Miriam is used by God at various times throughout her life. She is a great example of how God can use women of all ages and stations in life, how He will hold us accountable for what we do with the responsibility He has given us, and how He will show mercy and restore us when we make a mistake.
A Young Girl with a Servant’s Heart
The first time we see her, she is a young girl, sent to watch over her baby brother Moses, who has been placed in the river in an ark (basket) made of bulrushes (reeds). The Pharaoh’s daughter finds the baby and wants to keep him for herself. Then Miriam comes over and offers to find a Hebrew mother who can nurse the baby for her. Naturally, she takes her baby brother to her own mom. So Miriam is used of God in the preservation of the life of her little brother, and she is still just a young girl herself. If you are reading this and you are young, let this be an encouragement to you. Don’t wait until you’re older, but serve God now. The task Miriam had to do was not difficult, but it was very important. The apostle Paul encouraged Timothy likewise, “Let no man despise your youth, but be an example of the believers in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity” (I Timothy 4:12).
A Musician with Leadership Skills
Many years pass before Miriam returns to the scene. Her baby brother Moses has grown up and gone away to the desert, where God has brought him to a place of humility and meekness that prepared him to be a great leader. Now, led by God, Moses has returned to Egypt to free the Hebrews from Pharaoh’s rule. All this while Moses’ siblings, Miriam and Aaron, have continued to live and serve as slaves in Egypt. But now they too will become principle players in the liberation of the children of Israel from bondage. Moses had been reluctant to face Pharaoh alone, so God said Aaron could go with him and act as his spokesman. Miriam’s part would come later, after they were granted their freedom.
Music was very important to the Hebrews. It was used to worship, to delight, and to instruct. On the night that the Hebrews escaped from Egypt, they miraculously crossed the Red Sea when God parted the water enabling them to cross over on dry land. The Egyptian army was right behind them, but God stopped the army and would not let them approach His people. Then when all God’s children were safely across the river, God allowed Pharaoh’s army to follow them into the river bed. When all the chariots were in the river, suddenly the dry bed turned muddy again, and the wheels got stuck. Then those towering walls of water came crashing down upon them and every single soldier was killed. The Hebrews were saved, for God had fought the battle for them. Exodus chapter 15 is their victorious song of praise, and it tells this story. This song would be sung for generations to come as a way of passing the story down to the children’s children, and this is the first time we see Miriam as an adult.
Exodus 15:20-21 “And Miriam the prophetess, the sister of Aaron, took a timbrel in her hand; and all the women went out after her with timbrels and with dances. And Miriam answered them, Sing unto the LORD, for he has triumphed gloriously; the horse and its rider has he thrown into the sea.”
Miriam is a talented musician. Here she is singing and playing an instrument and leading other women in music and dance. Indeed, she has strong leadership skills, as we shall see by and by.
There is one other point worthy of mention before moving on. It would appear that Miriam was never married. There is no mention of a husband anywhere in Scripture, and it seems to me as though that would have been worthy of at least a passing reference. Why is this significant? Because it sends a message to all the single women that you are valuable and precious in God’s sight. All too often single women are looked upon as second-class citizens, usually by well meaning folks who simply say the wrong thing. But the truth is that not everyone is called of God to be married. I honestly believed that God had planned for me to remain single, but at the age of 26 He brought a man into my life (who was 33), and we were married. I did not meet him, however, until after I told the Lord in all sincerity that I was content to remain single and serve Him alone. In fact, I was looking forward to it. But God had other plans.
There are women out there who are unmarried and unhappy. God wants you first of all to find your completeness in Him (Col. 2:10). Then you will find that He can use you as a single woman in ways that no married woman could possibly serve (1 Cor. 7:34). And after a time He may also send the right man along for you, like He did for me. But don’t look for him. Let God surprise you instead. It’s a lot more fun that way.
A Prophetess with a Stubborn Streak
Miriam is called a prophetess in Exodus 15:20, and Numbers 12:2 suggests that the Lord had spoken by both Aaron and Miriam, so evidently this was a very special family, in that all three of the children were greatly used by God. However, Miriam has an attitude problem and will soon be rebuked for it.
In Numbers chapter 12, both Miriam and Aaron speak out against Moses’s leadership. It is likely that they are acting out because of something that happened not long before. You see, Moses had complained to God that the burden of leading all these people was too much for him, so God told him to choose seventy men from among the elders of Israel, and God would pour His spirit out on them so they could help Moses judge the people (Num. 11:14-17). Very likely Miriam and Aaron got their sissy feelings hurt because they were overlooked in the selection, so they challenged Moses’ authority, saying, “Hasn’t God spoken by us too?”
God heard what they said, and He called all three of them to stand before Him. The three of them came and stood before God. Then God told Miriam and Aaron to step forward. They did. Speaking directly to them, God said, “If I wish to give you a message, I will come to you in a dream or in a vision. But Moses is not so, who is faithful in all My house. With him will I speak face to face, even clearly, and not in a vision. So why did you dare to speak so boldly against him?” Then God disappeared, and immediately Miriam became white with leprosy. She had to be sent out of the camp for seven days, during which time the entire nation stayed put and waited until she was ready to travel again.
This may raise the question, “Why was Miriam judged and not Aaron?” One theory is that she was the oldest and the most outspoken, and therefore she bore the greater responsibility. I honestly believe that is the reason. After all, Miriam is named first in verse 1, which leads me to believe she was the instigator. Aaron, from what we know of him in other passages, is not much of a leader. He is more of a follower, a crowd-pleaser. Miriam, on the other hand, has always demonstrated great leadership skills. This also suggests that many women (and possibly also men) looked up to her, and for that reason also her rebellion had to be dealt with. Incidentally, the name Miriam means “rebellion.”
An Old Saint with a Godly Heritage
Although God punished Miriam, in the punishment, He demonstrated His mercy, for the punishment was no more severe than it needed to be. There was no cure for leprosy. Many lepers never returned to society, but died a slow and horrible death outside the camp. Miriam did not have to endure this shame, but only one week of isolation before she was restored. And very likely she returned a meeker, milder Miriam, having responded like Moses did to the chastening he endured while in the desert. We don’t hear of her again, except that she died and was buried. However, God obviously forgave her and remembered her sins against her no more, for there is a remembrance of her later on in the Scriptures:
Micah 6:4 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.
Isn’t this wonderful? God does not remember the failures of these three siblings, but their usefulness. When He sees them, He sees the blood of His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. And it’s exactly the same with you and me today. God does not see our failures when He looks at those of us who are saved; instead, He sees Jesus’ robe of righteousness.
Isaiah 61:10 I will greatly rejoice in the LORD, my soul shall be joyful in my God; for he hath clothed me with the garments of salvation, he hath covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decketh himself with ornaments, and as a bride adorneth herself with her jewels.
I thank God for the example of Miriam, for I feel a great kinship with her. I too am the oldest child in my family, a musician, and have been in and out of leadership positions. I also have been disciplined for rebellion, but by God’s grace I am clothed in His robe of righteousness. It is my opinion that she finished well, and it is my prayer that I too will finish well. Ladies (and gentlemen), whether or not you are in leadership, someone is watching you. Make sure you are following Christ so that when others follow you, they will not go astray.
Next week: Lydia
Photo taken in Milton, Florida, 2017