Remember Miriam Part 8 – Singing with A Whole Heart by Nancy Leigh DeMoss
Nancy Leigh DeMoss: Where are we to praise the Lord? With other believers. With other redeemed saints, those who have been set free. In the assembly of the godly.
We’re to sing to the Lord. We’re not just to watch others sing or listen to others sing in the assembly of the godly. We’re to join in with them in singing to the Lord.
Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss for Friday, August 29.
We’ve been studying the life of a great worshiper of God. If you’ve missed any of our series on Miriam, you can catch up onReviveOurHeartsRadio.com. Today we’ll look at Miriam’s song as Nancy continues the series Remember Miriam.
Nancy: The Lord did not bless me with a great singing voice. Somebody said to me just a little bit ago, “I understand that you have a degree in piano performance. Do you ever play the piano?” I said, “Well, I love to, but I don’t have many opportunities to do it anymore with my schedule.”
Then they asked, “Do you sing?” I said no, and then I said, “Well, I do—to the Lord.” I sing to the Lord, and every one of us is supposed to be doing that.
Two of the great worship experiences of my life have taken place in places you might not expect. One was in a prison, and one was in an inner-city church.
In both cases you have people who have been through a whole lot—they have a whole lot of issues, a whole lot of baggage, a whole lot in their life before Christ—who have come to know Christ.
One was at McPhearson Women’s Prison in Arkansas; the other was at the Brooklyn Tabernacle in Brooklyn, New York, where you’ve heard of the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir.
I love listening to the choir, but I really love listening to the congregation sing. There are so many people in that church, and so many people in McPhearson Women’s Prison, who know what it is not to have a song to sing.
They have stories of their own fallenness and brokenness and disobedience to God; how God rescued them and granted them faith and repentance and has brought them out of the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of light and has given them life. There is just this visceral response to God’s redemption in their lives, and they sing, in both of those places, like they really mean it—nothing ho-hum about their singing!
When I was at the Brooklyn Tabernacle—I’ve actually been there a number of times, and when that congregation sings, it’s like a freight train rumbling through that place. I mean,there’s just this outpouring of God’s grace and mercy and love for Christ and worship for Him that comes out of those people in that congregation.
They have something to sing about, and they know it. They haven’t forgotten what they have to sing about, and it’s the same in the women’s prison. They sing like they really believe what they’re singing. I’ve been touched by those experiences.
I feel a little bit the same way when I come to Exodus chapter 15, the account we’ve been looking at, where Moses and Miriam lead the people of God in singing to the Lord a song of celebration and redemption. In fact, this is the first recorded song in the Bible. It’s the song of those who have been redeemed from bondage.
Remember how Moses and the people of Israel sang this song to the Lord as they came across the Red Sea and looked back on the destroyed Egyptian army, and the fact that the Israelite nation was free. They said, “I will sing to the Lord for He has triumphed gloriously; the horse and its rider He has thrown into the sea” (verse 1). This is speaking, of course, of the Egyptians’ chariots that had drowned in the sea.
Then we have in verse 20 the passage that we have been looking at.
Then Miriam the prophetess 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 its rider He has thrown into the sea” (verses 21-22).
Miriam is the first woman singer that we know about in the Bible; and, as we’ve said earlier, this was a spontaneous, unrehearsed, unrestrained hymn sing—an act of worship, a worship service—that flowed forth from hearts that were in awe of what God had done, hearts that were thrilled to be free after generations of slavery.
As I’m thinking about this, I’m thinking of my dad, Art DeMoss, who’s been with the Lord now for about 30 years. He was a man who did not walk with the Lord, did not know the Lord until he was in his mid-20s. He made a lot of foolish choices. He was a prodigal, the kind of son that mothers cry over and pray for.
Supernaturally, God drew his heart right into a place where the gospel was being preached, gave him repentance and faith, saved him, and transformed his life. It was a dramatic conversion, but my dad had a terrible singing voice. Now, mine isn’t good; his was terrible.
But he didn’t seem to know or care that his voice was terrible, and when it was time to sing in church, he would sing. I mean, he would actually sing, because he never got over the wonder that God had saved him.
So I can still remember him (some of you have heard me tell this) . . . Our family would be parked there on one of the front rows in church. We’d be singing some of those old gospel songs like, “What can wash away my sin? Nothing but the blood of Jesus.” My dad, with this horrible voice, and he would have his hands going—I can just see; I’ve never seen anybody else do it quite this way—banging his hands together and singing (I don’t want to demonstrate it, because people would turn off their radios) “Nothing but the blood of Jesus.”
He didn’t have singing lessons—I don’t think it would have helped—but he sang to the Lord because he was a soul that had been set free and was so thankful.
Matthew Henry, in his commentary on this passage, says, “When we have received special mercy from God, we ought to be quick and speedy in our return of praise to Him.”
God has shown us His mercy. What should flow out naturally are hymns and songs and choruses of praise; and that’s really what worship is.
Worship is our response to God’s revelation of Himself. It’s our response toredemption, to God’s redemptive works. So worship is our celebration of the destruction of our foes and God’s foes, and our celebration of the display of God’s power.
Now, this singing of Moses and the people, then followed by Miriam and the women, may have been what we call an antiphonal chant. If you’ve studied different kinds of music, you know that sometimes you have two parts of the choir in two different parts of the sanctuary perhaps, and the first choir sings one part and then the second choir echoes back or sings in a responsive way.
It may have been that they went back and forth and that the women would echo, would chant back or sing back what the men had just sung; or it may have been just the women singing the chorus at the end of the hymn.
We don’t know exactly how this went, but we know that Miriam’s song was a response to Moses’ song. It was a refrain, so to speak.
The Scripture tells us in verse 21 that Miriam answered them, Miriam and the women, and then sang essentially the same words, or very close to the same words that Moses had sung in his song with the people. I don’t mean to make a huge deal about this, but I think it’s not insignificant that Miriam, in her singing, was supportive of Moses and his leading of the people in their singing.
In fact it’s interesting, in some of the research that I’ve done on this passage, you’ll find those who use this passage to say, “Look, women should be able to be worship leaders in the church,” and they point to Miriam.
What’s interesting to me is that Miriam, far from being an icon of feminist thinking or egalitarian thinking, really is a great illustration of a true woman, because her worship, her leading of the women is in response to the men who have already led out. She’s singing in agreement with; she’s affirming the male leadership of Moses and echoing. She doesn’t just invent her own song.
Now, I’m not saying it’s wrong for women to write their own songs. Don’t take that any further than what the Scripture does. But I just think it’s interesting that even here she is functioning as a responder to the initiative of Moses, the leader of the people of God.
It says in verse 1 that Moses led the people of Israel, but verse 20 tells us—who did Miriam lead? She led the women. She took her tambourine, and the women followed her with their tambourines, and they began to dance. She led the women in a chorus of response.
So Miriam leads the women to respond to and support and affirm Moses as the leader. What she’s saying in effect is, “Amen. Let it be so. I agree.”
I think, as women, we’re not just talking about music here, but just in the course of life,one of our callings as true women is to affirm godly male leadership and to respond, to be a responder.
Does that mean we never start in leading out a song? I’m not going to go there. I’m just saying, there is a beautiful picture here of Moses leading the people and Miriam following his leadership, and then the women following along behind her.
You see the same concept in Judges chapter 5 where Deborah and Barak, after the defeat of the Canaanites, sing a victory song as a duet. Deborah has played a supportive role, a vital role in that battle, but a supportive role.
So the Scripture says Miriam took the tambourine, and all the women went out after her with tambourines and dancing, and Miriam sang to them or answered them, “Sing to the Lord.”
I want to take a few moments to just park on that phrase, “Sing to the Lord.” By the way, let me tell you, somebody said to me just a little bit ago during one of our sessions today, “Boy, I just wish I could learn to study the Word like you do.” I said to her what I will say to you: “There are no shortcuts.”
I sit there in my study for hours and hours and hours, doing the same thing you can do. Now, I have the privilege of having more hours to do that than most of you may be able to do; but I take the passage and I look at the words and I say, “What does this mean? What is this saying?”
I’ll take a passage or phrase like “Sing to the Lord.” You can go to BibleGateway.com(there are other programs where you can do this also, but that’s one I use a lot) on the Internet and put in a phrase like “Sing to the Lord,” and it will in a jiffy give you all the places in Scripture where that phrase occurs. Then you examine those phrases like I’m going to do in the next few moments here.
“Sing to the Lord.” What do we learn about singing to the Lord from various Scriptures that talk about that? By the way, I think there are maybe 14 verses in the Scripture that have that phrase sing to the Lord.
Matthew Henry said, “Singing is as much the language of holy joy as praying is of holy desire.” When you have holy desire, it comes out in prayer. When you have holy joy, it comes out in the language of singing.
Why should we sing to the Lord? And what is the theme and the substance of what we sing to the Lord?
Well, it’s the gospel. It’s “the old, old story of Jesus and His love.” I love to sing the old, old story of His saving work, His triumph over His enemies, His deliverance of His people, and you see this in Miriam’s song and in the song of Moses here in Exodus 15. “Sing to the Lord for He has triumphed gloriously; the horse and its rider He has thrown into the sea.”
Psalm 96:2, says, “Sing to the Lord. Bless His name. Tell of His salvation from day to day.” That’s the theme of our song. The theme of our holy singing is the salvation of the Lord.
There was an Irish poet in the 1800s who paraphrased Miriam’s hymn, and he captures in a beautiful way this picture of the salvation of the Lord. He said,
Sound the loud timbrel o’re Egypt’s dark sea.
Jehovah has triumphed. His people are free.
Sing for the pride of the tyrant is broken.
His chariots and horsemen, all splendid and brave,
how vain was their hastening. The Lord hath but spoken
and chariots and horsemen are sunk in the waves.
Sound the loud timbrel o’re Egypt’s dark sea.
Jehovah has triumphed. His people are free.
-Thomas Moore (1779-1852)
That’s what we sing about. We have different songs and hymns and choruses and psalms that we can use to sing about this, but we’re telling His salvation as we sing.
“I will sing unto the Lord,” Psalm 13 says, “because He has dealt bountifully with me” (verse 6).
Psalm 98, “Oh sing unto the Lord a new song for He has done marvelous things; His right hand and His holy arm have worked salvation for Him” (verse 1).
Jeremiah chapter 20, “Sing to the Lord. Praise the Lord, for He has delivered the life of the needy from the hand of evil doers” (verse 13).
Listen, if you are saved, then you have something to sing about. You have a theme for your worship, a theme for your songs, a theme for your praise as you live a lifestyle of praise.
So that’s what we should sing and what should prompt our singing, but who should sing? Well, a couple of other verses tell us that.
Psalm 96 tells us, “Oh sing unto the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord all the earth” (verse 1). All the earth is supposed to sing to the Lord, and you know what? One day they will. People of every tribe and nation, people who have come out of every conceivable background, people who were lost and in darkness and have come into the glorious light of Christ—all the earth will sing to the Lord.
Isaiah 42, “Sing to the Lord a new song, His praise from the end of the earth, you who go down to the sea, and all that fills it, the coastlands and their inhabitants” (verse 10).
I love going to other parts of the world, as I’ve been able to do over the years. I’ve been in South Korea; I’ve been in Pakistan; I’ve been in Mexico; I’ve been in Romania; I’ve been in the former Soviet Union and many different parts of the world, hearing the people of God singing together of God’s salvation—singing sometimes in words that I can’t understand, but I know what they’re singing about.
They’re singing about Christ. They’re exalting God. They’re singing about His triumphant victory over sin and Satan. So we join as we sing, and wherever you sing in your church this weekend, you join with those of every language and tribe and kindred and people around the world as we sing a song of praise to the Lord.
When should we sing to the Lord? Well, 1 Chronicles says, “Sing to the Lord, tell of His salvation from day to day.” Every day.
In Psalm 104, “I will sing unto the Lord as long as I live. I will sing praise to my God while I have my being” (verse 33).
I’m thinking of my longtime, lifelong friend, Dr. Bill Bright. He went to be with the Lord a number of years ago of pulmonary fibrosis, so his last hours and days he was not able to breathe easily at all. But right up to the very end, as deoxygenated as he was, he was speaking and, when he could, singing the praise of the Lord. He wanted with his dying breath to be praising the Lord.
I think about that when I read that verse. As long as I live . . . while I have being—while I have breath, I will sing praise to the Lord.
How are we to sing to the Lord? Psalm 95 says, “Let us sing to the Lord, let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation” (verse 1). I’m so glad that verse is in the Bible, because when I sing, it is more noise than music.
My mother had a wonderful singing voice. I did not inherit that. I got my dad’s genes when it comes to singing, but I can make a joyful noise to the Lord.
Psalm 147 says, “Sing to the Lord with thanksgiving; make melody to our God on the lyre!”—a stringed instrument (verse 7). So we sing praise to the Lord. We do it with thanksgiving, and we do it with other musical instruments.
Where should we sing to the Lord? Psalm 149 says, “Praise the Lord! Sing to the Lord a new song, His praise in the assembly of the godly!” Where are we to praise the Lord? With other believers, with other redeemed saints—those who have been set free—in the assembly of the godly, you’re to sing to the Lord.
We’re not just to watch others sing or listen to others sing in the assembly of the godly. We’re to join in with them in singing to the Lord.
What are we to sing? Again, “Oh sing to the Lord a new song. Sing to the Lord all the earth.” What is a new song? Well, I think it’s a fresh song. It’s even old songs you’resinging with fresh meaning in your heart.
I love to go back to some of the old songs and sing them as new songs. They’re fresh to me. I’ve had opportunity within the past few days to be singing out of my hymnal to the Lord, and I go back and look at the date. You probably don’t know anybody else who does this, but when I sing hymns in my hymnal, I put the date.
I can go back and see hymns that I sang in 2000 and 2001. When we were startingRevive Our Hearts, there were hymns that were special to me. Now in 2008 there are hymns, some of them, I’m going back and singing again.
They’re not “new” new, but they’re new because I’m singing them fresh to the Lord. They’re songs of His redemption and His fresh mercies and grace in our lives. Those are new songs.
As New Testament believers, we have a special privilege and calling to sing to the Lord. I think about that passage in Ephesians 5—you’re familiar with it. It talks about being filled with the Holy Spirit.
We’re not to be “drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but we are to be filled with the Spirit” (verse 18). Every believer, every child of God, every day, all the time, is to be filled with the Holy Spirit of God. And what will be the expression of that? How will we know if we’re filled with the Holy Spirit?
Ephesians 5 goes on to tell us in verses 19-20: “Speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
How can we know that we’re filled with the Spirit? Are we singing to the Lord? Are we speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, rehearsing the deliverance of the Lord, rehearsing His goodness and faithfulness, singing to one another, singing to the Lord?
I received an email not too long ago after one of our Revive Our Hearts conferences, and it really blessed me. This woman says,
I was blessed to be a part of the ROH conference last weekend. I don’t fully have the words to describe how I was impacted by the weekend. God invited me and designed every aspect of the sessions just for me.
I came knowing that I was hungry, thirsty, tired, and desperate, but I left with fresh strength to seek Him with all of my heart, to surrender fully, to let Him use my brokenness for my good, and, more importantly, for His glory.
Then she said what I thought was just a wonderful PS:
I will be singing with my WHOLE HEART in worship next Sunday—just one of the ways He has used the events of the weekend.
Isn’t that a great picture? She said:
- I was thirsty.
- I was hungry.
- I was needy.
- I was tired.
- I was desperate.
But God invited me; He designed the weekend for me.
- He filled my cup.
- He gave me joy.
- He gave me fresh strength.
- He brought me to a place of fresh surrender.
She met Yeshua Christ—she encountered Him in a fresh way, even as a believer. And what was the outcome? She was filled with the Holy Spirit of God.
How can you know if you’re filled with the Holy Spirit of God? One of the first evidences, she said, “I will be singing with my whole heart in worship next Sunday.”
Can you imagine how the worship in our churches might be different if we were singing and worshiping in spirit and in truth, conscious of what God has done for us and in us through the power of the cross, the power of the gospel, the great news of God’s salvation?
If we really believed it, if we really understood a fraction of it, if we treasured it and cherished it, wouldn’t we be singing with our whole hearts in worship?
I don’t know when the next time may be when you will be in a public worship service—I hope that you are with God’s people each weekend worshiping the Lord—but I hope that when you do, you will be singing to the Lord with a whole heart.
Used with Permission. Revive Our Hearts