Miriam and Aaron began to talk against Moses because of his Cushite wife, for he had married a Cushite. “Has the Lord spoken only through Moses?” They asked. “Hasn’t he also spoken through us?” and the Lord heard this.
(Now Moses was a very humble man, more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth).
At once the Lord said to Moses, Aaron, and Miriam, “Come out to the tent of meeting, all three of you.” So, the three went out. Then the Lord came down in a pillar of cloud; He stood at the entrance to the tent and summoned Aaron and Miriam. When the two of them stepped forward, He said, “Listen to my words……”
Numbers 12: 1-6a NIV
The cool of the desert usually soothed Miriam yet this past week had not been typical. Though the nights temperature was perfect for sleep her condition kept her up late into the night. Her isolation also affected her as she was used to hearing the breathing of her brothers’ families around her. She had not been isolated like this for a long time. Usually, she was in the middle of the camp, for she was one of the matriarchs of Israel, a prophet of the Lord and a leader in her own right. She was Miriam, older sister of Moses, who had delivered the Israelites out of Egypt by the hand of the God of Israel. Aaron, their middle brother was the High Priest of Israel who cared for the Tabernacle of the Lord that stood in the middle of the camp. Her place was in the middle of the camp, living closely to the presence of the Lord in His Tabernacle.
Outside the camp was the place for those who were disgraced or unclean one way or another.
A position she had made sure she was never in. Since Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the laws of the Lord each tribe had created a tent outside of the camp for their women. Where any women who was unclean either by blood or childbirth would stay. Yet those tents were never a place of loneliness, for there were usually many women who would be on the same cycle. It was a time to connect, to share stories and to offer wisdom. To learn new crafts to take back to the tents of their husbands and to rest from the work of their families.
Yet she had never darkened those tents, for her time for childbearing had passed into the sands of Egypt. No child had come from her womb, so she had never shared in the communion the red tent gave to the other women of Levi. She was one who others came for wisdom, or for the ability to speak into Moses or Aarons ear. It was she that the women let know when it was time to go to the red tent, so that she could inform the men, especially when a child came into the world. For that was when the midwives and female relatives came to care for the laboring mother.
Yet here she was outside the camp for seven days as the childbearing mothers would be, but for an entirely different reason. The tent that the unclean women had build for her was small, perfect for one person. In kindness and respect every red tent of every tribe contributed what she needed to survive in her exile. Yet none visited her or helped her with her chores. For she was not just unclean,
she was cursed. Cursed with leprosy. All the things she now used would be burned when she was allowed back into camp. No one wanted to use good clean things for those unclean, especially cursed. Once she had claimed the little tent for her own none would come near. They did not want to catch what she had.
For she was in disgrace, as she would be if her father has spit into her face, the spiritual reality she now lived. For speaking against Moses with her brother Aaron the Lord God had disgraced her just as a father would have for her behavior, cursed her with leprosy and charged her to live outside of the camp for seven days. For her speaking against her brother, no matter what the reason had disgraced not just Moses but completely disrespected the Lord Himself, and He had responded accordingly.
This was the reason that she could not sleep as she used to. She was white as snow because of the leprosy, bringing pain to every small movement. It would leave her awake for hours into the night until she would collapse in deep sleep till, she awoke past dawn. Yet the Lord in His mercy left Manna near her tent for her to collect. Only for one meal yet that was a blessing. For her condition sapped her strength, taking away her hunger. One small meal of Manna was enough for her, especially as her condition lead her to repentance with prayer and fasting.
Yet since she could not sleep the cool nights had Miriam thinking. Thinking of the past decades ago. Thinking of what happened and what brought her to this place. Thinking of why she was cursed and why she had spoken against Moses her brother. Her thoughts drifted to many years ago, when she was still young, and a slave of Egypt.
She remembered the anguish her mother carried throughout her pregnancy with Moses. With the birth of Aaron Pharoah had only told the midwives of Israel to kill the baby boys when they were born, a command that they had not followed, and so Aaron was born with joy and peace. Yet when Moses was in their mother’s womb the law went out for the armies of Egypt to go throughout the land and kill every male baby boy that was found in the houses of the Israelites. Every pregnant Israel mother would pray that the child in their womb was a girl, so that they would not see the bloodshed of their sons and the sorrow and agony that would come after. Yet her mother Jochebed though times of worry prayed that the Lord’s will be done in her and in the child of her womb.
When the time of her mother’s deliverance came her baby brother was born, and in that moment her parents knew that this son was to be a blessing. It was Miriam’s responsibility to help hide him from the soldiers who would come unannounced looking for young male babes as to the Pharoah’s order. Yet after three months he was unable to be hid any longer. Their mother had planned for this, for the last three months she had prepared a basket made of papyrus, coated with tar and pitch. With it she placed him among the reeds along the bank of the Nile.
Miriam’s task that day was to watch at a distance and see what would happen. How she prayed over her little brother in the basket as time went on. Praying that he would be found with someone who would have compassion.
Her heart leapt in her throat when she saw the princess going to the river to bathe. In hope and fear she saw the princess spy the basket and ask her maids to retrieve it. When the princess first gazed on her baby brother her face softened. Her little brother had always been a charmer in their household and his charm worked that day. In seconds the princess was holding her baby brother in her arms. This was the opportunity that they had hoped for, the chance of deliverance from death for her baby brother.
Summoning her courage Miriam meekly approached the princess with humble deference. “Would you like me to find a wetnurse for the child?” She asked. In a moment the princess spoke her orders. “Yes, go.” Miriam turned and sprinted as fast as she could back to her mother. Crossing the threshold of her home calling her mother to come quick. In response Jochebed rose and followed the footsteps of her daughter to the feet of the princess. There Jochebed received her child from the princess with the charge to take the child and nurse him for her. In that moment Moses was delivered and given his name since the princess had drawn him from the water.
How much joy filled their household when Jochebed carried Moses’ home, yet the promise of time was short joy mixed with sorrow up to the day when Moses left their house for good. The day he was weaned to go live with the princess in the palace. It was at that moment he ceased to be their brother, yet he alone was alive from the generation of male children born under the cruel law of Pharoah for their deaths. Moses had been delivered and had been lifted up to the heights of royalty. In her heart Mirum believed that the God of their ancestors had saved Moses for a reason. That he was delivered so that he could deliver them. In this knowledge Miriam was given hope.
Though the payment they had received from the princess helped Aaron find a bride, she herself no one wanted. They saw her tainted by the connection to royalty and to keep their own families safe from unwanted attention no one would have her. Also, pharaoh’s edict had made the sons of Israel scarce for marriage. So, she had stayed single and cared for their parents in their old age until they
breathed their last. Then she was taken into her brother Aaron’s home.
It was at that time the scandal rang out that Moses had found out who he truly was, a Hebrew and their brother, when he was forty years old. It was then he protected one Hebrew from an Egyptian taskmaster and killed him, only to be called out the next day regarding his crime. It was then that Moses left Egypt, running for his life for the blood on his hands. In one day, the hope Miriam has held in her breast was turned to ash. Despite this she still prayed and hoped for she knew that the Lord of her fathers was faithful.
Forty years later when her hair was old and grey, and the days of childbearing shriveled up and gone the hope of deliverance was fulfilled, through the hand of her brother Moses who she thought she would never see again. It did not come without cost for the Pharoah made things unbearable for the Hebrews when Moses went to him demanding that he let God’s people go. It was then the miraculous signs, wonders and punishments of God reigned down onto Pharaoh and Egypt. For a while those signs affected the Israelites with the plagues of blood, frogs, gnats, and flies. Yet from the plague of livestock onward the Lord showed his favor upon his people as he punished the Egyptians.
Miriam remembered the night after the plague of darkness that had affected all of Egypt except where the Israelites lived. This was the night when the Passover feast was first celebrated. They had killed a lamb and had wiped its blood on the lintel and doorposts of their doors. Closing themselves up into their homes, eating the meal standing with bread without yeast.
In the morning what was promised was done. All firstborn males were killed in Egypt yet all
those of God’s people who had followed His instructions, their firstborns were spared. In fear Pharoah sent word for them to leave and quickly. In obedience to the Lord’s instructions Miriam went to her Egyptian neighbours asking them for gold and silver, which they gave quickly into her hands. She skipped like a little girl out of slavery that day, following her brother at the front of the line towards the freedom she had longed for all her life.
She remembered when they camped at the Red Sea. The terror that filled her heart when the army of Pharaoh came after them. The awe when the pillar of fire the Lord used to guide them quickly moved behind them. Its flames protecting them from the army that night. Its glow was comforting and yet had kept her awake, just like this night.
Oh, the wonder that filled her when she saw her baby brother step out into the Red Sea. With a slash of his staff the waters parted for them to walk on dry ground. The pillar of fire behind them lighting their path. No Israelite was lost that day. Her heart worshiping the Lord in quiet silence as they passed through between the great pillars of water. How the terror filled her heart again seeing the army released to come after them once all has crossed. Yet it was then the pillars of water crashed into all those great chariots and the army was washed away, never to be seen again.
The Joy of freedom that was now unreservedly hers filled her to the brim, that she took a tambourine and leading the women sang a song of praise. A song that even now the people of God still sing, usually at weddings.
For those eighty years her family had been ostracised by Egyptian and Hebrew alike for their connection to Moses. First as prince of Egypt and then as family of a murderer. Now suddenly in her freedom Miriam was raised up with her brothers. Moses the leader of the Hebrews and Aaron now the chief priest of the Lord’s temple, where His presence dwelled. She was still an outsider, but now one with authority, with honor and respect. She and Moses wife Zipporah shared that role uniting them both to became close sisters. They both cared for the needs of their brothers’ families, raising up the children in the Lord. Being the aunt and great aunt of her brothers’ children and their children filled her days with more fulfilment she could not have even dreamed of. She was also given the honor for being a prophetess for she had seen what Moses would become long before anyone else could see. She had held onto her faith in the God of Israel and His promise. When all hope seemed lost, she had never wavered in the time between Moses left as a murderer till, he came back with the Word of the Lord on his lips.
But now Zipporah was buried in the sand and Moses had taken another wife, a younger wife. One not from the tribes of Levi, even from the tribes of the Hebrews, but one of the Cushite’s that had followed them with Zipporah and her people. One who’s dark skin held her different then any of the
other Hebrews. Yet this was the one who Moses had chosen to lift to Zipporah place. This was the one that was now the most honored women of the camp. It was unpresented! The Nerve!
Her anger had raged at the fact that she spoke to Aaron regarding this, speaking against Moses saying “Has the Lord spoken only through Moses? Hasn’t He also spoken through us?” Aaron had agreed.
Oh, what great foolishness of her prideful heart she had followed. She who had been the lowest of the low who had been elevated now upset over the Lord doing the same to another women. Instead of welcoming her into the family tent and seeing the character the Lord had molded into this woman as He had done with her all those years ago all she had seen was her skin and the threat to her own loss of power and authority in the camp. What pride had she followed. Why had she only looked skin deep?
Well, the Lord had disciplined her kind to kind, for looking skin deep at Moses new wife her skin was now as white as snow because of the leprosy that coated her skin. For the skin now showed the rottenness of her heart, the pride and self-will that lay there.
Yet the Lord had not forsaken her. For though she was cut off from the people through this discipline the Lord still spoke to her heart and mind, guiding her thoughts back to the past. Helping her remember how it was back then for her. Showing her the leprosy of pride and self-will in her own heart. So, her night and days were filled with repentance.
Soon her time of seclusion would end for the Lord had ordained seven days. Yet the Lord had not forgotten her. He had kept the camp from moving all this time. She deserved this and more for how she had spoken against her brother Moses, the most humble of all people. Oh Lord please make me more like my brother! Her heart cried as sleep finally found her on the last night of her disgrace.
Miriam was born into Egypt in slavery, to people who had been in slavery for 400 years. This is the life that she knew that she was accustomed to. Her life was not her own, her time was not her own, her body was not her own. Yet the faith that her parents showed in hiding and putting Moses in the basket in the Nile must have affected Mirum. She watched at a distance seeing what would happen to her baby brother. She took courage to speak to the princess to find a midwife for the baby and brought her own mother to care for her brother till it was time for him to enter into the palace of the Pharoah.
We do not know if Jochebed placed Moses at that exact spot because she knew that this was the place the princess bathed, or if the Lord Himself told her to hide Moses in that exact spot. We do not know if Miriam was following Jochebed instructions on what to say to the princess. It could have been Miriam’s quick thinking, God’s prompting, or parents’ guidance yet the only way this worked was because the Lord’s hand was upon it. Without the Lord approval of a plan, it will always fail. Yet Moses and Miriam won over the princess and though them Moses was saved.
For all of Miriam life she saw her people cry out for deliverance yet she at a young age saw the Lord’s deliverance for her brother against the edict of death upon him. Every life is sacred, no more so an infant that does not deserve death. Unfair death was proclaimed over Moses, yet the deliverance of the Lord through the arms of the princess of Egypt was given.
This would have stayed with Miriam for she had seen the deliverance of the Lord for her baby brother with her own eyes. Where all other boys of Moses generation were killed, he alone was saved. If God loved her little brother so much, why would He not do the same for her? For the rest of Israel like He promised. The Lord had warned Abraham that the Israelites were to be subjugated for 400 years, and that time was ending. Miriam living in a Levite family with such great parents of faith would have grown up with a faith of her own.
Though Aaron married she did not. We do not know if this was personal choice, of lost love by the hands of the Egyptians, or the edict of Pharoah left many women without husbands when they grew up. We don’t know that her family connection to Moses brought scorn and contempt upon their family, especially when their son was living in the palace while the others were dead. Either way Miriam stayed single, and she hoped and prayed for the day of her deliverance as she had seen for her baby brother.
Though many might have been resentful that Moses lived while their children died him being in the palace must have brought hope for deliverance to Israel, and his disgrace because of his murder of the Egyptian breaking that hope. Yet I believe Miriam held on with her faith for she had seen the Lord’s deliverance before and knew what He said was true. So, she kept praying faithfully till her deliverance came nigh.
How do we know this? Miriam’s name comes up three times in the Pentateuch. The first regarding the deliverance of her brother, the last regarding when she opposed Moses and one other time. It is after the Red Sea had covered their enemies, after the Israelites had gone through the Red Sea safely on dry ground. In seeing this Miriam, the prophet, Aaron’s sister, took a timbrel in her hand, and all the women followed her with timbrels and dancing. Miriam said to them.
“Sing to the Lord for He is highly exalted. Both horse and driver He has hurled into the sea”
This is not the actions of someone who is shocked at what has happened but one who has seen her faith vindicated and rejoices in God her Savior. Also, all the women followed her, showing that she had already had influence and honor of the women of Israel. It is here that Miriam is called a prophet and a leader of the people. This fact is confirmed in 1 Chronicles 6:3 and Micah 6:4 of The Bible. Twice Miriam is spoken with her brothers Aaron
and Moses, following a lineage of prominent people. This confirms that the Lord sent Moses, Aaron, and Miriam to lead the people out of Egypt and redeem them out of slavery.
Women are rarely placed in genealogies or spoken again later in the bible unless they were a leader and one who the Lord had placed in time as a woman of faith, an example to all others like Rahab, Ruth, and Esther in later times.
Therefore, Miriam actions would have had far reached consequences and her judgmental attitude would soon affect the rest of the Israelite women if not nipped in the butt.
We do not know why Miriam was angry against her brother’s choice of wife after Zipporah death. Maybe she felt threatened with a younger woman coming into the tent of Moses, and therefore losing her authority and influence on the other women of the camp. Maybe she was prejudiced against the women’s skin colour, seeing her lower than those who were the Israelites.
All we know is that Miriam fell into the trap that we all can fall into. When the Lord has prepared us for a leadership position there is much brokenness done to humble us in preparation for that position. Yet all of us are not called to do the same thing forever. We do not live forever. The knowledge and wisdom the Lord gave to us for our generation may not work for the next. New wine needs new wineskins. The struggle is that we can hold on when we should have let go. We can hold too long onto the position the Lord has given us, the gifts that we have, the fame and glory of the past.
There comes a time in every leader’s life that it is the waning years. It is the time that the Lord sends talented and young leaders for the next generation to sit at that leaders’ feet. It is the test to see what that leader will do, and many fail that test. If the young person can be molded to be used to bolster the energy and gifts that are waning in the leader the leader can start to use that person for his or her own gain. Instead of encouraging and growing them in their gifts they use them to fulfill their own desires and becomes a predator to the sheep the Lord has given them, not the shepherd that they have been called to be.
If the leader cannot bend the next leader to his will, he will ostracise them and then slander and belittle them for they could be controlled. They are a threat to the leader’s kingdom. They forget that they are called to be a shepherd of the flock, not a king over a kingdom. A shepherd growing old makes sure that he has raised up his sons to be shepherds after him, so that the sheep will always have someone to care for them.
Yet it is not just leaders that struggle with this but all of us. If we feel the Lord has given us a niche but then he brings someone younger with more energy and more gifts
regarding that niche, we may try the same tactics. Yet the Lord wants us to take the young person under our wing, not to absorb them into ourselves, but to train them up into the faith. As we train our children, we should train these leaders and those of the next generation into their gifts and callings, supporting them in their endeavors with our knowledge and wisdom. This way they are given guidance over pitfalls that may have tripped us up years ago and by standing on our shoulders they are able to soar higher in the Lord’s plan for them. Each generation needs their leaders.
Yet Miriam forgot this. I would expect that Moses new wife was a strong-willed woman, and a woman of faith. I do not believe that Moses would be attractive to anyone who would take him away from God. Yet Miriam is also a strong-willed woman of faith. This can create havoc and clashing. Miriam felt threatened by her for when she complained to Aaron, she was speaking about that God spoke to her and Aaron as well as Moses. She was bringing up her authority, her place in the tents of Israel. Moses new wife was shaking Miriam confidence of her authority. She could feel her power wavering, and instead of letting it go she held onto it. Which was determinantal to her and to Israel.
This is what complaining does. For it starts in the mind with a thought and festers into bitterness and anger until it comes out of our mouths. Complaining creates contempt and this is what Miriam and Aaron showed, contempt to Moses and to God. In their pride they tried to rise above Moses and were disciplined for it. Complaining and bitterness is like Leprosy, and so Miriam outward appearance showed what was in the confines of her heart.
Let us learn from Miriam mistake and not go down this path. Instead let us follow John the Baptist example. For when John disciples left and followed Jesus he rejoiced. When he was told that the crowds were going after Jesus more than John, he replied.
“The bride belongs to the bridegroom, the friend who attends the bridegroom waits and
listens for him and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom’s voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete. He must become greater; I must become less.” John 3:29-30
Let us all be like this Lord Jesus that we serve you as the leaders and shepherds of your flock that you can take away our authority and control whenever you choose. May we become good shepherds that raise up the next generation to take care of your flock, not seeing that the flock is our possession but yours alone and that we are only stewards of what you give us. May you always increase Jesus, and we decrease.
To read the story of Miriam for yourself you can find it in Exodus 2, Exodus 15, Numbers 12, and Numbers 20 of the Bible. To look more into her life and the lives of Israel the books of Exodus, Numbers, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy would be edifying.