Whenever I travel, I love to bring back meaningful mementos to remind myself of the place I visited. Israel was no different. When I visited the Jewish Quarter, I found a unique shop called The Rina Store. They had jewelry and paintings, but what made this store different were their beautiful hand-painted tambourines. I now have a small one on my mantle, with a multi-colored tree of life on its face.
I began to wonder about the significance of the tambourine in the Bible. Why would an artist choose to use them as a canvas? Here’s what I found:
After God parted the Red Sea and Moses led the Israelites to safety, Miriam joyously played the tambourine. “Then Miriam the prophet, Aaron’s sister, took a tambourine and led all the women as they played their tambourines and danced. And Miriam sang this song: ‘Sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously; he has hurled both horse and rider into the sea.’”
Another word for tambourine in the Bible is timbrel and you find it interchanged with tambourine in the Old Testament.
“Praise Him with timbrel and dancing; Praise Him with stringed instruments and pipe” (Psalm 150:4).
There are other tambourine sightings:
After Saul is anointed king by the prophet Samuel: “Afterward you will come to the hill of God where the Philistine garrison is; and it shall be as soon as you have come there to the city, that you will meet a group of prophets coming down from the high place with harp, tambourine, flute, and a lyre before them, and they will be prophesying” (1 Samuel 10:5).
When King David worshipped: “Meanwhile, David and all the house of Israel were celebrating before the Lord with all kinds of instruments made of fir wood, and with lyres, harps, tambourines, castanets and cymbals” (1 Chronicles 13:8).
It’s also used in a negative light by the prophet Isaiah: “Their banquets are accompanied by lyre and harp, by tambourine and flute, and by wine; But they do not pay attention to the deeds of the Lord, Nor do they consider the work of His hands” (Isaiah 5:12).
I realized I had taken the tambourine for granted even though it has been around for thousands of years! Composers used it in operas in the 18th century and it continued to be used in musical works in the 19th century. (https://timbrelpraise.org/background/history-of-the-tambourine/)
The tambourine was an important instrument played in worship, one that anyone can pick up and shake in praise. We non-musicians have no excuse. While I don’t think I will put my painted tambourine to use, I am thinking about buying a regular tambourine from the music store for personal worship. It apparently makes a joyous noise that God appreciates—when played with the right heart.