McDowell Technical Community College

Marlene’s Meditations

Pack Your Timbrel!

By Marlene Houk

Burke County

When my daughter became an elementary music teacher, I entered a new world of unknown musical instruments. What a delight to discover the cabasa (See November 2018 article.) the kalimba, the uilleann pipes, steel drums, glockenspiels, bamboo qeej, (a Hmong Instrument), the udu (an idiophone from Nigeria), and on the list goes. God, our Creator, has designed us to pursue, enjoy, and praise Him with music. In addition, when we sing Bible verses, rote memorization is reinforced by utilizing a different part of the brain.

“Music stimulates all brain regions that are considered the core of emotional processing.” says Dr. Jon Lieff, (a pioneer in geriatric psychiatry, and a specialist in the interface of psychiatry, neurology, and medicine). These areas include the Amygdala, Nucleus Accumbens (NA), and the Hippocampus along with critical regions of the cortex. According to Dr. Lieff, in the Amygdala, happy music encourages goal-directed behavior. The Nucleus Accumbens enables us to feel the pleasure of music, but it is also connected to many other critical regions of the brain. One of these is the auditory cortex that is related to hearing. Music helps the Hippocampus to recover from stress. Dr. Lieff states, “The power of music is intricately related to the earliest survival activity. This can be seen in music’s great importance for cohesion in all societies.” 

The God who created music constrained Miriam, the older sister of Moses, to praise God using music with her timbrel. When the Egyptians viciously pursued the helpless Israelites through the dry path of the Red Sea that God had made, He allowed the Israelites to pass through safely but drowned every Egyptian soldier. This stunning victory and legendary triumph caused Moses to respond with a song of praise. Then, Miriam repeats the “chorus” of his song, grabbing her timbrel and leading a group of fiercely jubilant Israelite women with their timbrels.

Exodus 15:20-21 And Miriam the prophetess, the sister of Aaron, took a timbrel in her hand; and all the women went out after her with timbrels and with dances. And Miriam answered them, Sing ye to the Lord, for he hath triumphed gloriously; the horse and his rider hath he thrown into the sea.

Miriam intuitively and spiritually responded to her people’s joy at the amazing miracle of their survival that God had orchestrated. Her joy knew no bounds. The timbrel is a non-pitched percussion instrument that encourages rhythm with its high happy sound and silvery joyful notes. Did she know what Dr. Lieff did? Whether she did or not, she responded to her heart’s desire to praise the God of Abraham for delivering them from certain death. The following is a list of Dr. Leiff’s findings on joyful corporate music and in italics is the spiritual analogy.

  • Music releases dopamine, a chemical that enables movement. Happy music is

being used currently for Parkinson’s patients to help them move.

Music empowered the Israelites to move toward the land that God had promised them.

  • Music enables a group of people to be cohesive and unified, bonding them with resulting feelings of love and joy. It encourages people to trust and cooperate as well as to interact with each other.

Music helped the Israelites to work together to provide, protect, and nurture the approximately 2.4 million Israelite nation.

  • Music can decrease tension and conflicts and increase empathy because of shared experiences.

With many opportunities for the devil to increase bickering and hostilities, music provided a simple solution to reduce his influence in daily life.

  • Music fulfills people’s need to belong.

Music assisted the newly liberated people to define themselves and provide a sense of identity for individuals.

  • Musical activities are critical for survival of the community, encouraging hearing and commitment.

The pleasurable result of music actually contributed to the survival of the Israelites.

  • Music helps to replace the brain cells destroyed by stress, and these new brain cells are connected with attachment and tender feelings. Music can decrease stress by decreasing cortisol in the HPA system. 


In the stresses of traveling through enemy territory, fighting the daily challenges for food and shelter, and fear of tomorrow, music enabled the Israelites to renew their physical brains to make these life and death struggles easier.

  • Music helps us to realize we are part of something bigger.

God was forming a nation in preparation for the Savior of the world. Music helped them to realize God’s plan for the Israelites.


The timbrel (or tambourine-the western equivalent) is made from many different types of wood, plastic, metal, or other materials. There are many different sizes, and it can be made with a covering over the circle, using it as a drum. The sounds are mysterious, happy, joyful, exciting and exultant. Children and adults are both drawn to this simple instrument popular since ancient times.


Miriam is teaching us to include praiseworthy music in our lives as a simple pleasurable way to obey our LORD, renew our physical strength, and become powerful men and women of faith for His glory! God tells us to praise Him and then makes it easy and enjoyable.

So, as Beth Moore, internationally known Bible study leader says, pack your timbrel! Because now we know, music is powerful, and praising the LORD with music is absolutely critical to the Christian life.