Tag Archives: devoted

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.

The Sermon, part 13: Be Perfect

Read Matthew 5:48

“You must remain completely loyal to the LORD your God.” (Deuteronomy 18:13 NRSV)

John Wesley preaching to the masses.

“But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:48 NLT). Wait, what did Jesus just say? Did Jesus just tell his disciples, us included, that we are to be PERFECT? How can that be? Didn’t he, as the Son of God, know what Apostle Paul was going to write in Romans 3:23, “Everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard” (NLT)? Okay, I am being facetious here but, honestly, if all have sinned and no one is righteous, then how can anyone of us “be perfect”. It seems like either Jesus is out of touch or he’s a spiritual tyrant, demanding his “subjects” do the impossible.

In order to understand what is meant by this problematic command, “Be perfect”, we need to unpack our own understanding of the word “perfect” and the Western concept of “perfection” and juxtapose it with the Jewish understanding, which will give us a clew what Jesus was intending by this command. What makes interpreting Scripture difficult is that words often don’t translate perfectly from one language to the other, and this is a classic case of that.

Matthew, in writing Jesus’ words, is doing so in Greek. The Greek word for “perfect” is τελειος (pronounced tel’-i-os), meaning complete. This can be complete in terms of the completion of one’s tasks, it can refer to growth, as well as one’s moral character, among other meanings. The way this traditionally gets interpreted when the common person reads it in English, is that Jesus is calling for people to be morally perfect just as Gods is perfect. This misunderstanding causes frustration and/or it causes the reader to dilute the meaning to something less that what Jesus actually says.

Yet, it is important to note that, while Matthew is writing in Greek, he is pulling this word perfect from the LXX (the Greek compilation of the Hebrew Scriptures). The word “perfect” that Matthew is using can be found in passages such as Deuteronomy 18:13, which comes from the Hebrew word תָּמִים (pronounced taw-meem’). This word can mean “entire” (literally, figuratively, or morally). It can refer to integrity, being without blemish, being full, perfect, sincere, sound (as in sound judgment), undefiled, upright, and/or whole. One can see that, while the word “perfect” and “complete” do factor into both the Greek and the Hebrew words, there is a subtle, but important, difference between the two of them in terms of how to interpret them.

When looking at the context of Deuteronomy 18:13, one can see that being “blameless before lord” means to be “undefiled” in terms of following the Lord. Again, in context, the Israelites were being warned against only half-heartedly serving God and falling into the idolatrous practices of Gentiles, among whom they were living. So, in this context, the word is less speaking of moral perfection (in that one is morally “sinless” and, thefore, totally perfect in the sight of God), and is more or less calling God’s people into serving God wholeheartedly. In other words, don’t be tainted by the way the world does things; rather, be untainted and serve God wholeheartedly. Be wholly devoted to God, just as God is wholly devoted to you.

“You are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.” This command, as you can see, is not demanding the impossible; rather, it is demanding what is due God: your whole heart! None of us are perfect, none of us are without sin, and Jesus is not demanding we try to attain perfection in that sense. Our Lord, is demanding that we devote ourselves wholly to God and be the antithesis to the WAY OF THE WORLD. With God’s help, we CAN and WILL attain such devotion.

“Christian perfection, therefore, does not imply (as [some] seem to have imagined) an exemption either from ignorance or mistake, or infirmities or temptations. Indeed, it is only another term for holiness. They are two names for the same thing. Thus every one that is perfect is holy, and every one that is holy is, in the Scripture sense, perfect.” – John Wesley, Christian Perfection (Sermon 40.9)

Lord, set me apart and make me holy. Perfect me so that, in you, I am perfect. I want to serve you wholeheartedly and devote my life in your service, not the worlds. Amen.