Friday, December 13, 2013

Celebrating One’s Escape From One’s Enemies -- Exodus 15:19-21


For the horses of Pharaoh with his chariots and his horsemen went into the sea, and the Lord brought back the waters of the sea on them; but the sons of Israel walked on dry land through the midst of the sea.  And Miriam the prophetess, Aaron’s sister, took the timbrel in her hand, and all the women went out after her with timbrels and with dancing.  And Miriam answered them, “Sing to the Lord, for He is highly exalted; The horse and his rider He has hurled into the sea.”
 
After Moses recorded the words of the song the Israelites sang to the Lord, he then recaps the event for us and shares an interesting side note, or was it?

Yes, Pharaoh’s army went into the sea never to come up again. They sank but the sons of Israel walked on dry land.  First, again we note the use of my favorite word in Scripture, “but”.  It is almost always used in reference to what God was doing or intended to do.  And in this case, we see the contrast of the Egyptians sinking while the Israelites walked “in the midst of the sea”.  A considerable contrast that only God could bring about.

Now Moses turns his attention, and thus us the readers, to the story of Miriam, which he calls Aaron’s sister. You will remember from Exodus 6:20 that Amram (a grandson of Levi) was married to Jochebed (either his aunt according to the Masoretic text – the authoritative Hebrew text of the Jewish Bible or his cousin according to the Septuagint – the more common Greek translation of the Old Testament and one quoted in the New Testament).  Either way, they were the parents of Moses, Aaron, and Miriam, not in that order.  While here in Exodus 15:20 we learn that Miriam is Aaron’s sister, we have to make the logical deduction that she is also the sister of Moses given that he was Aaron’s brother.  But it is not until we get to Numbers 26:59 that this is stated clearly.

The word “prophetess” is found in eight verses in Scripture, our passage presently under consideration being the first one.  Miriam seems to have had some kind of prophetic gift.  But lest we think too highly of her in the end, I must foretell that by the time you get to Numbers chapter 12, you will see that she used her position of leadership to foolishly and in an ungodly manner, challenge the authority of Moses.  But here she acted like a leader, leading the first Israeli women’s choir and dance ensemble.  She started playing her tambourine and others followed.  As she played, sang, and danced; so did they.  You will still see this in many Middle Eastern cultures and in some European ones.  My Greek country folk still dance that way.  The women follow the lead female dancer; the men, follow the lead male dancer.  In Greece, you can tell the leaders in an ever-growing circle by the white handkerchief they wave high above their heads as they lead the dance.

One wonders why Moses gave us this little story.  Was the rendering of the song not enough?  I can think of several reasons why God may have moved Moses to do so.  First, I personally see this as a clear indication of a very significant role for women in our worship services.  Second, I believe the story with words, song, and dancing is just a gentle reminder that worship is to be lively.  Worship is celebration.  And while I am not enthralled with choruses that simply repeat only one or two words over and over again, it is clear from the words of this song, that repetition is an accepted part of worship.

I think that those that oppose the form of worship characterized by rhythm, percussion instruments, and songs of joy and repetition and yes, even some dancing may well have forgotten that their salvation is symbolic of their escape from their worse Enemy.  So what then are we celebrating?  And how joyous are we?

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