Miriam—Privileged in Youth and in Old Age
MIRIAM, the daughter of the Levite Amram and his Levite wife Jochebed, played an important role in the early history of Israel. The way in which Miriam was used by Jehovah God testified to his concern for the nation. Through the prophet Micah, the Almighty declared: “I brought you up out of the land of Egypt, and from the house of slaves I redeemed you; and I proceeded to send before you Moses, Aaron and Miriam.”—Mic. 6:4.
AS A YOUTH
Already as a child, Miriam was privileged to share in the outworking of Jehovah’s purpose respecting her brother Moses. Egypt’s Pharaoh had decreed that every male baby born to the Hebrews be thrown into the Nile River. Not fearing the royal order, Jochebed kept the baby concealed for three months. But when no longer able to keep him hidden, she made an ark of papyrus and waterproofed it with bitumen and pitch. Next she put the ark, with her infant son inside, among the reeds by the bank of the Nile. Then Miriam* stationed herself nearby to see what would happen.—Ex. 2:1-4; 6:20; Heb. 11:23.
When Pharaoh’s daughter, accompanied by her lady attendants, came to bathe in the river, she caught sight of the ark and requested that it be brought to her. The sight of the crying infant stirred her emotions, and she took pity on the baby. Miriam acted quickly. Directing her words to Pharaoh’s daughter, she asked: “Shall I go and specially call for you a nursing woman from the Hebrew women that she may nurse the child for you?” The words of Miriam paved the way for her own mother to be that nursing woman. What joy and gratitude must have welled up within the heart of Jochebed! Thus Moses was saved from death and nurtured, to become the one by means of whom the Israelites were led out of Egypt to the borders of the Promised Land. Certainly, few girls have shared so directly in the outworking of divine providence as did Miriam.—Ex. 2:5-10.
IN OLD AGE
Eighty years later, the Israelites left Egypt as a free people under Moses’ leadership. When Pharaoh and his military forces went in hot pursuit, Jehovah God performed a spectacular miracle, opening up the Red Sea so that His people could march across. But the Egyptian pursuers were destroyed, one and all, as afterward the passageway quickly filled up with water. On the other side of the sea, Miriam led the Israelite women in song and dance, glorifying Jehovah for delivering them. She was then about 90 years of age and was serving as a prophetess in Israel.—Ex. 15:20, 21.
The following year, however, the privileged position that Miriam enjoyed became a cause of stumbling for her. She began to speak out against her brother Moses and influenced Aaron to join her. The object of the faultfinding was Moses’ Cushite wife, and this was used as a basis for challenging his unique position. The Bible account tells us: “They kept saying: ‘Is it just by Moses alone that Jehovah has spoken? Is it not by us also that he has spoken?’ “ These questions implied that Moses was slighting his older brother and sister, raising himself up as a sole spokesman for God.—Num. 12:1-3.
The complaint had absolutely no basis, and the Most High said to Aaron and Miriam: “Hear my words, please. If there came to be a prophet of yours for Jehovah, it would be in a vision I would make myself known to him. In a dream I would speak to him. Not so my servant Moses! He is being entrusted with all my house. Mouth to mouth I speak to him, thus showing him, and not by riddles; and the appearance of Jehovah is what he beholds. Why, then, did you not fear to speak against my servant, against Moses?” (Num. 12:6-8) Yes, Moses had not seized a position above Aaron or any other members of the Israelite nation. He was directly appointed by Jehovah. That is why both Aaron and Miriam were guilty of speaking out against the Most High.
In Miriam’s case, her murmuring may have been stirred by jealousy for her standing as a prophetess. She may have feared that her sister-in-law would gain greater prominence in the nation. Evidently Miriam’s pride caused her to fail to see the real issue—the importance of humble submission to Jehovah’s arrangement.
For violating her God-assigned role and making unjustified complaints against her brother, Miriam was stricken with leprosy. What a fearful evidence of divine displeasure! Aaron pleaded for mercy, and Moses earnestly entreated Jehovah in behalf of his sister, saying: “O God, please! Heal her, please!” Miriam was healed but had to bear the humiliation of undergoing a seven-day quarantine outside the camp of Israel. (Num. 12:9-15) However, in the year that the Israelites entered Canaan, Miriam died in Jehovah’s favor.—Num. 20:1.
All servants of the Most High can draw an important lesson from the experience of Miriam. Though a person may enjoy many blessings, this in itself does not render him immune to a serious fall. There is a real need for us to strive to remain humble before our God, not allowing pride to gain the mastery over us. May we ever keep before us the inspired words: “God opposes the haughty ones, but he gives undeserved kindness to the humble ones.”—Jas. 4:6.
Miriam is not named in the account, reference only being made to Moses’ “sister.” However, since there is no indication that Moses and Aaron had any other sisters, we must conclude that Miriam is meant.—Num. 26:59.