From Judges 4-5
Miriam was a prophetess in Israel who spent most of her years under the persecution of Egyptian brutality.
Her name means rebellion or rebelliously, which signifies the hope of escape held by her parents, Amram and Jochebed. Miriam would have grown up with the stories of the promised land and her forefathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and I believe her passion for that promise remained with her until the day she died.
As the older sister to both Aaron and Moses, Miriam was from the Levi family, who remained faithful to God throughout the good years under Joseph and the hard and bitter years under selectively forgetful Pharaohs. (Number 26:59 & Exodus 1:8-14). It was Levi who was eventually chosen for the priesthood, and who’s inheritance was God himself, not a parcel of land.
Miriam was from the line of Levi's son, Kohath. Once the Tabernacle was built, the Kohathites had the distinct privilege of tending the inner vessels of the Holy of Holies and Holy Place, which has deep spiritual significance. Miriam’s grandfather was Kohath himself.
Miriam, Aaron and Moses made individual mistakes but were all faithful to God. To get a clear picture, let’s look at their future. Moses grew to be Israel’s greatest Old Testament prophet (debatably), Aaron, it’s most well-known High Priest, and Miriam a prophetess and great role model for Israel’s women.
Due to the prolific childbirth rates of the persecuted Israelite women, combined with a fear of a possible rebellion, Pharaoh declared the slaughter of all Hebrew male infants as they were born. This decree seemed to have been made between the births of Aaron and Moses. Aaron was three years older and seems to have escaped it.
Consistent throughout history, Satan-inspired leaders show us they have no trouble murdering the masses who threaten their livelihood or environment.
Can you imagine the pressure of hiding your pregnancy and keeping silent during birth? How about keeping young sucklings quiet while they are hungry or need a nappy change? Visualise being on the lookout for soldiers who, if they heard a cry, would kick your door in and kill your babies. Unimaginable to most of us today, but not in all countries!
Even in times of oppression, people can grow strong, and many leaders are born out of it. We first hear of Miriam as the wise and brave young girl who oversaw a three-month-old Moses in an Ark of bulrushes floating towards his spiritual calling. She would have helped her mother conceal him until they could no longer, and smothered Moses with what they thought were their final kisses.
Did they blame God for the way life turned out? No! Would we have under the same circumstances?
Life in Egypt would have been hell for the next 80 years. Miriam had learned to be both brave and cunning. Upon seeing Pharaoh’s daughter take hold of the Ark, Miriam, using her innocence and boldness, approached Pharaoh’s daughter and suggested an Israelite wet-nurse. Her salesmanship was successful. Their mother, Jochebed, tended the baby for the next two or three years. In those intimate nursing moments, she would have instilled into Moses as much of God and the promised land as she could. I can see her quietly singing songs of faith, talking to him in his infantile state, as new parents do to a child in the womb, believing they somehow hear and understand.
Eighty years later, Moses came back into their lives, but this time as a prophet, leader, miracle worker, and, as far as Pharaoh was concerned, a rebel. Miriam would have now been around ninety years old.
Sometimes we lament over our hard upbringings, often not realising that our strength of character is grown greater under suffering. Providing we don't allow bitterness to grow up beside it.
As Moses led the children of Israel out of bondage to the promised land, I can see Miriam walking along with a smile on her face, encouraging the younger women and quoting the promises she had always believed.
After they crossed the Red Sea, which drowned Pharaoh’s 600 chariots and troops, Miriam led the women in that joyous song, Sing ye to the Lord, for he hath triumphed gloriously; the horse and his rider hath he thrown into the sea. (Exodus 15:21)
l first learnt that song at Creek Street Mission in Bendigo in my early twenties, and still remember it well.
I feel Miriam would have been a great leader of hope to the desert women, holding prayer meetings, worship sessions, song afternoons, and training in righteousness. I can see her giving history lessons to the young about Abraham and the others, and about living by faith in a faithless world. I envisage her as a precious older woman with kind wise words of reassurance, and a gleaming sparkle in her eyes every time she talked of her Lord.
There is much speculation about whether Miram was married. Myths and traditions arise regarding her life, but biblically, Miriam doesn't appear to have married. Miriam was in love with the Lord her God.
Exodus 15:20 states, Miriam was a prophetess. Prophets are generally valiant. True prophets are attuned to the still small voice of God who speaks silently to their minds and hearts. Each one has to stand by their prophecies for their genuineness—“this is the word of the Lord...” Under no circumstances was it to be false. We know how many voices are in our own heads sometimes, so distinguishing God’s voice from Satan’s fiery darts would have been not only difficult but extraordinary.
Miriam is also known for her Leprosy. (Numbers 12). In an uncharacteristic moment, Miriam initiated a conversation with Aaron, the brother with whom she grew up. They talked about Moses and his Ethiopian wife, the Kenite daughter of a priest of Midian whom Moses married whilst living there.
For a brief moment, this very odd discussion transpired, which looks like professional jealousy regarding their gifts of prophecy, however it may not have been. Number 12:2 puts it this way, "And they said, Hath the Lord indeed spoken only by Moses? hath he not spoken also by us? And the Lord heard it."
Tradition says that Moses separated himself from his wife for reasons of purity so he could prophesy, naming this as the root cause of Miriam's comments. I understand that kind of separation. Biblically though, we are unsure, as it isn't clear. What is clear is that two of Moses' right-hand people were talking behind his back about the way he ran the ministry.
Of course, the Lord heard it. He hears everything. God quickly called a meeting with Moses, Aaron and Miriam, and challenged their comments. He said, you two might be prophets, but I speak with Moses face-to-face. The Lord pronounced His judgment on Miriam specifically. The Lord much prefers grievances to be discussed directly with the person, not a third party, which amounts to gossip.
The judgment? Miriam was cursed with leprosy from head-to-toe. Scripture states she became as white as snow. Possibly like mould or rotting flesh. They were all in shock. Aaron speedily and profusely apologised to Moses, even calling him Lord (Num 12:11), and got Moses to beseech God to reverse the Leprosy. He tried to but to no avail.
This was such an embarrassing moment for these male and female elders of Israel. As we saw with God's judgment upon Moses when he hit the rock instead of speaking to it, the higher the position we are in, the greater the penalty we receive. Where much responsibility is given, much is expected (Luke 12:48).
Miriam did not even consider she was in an unsafe place. She thought she was simply talking about Moses her brother, but God interpreted it as a betrayal of His appointed leader. She wasn't talking about her brother, she was referring to his spiritual office. Likewise, we should never be found tempted to do the same.
For that simple sibling discussion, God put Miriam out of the camp in the unclean place for seven days, as a disgraced person for everyone to see. The camp could not move until she was healed. She would have had a host of onlookers. I don’t know what it feels like to have leprosy, to walk with it, eat with it, sleep with it, wear clothes over it, but Miriam knew after that. Seven days as a cast-out leper would be enough time for any of us to rethink our walk and mannerisms.
Not long after that, Miriam died and was buried in the wilderness of Zin. Miriam didn't get to cross over into her prized promised land in her lifetime. Many of us will die before we see our promised land, but we live in faith and hope, and our land is still promised.
God forgave Miriam for her verbal slip and thoughts but didn't erase it from scripture. (Deut 24: 9). It became a reminder for generations, and even to us today
It's so easy to overlook Miriam in the Exodus story, being overshadowed by the ministries of her brothers, yet, Micah 6:4 places her up where she belongs: For I brought thee up out of the land of Egypt, and redeemed thee out of the house of servants; and I sent before thee Moses, Aaron, and Miriam.
Psalm 116: 15 says, Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints.
Precious indeed to the Lord was Miriam. Quiet, faithful, human, and committed. I see her as a missionary.