Miriam, the sister of Moses and Aaron, is the first female prophet named in the Hebrew Scriptures. Storyteller Kelley Nikondeha offers her imaginative interpretation of the scene near the Red Sea from Exodus 14–15:
What a mighty mystery! The waters rose up in translucent walls, fish dangled in upturned currents as Leviathan was effectively cut in two, and Miriam’s kin walked on dry land right through the middle as if they were cutting a new covenant with YHWH. She found herself chanting lines from her mother’s lullabies—The horse and rider will fall into the sea—and the people echoed her back in a voluminous unison: The horse and rider will fall into the sea! She twirled like her younger self: Who is like you, O Lord, among the gods? The throngs in transit responded: No one is like our Lord among the gods! And when the last Hebrew heel lifted off the dried seabed, the towering barriers released like twin tsunamis, sending the Egyptian chariots crashing into the dark sea. Miriam stood by her brothers in shock, in unspoken awe….
Miriam, prophet, stood over the sea aching. A few widows came alongside her, sharing in her lament for the dead. “There will be empty places at their tables now,” she spoke in a plaintive tone. “We know what that does to a heart.” … “I will remember your son always,” Miriam whispered like a prayer and a promise. The prophet, heavy with jewelry and tears, swore she heard God weeping over her shoulder. She turned to the small band of women. “Let’s go down to the shore and mourn the dead, lest our own hearts calcify and become hard like Pharaoh’s.” And so while the Hebrews broke out their unleavened bread in the cool of that first free night, the women wept with God and the angels.
After honoring the compassion welling up within her, Miriam leads her people as they celebrate their liberation:
The night crackled with campfire alchemy, an intoxicating mix of gyrating flames, smoke snaking toward the sky, the pop and hiss of golden sparks. Then the drum line sounded across the camp. Miriam pounded out a cadence unlike any other, unfettered and free. Women reached for their own drums and joined the song. The prophet started singing, harmonies building and volume increasing as her women got into formation. The prophet, yoked with wisdom, composed liberation lyrics. Over the decades, her mother’s lullabies had matured into anthems of freedom inside her, now finding their fullest, truest expression. It was the longing of all the midwives and mothers together, past and present, crying out for shalom that saturated each stanza.
Miriam sang of the reversal—grown men tossed into the sea instead of infant sons. Of God’s mighty arm strong to save (if a bit slow for her liking). According to some scholars, Miriam composed the earliest Hebrew freedom songs, the ones that became the liberation litany her own brother, Moses, would sing.
Kelley Nikondeha, Defiant: What the Women of Exodus Teach Us about Freedom (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2020), 168–169, 169–170.
Image credit: A path from one week to the next—Taylor Wilson, Field of the Saints (detail), print. Taylor Wilson, Isha (detail), watercolor and cyanotype. Taylor Wilson, Ruah (detail), print. Used with permission. Click here to enlarge image.
Artist Statement (Taylor Wilson): This collection is an exploration of iconic visuals.… Playing and replaying with what the ancients already knew and then taking the responsibility of sacred knowledge forward through modern expression with the Spirit.
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