are celebrating God’s triumphs over the Goliaths of their day—Pharaoh and the Egyptian army.
Music has always been an important part of everyday life in Israel. From the time of the Old Testament, it’s been used in celebrations, in weddings, in funerals. Even in war there were special instruments that would sound the call to battle. Music was an important part, and is an important part, of religious life in Israel. Both in their formal worship, in the temple, in services and rituals that God prescribed, and also in other religious occasions, feast days.
You see, for the Jewish mind in the Old Testament everything that happened in life was somehow connected to God. So everything that happened in life was an occasion for music of some sort and good things that happened—blessings, the first fruits of the harvest, the last of the harvest coming in, the special feast days, the Passover. These were occasions for celebration and singing.
Now the Scripture gives us some interesting details here about this hymn sing. We read that Miriam took a tambourine in her hand and all the women went out after her with tambourines. Some of your translations instead of tambourine may have the word timbrel. Do some of you see that in your Bible—the timbrel, the tambourine? It’s the same thing.
It’s a small hand drum, essentially what we think of as a tambourine today. But it would have had a parchment stretched over a wooden hoop and then small pieces of brass or tin that were attached to make a jingling noise. So you hold it in one hand and then hit it with the other hand. It’s a small percussion instrument, a small hand drum but also makes this jingling noise.
It was usually played by women, and it was usually an accompaniment to singing and dancing. In the Old Testament when the tambourine is referred to, or the timbrel, it’s always associated with joy and gladness. It’s an instrument of celebration.
Interestingly, the tambourine was forbidden in the temple, but it was often used at other religious occasions. Feasts and celebrations and triumphal processions, such as the one we just read about with David and Saul and this one at the Red Sea.
There’s something interesting as you put this whole passage together that we’ve been looking at. You see the children of Israel coming out of Egypt and someone just asked me on the break, “Have you ever considered why these women had tambourines with them?” In fact, I have asked myself that very question.
Think about what it was like before the children of Israel as they were coming out of Egypt. In fact, if you go to Exodus chapter 12—just back up a few chapters—look at verse 33 of Exodus chapter 12. It says, “The Egyptians were urgent with the people to send them out of the land in haste. For they said, ‘We shall all be dead.’”
So the Egyptians said, “Get out of here! Fast!” Verse 34: “So the people took their dough [this is the Israelites] before it was leavened, their kneading bowls being bound up in their cloaks on their shoulders.” They didn’t even have time for the bread to rise.
So you see that Israel left in a huge hurry in the middle of the night, didn’t even have time for the bread to rise. Is it amazing to you, as it is to me, that the women took time to pack their tambourines? I think it’s astonishing. I read one commentator that put it very succinctly. Miriam expected to use her tambourine.
There was death everywhere in Egypt that night. There was haste. They didn’t know. Again, they hadn’t read the book of Exodus. They didn’t know all that was happening. You think of two million people—you just think of trying to getting your family packed to go on vacation. Then you think about two million people going on—well, it’s not quite a vacation—but exiting the country in a hurry. Yet somehow Miriam apparently expected that the day would come when there would be a hymn sing and she would need to use that tambourine.
You know what that says to me? Be sure to bring your tambourine. Be sure to bring your timbrel. On your journey, your faith journey, your spiritual journey. Though at the moment there may not seem to be any cause for singing or rejoicing or hymn singing or tambourine playing, by faith you know that the time will come when you’ll be able to use that tambourine.
I’m not just talking about literally. I’m honestly not coordinated enough probably to play the tambourine. I don’t have much rhythm in my system, but figuratively speaking if nothing else, know that the time will come when you will be able to lift up praise to the Lord and have every opportunity and occasion to praise Him.
So it says Miriam took a tambourine in her hand and all the women went out after her with tambourines and dancing. As somebody else asked me before we got into this session, “Are you going to talk about dancing?” I said I actually would like to talk a lot more about it and wish I had time to do more study on this, but I’m just going to say a little bit about it at this moment.
In this passage we see that Miriam begins what became an Israelite tradition of celebrating God’s victories through dance. Now there were other means of celebrating those victories but it brings to mind the passage that says let “all that is within me bless His holy name!” (Psalm 103:1).
An Israelite worship dance was often used to reenact the battles that God had fought for them. It’s interesting as you look at some more pagan cultures, you’ll sometimes see and you’ve heard described these war dances that are done before the battle as people are hoping for a victory, trying to work up a victory.
You don’t see the Israelites dancing before the battle. You see them dancing after God has won the battle to reenact what it was like when God sent that victory. I think that this kind of dancing was a way of remembering God’s deliverance. It’s kind of mime—pantomime—just showing what it was like.
You can imagine that some of them maybe were Pharaoh and his army chasing down the Israelites and some were the Israelites. They reenacted the scene as a way of future days and months and years to remind themselves of what God had done and how He had delivered them, but also as a means of teaching their children what God had done and passing their faith on to the next generation.
So I see it as a spontaneous, joyful dance, but I also see it as being an intentional means of capturing our faith. Remember they didn’t have the written Word of God. They had to have oral and verbal and visible means of capturing these faith experiences and remembering them and passing them on to the next generation.
I want to point out three things about the praise that took place in this hymn sing. First, that it was corporate. Secondly, that it was celebrative. Third, that it was Christ-centered praise. Let’s just take a few moments to look at each of those.
First of all this was corporate praise. We’ve seen a progression here of how the Israelites got to the Red Sea and they were faced with this hopeless challenge of the Red Sea in front of them, mountains on either side, the Egyptians breathing down their necks behind them. They were hemmed in.
So they were panicked. They were terrified. Out of their panic they prayed. They cried out to the Lord. So panic turned to prayer. God heard their prayers. God delivered them and prayer turned to praise. Isn’t that often the way the progression is in our lives?
Panic. Then you remember, “Oh, yeah, God’s in Heaven. He’s on His throne. Maybe He can do something about this. We don’t know what to do. We have no hope. But Lord, our eyes are upon You.” Isn’t it true that often it’s the panic places that press us to our knees to pray? But remember prayer will turn to praise as we see the deliverance of the Lord.
So in these verses we see that Moses and the people sang this song of praise to the Lord and that Miriam led the way with her tambourine. But all the women went out after her with tambourines and dancing. This is a corporate worship experience. This is not a private worship experience. This is two million liberated Jews rejoicing together in what God has done.
I see here when it comes to this matter of worship the power of example. The power of Moses’ example. He influenced the children of Israel and Miriam to praise the Lord. And the power of Miriam’s example as she began to celebrate and to praise the Lord the other women joined in with her.
It reminds me that as you and I lead out in a lifestyle of praise even in difficult or desperate circumstances and certainly at times when we need to be celebrating God’s victories and His triumphs, as we lead out, as we lead the way in praising, others will follow. They will come after us.
Now, if we are slow to praise or if we’re quick to whine, others will follow us in that example also. But I want to be a woman who’s life motivates others to worship the Lord. As Miriam picked up her instrument, then the other women picked up their instruments. Others will join in with you in singing the song of redemption and in playing their instruments of praise as you join in.
Sometimes we wait for others to start the celebration. There may be a time when nobody else is celebrating, but we say, “You know what, though everything is going wrong or though nobody else is celebrating, I’m going to be the first. I will lead out.” Especially as we minister to other women, encouraging one another to remember the promises of God, to celebrate His goodness and His faithfulness in music, in speech and in every way possible.
It’s interesting that Moses and Miriam’s songs are very similar but there is a slight difference. Moses says in verse 1, “I will sing to the LORD.” There’s the singular there. The verb there is singular. When Miriam picks up the chorus in verse 21 she says, “Sing to the LORD,” and it’s a plural word that means all of you sing. All of us sing. So Moses starts the chorus, “I will sing to the LORD.” Miriam picks up with the chorus, “Sing [imperative] all of you, sing to the LORD.”
Graham Kendrick is a worship leader in the United Kingdom, and he points out that in all the songs in the book of Revelation, of which there are many songs in that book, not one of them is a solo. It’s corporate praise. It’s corporate worship. There are 24 elders who sing hymns and cast crowns before His feet. There are myriads of angels. Thousands and thousands of angels.
Every living creature in heaven, in earth and under the earth and all that is in them join together in singing to the Lamb. Those who overcome the beast, multitudes of people and multitudes of angels. People from every tribe, every language, every nation. What do they do? They join together corporately to praise the Lamb.
So it was corporate praise that took place there on the other side of the Red Sea. It was celebrative praise in the second place. Celebrative praise. There are times for singing somber songs. There are times for singing laments, dirges. You have examples of laments in the Scripture, including many in the Psalms. But this was a time not for dirges, not for laments, but for a song of celebration. This is passionate, joyful, exuberant, celebrative music.
The reason is the occasion. The whole event surrounding the exodus, the Passover, the coming out of Egypt, the coming through the Red Sea is a picture and the foundation of the redemption story, and that’s something worth celebrating. You read about this over and over again in the Scripture. You read about it in the Psalms.
Psalm 66 is an illustration. I won’t read the whole thing but it starts by saying,
Shout for joy to God, all the earth; sing the glory of his name; give to him glorious praise! Say to God, “How awesome are your deeds! So great is your power that your enemies come cringing to you. All the earth worships you and sings praises to you (Psalm 66:1-4).
“Come and see what God has done; he is awesome in his deeds toward the children of man. He turned the sea into dry land; they passed through the river on foot. There did we rejoice in him, who rules by his might forever” (Psalm 66:1-6).
It goes on to talk in that Psalm about how God overcame the enemy and set His people free. That is something worth singing about. How much more we who have been redeemed from sin and Satan and from bondage to ourselves, how much more occasion do we have to sing and to celebrate the goodness of God?
We need to remember to celebrate God’s miraculous intervention in our lives in the big things and in the little things. His everyday deliverances. His major deliverances.
I look back now on just about 50 years of life and, oh, do I have stories. And you have stories. You need to remember those stories and tell about them and sing about them and praise the Lord for them and not forget them. I don’t ever want to get over the wonder of God’s saving grace, of His redemptive acts.
Then we celebrate because sometimes God takes us through difficult places. He doesn’t exempt us from Red Sea experiences, from coming right up to the tippy-toe edge and not knowing how we’re going to get through or how we’re going to survive and then watching Him part the waters. He doesn’t take us around them. He doesn’t help us avoid them. He takes us through those places and preserves us in the midst of them.
That’s what Psalm 66 says.
Bless our God . . . who has kept our soul among the living and has not let our feet slip. For You, O God, have tested us; you have tried us as silver is tried. You brought us into the net; you laid a crushing burden on our backs; you let men ride over our heads; we went through fire and through water; yet you have brought us out to a place of abundance” (Psalm 66:8-12).
That’s what we celebrate. We celebrate that the victory is the Lord’s, His divine intervention. We celebrate in a sense the judgment of God on all forces of evil and the final judgment of God and the safe passage of His people to the other side. We celebrate that day yet to come when we’ll be free from all enemies, sin and Satan and self.
Finally, our praise is Christ-centered—centered on Christ. Now the Jews didn’t know Christ in the way that we have come to know and love Him. So much of what happened in the Old Testament was meant to point us to Christ. In verse 2 as you read the song of Moses, he says. “The LORD is my strength and my song, and He has become my salvation; this is my God, and I will praise him.”
That word salvation is the Hebrew word Yeshua, the Hebrew name for Jesus. It means salvation. Literally that passage says, “Yeshua, He is my God.” They were proclaiming that Jesus was their God. They had to do it with eyes of faith because Jesus had not yet come. But anticipating the coming of God’s promised Redeemer, they centered their praise in Christ my God.
There’s an old confession of faith called the Belgic confession written in 1561 that describes baptism. It says, “We are saved not by the physical water but by the sprinkling of the precious blood of the Son of God, who is our Red Sea, through which we must pass to escape the tyranny of Pharaoh, who is the devil, and to enter the spiritual land of Canaan.” That’s a beautiful picture and in that sense we celebrate our own Red Sea, that is our baptism into Christ and our life with Him.
So our praise is to be corporate. We are to sing and praise together. By the way, that’s one reason that watching television on Sunday morning of even great preachers is not the same as church. You can hear a lot of great messages on the Internet and radio and television, but there’s something about the people of God coming together physically, corporately to bless the Lord, to praise Him, corporately, celebratively, and in Christ-centered worship.
Used with Permission. Revive Our Hearts.