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MIRIAM REJOICING OWER THE DESTRUCTION OF THE FOES OF ISRAEL.
(Exodus xv. 20, 21.)
ON the departure of the children of Israel from Egypt, their house of bondage, Moses, their appointed leader, instead of taking them the nearest way to the promised land, led them along the skirts of the great wilderness which bounds Egypt and Petraea to “Pihahiroth, between Migdol and the sea, over against BaalZephon,” which probably means a strip of land along the western shore of the gulf, between the mountains which skirt the sea and the sea itself. The situation of this large host appeared alarming. On each hand were impassable mountains, while in the front lay a vast expanse of water, and in the rear they were exposed to the attacks of their enemy. The Almighty, however, had given this direction, and to manifest to the people that they marched under his guidance, he “went before them by day in a pillar of a cloud,” and by night “in a pillar of fire.”
The Almighty had given Moses a direct intimation that Pharaoh, when he heard they were “entangled in the land,” and shut in by the wilderness, would follow after them, to his own destruction. Thus it happened. Although Pharaoh, in common with his people, appalled by the death of the first-born, had been urgent upon the children of Israel to depart, yet when it was told him that they had made a decisive move from Etham, and intended to escape altogether from his yoke, he regretted that he had conceded all the points which had been required by Moses, under the Divine direction. Such of his subjects, also, as had once possessed a profitable interest in the labour of the Israelites, and many, probably, who had given to the Hebrews their “jewels of silver, and jewels of gold,” partook of this feeling of concern, and the result was, that Pharaoh collected his forces and marched after them, with a full determination to subdue or destroy them.
The sacred narrative says that Pharaoh mustered six hundred chosen chariots and all the war chariots of Egypt, on this occasion. This corresponds with the sculptures, which show that the Egyptians made great use of chariots in their warlike enterprises. A large body of infantry was also assembled, and their unencumbered march was, doubtless, much more quickly performed than that of the Israelites, they bearing with them their wives, and their children, with all their goods, and the spoils of the land of Egypt. The Egyptians were, no doubt, glad to find the Hebrews in a position where they could not, to all human appearance, escape their attack. Hence they do not appear to have been in haste to assail them; for, although they first descried them towards the evening, they encamped for the night without molesting them. The sight of their ancient foes filled the minds of the Israelites with terror, and forgetting the miracles wrought on their behalf, and heedless of the presence of God, they upbraided Moses thus: “Because,” said they, “there were no graves in Egypt, hast thou taken us away to die in the wilderness?” All unmoved, Moses replied, “Fear ye not, stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will show to you to-day: for the Egyptians whom ye have seen to-day, ye shall see them again no more for ever. The Lord shall fight for you, and ye shall hold your peace.” Having given them this assurance, Moses had recourse to prayer, and he immediately received a reply: “Wherefore criest thou unto me? speak unto the children of Israel, that they go forward.” The command was obeyed; and no sooner had they arrived on the shores, than— the man of God
O'er the wide waters lifts his mighty rod,
And onward treads; the circling waves retreat,
In hoarse, deep murmurs, from his holy feet;
And the chased surges, inly roaring, show
Through these waters the Hebrews passed onward. The whole host, under the guidance of their leader, again marched fearlessly towards Canaan. Although Pharaoh had been a witness of the wonder-working power of God, and must therefore have known that he could yet perform a miracle on the behalf of his people, still he appears to have conceived that he held them within the grasp of his power. As soon, therefore, as he discovered that the Israelites were in motion, he was determined to follow them; and his infatuation was such that, regardless of the billows thus supernaturally upreared, and of the miraculous cloud before him, he had the bold daring
DESTRUCTION OF THE FOES OF ISRAEL.
to pass into the bed of the sea after them. The moment of vengeance soon appeared. The Israelites had gained the opposite shore, and the whole host of Pharaoh were hastening through the deep, when lo! Again the prophet stretched his dreadful wand: With one wild crash the thundering waters sweep, And all is waves—a dark and lonely deep; And strange and sad the whispering surges bore The groans of Egypt to Arabia's shore. HEBER. The whole host of Pharaoh perished in the mighty waters; “there remained not so much as one of them.” At the sight of the destruction of their foes, the Israelites feared and believed the Lord, and owned the mission of Moses, while the prophet himself, as he contemplated the power and the goodness of God, uttered by Divine inspiration a most magnificent ode. On this occasion, also, the first instance is recorded of a custom among the Hebrew women, of celebrating with dances and timbrels any remarkable event of joy or triumph. They were now led by Miriam, the sister of Moses and Aaron, who, with her friends, taking part as a chorus in the song of the men, answered:— Sing ye to the Lord, for he hath triumphed gloriously; The horse and his rider hath he thrown into the sea. The productions of the ancient masters on this subject, usually represent Miriam and her companions dressed in Turkish silks, and their instruments French kettle drums, Italian tambourines, and a kind of flute of equal diameter throughout. Such, for example, is the celebrated picture of Jordaens. In the accompanying picture, Miriam and her friends are represented in the act of celebrating their deliverance by singing and dancing to the sound of the oriental timbrel, which nearly resembles our own instrument called the tambourine, and which is at the present day much used in the east. The authority for the leading features of the design is an early Egyptian painting, engraved in the great work of Rosellini, of a company of Egyptian females engaged in a scene of triumph. In that picture, it is remarkable that the women who sing, but do not play, bear branches of trees in their hands, a national peculiarity which has been preserved in the drawing. Having mingled four hundred years with the people of Egypt, it may well be supposed that the Hebrews derived many customs from them, and this among the rest. No intimation is given, indeed, of such a custom among the Hebrews, prior to the date of their bondage, whence it appears certain that they copied the dance of triumph from the usages of the Egyptians. The reader will observe that Moses occupies a prominent situation in the centre of the picture.
The narrative, thus illustrated, is admirably calculated to impress the mind of the reader with holy awe at the wonder-working power of Jehovah. Nothing is too difficult for his mighty hand to accomplish. The ever restless waters confessed his presence, and for once their undulation ceased. What an extraordinary exhibition of the Divine power! The very wind which was employed on the occasion was in itself miraculous, for there is no such thing as a natural east wind in all this region. During one half of the year, the monsoon blows steadily from the north, and during the other half as steadily from the south. The stupendous nature of the miracle is seen in the effect it had upon the Hebrews themselves. The sacred historian says, that when they saw the “great work,” they “feared and believed the Lord and his servant Moses.” Nor was the effect of a momentary nature. In after ages, historians, prophets, poets, and didactic writers, refer more frequently and more emphatically to this miracle, than to any other recorded in the Old Testament. Their aspirations of praise are blended with the song of Moses and the chorus of Miriam. The burden of their rejoicings has been thus described by a modern poet:
Sound the loud timbrel o'er Egypt's dark sea
Praise to the Conqueror I praise to the Lord