We continue to consider RVL’s lessons on how to think as the First Century Jews thought, that is, with an Eastern point of view. (“RVL” is what his students call Ray Vander Laan and how he often refers to himself.)
To think Eastern, it’s critical that you first see the picture before you try to draw the lesson. Don’t jump quickly to conclusions. Rather, study the story at length. What happened? Why did it happen?
Consider the Exodus. God told the Israelites to prepare to leave Egypt. They were not wealthy and certainly wouldn’t have had the ability to carry many of their possessions with them. They fled Egypt and were soon pursued by the Egyptian army on chariots. The crossed the Red Sea and watched as God destroyed the Egyptian forces
Now, put yourself in the place of an Israelite woman told to pack for the journey. She likely had several children and not a single pack animal. They weren’t a wealthy people. They could only carry what they could strap on their backs or perhaps drag in a litter. The priorities would be clothing and food and whatever was needed for the children.
After they crossed the Red Sea and saw God’s destruction of the Egyptian army —
(Exo 15:20-21) Then Miriam the prophetess, Aaron’s sister, took a tambourine in her hand, and all the women followed her, with tambourines and dancing. 21 Miriam sang to them: “Sing to the LORD, for he is highly exalted. The horse and its rider he has hurled into the sea.”
Now, in my Sunday school classes growing up, we skipped this. After all, the story involves instrumental music, dancing, and a woman in charge! And in skipping it, we missed a life-changing point.
As we sat in RVL’s class, my wife — the mother of four and the person in charge when it’s time for us to pack — asked, “Where did they get the tambourines?” And that’s what RVL asked the class. If you were packing to walk from the Land of Goshen to Palestine, taking only what you could carry, would you pack tambourines? We Westerners wouldn’t.
But Miriam and the other women did. Why? Well, there’s only one possible explanation. They packed tambourines because God was with them, and there’d surely be a need to celebrate! They packed anticipating the need to exalt God on the way. How else could they make it to the Promised Land?
(Psa 149:1-5) Praise the LORD.
Sing to the LORD a new song, his praise in the assembly of the saints.
2 Let Israel rejoice in their Maker; let the people of Zion be glad in their King.
3 Let them praise his name with dancing and make music to him with tambourine and harp.
4 For the LORD takes delight in his people; he crowns the humble with salvation.
5 Let the saints rejoice in this honor and sing for joy on their beds.
Prepare to have a reason to celebrate. When RVL’s granddaughter was in the hospital preparing for a risky heart surgery, she called RVL as he was getting ready to come be with her and told him, “Don’t forget the tambourines!”
We Westerners read about the song of Miriam and look for a doctrine, a rule that we can get right on the Great True-False Test in the Sky. Easterners see the story as an example of how to live before God.
When God gives a victory, celebrate with your whole being. Dance before God! And be ready for it to happen. You never know when you might need a tambourine.
Church of Christ application.
Well, yes, there’s an application regarding instrumental music. But the bigger application is about how to view our relationship with God. It’s not about faithfully doing everything according to the rules. It’s about letting God be real in our lives — individually and as a faith community — so real that celebration is expected.
Rather than sniffing that church isn’t about entertainment and applause, we should exult in what God is doing for us every day. (And have tambourines handy, because we’re going to need them)