It is said that a picture is worth a thousand words, but I also believe the reverse to be true. Well written words can paint a clear picture. While we do not have a plethora of words detailing the life of Miriam, the Bible includes enough words that allow us to paint an insightful picture of her personality and the consequences of her choices. Together, this information sends a powerful message to women.
When Miriam was young, Pharaoh, the king of Egypt, saw that the Israelites outnumbered and were mightier than the Egyptians, and thus he was afraid they would revolt against them. As a result, Pharaoh made their lives bitter with hard labor and ordered for Hebrew male newborns to be cast into the river (Ex. 1:9-22). Yet the faith of Jochebed and her husband Amram did not allow them to fear the command of Pharaoh, so they hid Moses for the first three months of his life (Heb 11:23). When they could no longer hide baby Moses, Jochebed made a waterproof basket and set him in the reeds on the bank of the river. Miriam stood afar off to see what would become of her baby brother (Ex. 2:3-4). The Bible does not say whether she is told by her parents to do this or if it is of her own volition. I am an older sister and I would not have to be asked to keep an eye on my baby sibling. My love for my baby sister would drive me with a desire to protect her. I feel that the same would be true of Miriam. After all, it is probable that she watched her mother make this basket, put her brother in it, and carry it to the river.
While the daughter of Pharaoh went down to the same river to bathe, she noticed the basket and found within a weeping baby boy. Miriam demonstrated her courage as she approached Pharaoh’s daughter and asked, “Shall I go and call a nurse for you from the Hebrew women, that she may nurse the child for you?” (vs. 5-7). Not only did Miriam have gumption, she was clever! If I were the princess, I would be skeptical of this young Hebrew girl coming up to me right after I took this baby Hebrew boy from the banks of the river, and I would start asking questions. Nonetheless, Miriam diffused any awkwardness of the events by offering to do the Pharaoh’s daughter a favor, showing submission. After the Pharaoh’s daughter agreed, Miriam cunningly went and retrieved their own mother (v. 8). Miriam orchestrated an advantageous solution; now they can keep Moses for a while longer and her mother will earn wages in the meantime.
After God delivered the Israelites by parting the Red Sea and destroying the Egyptian army who was chasing them, Moses and the children of Israel sang a song of praise to God (Ex. 15:1-19). “Then Miriam the prophetess, the sister of Aaron, took the timbrel in her hand; and all the women went out after her with timbrels and with dances” (v.20). She repeated the first two lines of the song that Moses had sung. This is the first instance that Miriam is labeled a “prophetess” and that she is leading all the women. I found it peculiar that Miriam is repeating the song and now dancing. What gave her the idea to do that? Obviously, God chose Moses to lead the people and for Aaron to be Moses’ spokesperson (Ex. 4:14-16). Maybe since they were her brothers, she felt secure to do this.
As the Israelites traveled through the wilderness, we can see a change in Miriam. “Then the whole congregation of the children of Israel complained against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness” (Ex. 16:2). The people were hungry and complained, including Miriam. God wanted to test them to see if they would walk in His way (v. 4). Often the people complained, and I feel like Miriam was not an exception. The final straw is when “Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses because of the Ethiopian woman whom he had married” (Num. 12:1). Since Miriam’s name precedes that of Aaron’s, it leads me to believe that she is the initiator in this criticism of Moses’ wife. The Bible does not make it clear as to who this Ethiopian woman is and why they have a problem with her. There are several theories, but in the end it does not matter. What does matter is what was said next. “So they said, ‘Has the Lord indeed spoken only through Moses? Has He not spoken through us also?” (v. 2). Now we are at the root of the problem. The siblings were jealous of Moses and it led them to find fault in him and his choices. It seems as if they were trying to justify their belief that they deserve some credit. Though God may have spoken through Aaron and Miriam in the past, He reserved the authority and responsibility to lead the congregation for Moses.
“And the Lord heard it” (Num. 12:2). Growing up with a younger sister, we had grievances with one another that would lead to arguments. At the time it seemed like it was just between us, but suddenly we would hear our dad’s footsteps coming down the hall to the room we shared and we knew we were in trouble. He heard it and now he was here to lay down the law. It is similar in the Bible, for God suddenly calls for the three siblings to come out to the tabernacle of meeting. Before the congregation, God came in a pillar of cloud to put the siblings in their place. God said that He speaks to prophets in a vision or dream, but to Moses he speaks face to face because he is most humble and faithful. Therefore, they should fear speaking against him (vs. 3-8). When God left, Miriam became leprous. Aaron confessed his sin to Moses and asked for forgiveness. Moses asked for Miriam’s forgiveness, which the Lord would grant after seven days of being outside the camp. It became necessary to remind Aaron, Miriam, and the congregation that God is in charge and He chose Moses to be the leader of the people. Even if you are a helper to Moses, you need to remember your place and stay in your place (Ex. 7:1; 4:16).
Miriam had many acceptable qualities. She was curious, protective, courageous, and clever. None of these caused Miriam to sin. Pride caused Miriam to sin. She allowed these attributes to elevate her self-perception to the point that she overstepped boundaries. In my opinion, it might have been hard for her to have her baby brother in charge, especially after he ran away and was gone for 40 years. She was there with her people. Yet God did not give her the authority that she desired. God did not object to Miriam leading all the women, but He did object to her thinking that she was equal with Moses.
As women in the church, we must be extremely careful not to overstep the boundaries God has put in place. We are not allowed to teach or have authority over a man, but to learn in silence with all submission (1 Tim. 2:11-12). We can be the best Ladies’ Bible Class teacher or the best children’s Sunday School teacher, but it is expressly stated that we have no right to teach men or rule over them, even if we happen to have more biblical knowledge or think we make better decisions. I hear of women becoming pastors and ministers and it appalls me. Do they blatantly skip over this Scripture? Have they read about Miriam? We must bloom in the place where we are planted. When we serve the purpose we are given, we will find fulfillment. If we want credit for ourselves, let it be in obedience to God’s will and humility. Being the oldest child in my family, I am a natural born leader. I was also raised to be a leader by both my parents. While I have no problem knowing my place within the church, it can be a true struggle for me to be submissive in my marriage at times. I pray that as I continue to study and submit myself to God’s will, I will find that being submissive gets easier.
Samantha, her husband Ty, and their boys live and worship in Florence, SC.