We are first introduced to Miriam, though not by name, in Exodus 2. Standing on the banks of the Nile river, Miriam watched as her baby brother, Moses, lay hidden among the reeds. She saw as Pharaoh's daughter's took pity on him. Miriam asked Pharaoh's daughter if she could find a Hebrew woman to nurse the child for her, and Pharaoh's daughter agreed. Miriam's clever thinking led to Moses' mother nursing him. When Moses was old enough, Pharaoh's daughter adopted him as her own.
Even though Miriam did not grow up with Moses, when he returned to Egypt, she apparently supported him and their brother Aaron in encouraging the Israelites and preparing them to leave Egypt.
After crossing the Red Sea, Miriam began to sing and dance, worshipping God for delivering her people from slavery. She took a tambourine in her hand, and the women followed her with tambourines and dancing. "And Miriam sang to them: 'Sing to the LORD, for he has triumphed gloriously; the horse and his rider he has thrown into the sea'" (Exodus 15:21). She is called a prophetess, one impowered to proclaim the Word of God to others. This honor was only bestowed on six other women in the Bible, and Miriam was the first. It seems that the people, especially the women, looked up to her and followed her.
However, there came a point when Miriam's position of leadership got to her head. Her pride made her jealous of Moses' superior authority. Numbers 12 describes Miriam and Aaron speaking against Moses because of his Cushite wife. "And they said, 'Has the LORD indeed spoken only through Moses? Has he not spoken through us also?'" (Numbers 12:2).
God was very displeased and called the three siblings outside the camp. He rebuked Miriam and Aaron and struck Miriam with leprosy. It is likely that only Miriam was struck with leprosy because she was the instigator. Aaron immediately repented and asked Moses to intercede for them. Although Aaron's job as the high priest was to intercede for the people, he recognized he needed to submit to the authority God had granted Moses over him. Moses prayed for his sister and God promised to restore her health after seven days. Miriam had to live in isolation for a week outside of the camp as a consequence for her sin. As a leader, she had great influence over the people and responsibility to lead them well. God needed to show the people the error of her ways so they would not stumble with her.
We next hear about Miriam at her death. Numbers 20:1–2 says, "And the people of Israel, the whole congregation, came into the wilderness of Zin in the first month, and the people stayed in Kadesh. And Miriam died there and was buried there." Interestingly, the next thing Numbers 20 records is Moses' and Aaron's sin at the waters of Meribah; neither man was allowed to enter the Promised Land because of it.
In Miriam we see a faithful sister and a woman who led the people in praising the Lord. We also see a cautionary tale about pride and the importance of submitting to those to whom God has placed in positions of leadership. We need not be jealous of those with different roles than we have; rather we should each submit to God and fulfill His calling on our lives. Miriam's story reminds us that no person is above God's discipline and also that no person is beyond His forgiveness.
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