God’s People, part 21: Miriam

Read Numbers 12

“For I brought you out of Egypt and redeemed you from slavery. I sent Moses, Aaron, and Miriam to help you.” (Micah 6:4 NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

MiriamPart 21: Miriam. When we think of Miriam, if we think of her, we think of the girl who escorted her brother down the Nile in a reed basket. We think of her hiding behind reeds at the edge of the river as the Egyptian princess takes a peek inside the basket to see what lies in store. That’s it. That is just about where our memory of Miriam (if we even even know her name) ends.

Sadly, Miriam is not seen for who she really was because she tends to get trumped by her younger brother Moses. He gets all the credit and she gets nada, nothing, zilch. To be fair to Moses, it’s hard to not to attract all of the attention when you are channeling the power of God in such ways that an entire empire is rocked from the inside out. It’s hard not to attract all of the attention when you are parting the depths of the sea and summoning fiery pillars of protection between you and your enemies.

Yet, Miriam had true moxie. She was immensely brave, courageously daring, and a faithful prophet of the LORD. According to the Talmudic teachers, Miriam and her mother were the two midwives (operating under a different name) who refused to follow Pharaoh’s orders to murder baby Hebrew boys (Sotah 11b) and instead saved them. When, Pharaoh demanded that all Hebrew male toddlers and infants needed to be drowned to death in the Nile, Miriam helped her mother to save Moses from certain death. She followed the babe in the basket down the river and ensured he had a safe arrival to the palace of the Pharaoh.

What’s more, Miriam DID NOT simply hide behind reeds and sheepishly watch the princess pull the baby out of the basket. Instead, she approached the princess and shrewdly negotiated bringing her mother in to be the one to breastfeed and care for Moses. She did so without revealing that the “Hebrew slave woman’s” maternal connection to the child. Miriam, in her courage, did the unthinkable.

On top of that, you did hear me right in that I said that Miriam was a prophet. In Exodus 15:20-21, it is written, “Then Miriam the prophet, Aaron’s sister, took a tambourine and led all the women as they played their tambourines and danced. And Miriam sang this song: ‘Sing to the LORD, for He has triumphed gloriously; He has hurled both horse and rider into the sea.’” The Talmudic teachers taught that Miriam had the prophetic gift from a young age and, judging from her moxie, it’s hard to doubt.

With all of that said, like all people, Miriam had her character flaws. Earlier I wrote that Miriam got trumped by her younger brother Moses, who took all the credit while she got “nada, nothing, zilch.” That is not just a sentiment I bring into this devotion for rhetorical reasons; rather, it seems to be a how Miriam must have felt at points. For instance, in Numbers there is mention of a bit of contention between Miriam and Moses over his exclusive claim to be the LORD’s prophet.

In Numbers, it is written that God punished Miriam for her jealousy toward Moses, but one can hardly blame her. She, after all, had saved his life and was clearly a prophet in her own right. It needs to be understood that disease was seen to be a punishment by God; however, in today’s world, we undestand that God does not inflict people with diseases. As a result of knowing the theological and historical contexts of ancient Israel, I do not believe God “punished” Miriam. She may have come down with a skin disease; however, that is not what her true ailment was. She allowed her brother’s claims to get the better of her, she allowed that to consume her, and she allowed that to rouse bitter anger within her.

When we get consumed by our pride and our insecurities, we forget that who we are is not determined by what others think. We forget that who we are is not dependent on the self-proclaimed identities of those around us, nor is it dependent on the self-proclaimed identities of those who are close to us. Our identity is defined by and dependent on God, who created us and loves us. Like Miriam, we too were given gifts and and identity in God that cannot be taken away; however, we must strive to accept who we are in God, rather than competing over who we are in comparison to each other. Miriam learned this lesson and so can we.

“The jealous are troublesome to others, but a torment to themselves.” – William Penn

Lord, I accept my identity in you. Open my eyes that I may come to see who I am. Amen.

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