Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Towards Sunday, July 26, 2015

Reading:  Exodus 15:19-21
Theme:  Miriam -- a woman with a lot of nerve

Our "favourite biblical character" this week is Miriam, older sister to Moses and Aaron, who even as a little girl and well into her older age showed a lot of nerve that the people of Israel really needed. 

Moses and Aaron may have been their leaders, but I wonder if Miriam was the real heart (and maybe backbone) of the enterprise who really brought the people together under God (and Moses) at least at the beginning.  Behind every successful man, is a mostly over-looked woman who really made it happen?

Three parts of Miriam's story are preserved in the Hebrew Scriptures:
  • Exodus 2:1-10 where as Moses' older sister, she watches over him as a baby in the basket, and cleverly arranges for their mother to nurse him while the pharaoh's daughter takes him in  
  • Exodus 15:19-21 where as "prophetess" (inspired interpreter of the events of the day, and thereby the people's faith-shaper) she leads the people in celebrating God's deliverance of them at the Sea of Reeds.  In the religious practice of the time this was a great liturgical occasion that did much to bring the people together under God's saving care at the beginning of their monumental journey.
  • Numbers 12 where Miriam and Aaron together publicly criticize Moses for marrying a Cushite woman, and Miriam is struck with leprosy as punishment by God for her opposition to God's chosen leader.
A few interesting notes:
  • In Exodus 2:1-10 Miriam is not named.  She is just "his sister".  Were the editors of Scripture afraid that naming her might make her, rather than Moses, the real hero(heroine) of the story?
  • Miriam's simple, two-line worship-poem in Exodus 15:21 is one of the earliest fragments of Hebrew poetry we have.  It was later (sometime near the end of the time of the kingdom) expanded by the editors of Scripture into an 18-verse grandly-patriotic song, and inserted into the story (15:1-18).  But this new and expanded version is put into the mouth of Moses and positioned before Miriam's song, making it seem Miriam is only copying Moses.  Why?
  • In Numbers 12 Moses is clearly in the wrong in marrying a Cushite woman, but God is said to be angry with Miriam and Aaron, because Moses needs to be upheld in the minds of the people as God's leader.  And then only Miriam is punished with leprosy; Aaron is given only a reprimand.
Is it any wonder the official rabbinic interpretation of the name "Miriam" is "bitter"?  Might she have reason to be bitter?

But the more popular and linguistically correct interpretation of her name is "plump one" which is better than it sounds, because in those days a sturdy, strong, well-rounded woman was highly regarded.  Go girl!

So ... this Sunday we will focus our attention on Miriam's simple little worship-song that helped solidify Israel as a people living under the saving care of Yahweh.  And we will open ourselves to what her prophetic leadership might mean for us today.

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