Friday, July 6, 2012

Miriam: Prophet and Leader

I stumbled upon a verse from Micah (6:4) a few weeks ago and Miriam has been on my mind ever since.

God is speaking to the people, reminding them of things He has done:

"I brought you up from the land of Egypt and redeemed you from the house of slavery, and I sent before you MOses, Aaron, and Miriam." (ESV)

"For I brought you up from the land of Egypt, I redeemed you from the house of bondage; And I sent before you Moses, Aaron, and Miriam." (NKJV)

"I brought you up out of Egypt
    and redeemed you from the land of slavery.
I sent Moses to lead you,
    also Aaron and Miriam." (NIV)

"Indeed, I brought you up from the land of Egypt
And ransomed you from the house of slavery,
And I sent before you Moses, Aaron and Miriam." (NASB)

With the exception of the NIV which treats Aaron and Miriam as an afterthought - this word of God given to the prophet Micah lists Miriam along with her brothers as the people who lead the Israelites out of Egypt and bondage.

Let's take a look at some other passage that highlight Miriam.

In Exodus 15, right after the crossing of the Red Sea, Moses leads a song and then we see,

"Then Miriam, the prophetess, the sister of Aaron, took a tambourine in her hand, and all the women went out after 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." (Ex 15:20-21)

Two things I love about this passage. One, she is described as a prophetess, not just the sister of Moses and Aaron. Second, as evidence for her leadership position - she did not call the women to come to her and join in the song, but rather it seems they just followed her.

In Numbers 12 during the Israelites wanderings we find a moment that is not Miriam's best.

She criticizing Moses for marrying a Cushite woman. She complains to her brother Aaron along the lines of "Moses isn't the only prophet! God spoke to us too!"

And, I admit, this passage of scripture makes me laugh a little with the sibling rivalry and the "parental" chastisement feel.

The Lord heard Miriam's complaining and says to Moses, Aaron, and Miriam, "Come out, you three, to the tent of meeting!"

The Lord explains himself very clearly here. He says that he makes prophets and he speaks to those prophets in visions and dreams. He doesn't seem to be denying that Aaron and Miriam are prophets, but he gets a little more clear about what the hierarchy is when he says, "Not so with my servant Moses. He is faithful in all my house. With him I speak mouth to mouth, clearly, and not in riddles, and he beholds the form of the Lord. Why then were you not afraid to speak against my servant Moses?"

As consequence for her words against Moses, Miriam is struck with leprosy for seven days in which she must remain outside of the camp as unclean.

My guess is that Miriam's objection to the Cushite wife of Moses was that she was unclean. Miriam obviously thought that Moses had made a big mistake, that he had been fooled by love and that she herself was much wiser in understanding this transgression. It wasn't just envy and jealousy - it was superiority and judgmentalness. God made it extra clear to her that Moses is not lacking in wisdom or personal revelation, and then Miriam who was so concerned with things clean and unclean became herself a (temporary) unclean outcast.

There are a few other passages that mention Miriam - her death is noted in Numbers 20, she is mentioned in a few lists of Israelites, and in Deut 24 her case of leprosy is referenced in the laws regarding that disease. And, of course, it's widely believed that she is the sister of Moses that followed the basket down the river as Moses floated into the house of Pharaoh.

Miriam's status of leader and prophetess seems clear. Her status as leader was confirmed through the prophet Micah. Her influence and leadership among the israelites was prominent enough that when she voiced complaint it literally got her called into a conference with The Lord to nip it in the bud. She sang and danced praises to God and the women of Israel followed her and joined in on the dancing.

She was not perfect, but what person of the Bible do we meet that is? Jesus alone.

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