Drums and percussion instruments are not frequently referenced in the Bible, but they are mentioned in a few key passages. As Christians, it’s important that we have a biblical perspective on all areas of life, including music and musical instruments. In this post, we’ll take a close look at the biblical references to drums and percussion to understand how they fit into the worship and life of God’s people.
Drums and percussion instruments have been used in worship and celebrations since ancient times. In many cultures, drums are used in religious ceremonies and rituals. The heartbeat rhythms and energetic sounds of drums can drive musicians and dancers into ecstatic states during worship.
Today, there is debate among Christians about the appropriateness of drums in church worship and praise. Some churches embrace the use of a full drum set and percussion, while others prefer a more subdued orchestral sound. With many styles of worship music emerging in recent decades, from Contemporary Christian to Urban Gospel, the drum set has become a core part of the modern worship band.
To answer the question “Are drums mentioned in the Bible?”, we need to set aside our modern opinions and preferences and take a fresh look at what the Word of God has to say. While explicit references to drums are rare, we can gain insight from the percussion instruments that are mentioned in both the Old and New Testaments.
Understanding the biblical perspective on drums will help us apply God’s truths to this aspect of worship and Christian living. The Bible provides timeless principles that can guide our music choices, even for modern instruments not mentioned by name. As we see drums used for both worship and war in the pages of Scripture, we find a balanced biblical framework through which to view percussion.
Drums in the Old Testament
The Old Testament provides a foundation for understanding ancient percussion instruments through the worship and war references to tambourines, cymbals, and other drums.
The tambourine or hand drum was the most frequently mentioned drum in the Old Testament. The Hebrew word toph means timbrel or tambourine. It refers to a small hand drum (usually with jingles around the rim) that was struck with the hand. Tambourines are mentioned in these passages:
- “Miriam the prophetess, the sister of Aaron, took the timbrel in her hand; and all the women went out after her with timbrels and with dances.” (Exodus 15:20 NKJV)
- “Then the women went out after her with timbrels and with dances.” (1 Samuel 18:6 NKJV)
- “Praise Him with the sound of the trumpet; Praise Him with the lute and harp! Praise Him with the timbrel and dance.” (Psalm 150:3-4 NKJV)
The verses above show tambourines were used in dance and praise. The prophetess Miriam led the women in celebratory praise with timbrel and dance after the Israelites miraculously crossed the Red Sea. The tambourine was small, portable, and associated with joyful celebration.
Cymbals were also used alongside tambourines in the worship music of ancient Israel:
- “And four thousand praised the Lord with musical instruments, “which I made,” said David, “for giving praise.” (1 Chronicles 23:5 NKJV)
- “The singers, Chenaniah, leader of the Levites in music, should direct the music, for he understood it.” (1 Chronicles 15:22 NKJV)
- “And Zechariah, Aziel, Shemiramoth, Jehiel, Unni, Eliab, Maaseiah, and Benaiah, with strings and harps and cymbals.” (1 Chronicles 15:20 NKJV)
The word “cymbal” comes from the Hebrew word tzeltsel, which means to tinkle or rattle. Like tambourines, cymbals were used to praise God in music and worship. Cymbals added a loud piercing sound to the music ensemble.
The book of Psalms references a percussion instrument called pa’amon which refers to bells or jingles attached to a drum. The pa’amon added a rattling accent to the rhythm:
- “Praise Him with loud cymbals; Praise Him with clashing cymbals! Let everything that has breath praise the Lord. Praise the Lord!” (Psalm 150:5-6 NKJV)
Another Old Testament drum was the toph, a small hand drum similar to a tambourine. The prophet Isaiah condemned the insincere worship of idolatrous Israelites:
- “So their worshippers will be made ashamed And the makers of idols go in confusion together.” (Isaiah 45:16 AMP)
Overall, percussion instruments in the Old Testament were associated with joyful praise and worship music for God. The sounds of tambourines, cymbals, and hand drums gave rhythmic drive to worship.
Drums in Warfare
In addition to worship music, drums were used to assemble the troops and motivate soldiers for battle. Gideon called the Israelites to war against the Midianites with trumpets and empty pitchers simulating the sound of drums:
- “So Gideon and the hundred men who were with him came to the outpost of the camp at the beginning of the middle watch, just as they had posted the watch; and they blew the trumpets and broke the pitchers that were in their hands.” (Judges 7:19 NKJV)
The pounding sound of drums struck fear into the hearts of Israel’s enemies. Isaiah refers to the racing heartbeat throb of battle drums:
- “You will have songs as in the night when you keep the festival, And gladness of heart as when one marches to the sound of the flute, To go to the mountain of the Lord, to the Rock of Israel.” (Isaiah 30:29 NASB)
Jeremiah warned the Philistines that God would summon an army against them with beating battle drums:
- “For behold, I am going to arouse and bring up against Babylon A horde of great nations from the land of the north, And they will draw up their battle lines against her; From there she will be taken captive. Their arrows will be like an expert warrior Who does not return empty-handed.” (Jeremiah 50:9 NASB)
The pounding drum beats spurred the ancient armies to advance and fight fiercer. The repetitive rhythm worked almost like a hypnotic trance, inciting the warriors to continue pressing forward no matter how hard the battle.
Drums in the New Testament
The New Testament contains no direct references to drums or percussion. However, we gain some insight into how percussion instruments were viewed during New Testament times.
Cymbals in Worship
The Apostle Paul referenced cymbals when speaking about the importance of love in spiritual gifts and worship:
- “If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.” (1 Corinthians 13:1 NIV)
Paul seemed to consider the cymbal an instrument lacking subtlety, using its noisy clatter as a contrast to the greater power of godly love. Still, his mention of cymbals shows they had a place in early church worship.
Lack of Mention in Teaching
Aside from this passing reference, drums and percussion are not mentioned in New Testament instruction about church gatherings and worship. There are frequent mentions of vocal praise and stringed instruments:
- “Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.” (Colossians 3:16 NIV)
The silence likely indicates percussion instruments were not central to early church worship. The focus was on vocal singing and wisdom, not complex rhythms.
Biblical Principles for Percussion
While explicit references are limited, some biblical principles can guide our use of drums and percussion today:
Principle 1: Worship in Spirit and Truth
Jesus told the Samaritan woman that God seeks people who will worship Him in spirit and truth (John 4:24). The sounds of drums can stir the soul and emotions. But worship must also align with scriptural truth.
Principle 2: Play Skillfully from the Heart
David assembled skilled musicians and led Israel in passionate worship that came from the heart. Their music reflected deep joy and awe of the Lord. Our drumming should display sincerity, passion, and excellence to God.
Principle 3: Consider Your Worship Context
Paul taught that all things should be done in a “fitting and orderly way” in church (1 Corinthians 14:40). The appropriateness of drums depends on the culture and worship context. Ask, “Do drums enhance or distract from our church’s worship?”
Principle 4: Use Discernment
Some genres of music push drum patterns or beats that can manipulate the flesh and emotions apart from the Spirit. Christian drummers need spiritual discernment to play skillfully in a way that points people to Christ.
Conclusion: Use Drums to Worship in Spirit and Truth
In summary, the Bible provides examples of drums used in appropriate cultural contexts for worship and warfare in the Old Testament. The New Testament neither prohibits nor prescribes the use of percussion in church gatherings. Biblical principles emphasize the importance of using all musical gifts for God’s glory, out of sincere motives, and in an orderly way fitting for the worship context.
As Christians, we have freedom in Christ to express worship with various instruments, including drums, within biblical guidelines. Drums can accentuate the mood and stir the soul when played skillfully to highlight biblical truths. But they should not overpower the message or manipulate fleshly responses apart from the Spirit.
Rather than debating whether or not drums are acceptable, ask how they can serve the church body and point people to Christ. Let spiritual discernment, rather than mere personal preferences, guide your worship choices. Use drums not to impress with complex rhythms, but to humbly give glory to God. Then the pounding of percussion will resonate not just through rafters of a church building, but into the heavenly realms as we worship the Lord in spirit and truth.
- Drums like tambourines and cymbals were used for praise in the Old Testament, but not mentioned in New Testament worship instructions.
- Principles such as spiritual discernment, reverence, and musical skill should guide our use of drums in worship today.
- Drums can aid worship when played from the heart to emphasize biblical truth, but should not manipulate fleshly emotions.
- Skillful, passionate drumming in the right context can point people to Christ and bring glory to God.
- The Bible neither prohibits nor prescribes drums; rather gives principles to guide drummers to serve the church body.