Miriam – Bold, Prophetic, Worshipful
By: Amanda Jackson
The story of Miriam as a little girl is in all the Bible versions for children (see Exodus Ch2); but the main emphasis is on her baby brother Moses who would grow to be Israel’s leader, rescuer and lawgiver.
Miriam’s contribution deserves more attention. As she watched by the river Nile where baby Moses, lay in a basket, Miriam showed incredible boldness. She stepped out of hiding to address Pharaoh’s daughter even though the social divide was huge – a little girl (maybe 6 or 7) from the Hebrew slave nation speaking up to a young princess whose father has ordered the killing of all Hebrew boys.
Miriam must have known that speaking out was risky, given that hiding the baby was illegal, but she pulled off a little miracle. She managed to arrange for her baby brother Moses to be breast fed by his own mum for that vital first year or two of his life, enabling that special bond to be unbroken.
God developed Miriam’s early fearlessness and faithfulness into prophetic leadership as she grew. When the Israelites crossed the Red Sea, she was with her brothers, Moses and Aaron, and led the Israelites in worship, praising God for the victory. Her role as a prophet was obviously respected because when she took a timbrel in her hand, “all the women followed her” (Exodus 15:20).
Her song is a strong reminder of the Lord’s mighty victory over the powerful Egyptian army – “He is highly exalted. Both horse and driver he has hurled into the sea.” Great to see a woman in her 80s singing and dancing for God!
She and Aaron had an important role in supporting Moses, who was the leader God had called, and spoken with face to face.
Something went wrong for Miriam in their wilderness travels – maybe she got a bit sick of always being the assistant leader. When they are camped at Hazeroth, Aaron and Miriam grumble about their brother getting all the attention (see Exodus 12). Some versions say “murmuring” implying secretive subversion. If we have legitimate issues, we should state them to the person directly, not murmur behind their back.
And notice that they are not really grumbling about Moses but about his wife the “Cushite woman”. Getting personal about leaders is dangerous territory!
Miriam is either contemptuous of Moses’s wife Zipporah because she was not an Israelite, or she and Aaron demean Moses’ Ethiopian wife because of her race (it is not clear whether Zipporah and the Cushite are the same person or whether Moses had 2 wives).
God is very angry – as leaders they should have known better then to undermine their brother’s God given authority in this way.
It is not clear from the text, but somehow Miriam’s rebellion must have been stronger than Aaron’s, or she is not penitent, because she is punished more severely than her brother for her lack of loyalty – God was so angry that she suffered from leprosy for 7 days and had to dwell outside the community (v9-15).
How humiliating for such a gifted woman. And note how her mistake costs the whole nation – they had to wait for her to be healed before moving on.
It is sad that Miriam’s leadership is not mentioned again, but she must have been fully restored to Moses’s side because her death is recorded in Chapter 20. She was buried at Kadesh –a place symbolic of both promise and failure for the whole nation (it is from Kadesh that the spies went in to Canaan the first time and rejected the chance to conquer it and it was in Kadesh 38 years later that Moses and Aaron rebelled against God and were tragically forbidden from entering the Promised Land).
Whatever our gifting and position, we need to remind ourselves that everything comes from God. Miriam’s strengths and her contribution to the life of her brother and the nation are much greater that her mistake but it is helpful for all of us to be conscious of how our jealousy or resentments can put our giftings at risk.
The assurance of Miriam is appealing to me because if it were not for her bravery and the bravery of four other women (Shiphrah, Puah, Moses’s mother and Pharaoh’s daughter), Moses may not have survived. I am quite an introverted person but I am quite forthright when it comes to justice and mercy. Boldness for God is not just for the loud and outgoing. And boldness is quite different from boasting.
– Do you want more of God’s holy boldness? Ask God for a chance to be bold and He will oblige!
Winnow out jealousy
Our talents and giftings tend to have a reverse side that can tempt us to believe in our own abilities. Miriam had a prophetic gift and was a leader, but she resented the attention given to Moses.
Tell God when you are tempted to be jealous of someone else’s ministry. Ask for Him to ‘winnow’ your character so you can use your gifts without succumbing to pride and encourage others in their gifting.
Ask that you can be gracious enough to bless others even if that means they get more acclaim.
As leaders, let us lift up people with all sorts of gifting, thank people for their contribution and mentor others so they can develop.
Leaders have responsibility
Miriam, Moses and Aaron were all mighty leaders, and there was no difference in the roles and responsibilities they undertook based on gender, but all rebelled against God and suffered. May god give us all humility and the willingness to be ‘winnowed’ so we can be all that God wants us to be.