The Story: The Passover, Part 2 (Don’t Forget the Tambourines)

You would think that the Song of Moses, famously led by Miriam — legendary leader among Christian feminists — that someone — someone — would have set the words to music. I mean, it’s a very famous song. And this is the only one I could find —

Really. There are lots of songs based on the sequel, found in the Revelation, “The Song of Moses and Lamb,” which has countless Christian variations (some really quite good).

But apparently Miriam’s decision to lead the chorus — with a tambourine no less — has cost her dearly among modern composers.

(Exo 15:20-21 ESV) 20 Then Miriam the prophetess, the sister of Aaron, took a tambourine in her hand, and all the women went out after her with tambourines and dancing.  21 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.”

Okay. I did find this one —

— so there remains opportunity here for some composer to make his mark. Obviously, the musical potential here has not been exhausted.

But there’s a point to this, of course. The Revelation promises —

(Rev 15:2-5 ESV)  2 And I saw what appeared to be a sea of glass mingled with fire — and also those who had conquered the beast and its image and the number of its name, standing beside the sea of glass with harps of God in their hands.  3 And they sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying, “Great and amazing are your deeds, O Lord God the Almighty! Just and true are your ways, O King of the nations!  4 Who will not fear, O Lord, and glorify your name? For you alone are holy. All nations will come and worship you, for your righteous acts have been revealed.”  5 After this I looked, and the sanctuary of the tent of witness in heaven was opened … .

The Exodus permeates the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation. Even as God is showing John a vision of heaven itself, God refers back to the Exodus to find something that adequately conveys what heaven will be like. It’s not just the Song of the Lamb. It’s the Song of Moses and the Lamb.

You see, the Song of Moses is a song of victory, of celebration, of redemption, and of escape. And we’ll one day cross our own Red Sea and celebrate that we have escaped God’s destruction to enter his Promised Land.

There is key point here made by Ray Vander Laan. God told the Israelites to prepare to leave Egypt. They were slaves and so, obviously, 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 Ray Vander Laan’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 Ray 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 Ray’s granddaughter was in the hospital preparing for a risky heart surgery, she called him 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 if we’d just be willing to use them, we’ll need them.)

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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7 Responses to The Story: The Passover, Part 2 (Don’t Forget the Tambourines)

  1. John says:

    And what was it that Miriam celebrated? She sang of God triumphing over horse and rider, horse and rider being thrown into the sea. And what do the horse and rider represent? POWER; political power, military power, religious power. Unless we see the victory of God day by day, minute by minute over these powers, our celebration will simple be the shallow excitement of an hour or two on Sunday; and maybe Wednesday, depending on ones definition of “faithfulness”.

  2. James Wright says:

    (The following story is my own recollection of hearing Jack Hayford tell of this incident in his life. I could not find it again on the internet. It may not be exactly as he said it, but conveys the message he was sharing.)
    Jack Hayford of Jack Hayford Ministries tells of a time in his life when he went to Africa on a mission trip. The village he was in had a little hut for a church and as they gathered for worship on a Sunday morning, they began to sing joyfully. Then they began to dance a simple little dance. Jack thought this to be sacrilegious from his fellowship’s doctrinal beliefs and wanted to stop them. Later, back in the United Stated, he was preparing a sermon for the next Sunday and was deep in his study, when a voice came to him-“Will you dance for me?” The voice came again-“Will you dance for me?” Jack said in his mind he thought-“We don’t dance. I don’t even know how to dance.” The voice came back-“you know that little dance in Africa.” Jack said he knew the voice was from God and he had to decide whether to, in the privacy of his study, all alone, to dance before God. He decide to do it and danced that simple little dance he had seen in Africa and, as he danced, he fell to his knees weeping a broken man in his spirit. His relationship with God was never the same again as he humbled himself before God and gave up his preconceived ideas about what is sacred and what isn’t.

  3. Jay Guin says:


    Thanks for that story! It made my day.

  4. Scott Raab says:

    While I can understand and agree with the point of being willing and able to trust God in what he says is going to happen, I have a big problem with the backwards contextualizing here (using our context to understand what was happening instead of understanding the original context and applying it to us).
    Am I incorrect in remembering that the Israelites were not only told to go to their neighbors and collect all sorts of goods, but that they also did this? (see Ex. 12:35-36 – in verse 38 they even have enormous herds of cattle!) They were loaded! When they get to Sinai they rip out the gold rings in their ears, take them from their arms etc and melt them all down to make a calf.
    And in order to make the statement that this was the one possible explanation for where the tambourines came from, we must assume that it was normal to praise God with tambourine. The other possible explanations are: 1. It was common for Egyptians to have tambourines and this was one of the things they got when they ‘robbed’ the Egyptians, 2. Tambourines were a common part of life in Egypt, perhaps including their worship – which would explain why they did this in this instance. Was this worship of YHWH or of the Egyptian gods? (see where the goddesses of Bast used this. Later in Canaan the tambourine is also a common way of worshipping idols). Did they bring them along because they were important?
    Again, trusting God enough to even plan for the outcome that we cannot see is a good thing. I don’t think Miriam is that great of an example in this in her life (see Numbers 12 and Miriam’s challenge of Moses’ authority). It is Moses who first sings this song, leading the Israelites (Ex. 15:1ff). It is Miriam and the ladies who follow with their tambourines.

  5. mark says:

    Sometimes the best example from which to learn is not the one who is the most holy, most obedient, or most faithful. The Creator of humans knows what human nature is.

  6. Jay Guin says:


    Thanks for your thoughtful comment. I need to make a couple of points in response, I think —

    First, compare —

    (Exo 12:35 ESV) The people of Israel had also done as Moses told them, for they had asked the Egyptians for silver and gold jewelry and for clothing.

    (Exo 12:35 KJV) And the children of Israel did according to the word of Moses; and they borrowed of the Egyptians jewels of silver, and jewels of gold, and raiment:

    “Borrowed” in the KJV in a bad translation. “Borrow” is a possible meaning but not the first and certainly not required by context. There’s no reason to assume that the Israelites received their gifts from the Egyptians under false pretenses.

    Second, I would certainly agree with —

    (Exo 12:38 ESV) 38 A mixed multitude also went up with them, and very much livestock, both flocks and herds.

    Nonetheless, they appear to have had only had only the one night to pack and leave.

    (Exo 12:33-34 ESV) 33 The Egyptians were urgent with the people to send them out of the land in haste. For they said, “We shall all be dead.” 34 So the people took their dough before it was leavened, their kneading bowls being bound up in their cloaks on their shoulders.

    33-34 would suggest they left the very next day after the Passover. It doesn’t take long for raw bread dough to rise. In fact, it appears that the dough had just been made, as it didn’t rise for another 7 days —

    According to Keil and Delitzsch —

    This urgency of the Egyptians compelled the Israelites to take the dough, which they were probably about to bake for their journey, before it was leavened, and also their kneading-troughs bound up in their clothes (cloths) upon their shoulders. שִׂמְלָה, ἱμάτιον, was a large square piece of stuff or cloth, worn above the under-clothes, and could be easily used for tying up different things together. The Israelites had intended to leaven the dough, therefore, as the command to eat unleavened bread for seven days had not been given to them yet. But under the pressure of necessity they were obliged to content themselves with unleavened bread, or, as it is called in Deut. 16:3, “the bread of affliction,” during the first days of their journey. But as the troubles connected with their departure from Egypt were merely the introduction to the new life of liberty and grace, so according to the counsel of God the bread of affliction was to become a holy food to Israel; the days of their exodus being exalted by the Lord into a seven days’ feast, in which the people of Jehovah were to commemorate to all ages their deliverance from the oppression of Egypt. The long-continued eating of unleavened bread, on account of the pressure of circumstances, formed the historical preparation for the seven days’ feast of Mazzoth, which was instituted afterwards. Hence this circumstance is mentioned both here and in v. 39. On vv. 35 and 36, see Ex. 3:21, 22.

    Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsch, Commentary on the Old Testament, vol. 1 (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1996), 336.

    And the fact that the women carried their dough on their shoulders suggests that the flocks and herds weren’t pack animals. (Who would carry baking dough on their shoulders when there was an ox to carry it? This was evidently dough for a journey of several days for the entire family.)

    The fact that they had jewelry hardly means that they had means of carrying large amounts of luggage. They surely wore the jewelry — and the value of taking the jewelry along would be obvious to anyone — either as wealth, as something to trade for barter, or just because pretty much all women like jewelry — not to mention that God had instructed them to ask for it.

    But you can’t wear a tambourine. You have to stow it in the luggage — a back pack, a litter, or the like.

    Third, it’s not fair to Miriam to condemn her for her mistake in Num 12 and to then ignore such passages as —

    (Num 12:2 ESV) 2 And they said, “Has the LORD indeed spoken only through Moses? Has he not spoken through us also?” And the LORD heard it.

    (Exo 15:20 ESV) Then Miriam the prophetess, the sister of Aaron, took a tambourine in her hand, and all the women went out after her with tambourines and dancing.
    (Exo 15:21 ESV) 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.”

    (Mic 6:4 ESV) or I brought you up from the land of Egypt and redeemed you from the house of slavery, and I sent before you Moses, Aaron, and Miriam.

    Miriam led the women in song, not Moses. The text is clear.

    God spoke through her, the text says. She was a “prophetess.” Did God choose her in error?

    She led Israel, along with Moses and Aaron. That is some seriously high praise. Indeed, in Micah, it’s God taking credit for the blessing he provided Israel through Miriam.

    Finally, were tambourines used in idolatrous worship? Of course. Might they have been given tambourines by the Egyptians? Quite possibly. It doesn’t say so. Only “silver and gold jewelry and … clothing” are mentioned (and this list appears repeatedly in the text).

    Therefore, it seems most likely that the tambourines were owned by the Israelites. I’m sure there was nothing inherently idolatrous in their use, or else God would have surely shown his displeasure. Clearly, Moses (the author) approved the use of tambourines in the worship of God and the singing by the women.

    In short, I don’t think that many of us, in the same setting, would have packed tambourines. We would have had other priorities in the very limited time involved. The likely reason they were packed was to worship God — in an obviously celebratory manner.

  7. Scott Raab says:

    Jay – I had linked to this so that I would see any responses, but I must have done something wrong, so have come back to check and now find your response. Thank you for taking the time to respond (did I see correctly that you are going in for surgery?).

    My use of the word ‘robbed’ in response to the things the Isreailites got from the Egyptians, it is because this is the translation in Ex. 12:36. In the American standard it says ‘despoiled’, in the KJV ‘spoiled’. All of the Dutch translations use the word ‘robbed’. This doesn’t mean they did anything criminal or under false pretense – my emphasis was on how they were able to take so many valuable things from the Egyptians.

    That the dough was carried on their shoulders says nothing about how they carried everything else. I find it just as simple to assume that the animals were used than to think they were not used. The amount of goods that were to be carried would mean that all could not be carried on the women’s (or men’s) backs. Could there be a reason for carrying the dough, specifically, that has been overlooked? Could it be that the dough, since it has not yet risen, needs to be kept away from the dust and flies of the cattle and would therefore be cared for differently? The questions (with an assumed answer): ‘Who would carry bread on their shoulders when there was an animal to carry it?’ is a good question. Simply asking the question does not give the answer. And I don’t see why the answer is obvious.

    While I understand the urgency of this situation, is it also not so that God had already mentioned that the bread must be unleavened? Ex. 12:15 already explains that from the first day there should be no leaven in the house – the bread was to be unleavened. Or am I reading this incorrectly?

    You can’t wear a tambourine? Are you specifically picturing a round drum-like instrument with little bells on it? If one can ‘wear’ a bread trough with dough in it, why could one not wear a tambourine? Mind you, I am not saying that they had to wear it. I believe that it is more than likely (based on what we see in the text and the history of peoples in that time) that they packed plenty of these things. But, it is not impossible that they wore the tambourine. As in the link that I sent, tambourines were of all sorts and sizes and were commonly used for worship.

    Which brings me to the idea of how and why these tambourines might have been brought and used. Again, I am simply pointing out that we cannot simply assume something is so because of how we, in our time, would do it. We have to look at the context of the time in which it was written.

    That Miriam was is called a prophetess is clear. It is not always clear in what manner she was a prophetess. Micah is the only text that speaks of her in this ‘leading’ way. The ohter texts are all warning texts. The text in Num. 12 especially. What I see in that text (correct me if you think I am incorrect) is not that God ‘heard’ Aaron and Miriam and agreed with them, but that he heard them saying these things and immediately (v. 4) took action to correct them (v. 8 and 12). God was angry with Aaron and Miriam for speaking this way. He did not agree with them. In Deuteronomy 24:9 she is used as a warning for Israel in how to deal with leprosy (that she receieved because she did not act correctly in relation to Moses).

    The Israelites did many things in Egypt which God did not approve of. It is clear from their worhsip when Moses is away on the mountain that they were not only familiar with the practices of the Egyptian religions, but took part in them as well. Moses returns to the people dancing. This is ‘revelry’, not worship, and is mentioned in 1 Corinthians 10:6 as something we should not do. Where were the tambourines at this point? Aaron had lead the people in this worship. Was Miriam there as well, with her women?

    I am not saying that Miriam was not a prophetess. God has spoken through many people through the ages. I am not saying that what she did was a bad thing. I am also not saying that this shows she was leading everything. Ex. 15:1 says that Moses sang this song with the people. Ex. 15:21 says that Miriam ‘answered’ them or ‘sang to’ them. Could this have been antiphonal singing in which she and the ladies took part (and something which fits the context of the time as well)?

    My point in all of this being that we should not apply OUR context to the context of the section of Bible that we are reading. This CAN lead to incorrect reading or conclusions. Reading into this text that Miriam was a hero of faith in the might of God because she took her tambourine with her stretches the text far past what it actually says. I think there are far better examples which teach us this faith, within context.

    Sorry for the massive missive. Thank you for taking so much time to discuss so many important topics and for listening to various views, including this one. I enjoy being challenged by some of the things you write, which is why I have taken the time (this time) to comment.

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