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UCGia Bible Insights Thursday, December 14 2023

Miriam - a lifetime of faith

Seven years Moses' senior, Miriam grew up a slave, the daughter of slaves. Assuming Moses was born around 1520 B.C. (Unger's Bible Dictionary, p.886), then Miriam was born around 1527 B.C.

Miriam - a lifetime of faith
Illustration of Miriam with her baby brother Moses and their mother Jochebed . Source: Sweet Publishing / FreeBibleimages.org

Miriam and her mother courageously defied Pharaoh by placing baby Moses in a basket, among the reeds by the river’s edge to prevent him from being murdered, because Pharaoh had ordered all the infant Israelite baby boys under two years old to be killed. They knew that what they were doing was risky, and that if they got caught they could be killed for defying Pharaoh's order.

When Pharaoh’s daughter came to the river to bathe, she discovered tiny Moses in the basket, and her heart was moved with compassion, even though she recognized Moses as a Hebrew child. Miriam, who was watching closeby, immediately approached the Princess and told her she knew of a Hebrew woman who could take care of the baby. The Princess agreed and Moses was reunited with his mother and Miriam (Exodus 2:1-9).

Some 160 years earlier Jacob, also named Israel, and his family had fled to Egypt because of drought in their homeland. After some years, his estranged son Joseph became the chief assistant to Pharaoh, and was able to ensure the Hebrews prospered as shepherds in the Nile delta. But after the death of Joseph, "there arose a new king over Egypt, who did not know Joseph" (Exodus 1:8) and, because of the number of Hebrews then living in Egypt, he feared the loss of control of his country. In an attempt to limit their power, he enslaved them, forcing them to work on major construction projects.

In spite of years of slavery, the Hebrews continued to multiply, resulting in the Pharaoh taking the drastic step of decreeing all newborn Hebrew boys be thrown into the Nile to drown. It's at this juncture Miriam risked her life to save her little brother, by placing Moses among the reeds by the river's edge with her mother and then approaching Pharaoh's daughter (Exodus 2:3). Such character would have been commendable if she had been in her 20 or 30s. But she was only 7.

After Israel was delivered from the jaws of death through the parting and closing of the Red Sea, Miriam took her timbrel and, following Moses' own song, led the women of Israel in musical praise of God for His deliverance (Exodus 15:20-21). The context of her song (Exodus 15:21) shows that she clearly understood that God alone had delivered Israel from the Egyptian army. It is in the recording of this incident that Moses, the author of the book of Exodus, identified his older sister as a prophetess, the first recorded in the Bible.

In the Bible Miriam is mentioned along with Moses, the nation's leader, and Aaron, its high priest. Although her exact position isn't known, she was clearly held in high regard by Moses, Aaron and her people. Exodus 15:20 refers to her as "Miriam the prophetess, the sister of Aaron." Scripture gives no indication that Miriam ever lost her attitude of loyalty and faithfulness. However, God records not only the strengths of His faithful servants, but their flaws, and errors in judgment.

One of Miriam's actions—specifically her criticism of Moses' marriage to a woman of whom she disapproved—disclosed what seems to have been hidden resentment: "...Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses because of the Ethiopian woman whom he had married...they said, 'Has the Lord indeed spoken only through Moses? Has He not spoken through us also?'...And the Lord came down in the pillar of cloud…and called Aaron and Miriam….Then He said, 'Hear now My words: If there is a prophet among you, I the Lord, make Myself known to him in a vision, and I speak to him in a dream. Not so with My servant Moses; he is faithful in all My house. I speak with him face to face…and he sees the form of the Lord. Why then were you not afraid to speak against My servant Moses?' So the anger of the Lord was aroused against them…." (Numbers 12:1-9).

Miriam and Aaron were both older than Moses and apparently chafed at Moses' preeminent calling and position. They failed to acknowledge God sets up and removes leaders (Daniel 2:21). Their indignation over Moses taking a wife outside of Israel provided them the credibility they sought—or so they thought. Since Miriam’s name is mentioned first in speaking against Moses (Numbers 12:1), perhaps Miriam initiated the criticism, and she was the one singled out for punishment. "So the anger of the Lord was aroused against them…. And when the cloud departed from above the tabernacle, suddenly Miriam became leprous, as white as snow…." (Numbers 12:9-10).

If Miriam’s rebellious spirit had been allowed to spread, it could have affected others, and the Israelites had been chosen to be a model nation to countries around them (Deuteronomy 4:5-8; 2 Samuel 7:23-24). When God afflicted her with the dread disease of leprosy, Aaron immediately cried out for Moses to help Miriam, begging him to ask God for forgiveness and the healing of their sister. Moses responded quickly and asked God to heal Miriam, which He did. But even though God healed Miriam, He would not let the rebellion go unpunished: “...Let her be shut out of the camp seven days, and after that she may be received again" (Numbers 12:14).

God inspired Moses to identify Miriam as a prophetess while she lived, and she was still highly regarded in Scripture some 700 years after she died. God, when speaking through the prophet Micah, reasoned with and chastised a backsliding Israel, reminding them how He had delivered them from Egyptian slavery. The three leaders mentioned who helped in this great deliverance included Miriam: "And I sent before you Moses, Aaron, and Miriam" (Micah 6:4). God honored Miriam, acknowledging He had chosen her—along with Aaron—to assist Moses in serving Israel, because she had set a faithful example for the Israelites of her time and for mankind through the ages. These accounts of loyalty and faithfulness like Miriam's are recorded in the Bible for our sake, to give us hope and increase our faith in God (Romans 15:4).