Then Miriam the prophet, Aaron’s sister, took a tambourine and led all the women in rhythm and dance. — Exodus 15:20
When Moses was a baby, his mother took the extraordinary step of floating him in a basket down the Nile River (see Exodus 2:1-10). This was not a case of child endangerment; it was a matter of casting Moses on the mercy of God. However, Moses’ mother also exercised prudence by sending Moses’ older sister to keep an eye on the baby from the bank of the river. We are not told at this point the name of the sister, but later we find that Moses had a sister named Miriam and a brother named Aaron. So it is reasonable to assume that the sister in this story was Miriam.
Miriam was apparently called and gifted by the Lord to be a prophet. Aaron fulfilled a similar role. When Moses complained that his speaking abilities were limited and that he would rather not go to Pharaoh with God’s message, the Lord said, “Aaron will be your spokesman to the people, and you will be as God to him, telling him what to say” (4:16). Later, the Lord amplified his calling of Aaron and said to Moses, “Your brother, Aaron, will be your prophet; he will speak for you. Tell Aaron everything I say to you and have him announce it to Pharaoh” (7:1-2).
There is no doubt that Miriam saw herself in the same light because with Aaron she stated, “Has the Lord spoken only through Moses? Hasn’t he spoken through us, too?” (Numbers 12:2). There is every reason to believe, therefore, that Miriam’s ministry involved attending upon the Lord, hearing His Word, and announcing it to the people.
After the enormous victory over the Egyptian army, Moses led the people in a “song to the Lord” (Exodus 15:1). Unfortunately, while we have the triumphant words of the song, we do not have the music. But we do know that it had rhythm! So much rhythm that Miriam grabbed a tambourine and “led all the women in rhythm and dance” while singing the chorus of the hymn (15:20).
It does not take a lot of imagination to recognize that if Miriam were to reappear and act in this manner in some segments of the church today, she would cause quite a stir! In others, she would be quite a hero. She would quickly become the center of controversy, because she engaged in a prophetic ministry, she used percussion in worship, and she felt it was appropriate to dance before the Lord!
Those of us who question such activities today would do well to consider Miriam, while those who would use her as a role model should remember that even prophets have faults, and gifted speakers sometimes get things wrong (see Numbers 12:1-16).
For further study: Exodus 15:19-21
Content taken from The One Year Book of Devotions for Men by Stuart Briscoe. Copyright ©2000. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers. All rights reserved.