Miriam dances

Thursday

Exodus 15:1-21

File:Miriam IMG 28071.JPG

Miriam, The Dormition Church on Mount Zion in Jerusalem

20Then the prophet Miriam, Aaron’s sister, took a tambourine in her hand; and all the women went out after her with tambourines and with dancing. 21And Miriam sang to them: “Sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously; horse and rider he has thrown into the sea.”

At the beginning of Exodus 15 we read:

1Then Moses and the Israelites sang this song to the Lord: “I will sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously; horse and rider he has thrown into the sea.

And at the end of that great song in celebration of their deliverance comes the verse we noted above:

20Then the prophet Miriam, Aaron’s sister, took a tambourine in her hand; and all the women went out after her with tambourines and with dancing. 21And Miriam sang to them: “Sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously; horse and rider he has thrown into the sea.”

The implication in the text is that worship was men’s work. It was part of Israel’s public life. It’s why we find David’s wife, Michal, watching from the window of the palace rather than participating in the dancing before the LORD. It is why, in the orthodox Jewish synagogue, a service required ten men while the women watched from behind a screen. It is why that same pattern of women in the back watching men perform the public rites is still observed in Islam. And it is why, until a hundred years ago, it was common for men to sit on one side of the church and women on the other.

This is not about sexism; this is an observation about the text that begins with the fact that men and women inhabited different worlds.

But the song of celebration was sung in both worlds.

The song of praise, the joy, the dancing, the recognition that God was deliverer, was sung in both realms.

There is something earth-shatteringly important in this. God is not praised by the men for his service to the male world; God is praised by men and women for his redeeming work for the whole world. God is not honored for his mighty act of power in a man’s world of power; God is honored for setting those in bondage free.

Something profound, that will echo through the centuries, is begun here with this celebration by both men and women of God as the one who delivers from oppression. The God of the exodus can never become a God of the powerful. It is why God throws down the kingdoms of Israel of Judah when they become kingdoms of economic and political injustice. It is why the prophets cry. It is why Lamentations declares God justified for the desolation of Jerusalem. It is why Job refuses to admit guilt; though he has no right to question God, he questions God for thirty-five magnificent chapters.

It is why Genesis 3 declares that the imbalance of power between men and women is the result of human sin, not the design of the creator. It is why God keeps upsetting the applecart, choosing the childless to bear the child of promise, choosing the younger son over the elder, choosing a keeper of sycamore trees as a prophet, choosing the child of Mary, a lowly construction worker, to be the embodiment of light and life. The manger is essential to this story of the God whose praise is song by both the world of men and the world of women. God isn’t a defender of the system; God is bringer of a new ‘system’, a new realm, a new kingdom, a new Jerusalem, a new life, a deliverance from the impossible debt of honor that humanity owes to God for their conduct on earth.

It is why the prophets say that Babylon will fall. It is why Jesus says the temple will fall. It is why the book of Revelation has such horrendous images of social collapse – for the systems we build are not the city of God. But the city of God comes.

When Miriam takes up her tambourine, we can recognize what is truly being said about this God who throws the horse and rider into the sea. Kalashnikovs and nuclear weapons and drones are all destined for the sea.

As is female genital mutilation and human trafficking, the selling of child brides and every glass ceiling.

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

 

Image: By Radbod Commandeur (1890 – 1955); photo by Deror avi (Own work) [Attribution, CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
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