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"Defiant: Miriam"

We talked last week about what the princess was expected to do: obey the law that her father made to kill all the Hebrew baby boys. Miriam’s role is a little less clear. We are not sure whether she is there on her mom’s orders or on her own initiative.

“A Girl of No Consequence” by Amy Parker
“A Girl of No Consequence” by Amy Parker

Exodus 2:3-9

July 7, 2024

Dr. Todd R. Wright

The last two Sundays we have told the stories of Jochebed, the desperate mother who placed her baby boy in the reeds, and Bithiah, the Pharoah’s daughter, who pulled him out of the river, separately. Miriam is the character who ties their stories together.

She is the baby’s big sister.

Raise a hand if you are a big sister?

You know what that implies, right? You are …

mother’s little helper;

the responsible one;

fiercely protective;

a role model;

someone who has seen more of the world and has accumulated some wisdom as a result;

the one who has known their siblings longer than they have known themselves.

I’m going to assume that Mariam was all those things … and more.


In interpreting this passage, Anna Carter Florence focuses on the fact that Miriam’s path crosses Bithiah’s there in the reeds – “a watery, slippery, in-between sort of place. It is muddy and murky and hard to find your footing, and who knows where the deep water starts. Anything can happen down in the reeds to upset your balance, and on [one particular] day, something did.”[2]

That something, of course, was that these two girls found themselves there in the reeds

with a little baby between them.

She muses that perhaps what happens next is able to happen because their parents aren’t around. And because it is just the two of them there, they are free to focus less on what they should do and more on what they might do.

We talked last week about what the princess was expected to do: obey the law that her father made to kill all the Hebrew baby boys. Miriam’s role is a little less clear. We are not sure whether she is there on her mom’s orders or on her own initiative.

Maybe her mother couldn’t watch, but still yearned to know her baby’s fate.

Maybe she was just supposed to report back whether anyone found the baby.

Maybe she was curious.

Maybe she was protective.

I’m sure her mother wouldn’t have wanted her to endanger herself. The loss of one child is awful. To lose Miriam too would have compounded that grief.

So there you have it: two girls, each of whom knew what they should do.


But down there in the reeds, the princess and the big sister had to think for themselves.

No matter what the Pharoah said about the threat the Hebrews posed, this baby in a basket just looks small and hungry. And when the princess sees it with her own eyes, she voices the obvious: “This must be one of the Hebrews’ children.”

Anna Carter Florence imagines the rest of her thoughts: “This must be one of the Hebrews’ children, because no other mothers are reduced to this: making little arks to float in the Nile. Trying to save their babies from a flood of hate.”[3]

She speaks the truth and that has a powerful effect.

It cuts through all the rhetoric, all the propaganda, all the politics.

It allows her to see this baby as vulnerable … and loved.

Not foreign and a threat; not different or less than human; just vulnerable and loved.

And so she does not obey her father. She ignores the law. She refuses to kill him on sight.

This little bit of rebellion seems to embolden Miriam. She ignores her own safety and speaks up. She finds her voice. She asks a question: “Do you want me to go get a wet nurse?”

That phrase serves as a catalyst. It opens up possibilities. It sparks a little joint rebellion!

Anna Carter Florence puts it this way:

“[J]ust like that, they had a plan. A plan to save one life, no matter what their parents thought. And [as it unfolded,] it was about the craziest plan you could think of, to take baby Moses back to his Hebrew mother for a few years and tell everyone it was just fine because it was on Pharaoh's daughter's orders: really. But they did it, and they got away with it, and when Moses was three years old, the princess actually adopted him. She took him into the palace and she raised him there, with her father down the hall; and Lord only knows what he thought about this whole arrangement – little Moses sitting in his booster seat at the royal table, riding his Toys-R-Us chariot through the throne room.” It must have seemed to Pharoah like a slap in the face!

She continues, “Scripture never says a word about [it]. But as we said, this isn't a story about the parents, and doing what they told you ... This is a story about [two] young people, doing whatever crazy thing they can dream up together to get [a baby] out of the reeds.”[4]


Kelley Nikondeha, author of Defiant, reminds us that young women have long acted creatively and courageously. In the chapter about Miriam, she cites Emma González and Ahed Tamimi.

Emma survived the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High that killed 17 people and wounded many others. Stepping to the mic at a rally three days after the shooting, Emma fearlessly called out the National Rifle Association and the complicity of politicians who valued NRA donations over public safety.

While Nikondeha praises Emma’s bravery, not everyone did. She writes, “Many looked down on their message. How could high schoolers understand the complexity of the second amendment and gun laws? How could they be so articulate unless they were coached by adults with bigger agendas?”[5]

“Ahed [came] of age under the incessant pressure and injustice of occupation, Her family has been active in the struggle to protect Palestinian land. She learned a kind of strength necessary for survival. When she was only 11, she stood between an armed Israeli soldier and her mother [trying to prevent her arrest].” Later, after her cousin had been shot, she slapped a soldier. “Imagine that kind of bravery,” Nikondeha marvels, “but also that kind of anger.”[6]

What could move these two women to act despite their youth?

Nikondeha thinks she knows. “Maybe it is the gift of youth to see, without partisan lenses, the high contrast between right and wrong, safe and unsafe, life and death.”[7]

Think a moment about the two pairs we’ve just talked about:

Bithiah knew her father’s law was unjust, so she acted.

Miriam knew she had to take a risk to save her baby brother, so she acted.

Emma knew students shouldn’t have to fear for their lives, so she acted.

Ahed knew people need to protect their loved ones against injustice, so she acted.

Maybe we will learn from them.

Maybe especially when the world feels like “a watery, slippery, in-between sort of place” we too will embrace what we might do, what God would have us do, to preserve life! Amen

[1] “A Girl of No Consequence” by Amy Parker
[2] Here and following from A is for Alabaster, page 20
[3] Ibid, page 21
[4] Ibid, pages 21-22
[5] Here and following from Defiant, page 83
[6] Ibid, pages 88-89
[7] Ibid, page 83

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