Categories: Moses, Women in the Bible, Women in the Old Testament
- Miriam is the elder sister of Aaron and Moses.
- She is the only daughter of Amram and Jochebed.
- When her mother puts Moses in a basket and places it among the reeds of the Nile, Miriam watches from a distance to see what will happen to him.
- When Pharaoh’s daughter finds him, she chooses to adopt him. Miriam pops out of the reeds and offers to find a Hebrew mother to nurse the baby for her.
- Pharaoh’s daughter agrees and gives her the baby.
- Miriam takes the baby back to her mother.
- The next glimpse of Miriam comes at the Red Sea after the drowning of Pharaoh’s army.
- She takes a “tambourine in her hand and all the women go out after her with tambourines.”
- She dances and leads a victory song known as the “Song of the Sea.”
- She sings, “Sing to the Lord, for he is highly exalted. Both horse and driver he has hurled into the sea” – which is a reference to Pharaoh’s army.
- It is a song that recounts their recent experiences and also looks towards the future. Needless to say, it is filled with praise and exaltation to God.
- Scholars believe this is one of the oldest biblical texts.
- Miriam is also called a Prophetess - someone through whom God speaks.
- But life in the wilderness is hard.
- It is not long before people begin to question Moses’ authority and his intimate relation to God.
- In Numbers 12, this comes to the foreground.
- Miriam and Aaron ask, “Has the Lord spoken only through Moses? Hasn't he also spoken through us?”
- Yet they cannot object to Moses’ authority outright. So they challenge him on his marriage to a Cushite woman, his second wife.
- Cush is near modern-day Ethiopia, and if that’s the case, then his wife would most likely have had dark skin.
- There is no consensus about whether this would have increased his status or decreased it. Most think dark skin was highly valued at that point in time, and the dissension might have been nothing more than petty jealousy between a wife and a sister.
- Others emphasize the issue of racial purity and claim that people objected to Moses bringing mixed relationship into the community.
- And others think that his having two wives might have been the problem.
- What’s most interesting about this situation is that it’s never mentioned again after this incident. It’s brought up as a catalyst for what follows, and then is immediately dropped.
- In the face of this attack, Moses is silent.
- God, however, is anything but silent.
- God calls all three of them into the tent of meeting. He does not deny Aaron and Miriam’s ability to prophesy. He takes nothing away from them, including the honor of actually speaking to him at that very moment.
- However, God also affirms his loyalty to Moses, proclaiming that he speaks to Moses face to face, while other prophets only hear God in visions and dreams.
- And suddenly Miriam comes down with a case of leprosy.
- If the issue really does have something to do with the dark skin of Moses’ wife, then this is very ironic.
- Miriam, who has found fault with Moses’ dark-skinned wife, now has diseased skin that is leprous and white as snow.
- Leprosy is a dreaded disease, and Moses immediately pleads to God on her behalf; she is healed.
- Many scholars question why only Miriam is punished when it appears that she and Aaron are equally at fault.
- It is likely that the author takes Aaron’s role as high priest very seriously. It simply will not do for the high priest of them all to come down with an unclean disease.
- The fact that he is spared speaks more to the sanctity of the priesthood than to gender issues.
- And even though Miriam is healed immediately, she has to wait seven days before she can rejoin society. The people do not move until those seven days have passed.
- Some see this as an indication of her stature within the community.
- Josephus states that Miriam marries Hur, Moses’ close companion.
- In other documents she is purported to be Hur’s mother and the wife of Caleb.
- At the beginning of Numbers 20, there is a brief notation that Miriam dies at the first new moon; unfortunately, neither the month nor the year is given.
- Either this is the fortieth year of the wilderness wanderings, and Miriam is the first of the leaders to die, or this is the third year of the wanderings, based on passages in Deuteronomy that state when they are in Kadesh.
- There is no specified time of mourning for Miriam.