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Miriam Sister, Prophet, Dancer
This story is based on references to Miriam in Hebrew scripture.
Read or tell the story.
It is said that for many years, the Hebrew people were slaves in Egypt. A slave works hard for no pay. A slave is not allowed to say or do what they want. A slave is a person, owned by someone else.
In Egypt, a young Hebrew girl named Miriam was a slave. Her mother, father, and brother were all slaves, too. The Hebrews were not happy being slaves, but they did not have a plan to change their situation. It did not seem possible. But, escaping from slavery was possible. It would happen soon, and Miriam's family would be right in the middle of it.
The Egyptian king, the Pharoah, was getting worried about the Hebrew slaves. He needed their hard work as builders and farmers, to do things for the Egyptian people, working for free. He was afraid the Hebrews might try to escape. He was especially worried about the young Hebrew boys. Soon enough, they would grow up to be strong men who could fight for their people's freedom.
The Pharoah made a rule that the Hebrew boy babies must be killed. He sent Egyptian soldiers to the slaves' small homes near the river, to take their boy babies away from them.
Around this time, Miriam's mother gave birth to a baby boy. Miriam's mother was very frightened, and of course she wanted to protect her son. She wove a basket out of some grasses, placed the baby carefully inside it, and sent the basket floating down the river. Maybe someone kind, an Egyptian, would find the basket, discover the baby, and take him into their home where he would be safe. It was hard to let her little baby go, but it seemed like the only way to save his life.
Miriam was frightened, too, seeing her mother do this. She watched as her little baby brother floated along, his basket hidden by the long reeds that poked above the water. Miriam tried to act as if nothing was wrong, nothing strange. If an Egyptian soldier walked by and glanced at her, she just looked down and kept silent, as a slave girl was supposed to do.
Miriam saw some women in the water, up ahead, washing their clothes. Her brother's basket was floating right toward them. Miriam crept closer. She saw it was Pharoah's daughter, with her maids. Miriam held her breath in fear, as the women noticed the basket.
"Look, a baby!"
"How lovingly someone has wrapped the baby!"
"This must be a little Hebrew boy!"
Miriam was sure Pharoah's daughter would pick up her brother and deliver him to the Egyptian soldiers to be killed. But, that is not what happened.
"What a beautiful baby!" Pharoah's daughter cried. Her voice was full of compassion, and defiance. "I'll raise him myself, as a prince of Egypt."
"Your father will be angry," one of her maids said.
"All the Hebrew baby boys are supposed to be killed," said another.
"I don't care," said Pharoah's daughter, and she picked up Miriam's brother and held him in her arms.
Miriam had a brave idea. She stepped toward the Egyptian women. "I can find a Hebrew woman to take care of this baby for you," she said. Of course, she was thinking of her own mother!
Pharoah's daughter thought Miriam's idea was a good one. She sent Miriam to get a Hebrew nursemaid for the baby, and Miriam ran to get her own mother. That is how Miriam's brother survived Pharoah's terrible rule, and got to live with his own family, at least for a little while.
When Miriam's brother was beginning to walk and talk, Pharoah's daughter took him back again. She named him Moses and he grew up in Pharoah's palace, as an Egyptian prince. Miriam, too was growing up. She would see her brother, from time to time. She believed he remembered her. She believed he knew he was really a Hebrew, but she was not really sure.
Miriam's family lost track of Moses for some years. Moses had killed an Egyptian who was beating a Hebrew slave. Then he ran away from Egypt, became a sheepherder, and got married. One day Moses saw a bush on fire, which he understood to bring a message from the God of the Hebrew people. The message let Moses know that he was not an Egyptian prince, but a Hebrew whose family were all slaves. A Hebrew with a special duty to return to Egypt, and lead the Hebrew people out of slavery, to a new land where they would be free.
Moses returned to Egypt. His adopted grandfather, the old Pharoah, had died. Moses asked the new Pharoah for the Hebrews' freedom, but the Pharoah refused. Moses asked again and again, and the Pharoah still refused. Then a series of disasters occurred. A disease killed the Egyptians' cattle. Frogs rained down from the sky. Swarms of locusts ate the Egyptian's crops. Finally Pharoah changed his mind. He wanted the Hebrews gone.
Miriam and her family rushed to pack. They hurried to leave before the Pharoah changed his mind again. Sure enough, as they gathered their belongings, the Pharoah did change his mind. The Hebrews left Egypt, the children, the women and the men, with the Egyptian soldiers in pursuit.
Miriam had helped to rescue her brother when he was a baby. Now, with her brothers Moses and Aaron, she would help to rescue the Hebrew people and other slaves from their hard life in Egypt. At this moment of great fear, she had faith that the Hebrews would escape. With Moses and Aaron, she led the others, keeping steps ahead of the Egyptians. When they came to a large sea, the Red Sea, the Hebrews bravely crossed the water, finding to their great surprise a dry path through it. As the Egyptians came after them, the dry path became covered in water, and the Egyptians could not reach the Hebrews on the other side.
Miriam's people would face many hard years of wandering before they found a land where they could settle down and build their community in freedom. There would be more challenges ahead. But, they kept believing that they would find a new home, and from each disaster, they bounced back.
After the Hebrews crossed the Red Sea, leaving Egypt and slavery forever, Miriam lifted a tambourine high in the air and led the people in a song and a dance. Yes, an uncertain road lay ahead, and terrible things behind. But there was great joy to feel now, and deep gratitude to express.