Miriam: The Joyful Prophet

Exodus 2.4-6, Exodus 15.20-21, Numbers 12.1, Micah 6.4, Numbers 20:1

This blog series all began because of Miriam.

I was in a shop getting some pictures framed whilst wearing my clerical collar and the man at the desk said: ‘you’ll know the answer to this as you’re a Vicar’.

Church leaders may know the feeling of dread at that statement!

'So, Miriam from the Bible, who was she then?' 

I floundered. I knew she was in the Old Testament and had something to do with Moses. Nothing else. Another customer came in so I took the time to hide behind the frames to google her! I came away determined I’d find out more about Miriam, and also all the other wonderful women of scripture: hence this blog.

So, who was Miriam? She was Moses and Aaron’s sister, the daughter of Amran (one of the Israelite leaders) and Jochebed. That was the simple answer I gave the framer. But there is so much more to her. She was also the first women to be described as a prophetess, a leader of women, a musician and the very first worship leader mentioned in scripture!

Jocheved, Miriam, and Moses, an illustration from the 1897 Bible Pictures and What They Teach Us: Containing 400 Illustrations from the Old and New Testaments, by Charles Foster

We first hear of her when Moses is a baby in the bulrushes having been hidden by his mother to protect him from Pharaoh’s wicked plans to kill the male children. Jochebed (another fabulous woman) placed Moses in the river and Miriam stands at a distance to keep watch. When Pharaoh’s daughter comes and scoops Moses out of the river Miriam steps forward and suggests an ingenious plan.

Shall I go and get you a nurse from the Hebrew women to nurse the child for you?

Exodus 2.7

Miriam suggests Moses’ mother, who is then paid a wage to look after her own son!

Miriam’s Song, by John Edward Poynter (The Bible and Its Story, 1910)

We next hear of Miriam after Pharoah’s army has been defeated and the Israelites escape from Egypt across the red sea into the wilderness. She leads the defiant ‘song of the sea’, a song of triumph which is still recited in jewish daily prayers to this day.

[Miriam] took a tambourine in her hand; and all the women went out after her with tambourines and with dancing:

“Sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously; horse and rider he has thrown into the sea.”

Exodus 15.20-21

I love the fact that when Miriam and the women fled Egypt, when they didn’t even have time to wait for the bread to rise, they took with them their musical instruments. It’s as if they knew there would be a time to celebrate again one day, and they wanted to make sure they were ready.

It is likely that she was one of the community leaders whilst the Israelites were in exile, and we hear that she wasn’t afraid to confront Moses when she disapproved of a relationship of his (Numbers 12.1). Her forthright nature leads to her being accused of being jealous of Moses and she contracts leprosy (which was understood as a punishment) and is ostracised for a week.

She died at a time of drought in the wilderness of Zin and she was remembered many years later by the prophets as having been one of the three (with Moses and Aaron) who were sent by God to deliver his people from slavery (see Micah 6.4).

So, who was Miriam? A courageous sister, a leader of women, a musician, a worship leader, a dancer, and so much more!

Reflection and Prayer

There is a fantastically catchy song by Debbie Friedman which is sung at Jewish children’s camps in America (and maybe in the UK) called Miriam’s Song. I love this version as it’s rough and ready but totally joyful and the clips of Jewish kids enjoying themselves is a delight. Have a listen. https://youtu.be/1dcBTze-T4o

And Miriam the prophet took her timbrel in her hand
And all the women followed her just as she had planned
And Miriam raised her voice in song
She sang with praise and might
We’ve just lived through a miracle: We’re going to dance tonight!!

Miriam was first to lead the community in joyful praise after many years of hardship. Sometimes it’s good to remember to be thankful, whatever else is going on in our lives. Perhaps you might like to think of five things you are thankful for right now? You might like to say them out loud, boldly, remembering Miriam as you do so.

May we accept this day at your hand, O Lord
as a gift to be treasured,
a life to be enjoyed,
a trust to be kept
and a hope to be fulfilled:
and all for your glory. Amen

(A prayer of Stanley Pritchard)

Author: clarehayns

College Chaplain and Welfare Coordinator of Christ Church, Oxford | Mum of three boys | wife of a juggler and magician | Council of Reference of ZANE - http://www.zane-zimbabweanationalemergency.com | enjoys board games, dog walking, films, eating out.

11 thoughts on “Miriam: The Joyful Prophet”

  1. I do hope that you will make a book out of the stories, your comments and prayers – and of course the wonderful illustrations by Micah.
    A collection of this illustrated “Women in the Old Testament” would be a very special and unusual book to possess and perhaps to give as a gift.


  2. I’m really enjoying these reflections and I especially enjoyed this one. I would have been able to answer the question “who’s Miriam” by saying she was Moses’ sister, a prophet, she sang and danced in celebration and she was outcast because of leprosy. BUT until today, I’d never connected her with the sister who watched over her baby brother and did a deal with Pharoah’s daughter, thus getting him back home. Of course that’s the same person!


  3. Thanks Clare – the idea of the women fleeing their homes but taking their instruments with them resonated with me especially. I evacuated a building at speed after the Christchurch Earthquake in 2011 and left absolutely everything behind – but instinctively grabbed my trumpet! My wallet and keys might have been more practical things to have taken, but with thinking about it, I took what was most important to me. There is something comforting in the idea that for generations, people facing huge adversity, who have lost their homes and sense of security, have held onto the things that remind them of their humanity – and music is definitely one of those things.


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