Miriam blamed Moseh for this. The more she thought about it, the more she was sure: these plagues were Mosheh’s doing. Her arrogant, fool-hearty brother.
When she sent Aaron after him — when he brought him home — she had been so full of hope. All those years of teaching him to watch for God in the reeds, to watch for God in the unexpected places, and finally Moses had seen. A burning bush. He let himself be deflected from his path. For once in his life, he turned away from his own plans and stopped to notice what God was doing. And Miriam had hoped at last that salvation was on its way: that Moseh would take up the task for which he was born.
But no. He decided to be a wonder-worker instead. Miriam spit the words out as she beat the dead gnats out of cushions.
‘But Miriam, God wants me to do this. It’s what he told me!’
‘What did he tell you, Mosheh?’
But the trouble was, Mosheh wasn’t sure any more. The story had become all confused — and each person who told it told it a bit more grandly, till neither Miriam nor Mosheh were sure what had really been said.
This much she knew: when God came to Moses in that bush, the bush was not consumed. This was supposed to be about life, not death. But her timid, fearful, arrogant, infuriating brother had missed the point. She could just hear his whining: ‘But God, they won’t believe me. So what if I say you sent me? So what if I say that the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob has sent me? Even if I say that you have given me your name — they will not believe me unless you send signs of power.’
So God had relented. Mosheh remembered that bit. God had said, ‘Take up your staff and cast it down,’ and when Mosheh did it became a snake. ‘Reach down, and pick him up by the tail.’ Mosheh did, and the staff was restored. He thought it was a sign of power. A sign of God’s favour.
‘But Mosheh, don’t you see?’ she’d pleaded. ‘If you cast it down, it becomes poisonous; you send out vipers that you cannot control.’
‘But I can stop it, Miriam. See: if I catch the viper’s tail…’
‘You can stop it, but you can’t control it. There’s a difference. Don’t do this Mosheh!’ But he would not listen.
‘Miriam, look: it’s not just the staff!’ Mosheh put his hand in his cloak and took it out again. It was white as snow and cold like ice. The blood drained from Miriam’s face when she saw it. ‘It is a sign of death, Mosheh. The worst kind of disease.’
‘But look, look! If it I put it in again, it is healed. God has given me the power to bring sickness or healing.’
‘Don’t do this Mosheh.’ But he would not listen.’
One more time, he tried to persuade her: ‘Look, Miriam! God said that if the Pharoah wouldn’t believe me after the snake, and wouldn’t believe me after seeing my hand, I should take water from the Nile and pour it on dry ground, and it would become blood.’
‘And what good does that do, my brother? Shall we convince Pharoah that we worship a monster?’ But he would not listen to her.
And so it had begun. Moses struck the Nile — not just a bit of water he’d poured out, but the whole bloody river — and the fish died and the people suffered, and Moses said it was of God. Then the frogs came — for weeks Miriam had been delighting as the frog-spawn danced in the sunlight. But now, with no fish to eat them, they hatched, and hatched and hatched till the land was overrun. A plague of frogs, let loose from the rivers only to die in the town. Misery and mess everywhere. ‘Is this God too, brother?’ Miriam asked pointedly, but he insisted it was.
‘Try again, brother. Try telling a story. The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob called to you. The God of Sarah, Rachel, Rebecca and Leah came to you. God says that he has heard the cries of his people and will set them free. God says that there will be no more slavery and no more oppression. All we need to do is set out from Egypt, and God will make us free.’ But he would not listen. He claimed the people would not listen. ‘It is not so easy to liberate a people, sister.’ And on that one point they agreed.
Miriam had had her own conversations with God. Conversations about life, not death. Conversations about sacrifice, and not plague. And she had begun to devise a plan.
If she left it to her brother, these plagues would never end. Fish and frogs, gnats and flies, livestock and humans covered in weeping sores. Death was piling up all around, and even though it was the Egyptians who were dying, they were all being changed. It was time for the plagues to stop.
What they needed was a ritual. What they needed was an end point that would cease the escalation and draw a line under the destruction her brother had let loose. God did not bring plagues — he saved from plague. God did not bring death — he saved from death. Miriam thought of Sarah’s wrath when she realised that Abraham had assumed God wanted Isaac dead, and she remembered the ram that God sent to stop Abraham in his tracks.
‘That’s it!’ Miriam cried, ‘We need a ram!’
Miriam worked out the idea: Our God is a God of life not death. She is so powerful that she has no need of violence. God passes over the violence of this world, and leads her people to freedom.
Miriam laughed and cried and danced as the plan became clear. Then, she began to prepare for the passover.