Miriam led Mosheh to the edge of the Reed Sea. ‘Are you sure, sister? Can you do this?’
Once, once before she had tried to turn the tide of a river, to change the flow of the reed bed to make a bit of dry ground. It was nothing more than a dare to herself — to see how much she had learned of how the current was shaped. And then, it was a tiny flow, and small inlet. She surveyed the mass of water ahead of them. ‘Yes, if God is with us. And who knows, brother, there may be time for your wonder working too.’ She sounded calm, poised, but in her head, she prayed: ‘God, if you would give him frogs and gnats and plagues, give me this: wisdom, wit and a few well placed sand bars.’
God smiled at her daring.
She watched the wind bend the reeds, and said, ‘Quick, follow me. And say to them: “walk where I walk, step where I step. Do not hesitate, or change the path.’ Moses spoke to the Israelites, and Aaron did the same. Miriam set out into the waters, ‘And brother? Remember: walk where I walk…’
Mosheh realised he was the weak point in her plan.
Miriam crept and leapt and ran through the reeds as the currents demanded. As they followed, the waters shifted: responding to their presence, adapting to the new disturbance in the flow. Miriam led them out into ever deeper waters, and then found them a resting place where the reeds grew thick.
‘Wait here!’ she cried. ‘Mosheh! Aaron! Tell them to wait here and you come with me.’
Miriam ran not across the sea, not towards their goal, but straight into the river’s source. To the top of the sandbank, where the water split around the raised bed of the sea. The people could see them — if she was lucky, they would be able to hear them too. ‘Mosheh, tell the people: “I am going to strike the sea with my rod. When the dry land appears, run. Run to the shore.’
This rod that brought vipers, Miriam whispered, let it bring life.
Mosheh called to the people. ‘It is time. God will save us. I will strike the sea and you must run. Run as fast as you can. I will see you on the other side.’ The people looked out at the still pools of water ahead of them — the deep pools of water, that they knew they couldn’t cross, and wondered where Mosheh had taken them. But the Egyptians were closing in, and a rumour began: better to die than to go back! They prepared to run.
Mosheh was fearful. ‘Miriam? Will this work? Am I really going to strike the sea?’ He liked it better when God spoke through burning bushes, than when God spoke through his eldest and bossiest sibling. ‘Yes, Mosheh. You will. But Aaron and I will be with you, and we must stand firm and spread our cloaks wide. Angled, there… like this!’ Miriam got them into position.
Mosheh raised his staff and prayed to God. He felt the winds stirring as he spoke. Miriam watched the current, and judged the angle of the flow. She leaned far out to catch the edge of the current. ‘Now, Mosheh, now! Strike the water.’
Moses brought down his staff, and the people prepared to run. Miriam watched as the current bent around them — not parting over the sandbank as it usually did, but curling around towards the Egyptian shore. Miriam knew they didn’t have long before the waters swirled back and the whole sand bar would be undermined.
‘Tell them, Mosheh. Tell them to run!’
And the Israelites saw the dry land appear. At first, they were too shocked to move, but then one of them understood what was happening and shouted, ‘This way! Follow me! Run!’ The Israelites fled across the sudden sandbanks, the ever changing reed bed, finding dry ground.
Quickly! Miriam prayed. She could feel the water swirling behind them. The sandbar was beginning to give way
As the last of the Israelites approached the shore, Miriam said to Mosheh ‘Lift your rod and flee. Get to dry land!” And she followed behind them, pausing only to thank the water.
As she turned, she could see the Egyptians approaching. They horses swam out towards the river’s swirl.
‘Turn back!’ she cried to them. ‘You will never make it.’ But they rode on and the water hooked around the horses hooves. Miriam would never forget the scream of the first horse as it fell. Remember, little one: she whispered arks are not the only way.
Miriam reached the shore where the Israelites watched as the sea swallowed their oppressors. Miriam hated the devastation they had caused — but she didn’t want the people burdened by the weight of it. So she did the only thing she could: she re-told the story.
Miriam took a tambourine in her hand; and all the women went out after her with tambourines and with dancing. And Miriam sang to them: ‘Sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously; horse and rider he has thrown into the sea.’
The people joined in the song, and cried out their relief to God. They had escaped the Egyptians. They were free.
But God saw the tears that Miriam wept as she danced. God joined in the counterpoint: There is salvation, Miriam. The ark is not the only way.
She heard God’s whisper and laughed as she cried and danced.