Monday, April 18, 2011

Miriam: Israel's First Sweet Singer

Have you ever experienced such a dynamic answer to prayer you thought you would never doubt God again? Have you blundered so badly it felt as though your sin was exposed to the entire world and even God was frowning? If so, you can relate to Miriam.

The first time we meet Miriam in scripture, she is a child obediently hiding in the bulrushes along a river bank. Probably somewhere between the ages of five and ten, she had been stationed there by her mother and told to wait. She probably had no idea exactly what she was waiting for but when an opportunity presented itself she was quick with creativity, wit and courage.

It’s a well known story how Pharaoh ordered all Israelite boys drowned at birth but Moses’ mother defied the command by building a water-proof basket/boat, putting her infant son inside and setting his older sister to watch. Hour after hour Miriam watched the floating baby and when the Egyptian princess found the basket she cleverly devised a plan. Approaching the royal gathering, she offered to run find an Israelite mother to nurse the baby. The rest of the story, as the saying goes, is history. Moses not only survived the Nile but grew to be a prince and spent the next forty years walking the halls of the palace.

Meanwhile, back at the slave pits, a second little boy was born. His name was Aaron. This child—along with his parents and sister, Miriam—spent those same years in hard labor making and hauling bricks. Then, Moses committed a crime and left the country.
Another forty years passes.

By the time the little family is reunited the parents are dead and Miriam, Moses and Aaron are what our culture thinks of as “senior citizens.” Together, the siblings began the long year’s adventure as inch by inch Pharaoh’s hold on the nation is broken by God. Moses is the chosen leader, Aaron the spokesman at his side, and their big sister Miriam occupies a supporting role as prophetess—a rank and distinction she will hold for the rest of her life.

Miriam is remembered for two things: her songs and her failure. Her song was first heard when the Israel crossed the Red Sea on dry land while the armies of Pharaoh drown. With a tambourine, dancing feet and strong voice this 80+ year old woman lead the women of the nation in praise. Her failure followed about 35 years later when her baby brother, Moses, married a new wife.

The marriage might have been tolerable, but the wife Moses chose was a foreigner rather than a daughter of Abraham. Miriam was furious. His choice opened the door for others to follow his bad example and demonstrated that he was no more “holy” than anyone else. Including her and Aaron.

Working behind the scenes, Miriam began to sow discontent. God had spoken to her and Aaron just as He had to Moses. Their bloodlines were pure. They could do a better job of leadership than her feet-of-clay brother and deserved a chance to give it a try.

In the end, God, Himself, called the three siblings before Him to strengthen out the mess and because Miriam was evidently the leader of the rebellion, she bore the brunt of God’s anger. Leprosy covered her skin and she was cast out of the camp as “unclean.” Only the passionate interceding of her brothers saved her life.

We don’t hear a lot about Miriam after that point. For one thing, she—like Moses and Aaron—were very old by that time and soon all three would be dead. Yet, when the Bible list genealogies, Miriam is included with the men—a rare distinction given few other women. She was the first prophetess recorded in the Bible and remembered in Jewish history as the first “sweet singer of Israel.”

You can read Miriam’s story in Exodus 15:20-21; Numbers 12:1-15 & 26:59; Deuteronomy 24:9; Micah 6:4.

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