|Art by Mary Therese Streck. "Miriam Leading the Women Across the Sea"|
Recently, I had the privilege of speaking on the exodus. We often associate Moses with the account, but in my study of the text, I discovered a through-line of courageous and inspired women that play just as prominently in the story as Moses.
First, two midwives named Shiphrah and Puah defy the mighty Pharaoh by sparing Moses’ life.
Then, Moses’ mother Jochebed and sister Miriam, hide him away in the Nile (the river in which he was supposed to be terminated).
Then, the Pharaoh’s daughter rescues him and gives him his name, which means “drawn out.” She named him thus because she “drew him out” of the water.
Years later, when Moses is on the way to tell Pharaoh to let God’s people go, Moses’ wife Zipporah saves his life.
Finally, once the Israelites have passed through the Red Sea, Miriam has the last word in the celebration. She is referred to as a prophet in the text.
Thus, the first major section of Exodus is presented to us through a literary device known as an inclusio, where a text ends on the same note by which it began. Just as courageous women inaugurated the new life God was bringing into the world by the birth of Moses, so a group of courageous and inspired women (led by Miriam) celebrated the new life God brought into the world with the birth of the nation Israel. From first to last, then, the exodus is a story about women just as much as it is a story about Moses (if not more!).
Christians often refer to the patriarchs when articulating the high points of salvation history. We note the common expression: “the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.” And we add people like Moses, Joshua, Samuel, and David to such a list.
But the fact is: the book of Exodus also skillfully reminds us that, without the actions of courageous and inspired women, there would have been no patriarch like Moses.
Because of that, when I spoke weeks ago, I concluded my sermon with a prayer devoted to these incredible women. I call it “The Prayers of the Matriarchs.”[i] I invite you to pray it with me.
God of Jochebed,
give us ears to hear
the pain of those crying out
all around us,
those who are burdened
with the threat that the new life
that has been growing inside them
will be taken and murdered
by forces beyond their control.
God of Shiphrah and Puah,
give us courage,
make us willing to lose our lives
for the sake of the new life
you are birthing.
Make us midwives
of what you are bringing forth.
God of Miriam,
make us prophets,
give us a new song,
set our feet to dancing
the dance of freedom,
move us to the joyful work,
the worship-work of liberation.
God of Pharaoh’s daughter,
help us to see that those
we think don’t know or revere you
can surprise us with their recognition of you
by the way they live and cherish life.
Help us not to see others
from an “us-and-them” place,
but send us to be present,
to see what you are already doing in the world,
and to look for, and cooperate with,
the way you deliver by name.
[i] Regrettably, the prayer does not include a section on Zipporah. This is because I did not have time in my sermon to talk about the Zipporah scene, so when I concluded it would have been confusing to my original listeners to add a line about her. Perhaps later I will add a Zipporah section in the prayer, but for now, I think you get the gist of it!