In today’s episode of All God’s Women we look at Miriam, a woman who worshiped God with all her being, but who let pride and arrogance mar her ministry. She learned the hard way God’s thoughts on pride.
While a few women in the Bible are given extensive coverage, most women are represented by one or two snapshots that illustrate highlights or low points in their lives. For Miriam, we get four brief snapshots.
First, we’re introduced to her as a child when she watches out for baby Moses in his basket in the Nile River. As a child, she’s brave, spunky, and protective of her little brother. We can tell, that just like her brother, she’s something special. But unlike her little brother who grows up in a palace, Miriam grows up in slavery along with her other brother, Aaron.
The next time we see Miriam she’s in her 80’s. The Israelites have escaped from Egypt. They’ve crossed the Red Sea on dry land and watched Pharaoh’s army drown as the sea closed in behind them. Then we see the Israelites praising God, and Miriam grabs her tambourine and leads the women in dance and worship.
As a slave girl now free from the bonds of captivity she’d been under her entire life, imagine the joy Miriam must have felt. Her joy was contagious as the other women joined along with her. When Miriam led, others followed her lead.
In a culture where women were primarily concerned with marriage and motherhood, Miriam remained single. Her focus was on leading the masses. She led the way and set the standard for the other women. She was strong and exuberant, an integral member of the powerful family trio.
Unfortunately, Miriam got caught in her own power play. No longer content in the role she held among the women, Miriam wanted more.
We’re not told how much time passed between the snapshot of Miriam dancing and her next mention. Bible scholars speculate it could have been as short as a year in between. But the next time we see Miriam, she’s not looking so good.
Miriam’s ego got the best of her. Pious in her own eyes, she felt compelled to speak out against her younger brother, appointing herself as his moral compass. Perhaps, as author Paula Parker puts it, she assumed superiority because as the older sister, she’d changed his diapers when he was a baby.
She and Aaron began to criticize Moses for marrying a Cushite woman. Then she complained that she and Aaron were as important as Moses, and that God spoke to them as well as Moses.
When Miriam spoke, women listened, so I can imagine the murmurings that came as a result of Miriam. It would be only a matter of time before the murmurings grew to full out rebellion. But God didn’t let it get to that point.
Numbers 12 tells us that God called all three siblings to the tabernacle of meeting where He proceeded to put Miriam in her proper place. The Lord descended in a pillar of cloud, stood at the entrance to the tent, and summoned Miriam and Aaron to come forward like children called before the taskmaster.
In no uncertain terms, He made it clear that Moses was not an ordinary man. He was called by God for a specific purpose, and it was not Miriam’s place to call down Moses. God’s anger burned against Miriam, and to show His displeasure, He turned her skin into diseased leprosy.
As soon as Aaron saw what had happened, he begged Moses not to hold their foolish behavior over her, and Moses immediately cried out to the Lord to heal her. In true sibling fashion, they all pulled together when one of them was hurting.
God heard their cries and responded that she must be quarantined outside the camp for seven days, after which time, she’d be healed.
For seven days, Miriam endured the public humiliation of being a leper, unclean and unable to come into contact with the rest of the population.
Can you imagine a more humbling experience?
And yet, even though she failed miserably, she was still loved. She was loved by her brothers, and she was loved by the Hebrew people. We’re told that the entire population waited until Miriam was healed before they continued on their journey to the Promised land.
No more mention is made of Miriam until her death in Numbers 20. All the Bible records is that she died in Kadesh and was buried there, but tradition says that the Israelites mourned for 30 days after her death.
Miriam was blessed to be a leader in a time when women had little or no authority. She was one of only 5 women in the Old Testament to be called a prophetess, and she was the first. It was an honor bestowed by God, but with that position came a greater level of accountability. Because the other women looked to Miriam for wisdom and guidance, it was especially important that she be an acceptable role model. When she got cocky, God had to put her in her place.
It’s easy for us to become sanctimonious. We can mistake it for being saintly or sanctified. But God is not fooled. He knows our hearts. He knows when we’re truly striving to serve Him and when we’re merely trying to act superior.
And we need to know that God will not tolerate pride among His leaders. When we start to think we know best, when we try to upsurp power from those who have authority over us, when we engage others in our pettiness, God will get our attention, and it won’t be pretty.
Just as God humbled Miriam, He will humble us and we will never be the same again. It appears that Miriam learned her lesson. While she may never again have reached the heights that she enjoyed that day on the shores of the Red Sea, we know that Miriam continued on in her role with the Hebrew nation, and that she died a beloved woman.
How blessed we are that God is a God who disciplines, but who also forgives. No matter what we do, if we turn from our wicked ways and humble our hearts, and seek His face, He will hear our cries and forgive us our sins.
Lord God, we come to you today humbled. We know that like Miriam, we so often get caught up in our own self righteousness and forget that you and only you are the one who determines what is righteous. Please forgive us for the many times we become prideful and arrogant. Thank you for your gentle discipline and for your overwhelming compassion no matter how many times we fall short of who you’d have us be. Guide us and direct us in the ways that we should go. We love you. In Christ name. Amen.
That concludes today’s episode of All God’s Women. Tune in next week when we talk about the Daughters of Zelophehad, sisters who set a legal precedent for women’s property rights.
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1 Chronicles 6:3
“I Changed Your Diapers!” Miriam and the Challenge of Being Older
Blog post by Paula K. Parker
Women of the Bible by Ann Spangler and Jean E. Syswerda
God Speaks to Women Today by Eugenia Price
Fearless by Angela Donadio
Wicked Women of the Bible by Ann Spangler
Miriam by Lois T. Henderson
All the Women of the Bible by Herbert Lockyer
All of the Women of the Bible by Edith Deen
All the Women of the Bible by M.L. del Mastro
The Woman’s Study Bible
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