Have you ever met someone who traverses adversity without losing hope? Miriam is such a person, and she imparts hope to us. Born into slavery in Egypt, Miriam was the older sister of Moses and Aaron. Her name is derived from the Hebrew words for “bitterness” or “rebellion,” and it may have reflected a cultural disposition toward bitterness because of Pharaoh’s maltreatment—including his attempted genocide of the Hebrew children, which Miriam and others actively resisted (Ex 1:15–16). In so doing, holy women such as Miriam “kept alive the hope of Israel’s salvation,” as the Catechism notes (CCC 46). As a young girl, Miriam watched her mother, Jochebed, wade into the Nile River to place baby Moses in the reeds, relinquishing him to the ebb and flow of its waters and hoping to save him from Pharaoh’s cruelty. Such a traumatic scene would have challenged anyone’s hope. When Pharaoh’s daughter discovered the baby, Miriam advocated for Moses, recommending her own mother as Moses’s wet nurse. No doubt her hope helped Miriam to act courageously as she put Moses and herself at the mercy of Pharaoh’s daughter.
Israel remained enslaved in Egypt for eighty years after Moses’s birth. It took ten plagues, including the death of every Egyptian firstborn, to convince Pharaoh to let the Israelites go. When Moses finally led Israel out of Egypt, Miriam was present. She walked on dry land through the midst of the Red Sea and looked on while the waters engulfed Pharaoh’s horsemen and chariots.
As Moses led the Israelites toward their new life of freedom, Miriam led her people in praise. Miriam didn’t just praise the Lord with song or clapping; she took out a “timbrel”—that is, a tambourine! In fact, “all the women went out after her with timbrels and dancing” (Exodus 15:20). This detail reinforces Miriam’s hope in God’s promise of deliverance. On a night when the Israelites fled so quickly that they “took their dough before it was leavened” (Exodus 12:34), Miriam found time to pack her tambourine. She believed in God’s promise.
Hope is infectious. When we spend time with hopeful people like Miriam, our own hope increases. No doubt her example inspired the other women to pack their tambourines in anticipation of praising God from the far side of the Red Sea.
This excerpt from the Living the Word Catholic Women’s Bible is reprinted with permission of the publisher, Ave Maria Press.