Then Miriam the Prophetess
Took a Tambourine in Her Hand

5: 19-21

    DIG: What was noteworthy about Miriam’s role in this celebration? Later, what does Miriam do that contrasts sharply with the spirit of this song (Numbers 12)?

    REFLECT: What has God done for you that you could sing about? How could you use your creativity (in music, art, drama or dance) more often to praise the LORD for the wonderful things He has done in your life?

    Here the writer, using narrative prose, sums up the deliverance from the Egyptians. The reason for the song is when Pharaoh’s horses, chariots and horsemen went into the Sea of Reeds, ADONAI brought the waters of the sea back over them but the Israelites walked through the sea on dry ground (15:19). Now we are introduced to a woman we have not heard about since the birth of Moses.286

    The Song of Miriam is introduced by this prose passage. Then Miriam the prophetess, Aaron’s sister took a tambourine in her hand, and all the women followed her with tambourines and dancing (15:20). The women’s voices, with their musical accompaniments, took up the refrain below. The rabbis teach that she is a prophetess because she foretold the birth of Moses. She is the first woman in the Bible to be called a prophetess, and she must have been more than ninety years old at this time (2:4 and 7:7). Other women were called prophetesses, but not many. Deborah (Judges 4:4), Huldah (Second Kings 22:14), the unnamed wife of Isaiah (Isaiah 8:3), and Anna (Luke 2:36) were all called prophetesses. The position and duty of a prophetess are the same as those of a prophet. That is, they were authorized to speak for God. As a result, Miriam had a favored status in the nation of Israel. The title of prophetess was no empty title. Micah tells us that God delivered Israel out of Egypt by the hand of Moses, Aaron and Miriam (Micah 6:4), but later, her status as a prophetess would lead her into trouble (Numbers 12:1-2).287

    From this time on, it would be customary for the women to express their delight in victory by songs, music and dancing in the presence of their conquerors.288 This would become a genre known as the Victory Song.

    Miriam sang a song to Moses and the men of Israel: Sing to ADONAI, for He is highly exalted. All the women were singing in response to the men: The horse and its rider He has hurled into the Sea of Reeds (15:21). It seems that this passage served as a refrain to the larger hymn sung by the men.


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