Week 5, Exodus 3—4; 15:1-22: “Moses and Miriam”–The Prophet Miriam: Moses, Aaron and Miriam

Friday, March 31 

“O my people, what have I done to you?
    In what have I wearied you? Answer me!
 For I brought you up from the land of Egypt,
    and redeemed you from the house of slavery;
and I sent before you Moses,
    Aaron, and Miriam” (Micah 6:3-4).

Micah’s prophecy is set in the middle of the eighth century BCE, at about the same time that Amos and Hosea were prophesying in the north, and Isaiah son of Amoz was prophesying in Jerusalem (compare Micah 1:1 with Amos 1:1; Hosea 1:1; and Isa 1:1). Within the relative brief span of their prophetic ministries, Israel to the north would fall to Assyria, and Judah to the south would see its borders radically reduced, and be forced to submit to Assyrian rule. Micah addresses a people in despair, who despite their injustice and immorality cling desperately to the superstition that since they are God’s people, nothing really bad can happen to them: “Surely the Lord is with us! No harm shall come upon us” (Micah 3:11).

In Micah 6:1-8, the Lord announces a lawsuit against the people for violating God’s covenant. To show that God has been faithful despite their faithlessness, the Lord rehearses the story of the Exodus out of Egypt—led, this passage declares, not by Moses alone, but by “Moses, Aaron, and Miriam.” These three siblings had been used by God to deliver God’s people in ancient times. But it may be that they are also remembered as examples of the life of faithfulness God desires, to which Micah’s own generation is called:

He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:8).

May we too, empowered by God’s Spirit, model ourselves on Moses’ passion for justice, on Aaron’s steadfast loyalty (a better translation of the Hebrew khesed than the NRSV’s “kindness”), and on Miriam’s humble, self-effacing walk with God.

Prayer: O Jesus, you alone embody all righteousness. Yet you call us to be your disciples, and follow in your way. Show us how we may do justice in our own context. Break open our hard hearts, and enable us to love as you love, in lives of true commitment. Keep us humble, Abba, and help us to desire always to walk with you. In the name of Jesus, who says to all his disciples, “Follow me” (Matt 4:19), Amen.


Week 5, Exodus 3—4; 15:1-22: “Moses and Miriam”–The Prophet Miriam: God’s Deliverance

Thursday, March 30

“When the horses of Pharaoh with his chariots and his chariot drivers went into the sea, the Lord brought back the waters of the sea upon them; but the Israelites walked through the sea on dry ground. Then 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.  And Miriam sang to them: ‘Sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously; horse and rider he has thrown into the sea.’ Then Moses ordered Israel to set out from the Red Sea” (Exod 15:19-22).

Based on the archaic form of Hebrew found in Exodus 15:1-18, this poem is the oldest passage in Scripture, having been fixed in written form by the eleventh century BCE. This is important: we need to hear this song, not from the perspective of a strong and self-confident Israel, but of an Israel in its infancy—a people fragile and vulnerable, who had until very recently been no people, hanging on to survival by their fingernails. Otherwise, we may use the image of God as a warrior, sweeping away God’s enemies, to justify our own arrogant, bullying behavior. Jewish tradition did not read this passage as legitimating hatred toward those we regard as our enemies. According to the Talmud (the authoritative collection of the teachings of the rabbis), when the Israelites began to celebrate the defeat of the Egyptians, God asked, “How can you sing as the works of my hand are drowning in the sea?” (b. Megillah 10b).

Another point we may miss in this account of God’s deliverance is that the songleader is Moses’ sister, identified as “the prophet Miriam.” Miriam is not the only woman identified as a prophet in the Hebrew Bible: so are Deborah, who is also called a judge—that is, a leader in Israel in the days before kings (Judges 4:4), and Huldah, who confirms that the book of the law discovered in the temple in Josiah’s day is divine word (2 Kgs 22:14-20). A feminine form of the word “prophet” is used in the Hebrew for grammatical reasons, but it would be a mistake to translate the word as “prophetess,” implying that these women belonged to some sort of women’s auxiliary! Miriam was a prophet, just as Moses was; just as Isaiah, Jeremiah, Amos and Micah were. Like them, Miriam was a spokesperson of God, and the song that she led was, and is, a word from God. In our next two devotionals, we will chase this idea through other texts, in order to refute any nonsense about “political correctness” here. The Bible is clear on Miriam’s prophetic role. The question is, what will we do with this word?

Prayer: Thank you, God, for your including us in your community. Forgive us for turning the good news of that inclusion into an excuse for excluding others. Help us to hear your good news with joy, whether it is proclaimed by a Miriam or by a Moses. Through Jesus, whose ministry was supported by women “who provided for [him] out of their resources” (Luke 8:3), Amen.


Week 5, Exodus 3—4; 15:1-22: “Moses and Miriam”–Moses’ Call: Resistance

Wednesday, March 29

But Moses said to the Lord, “O my Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor even now that you have spoken to your servant; but I am slow of speech and slow of tongue.”  Then the Lord said to him, “Who gives speech to mortals? Who makes them mute or deaf, seeing or blind? Is it not I, the Lord?  Now go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you are to speak.”  But he said, “O my Lord, please send someone else” (Exod 4:10-13).

A common element in biblical call stories is what Robert Gnuse calls “prophetic denial”—the rejection of a prophet’s call, based on a sense of unworthiness or inability in the one called, or on anxiety about what the call implies (Robert K. Gnuse, The Old Testament and Process Theology [St. Louis: Chalice, 2000], 128). Jeremiah objects that he is too young (Jer. 1:6); Isaiah exclaims, “I am a man of unclean lips” (Isa. 6:5); Jonah votes with his feet and heads for Tarshish (Jon 1:3). But Moses, in his persistent resistance to God’s call, outdoes them all! First, he demands that God reveal God’s name (Exod 3:13). Then, Moses asks for signs that will prove that he has come from God’s presence (Exod 4:1-8). Then, he protests that he cannot speak eloquently, or perhaps even plainly (the Hebrew permits either reading; Exod 4:10). Finally, in blunt, transparent honesty, Moses blurts out, “O my Lord, please send someone else”! I don’t want to do this! God does send Aaron, as Moses’ spokesperson, but Moses is not excused—he too must go.

Doubtless we resonate with Moses’ complaint. We would not have chosen to live in times that require us to stand up and stand out. We would have preferred a quiet, non-confrontational life. But we live in this time and place, not in some other, and by God’s grace we must prove equal to the demands of our season. We would prefer that God send someone else. But God has sent us.


“To serve the present age,

my calling to fulfill,

O may it all my powers engage,

to do my Master’s will!”

In Jesus’ name, Amen.

(Hymn by Charles Wesley)




Week 5, Exodus 3—4; 15:1-22: “Moses and Miriam”–Moses’ Call: God Sees

Tuesday, March 28

“Then the Lord said, ‘I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey, to the country of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites.  The cry of the Israelites has now come to me; I have also seen how the Egyptians oppress them.  So come, I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt’” (Exod 3:7-10).

The pilot announced over the intercom, “I have some good news and some bad news. First, the bad news: we are lost somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean. We really don’t have any idea where we are. However, the good news is that we are making very good time. . .” We’ve all heard one or another version of a “good news/bad news” joke. In a way, that is the form that God’s call to Moses takes. First, the good news: God has not forgotten God’s promises to the ancestors, and does indeed intend to bring God’s people into a homeland. Further, God is not removed from the suffering of God’s people. God is aware of their oppression at the hands of the Egyptians, and God has a plan to deliver them.

But now comes the bad news: Moses learns, to his astonishment, that he is the plan: “I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt”! That is the problem with prayer, brothers and sisters! When we ask for God to act in our world, we had better be ready to put hands and feet to our prayers, for God will put us to work. God’s certain, and terrifying, answer to our prayers concerning racism and violence in our culture will be to send us to address them. Our promise is, however, that God will be with us, as God was with Moses.

Prayer: Thank you, God, that you see the suffering in our world, and that you care, deeply. We know that you are calling us to address the crisis of our times—but we are afraid, Abba. Empower us to be used by you to answer our own prayers, in the name of your son Jesus, who prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want,” (Matt 26:39), Amen.



Week 5, Exodus 3—4; 15:1-22: “Moses and Miriam”–Moses’ Call: Names

Monday, March 27

When the Lord saw that he had turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, ‘Moses, Moses!’ And he said, ‘Here I am.’ Then he said, ‘Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.’  He said further, ‘I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’ . . . But Moses said to God, “If I come to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?’  God said to Moses, ‘I am who I am.’ He said further, “Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘I am has sent me to you.’”  God also said to Moses, “Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘The Lord, the God of your ancestors, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you’: This is my name forever, and this my title for all generations’” (Exodus 3: 4-6, 13-15).

Volumes have been written about the revelation and meaning of the divine Name—and no wonder! There is wonder and mystery here that it would take lifetimes to explore. But at its simplest, most basic level, what is going on in this classic encounter? God calls Moses by name. Then, God tells Moses God’s own Name (in Hebrew, YHWH; since the Name is regarded as too holy to pronounce, pious Jews simply say “Adonai,” or “My Lord;” most English translators therefore render the Name as Lord in all capital letters). This very familiar exchange happens every time we meet someone new. We introduce ourselves. We exchange names, and with that exchange, a relationship can begin.

That God already knows Moses’ name is no surprise. It is God after all who is the source of our identities: of course such a God knows who Moses is—better than Moses knows himself! God has also been known to Israel before, as “the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” But the giving of God’s name sets that relationship on a personal, intimate footing. God desires a relationship with this people who are no people, these slaves in Egypt, and it is that relationship that makes them a people.

Prayer: Thank you, Adonai, for calling us each by name, and for giving your own to us. Thank you for showing us in Jesus who you are, and inviting us into relationship through him. In Jesus’ own holy name, Amen.



Fourth Sunday in Lent

Sunday, March 26

“And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.

For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.

Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.  Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God.  And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil.  For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed.  But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God” (John 3:14-21).


Week 4, Exodus 1—2–“Moses”: Race and Identity

Saturday, March 25

“But Moses fled from Pharaoh. He settled in the land of Midian, and sat down by a well.  The priest of Midian had seven daughters. They came to draw water, and filled the troughs to water their father’s flock.  But some shepherds came and drove them away. Moses got up and came to their defense and watered their flock.  When they returned to their father Reuel, he said, ‘How is it that you have come back so soon today?’  They said, ‘An Egyptian helped us against the shepherds; he even drew water for us and watered the flock.’  He said to his daughters, ‘Where is he? Why did you leave the man? Invite him to break bread.’  Moses agreed to stay with the man, and he gave Moses his daughter Zipporah in marriage.  She bore a son, and he named him Gershom; for he said, ‘I have been an alien residing in a foreign land’” (Exodus 2:15-22).

Curiously, those most obsessed with defining race precisely are those who are persuaded of the superiority of their own race—and the inferiority of others. For example, our Constitution once defined the inferiority of African slaves with mathematical precision: when counting population for the purpose of determining Presidential electors, a slave counted as three-fifths of a person. Mississippi’s anti-miscegenation laws once defined a person as “African” if she or he had at least one-eighth African blood. By contrast, African American theologian Brian Bantum has argued that race is “a tragic illusion,” born of the Western need to assert superiority by setting up a false dichotomy of “white” against “black”—a lie exposed early on by mixed-race children, living “in between categories of colonizer and colonized, human and nonhuman, slave and free” (Brian Bantum, Redeeming Mulatto: A Theology of Race and Christian Hybridity [Waco: Baylor University, 2010]; cited in a review by Edward P. Antonio in Christian Century 129 [February 8, 2012]: 38).

Moses’ story reveals what experience in our own multi-racial society is increasingly proving to be true: that Bantum is right. While Moses was born a Hebrew, he grew up as an Egyptian, the adopted son of Pharaoh’s daughter. No wonder, when Moses helps Reuel’s daughters water their flock, they report to their father, “An Egyptian (!) helped us.” Moses marries one of those young women, named Zipporah, and settles down to live among Reuel’s people, as a Midianite. But he knows he is not truly one of them, either, as the name he gives his son makes clear: Gershom, here understood to mean “name of a ger”—that is, a foreigner, or sojourner (see the devotions for week six). There was nothing wrong with Moses being Midianite, or Egyptian for that matter—and he could easily have been defined, and defined himself, as either. But his identification with the Hebrews oppressed in Egypt will not let him go—and neither will the Lord.

Prayer: Free us, God, from our obsession with telling others who they are. Remind us that you have spoken our names, from before creation, and give us grace to accept and affirm one another. In Jesus’ holy name, Amen.




Week 4, Exodus 1—2–“Moses”: Trying to Force God’s Hand

Friday, March 24 

One day, after Moses had grown up, he went out to his people and saw their forced labor. He saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his kinsfolk.  He looked this way and that, and seeing no one he killed the Egyptian and hid him in the sand.  When he went out the next day, he saw two Hebrews fighting; and he said to the one who was in the wrong, ‘Why do you strike your fellow Hebrew?’  He answered, ‘Who made you a ruler and judge over us? Do you mean to kill me as you killed the Egyptian?’ Then Moses was afraid and thought, ‘Surely the thing is known.’  When Pharaoh heard of it, he sought to kill Moses” (Exodus 2:11-15).

Scripture and history are full of accounts of people acting to force God’s hand—and it never ends well. The Israelites attempted to claim the land of promise too soon, and were driven back (Num 14:40-45); they presumptuously carried the ark into battle without consulting the Lord, and were defeated (1 Sam 4:1-10). In 1524, German peasants inspired by the preaching of Thomas Müntzer believed that they could bring in the kingdom of God by taking up arms against their lords—and 100,000 of them died.

Moses’ murder of an Egyptian overseer may be an understandable response to cruel oppression, but it is not excusable. Surely if the cross teaches us anything, it is that God’s way is not the way of violence. Jesus did not come to lead an armed rebellion, imposing his will upon the world by force. Instead, he told his followers, whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:43-45).

Prayer: O patient and compassionate God, help us to wait upon you, in patience and in confidence. But never let us turn that waiting into an excuse for inaction. Show us how to represent your kingdom in our world, without thinking that we can bring in your kingdom by our action, and without succumbing to despair when our efforts seem unfruitful. Through Jesus our Christ, who was rejected by those he came to save, Amen.


Week 4, Exodus 1—2–“Moses”: More “Nasty Women” 

Thursday, March 23

The daughter of Pharaoh came down to bathe at the river, while her attendants walked beside the river. She saw the basket among the reeds and sent her maid to bring it.  When she opened it, she saw the child. He was crying, and she took pity on him. ‘This must be one of the Hebrews’ children,’ she said.  Then his sister said to Pharaoh’s daughter, ‘Shall I go and get you a nurse from the Hebrew women to nurse the child for you?’  Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, ‘Yes.’ So the girl went and called the child’s mother.  Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, ‘Take this child and nurse it for me, and I will give you your wages.’ So the woman took the child and nursed it” (Exodus 2:5-9).

When then-candidate Donald Trump referred to his opponent Hillary Clinton as a “nasty woman,” female activists across America took up that insult as a badge of honor, proud to be known as “nasty women”! Strong, confident “nasty women” play an extraordinary role in the story of Moses and in the story of Israel’s deliverance. From the midwives Shiphrah and Puah, to Moses’ here-unnamed mother and sister, to the daughter of Pharaoh and her handmaids, women act boldly to undo the hateful plans of Pharaoh.

After Moses’ mother places her son in his tiny ark, trusting him into the hands of God, Moses’ sister (later we learn that her name is Miriam) follows along on the shore, “to see what would happen to him” (Exodus 2:4). What she sees must have horrified her. In what is surely the worst possible outcome, the little basket floats into the Egyptian princess and her attendants, who are bathing in the Nile. Remember, Pharaoh himself had commanded that any Egyptian who finds a Hebrew baby boy is to drown the child in the Nile—and surely, if anyone can be expected to obey Pharaoh’s edicts, it is his own daughter! But instead, even though she knows that this child “must be one of the Hebrews,” she decides to keep him and raise him as her own—in defiance of her father. Miriam is then able to step up with an offer to find a Hebrew wet-nurse for the baby: Moses’ own mother. As a result, Moses grows up aware of his heritage.

Sometimes, the worst thing that could happen, happens. But the promise of the whole of Scripture is that God is with us and at work even then. This is why Paul is able to say, “We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28)—not, please note, that all things are good, or that only good things happen to believers, but that whatever happens, God is at work in and with us to bring about God’s good will.

Prayer: Transforming God, when we are brought down to despair by the power of evil in our world, or by our own weakness and failings, or by the enormity of the task before us, remind us that we do not labor alone. You are at work, in the most unlikely places and through the most unlikely people, to bring in your kingdom. Help us to hope and trust in you, we pray, in the name of Jesus Christ your obedient son, who trusted you all the way to the cross and beyond, Amen


Week 4, Exodus 1—2–“Moses”: Moses’ Ark

Wednesday, March 22

“Now a man from the house of Levi went and married a Levite woman.  The woman conceived and bore a son; and when she saw that he was a fine baby, she hid him three months.  When she could hide him no longer she got a papyrus basket for him, and plastered it with bitumen and pitch; she put the child in it and placed it among the reeds on the bank of the river.  His sister stood at a distance, to see what would happen to him” (Exodus 2:1-4).

When I was a boy in Sunday School, a great joke was to ask someone, “How many animals did Moses take on the ark?” The answer, of course, is “None—that was Noah and the ark.” Yet, curiously, Moses did have an ark, and in the Hebrew a clear connection is made between Noah’s and Moses’ deliverance.

Moses was the child of a man and women of the priestly tribe of Levi (neither named here). His birth was a great risk, since, as we saw yesterday, Pharaoh had sentenced all Hebrew baby boys to death by drowning in the Nile. His parents hide him as long as they can, but when he is three months old, they surrender to the inevitable, and Moses’ mother and sister take him to the river themselves. But instead of drowning the baby, they place him in a tebat (rendered in the NRSV as “basket”) and set him afloat—hoping against hope, perhaps, that someone will find him and raise him in safety.

The word tebat is a loanword from the Egyptian tbt, meaning “chest.”  It appears in only two places in the Hebrew Bible: twice in Exodus 2 to describe the reed basket in which baby Moses was placed, and 26 times in Genesis 6—8 to describe the boxy structure Noah built.  Both Moses’ little tebat and Noah’s enormous tebat are coated inside and out with pitch (Genesis 6:14; Exodus 2:3) in order to make them water-tight.  When they read of Moses’ ark, then, careful readers of Scripture recall God’s deliverance of Noah, his family, and the world’s creatures in their ark, and know that as grim as Moses’ future seems at that moment to be, this baby, like Noah, will be saved through water. 1 Peter 3:19-22 also alludes to Noah’s flood, with reference to the waters of baptism—we too have been saved through water!  Our God, these texts all declare, is a God who saves.


“When the storm of life is raging,

Stand by me.

When the storm of life is raging,

Stand by me.

When the world is tossing me

Like a ship upon the sea,

Thou who rulest wind and water,

Stand by me.”

Through Christ Jesus our Lord, who calmed the waves, Amen.

(Hymn by African American Gospel composer Charles Tindley).

AFTERWORD: Methodist preacher and hymn composer Charles Tindley wrote dozens of beloved Gospel hymns, including “Nothing Between,” “We’ll Understand It Better By and By,” and “Stand By Me.”