Miriam in the Bullrushes

By Peter & Mary Minson


A slightly feminist angle on the traditional Exodus story of Moses' early days


Narrator: a know-it-all from way-back
Pharaoh: Rameses II - a distant preincarnation of Adolf Hitler
Counsellor: Sly Treasury aide who's lost his Goebbels
Midwife: Hebrew Home-Birthing Expert presently serving Healthlink Cairo
Rap leader: Street-wise jiver who knows that God can use anyone
Miriam: Hero who never parades her bravery
Mum: Of Miriam and Moses - a woman of faith and determination
Pharaoh's Daughter: - Spoiled rotten, educated silly, but no dope.
Attendants: Rose, Lilly, and Co. Patient water-babies.
Bullrushes and Water: damp extras



Royal Court Scene

Narr: No doubt some of you already know the story of the Hebrew boy, Joseph, and his amazing Technicolor dream-coat.
Joseph - sold as a slave by his jealous brothers, and taken to Egypt.
Joseph - who started life anew as a slave and a prisoner in Egypt, but who ended up as one of the most powerful men in the land.
Joseph - who made friends once more with his family, and shifted them all to live in Egypt under his protection during a terrible famine.
Well, for a while, life was good for those Hebrew families in this foreign land. They grew wealthy and had many, many children. The Egyptians respected them and were happy to have these hard-working sheep-farmers providing food and wool for their country.
But after a few generations, things began to change for Joseph's descendants, and there came to power Pharaoh Rameses - who knew and cared nothing about Joseph

(Pharaoh strides in with attendants - moves to throne. Sign for congregation :


P: Send for my chief counselor. Tell him to bring the latest Census. Tell him I want numbers. Tell him I want figures. Tell him I want tribes and races living in Egypt.

(Counselor enters with clip-board)

C: O mighty Pharaoh. I have noticed the growing number of Hebrews in our land.

P: Yes, I too am aware of this, and I do not like it. They are not of our nation. They have no blood ties with our Royal majestic line. They do not worship our God Ra. If war should break out, they might join our enemies.

C: Oh Majestic One, why not indulge in a little ethnic cleansing? Round them up and deport them?

P: No no. They are far too useful to us as a work-force and as farmers. And they are too numerous to deport. They could even arm and attack us.

C: With respect, O Lord Pharaoh, there is a ...er..."final solution". Why not simply... (relishing it) DE-STROY them!?

P: No, we must be prudent here. They are of some use as slaves. Also I do not want the world branding me as a murdering racist. If I attack them, their fellow tribes might come to their aid. No. Let us make use of them. Let us use them and in the process crush them. I don't care if they're totally obliterated eventually. But quietly...gradually.
So go on, push them, work them, force them beyond their limits. Then we'll see if they keep growing in numbers! If they do not die out building my monuments, we shall crush them with yet more work. Yes, go. Make it so.

C: Yes O king, it shall be as you command, sire.

(People begin moving across the back of the stage carrying heavy loads, whipped by slave drivers)

Narr: So accordingly, the Egyptians put slave-drivers over the Hebrews to wear them down under heavy loads. In this way, they built two vast cities for Pharaoh.
But the more they were oppressed, the more they increased in numbers and spread, until Egypt came to dread the children of Israel.
So Egypt forced them into slavery and made their lives unbearable with hard labour, work with clay and brick, all kinds of work all day and night in the fields. They forced on them every kind of hard labour. But still they increased in numbers.
Then Pharaoh in desperation knew he could not slowly crush them. So he devised a secret scheme, commanding that the Hebrew midwives kill every new-born Hebrew baby boy. And the children of Israel cried out to Yahweh their God under their yoke of cruel oppression.

Song: Negro Spiritual -

Prayers for the oppressed

Sing: O Lord, Hear My Prayer

P: Send for the supervising Hebrew midwife from Health-Link Cairo!

(Midwife enters - Pharaoh speaks quietly and savagely - the court is not to hear this - audience must)

I ordered you and your team of midwives to kill every Hebrew baby boy. But I have reports from my spies that they still see Hebrew male babies!

M/w: O mighty Pharaoh, may you live forever! We have tried to obey your order, but it is very difficult. We .... er ..... we find it impossible to get to the mothers in time.

P: What rot!

M/w: Ahhh... the Hebrew women work so hard on your cities that they are strong and hardy, and...um...They are so quick to deliver their babies. Yes, that's it, O mighty Pharaoh! What I say sounds reasonable ...I mean .. IS true!

P: (cynically) Strong, are they? Fit?

M/w: Yes, majesty. You might even think all these women had been to Les Mills Gym! Sometimes they do not warn us soon enough, so strong and confident they are! And we arrive to find no sign of the baby!

P: What? A midwife who can't find the baby?

M/w: ...or they tell us it was born dead and they've already buried it.

P: Rubbish!

M/w: ...or they say it was a girl and it's staying with its auntie. If only you gave us access to the Wanganui computer we'd be able to keep track of them...but the Privacy commissioner...

P: O for Ra's sake!

M/w: Yes, O mighty technological One! We find no sign of the mother or the child. O king - with respect, only a woman can really understand such things - it's so difficult - so very difficult!

P: Well this I DO understand - yes me...a mere male! You are not a very convincing liar, Midwife. If you don't want to end up floating in the Nile, you will put into effect the instructions I gave you. To the letter. Do I make myself clear?

M/w: Yes, my king. May it please your Majestic holiness!

P: Get out of my sight, and not a word of this to the media or the Grand Jury! If I get another report like this I will personally see to it that the men from your own household will work without leave or rest.
Make it so!

(Midwife leaves, backing out, bowing)

Narr: But God was kind to the midwives. The Hebrew people went on increasing in numbers and grew very powerful. And since the midwives honoured God in all their work, God granted THEM many descendants too.
Finally the Pharaoh got so angry that he issued another evil order.

Ph: (shouting to congregation) Throw all Hebrew baby boys in the Nile - but let the girls live, If any of you find a baby boy, do it! You have my blessing. Let us rid our nation of these people who breed like locusts. You have my authority. Do it!


Miriam and Mother Scene

Mi: Mother! Mother listen! I was just at St Tim's and I heard something terrible.

Mum: What? Another one of the vicar's political sermons?

Mi: No, no Mother...this is 3-thousand 500 BC! And this is serious! It's what we've been afraid might happen. Pharaoh has at last shown his hand. He's publicly told the Egyptians to come and grab any Hebrew baby boy and throw them in the Nile!

Mum: What!?

Mi: Yes, it's true. He ORDERED them to kill our boys.

Mum: Oh Miriam, come here child (they hug). Oh, what are we going to do with our little son? Our baby boy is growing so big and strong. We can't keep disguising him as a girl. An Egyptian has only to look at him and it'll all be over!

Mi: And we can't keep shifting from house to house. People are getting suspicious, Mother. I'm scared - before it was a game - this time I'm really afraid.

Mum: So am I child, so am I. But we can't stay drunk on fear ... no....we've got to think... keep our heads clear.

I know! Go and find your aunties, Miriam. Run and get them. Don't say a word to a soul on the way. No, walk, don't run. Think as you go. Don't fail me now, child. Don't give us away just because the enemy is powerful. Remember, Yahweh is our God, and he's bigger than King Rameses.

Mi: All right, yes, ok, mother. I'll be back in a flash.

Mum: Go in peace. Shalom.

Mi: Be in peace, shalom, mother.

(Miriam exits)

Mum: (in prayer) Oh, Yahweh our God,
I cry out to you, Lord
Look upon your helpless servant
Have pity on this poor soul

Have mercy on this tiny baby
This beautiful child of mine
Little unique son of Israel
With his great dark eyes
And his father's lovely smile

Oh my God, fear surrounds me
Like roaring lions
And I am lost in my terror!
How long, O Lord?


But No!
How long will I wade in hopelessness?
How long will I wander in fear?
How long will I wallow in self-pity?
Fear, I name you for what you are
A dust-cloud from hell - get thee gone!
I see you for what you are!
Covering the face of my God
Deafening me with your roar
To shut out God's voice
Get thee gone, Fear!
In life, or in death, I will trust in an awesome God.

Throw them into the Nile?
Throw my little one into the River?
I have no power ... but God has all power.
But I'll take you, my little love, I'll take you to the very jaws of death.
But it's in an ark you'll go, in a basket sealed with pitch, a tiny Ark,
And we will ask the God of Noah to bring you through this reign of blood.

(Miriam returns with 2 rent-an-aunts hijacked from the audience)

Mum: Ruth, Judith! Quickly! We need a papyrus basket, and some pitch to make it water-tight. Bring it back here as soon as it's done. Go quickly my sisters.
Miriam - sort out our warmest blanket. God can use anyone, anything, anyone. God can use anything to bring forth good.

Prayers: for when fear is too big


Bulrushes Scene

(Children enter carrying bulrushes. Sit in a group.)

Song (as children enter) If You Climb to the Top of a Mountain

(Miriam moves toward bulrushes with baby in basket on a trolley.
4 girls with blue strips move with Miriam - they are the "water". They remain with their blue "water" at the front till Ph's Daughter passes, then drape their water over the front of the stage and leave.)

(When Miriam gets near the front there's a burst of noise and flurry as Ph's daughter enters with attendants. Miriam grabs the basket and runs into the bulrushes, peeps out, and tells the children holding the bulrushes to hide her.)

Ph's D: (a dizzy brunette with an affected upper-class lisp) Come on, come on, darlings!
Ooooh, I jutht couldn't wait to get here today! Thith heat ith jutht tho thticky!
Mmmm. (dipping toe) But thith water ith jutht tho DIVINE!
Daddy ith tho nith to let me come out here.
Jathmine! Bwing the wothe petalth. Ooo dig that bwiwyantn perfume!
Lilly! Here'th another water-lily, Lilly - like my little joke, Lilly? Hah hah, Lilly! I am thuch a thilly, Lilly!
Pick the flower, Lilly - I going to fill the pool back at the palath [palace] with flowerth and water lillieth, Lilly!
Oh thith ith jutht THO fabulouth!

Wothe, I want that one. Go ON, get it! It'th too deep for me! Lilly - you go in with Wothe. Ooo you are thuch a goothe! (pouting) I won't let you come next time. Do you weally want to thwelter back at the palathe all afternoon when you could be down here with Moi!? No. I thought not!
O Iwith, that'th too charming! I haven't had any that colour before! You may bathe me tonight, Iwith.

What'th that noithe? Thoundth like a baby cwying. Whatever could any baby cwy about on thuch a lovely day? It thoundth too little to have wandered down here. Quickly girlth. Find it! I weally mutht thee it! I thoundth tho unhappy!

Attendant: Maybe it's a Hebrew baby, Highness. Perhaps one of our people found it and threw it in the river here and it's survived.

Ph's D: O wubbish! (dropping affectations - snarling now) Shut up you stupid girl! That's preposterous! No-one actually does that! I just don't believe darling Daddy could really MEAN what he said. Everybody LOVES babies.
Oh there it is.
Oooooo. Look Quick. Bring it to me now. I want it here this instant.
Oooo how gorgeous! Just look!
Well...., Rose,.... find out whether it's a boy or a girl (Pause) YOU KNOW!....
It is? Oh. Oh dear. But oh, just look at his lovely eyes. Isn't he the most wonderful little woochy coochy moochy thing? Mmmm I could just eat you, delicious! I just can't believe that anybody could abandon anything so perfect.

(Miriam enters)

Ph's D: Who are you?

Mi: Your highness - I heard the baby crying.

Ph's D: He's hungry. He should be fed.

Mi: Yes, your highness ... Shall I go and find one of the Hebrew women to feed the child for you?

(Miriam and Ph's D eye each other silently)

Ph's D: Yes. Go at once. Delay and you'll pay dearly, slave. (Miriam goes) Oh look! He's stopped crying. He's smiling at me. He LIKES me! Oh what a sweetheart. (imperiously) I want him!

Mi: (re-entering, introducing Mum) Your highness, here is a woman

Ph's D: You are to take this baby and feed him immediately I will see to it that you are paid and protected. Here. Put my seal round his neck. He is to be named Moses, which means "I drew him out of the water".


The "Freeze" Scene

Narr: And so ends our story of the child hero, Miriam. And so begins our story of Moses.
Moses, who grew to be God's greatest prophet
Moses, who became the saviour and redeemer of the Hebrew people.

But there are earlier prophets than Moses.

The midwives - they were the prophetic voices who indignantly refused to be bought off or frightened off - but who held resolutely to the standards of their God, and spoke words of freedom and words of hope to the community they served.

And there was an earlier saviour than Moses: his mother, whose faith in God steered her through Pharaoh's reign of blood and terror.

And there was an earlier redeemer than Moses: Miriam his sister, who bravely and repeatedly put her own life at risk and stood in the firing line for her baby brother.

So what a strange story this is! On one hand we have a powerful king - but he is outwitted by a group of midwives.
We have the hatred of a repressive state aimed at the Hebrews - but the slave people prove too fertile to be crushed.
We have a murderous policy of infanticide - and it is undermined by a member of the Pharaoh's own household.
And this powerful daughter of the king - she finds herself tied round the little finger of a young slave girl.
And little Moses - thrown into the mighty Nile in a basket - is brought up under the protection of the Egyptian court - and later Moses becomes the destroyer of Rameses' royal dynasty.

So listen with new ears to the story of Moses - and the story of Miriam his big sister.
In the midst of a world where men have always wielded the power,
Here it is the women who hear the Lord's call to stand against unjust laws and conditions.

And in this - one of the earliest of stories of God's saving grace,
The daughters of Israel
And the daughter of Egypt
Together save the sons of Israel.


Rapper: He may think he's big,
he may think he's tough
But he will see it's just not enough
Cos God can use anyone


Yeah God can use anything
Yeah anything

He doesn't need a great king.
He's gonna beat this bad king
The men are all slaves
and the women can't fight
Still God can use anything


God can use anything

Anything (repeat 3 times)
He'll use the little bitty baby

Anything - the small and the helpless

Anything - the old and the powerless



Bring forth good, yeah! Bring forth good, yeah!
Just you watch now - just you see now
God'll use you and God'll use me
God is so great and God is so free
Just you watch now, just you see

He'll take a little bitty something
And make you laugh
When the powerful fall down
And land on their - grass
Cos God can use anything

ANYTHING? Anything



© Peter & Mary Minson 1992 and 1998
All rights reserved
This play may be performed free of charge, on the condition that copies are not sold for profit in any medium, nor any entrance fee charged.
In exchange for free performance, the authors would appreciate being notified of when and for what purpose the play is performed.
They may be contacted at: p.m.minson@gmail.com