Amram and Jochebed were very concerned about the things of God and His people. This can be gleaned, not only from Paul’s statement about their faith (Heb. 11:23), but also from the character of the children which they reared. Moses grew up to become a great leader and deliverer of his people. Through him, God delivered both the greatest principles of law which still guide western culture and the law which led us to the Christ (Gal. 3:24). His brother Aaron worked with him hand in glove and was a great priest of the Most High God. Though little is said about her, Miriam was also a part of this leading, godly family. She is noted by Moses to be a prophetess and listed by Micah to be a great leader.
Her name is found only fifteen times in the Bible. Most of these instances are clustered in the section which reveals her worst characteristics. But from the few brief mentions of her, we can see that Miriam was also generally zealous of the things of God. Her name is the Hebrew equivalent of the name Mary in the New testament. Miriam is called a “maid” or an “almah” when we first encounter her (Ex. 2:8), which suggests that she is a young women of marriable age, though yet unmarried (cf. Prov. 30:19; Is. 7:14), so she must at least be in her early teens when we first meet her. Also, she must be old enough to be conversant with Pharaoh’s daughter and think quickly in that situation.
The first time we encounter Miriam is in the second chapter of Exodus. At least, this is very probably her, for her name is not given in the account. But the text mentions “his sister” (Ex. 2:4). From the text in I Chronicles 6:3, Miriam is the only sister mentioned to Aaron and Moses. The first time we see her she is keeping a close eye on the ark which was strategically placed in the flags of the river Nile so that Pharaoh’s daughter could find it. The next time we see her she is suggesting to Pharaoh’s daughter that a Hebrew woman be responsible for nursing the child, her brother. These two statements alone suggests several things about Miriam.
First, it suggests she was obedient to her parents. It can be reasonably assumed that her mother (or father or both, along with Inspiration) was behind the plan to save baby Moses. Her suggestion to Pharaoh’s daughter that a Hebrew woman nurse the child is very likely at the behest of Jochebed, who sought to be that woman. But while Miriam risks being caught in this plot, she is nevertheless obedient to her parents.
It also teaches us that Miriam was not self-centered. She was concerned about the welfare of her baby brother in very dangerous times. It is likely, as we have seen previously, that this baby boy was believed to be special. Perhaps there was prophecy concerning his future (His parents did act in faith, which means they had revelation from God to hide him – Heb. 11:23). Moses, when he came of age, thought that the people should understand that he was to be their deliverer (Acts 7:25). But in spite of all the attention that Moses received, Miriam was not jealous of his popularity or success. That is, at least not at first.
The one incident which mars her character is her opposition to Moses when he married an Ethiopian woman (Num. 12:1). It is, perhaps, impossible to know with certainty whether or not this is Zipporah, as many commentators claim, but it seems unlikely that Moses’ marriage to her would become an issue with Miriam after so long of a time. Regardless, the Text tells us that “Miriam and Aaron spake against Moses because of the Ethiopian woman he had married” (Num. 12:1). From the fact that Miriam’s name is mentioned before Aaron’s and the fact that Miriam is the only one punished (Num. 12:10), it is likely that Miriam was the instigator of this cabal. Besides, Aaron was not one to lead anything, much less a rebellion. Miriam was the more vocal and outspoken of the two.
Not only did Miriam and Aaron complain about Moses’ marriage, they also had become envious of Moses’ position. They came up with this charge, “Hath the Lord indeed spoken only by Moses? hath He not also spoken by us?” (Num. 12:2). After all these years of trusting in God and supporting her brother, Moses, she finally gave in to jealousy and envy. What a sad way to close her otherwise exemplary life. But God let her know that Moses was special. Her punishment was leprosy (Num. 12:10). But when Aaron pleaded for her life and Moses interceded for her healing the Lord responded and after seven days of shame of being put out of the camp, she was healed. Her death is recorded in only a passing fashion (Num. 20:1).
Miriam was, along with Moses and Aaron, and Amram and Jochebed, part of a great, leading, godly family. In the prophets, Miriam is listed right along side Moses and Aaron as a leader (Mic. 6:4). Though we do not know what she taught, she was a prophetess, according to Moses (Ex. 15:20). Her claim that God had spoken also by her agrees with this observation (Num. 12:2). While we may not know what she taught verbally, the example of her life speaks volumes to us.
Eric L. Padgett