Tag Archives: Hebrews

God’s People, part 21: Miriam

Read Numbers 12

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“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.

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

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

I AM

Read Exodus 3:1-14

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“I assure you,” Jesus replied, “before Abraham was, I Am.” (John 8:58 CEB)

i-amOne of the most powerful stories in all of the Bible, for me, is the story of Moses and the burning bush. While the concept of a bush that is on fire but not consumed is pretty cool in and of itself, but that miracle is not what draws me to the story. It is also pretty awesome that a voice is coming from this burning bush, but that is not what draws me in. I mean sure, that would be pretty powerful to witness, at least in the moment. It might even be powerful and remain cool the next couple of days; however, overtime it would end up getting stored on the back shelves of cool things in my mind, right along with sightings of ghosts, my first kiss, and other such things.

As we know, Moses was tending sheep at the base of Mount Horeb (aka Mount Sinai) when he looked up on the mountain and saw an odd flickering light. It looked to him like a fire and, like most people would, Moses went up on the mountain to check it out. Upon reaching the flickering light, he noticed that it was a bush that was totally caught up in flames, but wasn’t actually burning. In fact, it is kind of ironic that this bush became known as the “burning bush” because it wasn’t burning at all. Naturally, and probably cautiously, Moses began to step closer and closer to the bush. As he approached it, a voice cried out from the flames, “Moses, remove your sandals for you are standing on holy ground.” Now, I don’t know about you, but if I heard that I would have thrown myself off the mountain in fear. Moses was far braver than I and he did as the voice instructed him.

To make a long story short, and so as to not completely repeat the story you already just read in your Bible or e-Bible, Moses ended up having a complete conversation with this disembodied voice emanating from the not-so-burning bush. This voice told Moses that he was the voice of God and that it wanted Moses to carry out a very important task: to go back to Egypt and meet with Pharoah, telling him to let God’s people go. Moses tried to turn down God’s call, but to no avail. Finally, after Moses realized that God had convinced him to go, he asked, “Who should I tell my people sent me when they ask?” God’s answer is what, for me makes this one of the most powerful stories. God replied, “I AM WHO I AM. Tell them I AM sent you.”

Now, on the one hand, that must have thrown Moses for a loop. How could Moses even consider that an acceptable answer? Would people really get what he meant when he said “I AM” has sent me to you, let alone believe him? Yet, Moses carries that message to the Hebrew slaves, “I AM” has sent me to you. What is powerful about that is that it fundamentally shows us who our GOD is. Our God is our I AM. God is always with us, present with us in all of our struggles and trials. Our God is always with us, celebrating with us in our joys and triumphs. Our God is the great I AM. There could never be any greater hope than the hope of God’s presence with us.

From this account of God’s eternal presence comes a powerful message for us. If our God is the great I AM, and if we are the children of God, then it follows that WE ARE. Each and every one of us ARE. We have been created to celebrate the I AM within us. We have been created to live and to live abundantly. We have been created to BE, and celebrate our BEING. Do you do this? Do you celebrate who you are? Do you celebrate the divine I AM that resides in you? Do you see yourself as a child of the great I AM? Today’s challenge, and really everyday’s challenge, is this: look at yourself in the mirror. Stare into your own eyes. Stare deeply, get lost in the iris sea and peer into your soul. When the moment feels right, I want you to say the following words out loud to yourself: “I AM.” Seriously, look yourself in the mirror, get to know yourself and tell yourself, “I AM.” Then, go out into your day, everyday, and see the divine I AM in others. In that I AM will set you and others free.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“I am what I am. I love me! And I don’t mean that egotistically – I love that God has allowed me to take whatever it was that I had and to make something out of it.” – Stevie Wonder

PRAYER
Lord, I am because YOU ARE. Thank you for making me who I am and help me to fully realize who I am. Amen.

Sanctuary

Read Hebrew 6:11-20

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Don’t you realize that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God?” (1 Corinthians 6:19a, NLT)

SacredHeartJust the other day I had an opportunity to stop and see the Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart in Newark, NJ with a group of friends. The building was brilliant and awesome. I am huge fan of gothic architecture and this particular cathedral takes the cake in New York/New Jersey Metropolitan area. Yes, I have visited Saint Patrick’s Cathedral; however, the Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart stands on its own without other buildings taking away from it’s immensity and beauty. The saints and gargoyles guard and protect the building and, standing at it’s base, the building ironically reminds me of Martin Luther’s hymn “A Mighty Fortress is Our God.” This place, even on the outside, feels like it would be a sanctuary on the inside.

So, naturally we decided that we would take a walk inside to see its beauty from within; however, as we approached the doors and began to pull on them, we found them to be locked! Bummer. We really, really wanted to see the inside of it…but we were barred from entering. This took me by surprise as every Roman Catholic church I had ever been to had always been open for people to come in, pray, meditate, confess, etc. Yet, these doors were locked and we were not able to enter into the sanctuary within.

When talking with a fellow colleague the following day, I was reminded that the Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart was located in Newark, which is a major city that has, whether right or wrong, been known for it’s crime. Now, I am not sure if that is the reason the doors were locked or not, and another colleague pointed out that if we went one of the other side doors and knocked someone would have let us in, but the fact remains that the doors were locked and that was enough to turn us away.

While I am certainly not blaming the cathedral caretakers for locking the doors, I see a powerful metaphor here that can illumine our own lives. According to Paul, our bodies are to be God’s temple. We, as God’s children were created to be sanctuaries. The church, not the buildings but the people of Christ, was called to be a sanctuary of hope, healing and wholeness for all who seek refuge; however, often times, the church finds itself weathered and beaten. We find ourselves being reshaped by the experiences of the world that surround us in our daily lives and, as a result, we become more like a locked fortress than an open sanctuary.

What’s important to stress here is that the church is not called to be a fortress; rather, the church (meaning the people of Christ) are called to be living and breathing sanctuaries. We are called to be open. If we look at the aforementioned hymn by Martin Luther, we will notice that GOD is our fortress. GOD strengthens and fortifies our hearts so that they won’t be changed by the weathering and beating that the storms of the world so often cause in us. The fact of the matter is that if we have become fortresses on the outside, it is because the world has hardened us on the inside.

We are called to be LOVE on the inside. If we have faith in God, if we trust in God to be our fortress, then we have nothing to fear in remaining open as a sanctuary for others. God will not abandon us and God will protect us from the weathering that tends to lock us up into stone fortresses. All we need to do is remain open to God, who will lead us to be open sanctuaries for all who are weary and heavy laden. Have faith in God and be the sanctuary you have been called to be.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Come to Me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” – Jesus of Nazareth, (Matthew 11:28 NLT)

PRAYER
Lord, re-enter into my life and secure me in your love. Give me the peace and the foresight to open myself to others in the same way that you have opened yourself up to me. Amen.