Miriam’s Song of the Sea
Then Moses and the people of Israel sang this song to the Lord, saying:
“I will sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously; the horse and his rider he has thrown into the sea. The Lord is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation; this is my God and I will praise him.
For when the horses of Pharaoh with his chariots and his horsemen went into the sea, the Lord brought back the waters of the sea upon them, but the people of Israel walked on dry ground in the midst of the sea.
Then Miriam the prophetess, the sister of Aaron, took a tambourine (drum) in her hand, and all the women went out after her with tambourines (drums) and dancing. And Miriam sang to them:
“Sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously;
the horse and his rider he has thrown into the sea.” Exodus 15:1-2; 19-21
“The Song of the Sea” (Exodus 15: 1b-18), is a poetic tribute to God’s miraculous deliverance of the Israelites from the pursuing Egyptians. Exodus attributes the poem to Moses, however, a number of scholars support that the poem was Miriam’s. Miriam, the daughter of Amram and Jochebed and the older sister of Aaron and Moses, is the first woman that the Bible acknowledges as a prophet.
In a new book Defiant: What the Women of Exodus Teach Us About Freedom, Kelley Nikondeha, explores Miriam’s fierce and free leadership:
“After days spent drumming and dancing, Miriam sat down on the far side of the Reed Sea, free at last. The reeds surrounding the Nile River once held her brother (Moses), keeping him safe from the speeding current. And now the Hebrews trampled the reeds in their exodus across a different waterway. Miriam saw the future of her baby brother before he was even born. She watched her mother place him in the reeds and stepped in when Pharaoh’s daughter needed her help. She grew into a woman who saw the need for a liberation theology and songs to move that message across the community. Her prophecy came true as Moses took the Hebrews across the Reed Sea into freedom. Miriam saw with eyes of faith, led her people with that vision, and served alongside her brothers to see liberation realized. She pounded out the beat as a prayer until it emerged as a song she could teach to others.”
Another reason to connect the Song of the Sea to Miriam is its genre as a woman’s song, characterized by three elements in Exodus 15:20, a song accompanied by hand-drum and dance, according to Dr. Carol Meyers in Miriam, Music and Miracles, 2005. These three elements appear in several other biblical texts and one extra-biblical text—always with women as performers. Its attribution to Miriam means that this powerful and perhaps earliest message about God’s majesty as redeemer of the people is given voice by a woman. Exodus 1–15:21 is woman-centered—from the twelve women who figure prominently in the opening chapters of Exodus: Shiphrah, Puah, Moses’ mother, his sister Miriam, Pharaoh’s daughter, and the seven daughters of the priest of Midian—to the ringing words of Miriam’s song in Exodus 15.
Reflection. The book Defiant explores how the Exodus women summoned their courage, harnessed their intelligence, and gathered their resources to enact justice in many small ways and overturned an empire. Author Kelly Nikondeha says women’s work involves more than tending to our own family and home. How can women today be involved in liberation work?
Defiant has discussion questions for each chapter and would be excellent for your book club or study group!
A Woman’s Voice. Miriam is thought to have played a toph (hand drum), not a tamborine, in the tradition of song, drum, dance victory celebrations.
There are many many talented women musicians celebrating victory but I recently discovered KD French. Please feel free to share your favorite women musicians and authors!
Credits: Black and white drawing of Miriam: Wood engraving, published in 1873.
For Miriam’s Song of the Sea: A Women’s Victory Performance, by Dr. Carol Meyers: click the button:
Victoria Emily Jones’ blog Art and Theology is always brilliant: