Sunday, January 18, 2015

Fight the Good Fight

Miriam and Moses, Miriam jealous of Moses, Miriam didn't finish well
As a little girl, she protected her baby brother from those who wanted to drown him (Exodus 1:6-22; Exodus 2:1-8). 

As a woman in her 80's,* she danced with joyous abandon when the Lord delivered His people from Egyptian slavery by parting the Red Sea (Exodus 15:20-21)

But her final recorded act is a petty, jealous attack on humble Moses, the baby brother she'd once protected (Numbers 12:1-15). 

Did you know that Miriam's story is in the Bible to teach us?

"These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us...So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!" 1 Corinthians 10:11-13 

Miriam's life is a warning to keep on fighting the good fight so we can remain faithful (1 Timothy 6:12-13).  
* Miriam was Moses' older sister, and Moses was 80 years old when God called him at the burning bush. Therefore, Miriam was probably in her late 80's or early 90's.

 Bible Study
I think there are some interesting truths in these passages. Enjoy finding them!

1. What insights does this passage give us about young Miriam who was guarding her baby brother Moses as he floated near the bank of the Nile?

Exodus 2:4-8: His sister [Miriam] stood at a distance to see what would happen to him. 5 Then Pharaoh's daughter went down to the Nile to bathe, and her attendants were walking along the river bank. She saw the basket among the reeds and sent her slave girl to get it. 6 She opened it and saw the baby. He was crying, and she felt sorry for him. "This is one of the Hebrew babies," she said. 7 Then his sister [Miriam] asked Pharaoh's daughter, "Shall I go and get one of the Hebrew women to nurse the baby for you?" 8 "Yes, go," she answered. And the girl went and got the baby's mother.

2. What does this passage tell us about Miriam after the Red Sea miracle?

Exodus 15:20-21: Then Miriam the prophetess, Aaron's sister, took a tambourine in her hand, and all the women followed her, with tambourines and dancing. 21 Miriam sang to them: "Sing to the LORD, for he is highly exalted. The horse and its rider he has hurled into the sea." 
Find Moses' song in verses 1-19 of this chapter. 

3. What does this passage tell us about Miriam near the end of her life?

Numbers 12:1-15: Miriam and Aaron began to talk against Moses because of his Cushite wife, for he had married a Cushite. 2 "Has the LORD spoken only through Moses?" they asked. "Hasn't he also spoken through us?" And the LORD heard this. 3 (Now Moses was a very humble man, more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth.) 4 At once the LORD said to Moses, Aaron and Miriam, "Come out to the Tent of Meeting, all three of you." So the three of them came out. 5 Then the LORD came down in a pillar of cloud; he stood at the entrance to the Tent and summoned Aaron and Miriam. When both of them stepped forward, 6 he said, "Listen to my words: "When a prophet of the LORD is among you, I reveal myself to him in visions, I speak to him in dreams. 7 But this is not true of my servant Moses; he is faithful in all my house. 8 With him I speak face to face, clearly and not in riddles; he sees the form of the LORD. Why then were you not afraid to speak against my servant Moses?" 9 The anger of the LORD burned against them, and he left them. 10 When the cloud lifted from above the Tent, there stood Miriam--leprous, like snow. Aaron turned toward her and saw that she had leprosy; 11 and he said to Moses, "Please, my lord, do not hold against us the sin we have so foolishly committed. 12 Do not let her be like a stillborn infant coming from its mother's womb with its flesh half eaten away." 13 So Moses cried out to the LORD, "O God, please heal her!" 14 The LORD replied to Moses, "If her father had spit in her face, would she not have been in disgrace for seven days? Confine her outside the camp for seven days; after that she can be brought back." 15 So Miriam was confined outside the camp for seven days, and the people did not move on till she was brought back. What can we learn from these passages that applies to our lives? 

Miriam's name occurs three other times in Scripture:
  • Micah 6:4 explains that Moses, Aaron and Miriam lead God's people in the Exodus.
  • Deuteronomy 24:9 mentions Miriam's disobedience.
  • Numbers 20:1 simply says: "Miriam died and was buried." 

I encourage you to work through the study before reading these insights.

1. Exodus 2:4-8 

God was already at work in young Miriam's life, preparing her for the faith adventures that lay ahead.

We don't know how old she was at this time, but  she was remarkably clever to ask Pharoah's daughter if she wanted her to find someone to nurse the baby. Imagine how relieved and happy Moses' mother felt when she heard baby Moses was safe and she would be part of his young life. 

Miriam had a choice--to let God use her as Moses's sister or to become jealous of her brother who now would be raised in the lap of luxury while she lived as a slave. Did the jealousy she exhibited in later life start here? We don't know. 

2. Exodus 15:20-21 

Micah 6:4 tells us that Miriam was called to be a leader working with Moses and Aaron and this passage refers to her as a prophetess meaning she had an important role in speaking truth to God's people. 

We don't know what her role involved because this act of celebration is the only specific act mentioned in Scripture. But we do know that her and Aaron's roles were never the same as the role that Moses played. He was the leader of leaders. Even her act of celebration followed Moses' lead. 

3. Numbers 12:1-15 

This situation may have started because of ethnic and racial bigotry since the Cushites were non-Jews and probably dark skinned. It is comforting to know that God did not stand for this kind of bigotry. One commentator on this passage imagined that God was saying, "So you only like white skin, Miriam. Then I'll give you very white skin!" (i.e. leprosy).*

But the motivation behind Miriam and Aaron's criticism of Moses seems to be jealousy. They thought they should be just as important as Moses and they weren't. 

 God rebuked both Miriam and Aaron, but he punished Miriam. While Scripture doesn't explain, it seems likely to me that Miriam was the instigator of this event, influencing Aaron to join her. It is also significant that Aaron repents, but Miriam does not (at least none is recorded in Scripture). 

This passage is a good warning to us to be satisfied with whatever role God has assigned us, to never let jealousy or bitterness take root in our lives, and to repent when we have sinned. I cannot help but wonder if the reason Miriam is not mentioned again in Scripture is because her attitude never changed and her ministry to God's people ended.
*I heard this commentary years ago and don't remember the source.
copyright 2015, Gail Burton Purath,
All Scripture NIV unless otherwise noted

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