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Miriam: Early Prophet

Who was Miriam? Her life and many of the details are absent from the Bible. This is often the case because the Bible is not a biography that chronicles and explains every detail of the events it includes. No, the purpose of the Bible is "instruction" in larger images and meanings than mere dates, places, and names. It is assumed that she was the sister who placed the baby Moses in the basket and offered to get a "nurse" when the Pharaoh's daughter pulled the baby from the water in Exodus 2. She is next mentioned, if it is the same person, in Exodus 15 where she is identified as sister to Aaron and as a prophet. She leads the women in a celebratory praise poem and dance. Herbert Lockyer identifies her as being assistant to Priest Aaron, as the "chief singer" using the timbrel (a small hand held drum). The ode to God and the victory of Moses is one of the oldest in the scriptures.

When did she become a prophet? Some suggest that she was a prophet of the Egyptian Goddess during their captivity. This does not make much sense, given the picture of the family in Exodus. In many ways they had to teach Moses the ways of the people of Abraham's promise so most probably Aaron and Miriam, and others, were already recognized as those who kept the fires of faith burning as they awaited their savior and deliverer.

Strangely, much of what we see of this woman involves water: by the river side, by the sea, and in Kadesh, after her death, Moses strikes the rock to get water when the people complained. Water, to people in a desert, arid land, was a precious commodity of great value. It may be significant that so much of the sparse details we have of this woman connect her with the life giving, restorative water.

Some suggest that Miriam is an example of a woman getting out of her "place". Some suggest that Miriam - leading the singing and dancing - had acted in sin. This is not the case at all. Miriam's sin came later as she complained about the wife of Moses. She complained, say some, not because of the race of the woman (probably an Ethiopian) but because she was a foreigner not familiar with Israel's faith. (Lockyer, 114).

I think that what is seen there is Miriam coming to grips with the fact that she could no longer be "big sister" to Moses. She had to allow Moses to grow up and assume his own place and make his own decisions. God strikes her down for her complaining and trouble making, but notice the events that follow. The entire camp refused to push on ahead until she had been healed of her ailment. Yes, Moses was the high profile leader, but all leaders know that it is the generals and the commanders under them who keep the army together and carry out the orders. They need each other and they had to learn to be in unity. This is the message , the subtext as it were, of this section of scripture.

During those seven days - the number of creation - what was created anew in the heart and life of Miriam? What lessons did Moses learn? Aaron? The wives and the people? She she was disciplined for her hubris in challenging God's choice of Moses as supreme leader but did that make her forever an outcast? Did she no longer serve? Did she hide away forever after that time?

Did she learn that there is a difference between power and influence, as Lockyer suggests (pg. 115)? "Loose lips sink ships" warned the posters of the great wars of the 20th centuries, and both Moses and his sister learned that loose and careless speech has a power to destroy and break apart the unity of the faithful. Both were barred from entry into the goal of their long journey as the result of careless speech.

Was her song forever silenced by the discipline she experienced? That would be so unlike a God who loves and cares. One wrong step does not mean you are eternally set apart from redemption or from fellowship with God. No, I suspect that for the remainder of her life she found a new song, a new poem, and in her prophetic statements was a new depth and spiritual maturity. This is apparently born out by the fact that when she died the people mourned her for 30 days and like her note worthy brother Moses, her grave is hidden. "Sing ye to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously: the horse and the rider hath he thrown into the sea."

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