The Israelites have been in captivity for more than 400 years. They’ve been enslaved for generations. All their ancestors who originally came to Egypt have been dead for hundreds of years.
So, picture the scene. The people of Israel are on the far shore of the Red Sea. They have just watched as God wiped out Pharaoh and his army. Now they’re celebrating. They’re singing and dancing.
Let me make sure we’re together. These people have been in slavery for generation upon generation. They have never known anything except slavery. Their parents, grandparents, great-grandparents – all the way back for a few centuries – have all been owned by their masters. They were mere chattel. Hard physical labor has been their lot for their entire lives. It was a grueling and depressing existence.
Yet, they still knew how to dance. And – this is the part that really struck me – they had tambourines (Exodus 15:20). What possible use was a tambourine for a slave? A tambourine is a happy, lively, rejoicing instrument. It’s not the sound you’d want in a funeral dirge, right?
Were there Israelites who kept those instruments – and perhaps even used them from time to time – because they chose to rejoice in God in the midst of their difficulties?
During the late 1700s and into the 1800s, field slaves in the South were sometimes allowed to sing songs during their outdoor work. This could help coordinate their efforts for, say, hauling a fallen tree or moving a heavy load. But some “drivers” also allowed slaves to sing “quiet” songs, as long as the songs were not apparently against slaveholders. Such songs could be sung either independently or with an entire group.
Awhile back, I happened across a website that lists the lyrics of numerous songs sung by those slaves. The majority of those songs were about God or about heaven. Even in the midst of their backbreaking work, those slaves chose to focus on God. Perhaps that’s what the Israelite tambourine owners did.
Maybe that’s what we should do, too.