For I brought you up from the land of Egypt,
I redeemed you from the house of bondage;
And I sent before you Moses, Aaron, and Miriam.
– Micah 6:4
Miriam was the older sister of Moses and Aaron. Her story is told in the books of Exodus and Numbers. She is mentioned again in Deuteronomy 24:8-9, 1 Chronicles 6:3, and the verse above, Micah 6:4. Miriam lived during one of the most exciting times in Israel’s history. For the most part, she was a good girl with good qualities and there are several things we can learn from her life.
1. Miriam was a dependable big sister. When their mother, Jochebed, placed baby Moses in a basket and set it afloat on the Nile River to keep him from being killed by Pharoah’s officers, she left Miriam to watch over him. And watch over him Miriam did. We don’t know how long she had to stay by the waters, but the Bible gives no indication that she left to play with her friends or became distracted and wandered off to do something else. Miriam faithfully watched over the basket until it was picked up by Pharoah’s princess daughter. Then she bravely stepped forward and asked if she could get a nurse to take care of the baby. When the princess said yes, Miriam immediately went and called their mother. Most Bible historians say Miriam was only ten or twelve when this happened, yet she played a significant part in saving the life of her baby brother who would eventually save their entire nation from bondage in Egypt.
You are never too young to be used by God. If you are called on to do something, don’t think you are not strong enough, not big enough, or not smart enough. 1 Timothy 4:12 reads: “Let no man despise your youth…” God believes in little people just as much as he believes in big people. It is often the small who do the most significant things. If you are given a task by God or by your parents, be dependable like Miriam and see it through to the end.
2. Miriam used her gifts to give gratitude to God. Exodus 15:20 calls Miriam a prophetess. She had the spirit of God in her. Besides prophecy, Miriam was also gifted in poetry, singing, and dance. Chapter 14 of Exodus details how God safely led the people of Israel across the Red Sea on dry land before drowning the army of their Egyptian enemy under its waves. In Chapter 15, what do we find Miriam doing? She has grabbed a timbrel (today we call them tambourines), formed a poem, and is dancing in a show of appreciation to God. And not only is she doing it. But she has led all the women to do the same.
When God works miracles for us, we should express how thankful we are to Him. Whether it is through a song, a poem, a dance like Miriam’s, or just a simple prayer, God deserves to know just how much we appreciate Him and His goodness. We should also lead others to show gratitude for the One Who does great things.
Notice also that Miriam sang for God. She used her gift in honor of the One Who gave it to her to begin with. We too have gifts that were uniquely given to us by God. May we use them all for Him.
3. Miriam allowed the desire for power to make her discontent. Up until Numbers chapter 12, Miriam did not appear to have a problem with her little brother leading the people of Israel and being front and center while she remained in the background as a supporter. But at the beginning of this chapter, we see a change in Miriam’s attitude.
First, she talks meanly against Moses’ wife because she was an Ethiopian and not a Jew. Maybe Miriam was jealous that a foreign woman had such a close relationship with her brother; but whatever the case, Miriam was in the wrong. Second, she causes discord between her and Aaron and Moses by questioning Moses’ leadership. “Has the Lord indeed spoken only through Moses?” Miriam asks, “Has He not spoken through us also?”
Miriam knew Moses was God’s chosen leader to bring the people of Israel to the Promised Land. She saw the miracles (Red Sea opening, water coming out of a rock, manna from Heaven) that God had used Moses to perform. She was the one who had helped preserve Moses’ life and now here she was talking against him.
At the root of Miriam’s questioning was bitterness, jealousy, and a desire for power. Maybe she thought that her and Aaron should have been co-leaders of Israel with Moses. Maybe she was tired of God always calling Moses away alone to talk with him face to face, to tell him this and that, or to give him the Ten Commandments, while she was left out of their plans. Maybe she wanted to experience the glory of the Lord. Whatever the case, Miriam was in the wrong and God had to punish her for it.
For seven days she was a leper and had to stay outside of the camp. If anyone tried coming near her, she would have to cry out, “Unclean! Unclean!” So we see that near the end of Miriam’s life, a leader who had been a dependable sister and a gifted prophetess, now disgraced because her grasp for leadership had failed. We do not hear of Miriam again until her death recorded in Numbers 20:1.
When we see others doing well or in positions of power, God does not want us to be jealous of them. He does not want us to desire their prestige. He does not want us to talk negatively against them. Who God has raised up, let us not to pull down. The world has enough room for us all. There is no need to hate on others in order to get to the top. Be content wherever God has you right now, whether in the background or up front.