In the Biblical story of Miriam, we find the overlapping accounts of three siblings, Miriam, who is the oldest, then Aaron and Moses. From a biblical perspective, it’s quite rare to find three prominent people in one family.
The birth order of Miriam and her siblings is the same as my children. I understand the dynamics of this type of family. Being older and more mature, my daughter was often bossy towards her younger brothers, like a mother hen. I would repeatedly say to her, “You are not their mother!” I imagine Miriam was somewhat the same. My youngest child was our quietest and was happy to have his brother and sister speak on his behalf, not unlike Moses. Often at the dinner table, he would just point at what he wanted and his siblings would oblige. Our middle child, on the other hand, was never short of a word. And it seems Aaron was quite happy to be a spokesperson for Moses.
Although there are only three incidents recorded from Miriam’s life, we can learn much from these snippets. The first of these was when Miriam was a child and Moses was a baby.
Miriam as a child
Miriam is an Israelite slave living in Egypt. The Pharoah decrees all baby boys born to the Israelites must be drowned. So Moses’ mother “threw” her baby son into the Nile, but she did so, by placing him in a basket coated with tar, making it waterproof. She left Miriam to stand at a distance to watch what would happen.
The Pharaoh’s daughter must have known her father’s instructions, yet she obviously didn’t agree with his edict. When she saw the basket among the reeds, she sent a servant girl to retrieve it. Perhaps Pharaoh’s daughter thought, “I can’t save all the Israelite babies, but I can save this one.” God used Pharaoh’s daughter, to make a difference in the life of one person, Moses.
We too can make a difference. We may not be able to save the world, but we can make a difference to one person. We can bring God’s grace into someone’s life by our kindness, by being a listening ear and by our prayers.
Miriam was patient and clever. She waited until Pharaoh’s daughter had opened the basket before she approached her. We’ve been told that Moses was a “special” baby (Exodus 2:2). The Amplified Bible describes him as “beautiful and healthy.” Perhaps Miriam knew that once Pharaoh’s daughter had seen Moses, her heart would melt, and she wouldn’t be able to sentence him to death. Miriam was also courageous. She took the initiative and approached the princess. She was a mere slave girl, yet initiated a conversation with the ruler’s daughter. Miriam cared about her little brother’s welfare and it gave her the courage to speak up. When we love someone, we will act and speak on their behalf.
Miriam’s courage is rewarded. She rescued her brother from certain death. But did she store away this memory and let it build her faith in God?
The second time we meet Miriam, she is celebrating on the shores of the Red Sea after God miraculously parted its waters. (Exodus 15:20-21). There’s a lot of history between the first time we meet Miriam and the second. Moses goes to live in the palace and learns the ways of Egypt, while Miriam becomes a prophet learning to hear God’s voice in oppressive circumstances. Moses returns to lead the Israelites to freedom from Egyptian slavery. Miriam finds her tambourine and leads the celebration on the far side of the Red Sea.
Where did Miriam find a tambourine?
I’ve moved often and always have a major cull before I pack. I don’t take anything with me that isn’t useful. The Israelites left Egypt quickly in the middle of the night. They carried their possessions. “They wrapped their kneading boards in their cloaks and carried them on their shoulders” (Exodus 12:34). Yet Miriam found room for her tambourine. She packed it in faith, believing God would rescue them from the Egyptians and knowing she would need it to celebrate God’s goodness.
On the far side of the Red Sea, Miriam leads the women in a time of worship and thanksgiving but in the wilderness, Miriam disappears from the narrative.
Miriam in the wilderness
The last occasion we meet Miriam was a couple of years into the Israelites’ time in the wilderness. Life in the wilderness is challenging. When the people complain about Moses and Aaron, Miriam is silent. Miriam had a privileged position in being related to Moses and Aaron and is recognized as a leader, but she doesn’t use her influence to encourage the faith of her people during testing times.
When she does speak up, it’s to criticise Moses. Miriam had become envious of Moses’ leadership. She is punished and restored but we hear nothing more from her until her death. Miriam forgot her tambourine. She forgot to celebrate God’s goodness. With nothing to suggest otherwise, we’re left to imagine Miriam died an envious and critical old woman.
Some people’s lives make a difference because we learn from their mistakes. Miriam teaches us to remember God’s goodness in testing times and not to rely on past victories.
*The photo for this post, is the cover of my free ebook, Living by faith beyond past victories. To receive the ebook sign up for my weekly newsletter here.
More articles about women in the Bible can be found here.