What a sad background is recorded for the teenage Miriam! Living in Egypt “the children of Israel were fruitful, and increased abundantly, and multiplied, and waxed exceeding mighty; and the land was filled with them.” While this may have been a good thing, the growing number of Israelites frightened the new king of Egypt and his fear turned him into a bully. Sinking to the level of a coward, Pharaoh ordered the death of hundreds of babies. Imagine the state of anxiety and fear as many Hebrew mothers gave birth and then mourned the murder of their children. It was into this atmosphere that Miriam’s mother Jochebed, the wife of Amram, gave birth to their third child. Despite the terror around, Miriam now had two younger brothers who would become two of Israel’s greatest leaders.

A responsible teenager and daughter (Exodus 2)

All three children owed much to their parents. Amram and Jochebed were godly people and were not afraid of the Pharaoh’s commandment. They saw that their newborn was “divinely beautiful”[1] and may have even wondered whether he was the promised deliverer to whom Joseph had referred (Gen 50:25). So, for three months the child was treasured[2]and nourished in the house. We can imagine that in this time a lot of responsibility would have fallen on the shoulders of the older sister. Maybe she had to guard him during the day as well as look after the three year old Aaron. She may have taken her turn at night to make sure his crying was minimal and was not heard by any passer-by. The secret had to be kept wherever she went. Any disclosure on her part would bring death to her family as well as to her baby brother. Here we have a brilliant example of a young girl able to ‘bridle the tongue’ and to hold the confidence of others.

The patient watcher

The time came when Jochebed could no longer hide her child. She had done what she could and now the problem was one for God to handle. It was time to trust God and leave Him to protect her little baby. The lesson is clear for all of us. In the life of the faithful there are two parts: the work which we ourselves can do in faith; and the work which God alone can perform. With aching heart and anxious thought she prepared an ark of papyrus reeds. Covering it with pitch to make it watertight, she took it down to the river and placed the precious cargo inside. Wisely Jochebed took the precaution of leaving Miriam, maybe now a girl of fourteen or fifteen, to mount guard over it. Here is a great encouragement to all sisters. Women are frequently used by God at critical and dangerous moments in the ministering to, and sometimes saving of, others; Rahab and Deborah being further examples.

Consider also the confidence that Jochebed was able to place in Miriam, who for her part was prepared to stand patiently and watch. This can be a lesson to some of our active teenagers who sometimes want spectacular things to do. We do not know how long she waited or how her heart must have ached. We imagine that she must have prayed, as her godly mother would have taught her, trusting that God would do something. Here is a profound lesson. When we have problems that no human heart can solve let us pray and wait patiently for God to act. This may also involve responsible teenagers offering prayers for younger family members.

The brave and prudent opportunist

In time Pharaoh’s daughter came to wash in the river. Here indeed was the hand of God bringing together people and events with such precision as to assure us of His active presence. Pharaoh’s daughter saw the little basket-boat bobbing up and down in the river and sent her maid to fetch it. How Miriam’s heart would have thumped as she watched. Imagine her crushing anxiety! Would the princess order that the babe be tipped out into the water? Or would the daughter of the murderous king have compassion on the Hebrew baby? When the princess opened the ark she saw the beautiful Hebrew child. As she gazed on it, the little baby began to cry and those tears washed away any harshness or fear that may have been induced by Pharaoh’s decree.

Miriam’s waiting period had not been wasted; she had prepared herself to go into action as soon as the opportunity came. Innocently she stepped forward, appearing to be curious at the screaming baby and puzzled princess.

“Would you like me to call a nurse of the Hebrew women, that she may nurse the child for you?” she asked, wisely keeping silent about her relationship to the baby or that of the nurse she would secure. The idea pleased the princess and we can imagine how Miriam flew off to fetch her mother. We can also understand the joy of Jochebed at this turn of events. All she would have asked of God would be that her son be safe and sound. God had given her much more than she could have dreamed. Not only did she have her son safe, but the very Pharaoh who had decreed the death of all the Hebrew boys would now pay her wages to look after her son! How she must have thanked God for His goodness to her. What a wonderful picture we have of Jochebed and Miriam cooperating in love to preserve the life of the young Moses. Teenage girls should seek to follow Miriam’s selfless example by devoting time to the younger members of their family, encouraging them in the things of God.

The emotional prophetess (Exodus 15)

The next time we read of Miriam is eighty years later when Israel crossed the Red Sea. She had just witnessed Moses leading her people out of the slavery of Egypt. Maybe she felt proud and justifiably happy that she had once been involved in protecting him. But what anxiety she must have faced with all Israel as they were confronted by the Red Sea and their enemies not very far behind them! Again Yahweh wrought a great work as Moses stretched out his hand and the waters divided.

Moses led Israel in a song of victory and Miriam although over ninety years of age took a timbrel in her hand and led the women of Israel in singing and dancing, “Sing ye to the Lord, for he hath triumphed gloriously; the horse and his rider hath he thrown into the sea.” As a faithful woman, she seems to have had the resources that allowed her to wait patiently, while also being alert and ready to spring into action when the situation required.

In this incident (Exod 15:20) she is spoken of as a prophetess, prominently proclaiming and cheerfully singing about the power and faithfulness of God. How often a cheerful song or powerful verse can lift the spirits in our dreary wilderness pilgrimage! In spite of her position, she was not too proud or dignified to show her emotion when it was for the spiritual edification of others. In this she reminds us of the great King David who danced for sheer joy that the ark had been brought back to Zion.

The jealous sister (Numbers 12)

The third incident where Miriam is mentioned in the record is a moment when the meaning of Miriam’s name, “rebellion”, manifested itself unexpectedly. Instead of setting an example of faithfulness to God and loyalty to Moses in his heavy work of leading the people, Miriam and Aaron allowed the sin of envy and jealousy to get the better of them. They spoke against the Ethiopian woman Moses had married. Instead of respecting and honouring the authority God had given their younger brother, they complained foolishly that they were leaders equally with him.

“Hath Yahweh indeed spoken only by Moses?” they asked. “Hath he not spoken also by us?” There was some truth in what they said, as Aaron had been appointed spokesman for Moses (Exod 4:15) and Miriam was recognised as a prophetess (that is, one who speaks for God, Exod 15:20). However, both were placed under Moses by God and this position needed to be respected. Instead, envy had crept in. Envy eats people out and causes them to be dissatisfied with their lot. Jealous or envious people often feel that they are more important than others. Envy will usually bring great trouble in its train and it did for Miriam, who seems to have been the ringleader on this occasion.

It is really instructive here that Moses said nothing. He did not resent the petty complaint but went about his work, leaving it to God to vindicate his cause. How often do we slip up here? Paul counsels us, “avenge not yourselves” (Rom 12:19), and Peter instructs us to follow the example of Christ who “committed himself to him that judgeth righteously” (1 Pet 2:23).

In a wonderful witness to Moses’ godly character the Bible observes, “the man Moses was very meek above all the men which were upon the face of the earth” (Num 12:3). What a great example Moses gives us here of bearing patiently the hurt that others gave him.

The disgraced and humbled leper

It was God who stepped in to do justice and put the rebels in their place. The voice of Yahweh was heard speaking to Moses and instructing him to bring Miriam and Aaron to the Tabernacle. Here they saw the divine glory manifested in the cloud. God’s angel called Miriam and Aaron to stand forth. God confirmed that Moses was His chosen prophet, with whom He spoke face to face. “Why then were you not afraid to speak against my servant Moses?” The cloud blazed with the angel’s anger, then departed.

To the horror of all present it was immediately obvious that Miriam had been afflicted with the dreadful disease of leprosy. Aaron pleaded for help to Moses, who besought God to heal her. But the angel replied that she needed to be publicly disgraced for the bad example she had set. She was to be shut out of the camp for seven days.

There in a separate place, lonely and isolated, Miriam learned to regret her foolish action. After seven days she was conducted back into the camp a much wiser and humbler woman. The progress of the camp was delayed seven days and the location was Hazeroth, meaning “the place where she was separated”.

The Divine commendation

Miriam’s life shows that she was human like the rest of us. Human nature can never be regarded as overcome as long as we continue in this mortal existence. Sometimes as young people we think that those who are aged and experienced have no faults. The Bible teaches us that sinful human nature is never to be trusted and that men and women can fall at any stage of life.

There is both encouragement and warning in the life of this faithful woman. She was one of the great teenagers of the Bible who cooperated fully with her mother in an incident which preserved Moses to be the great deliverer. She led the sisters in Israel with great emotion and joy when rejoicing at Yahweh’s deliverance at the Red Sea. Our last view of her is in Kadesh, where she died and was buried (Num 20:1).

The final mention of her is by the prophet Micah, who says “I brought thee up out of the land of Egypt … and I sent before thee Moses, Aaron, and Miriam” (6:4). As a final commendation God brings the three members of this family prominently together as the ones sent by Him to guide His people.

Like Moses and Aaron, Miriam was buried on the borders of the Promised Land. But her rest is only temporary. May the day soon dawn when by Yahweh’s grace all three of them will stand together, immortal, in the Promised Land.

[1] Acts 7:20 the words “goodly child” refer to “divinely beautiful”;

cp margin.

[2] As implied by the Hebrew meaning of the word “hid” (Exod 2:2).