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By Lisa May 

Just Like Us: Miriam


Last updated 5/14/2024 at 10:50am

In a previous column, I adopted a view of literature as a time machine that enables us to view people and places from the past. That distant culture might look a little different from ours but, at a heart level, those people aren't all that different from us.

This time we are going to crank the controls on the time machine back about 3,500 years ago. Through the pages of the Bible, we will take a look at a woman named Miriam.

Miriam's people, the Hebrews, have been living in slavery in Egypt for hundreds of years. The Egyptian ruler has a concern that these Hebrew people are a threat. As their numbers grow, so does their ability to turn against Egypt. The ruler has an idea to preserve his people and his power. He gives the order that every Hebrew baby boy born will be killed by being thrown into the river.

About this time, Miriam's mother discovers that she is expecting. A fine baby boy is born and the family manages to safely hide him for a few months. Eventually the family makes a plan to save the baby from being thrown in the river by setting him afloat in a little basket in the river. Big sister Miriam is stationed at a distance to keep watch over her baby brother. The daughter of the Egyptian ruler discovers the basket and claims the baby boy for her own. But someone has to nurse that baby, and our heroine, Miriam, is clever and courageous enough to step up to the Egyptian princess and offer to find a Hebrew woman to take care of this baby. Ironically, Miriam's mother gets paid by the daughter of the Egyptian ruler to raise her own son.

If you haven't already figured it out, Miriam's baby brother is none other than Moses-the man of parting seas and stone tablets written with commandments. God Himself appears to Moses in a flaming bush to tell him that he will lead the Hebrews-the nation of Israel-out of Egypt. Moses resists the whole idea and doesn't think he is worthy, but he finds it hard to argue with the voice of God thundering from a flaming bush, so he agrees.

The next time we meet Miriam is after Moses and his brother Aaron-backed by the miraculous work of God-have secured the release of the people of Israel from Egypt. Moses raises his staff, the Lord divides the sea, and Israel crosses on dry ground. The soldiers of Egypt are destroyed when the Lord collapses the waters of the sea on them. And there is Miriam, on the far shore of the sea with the people of Israel, playing a tambourine and acting as a worship leader as the people sing praise to God.

I don't know about you, but so far I'm not sure I can relate to Miriam. I have never been the hero that saved my brother's life. I have never led a nation in worship. But the next story about Miriam is one that I can very much relate to.

After the miracle at the sea, the people of Israel continue their trek into the wilderness for over a year before we meet Miriam again. This time she is not the hero. The problem we humans have is that success tends to lead us to this thing called pride. The people have begun to grumble against their leader and Miriam and Aaron jump on the grumbling bandwagon. Miriam and Aaron speak against Moses, questioning his leadership, and the Lord, who had affirmed Moses through some pretty spectacular miracles, is angry. Miriam is struck with a skin disease.

Thankfully, Miriam's brothers rally to help her recover from both her pride and her disease. Aaron admits they have acted foolishly and Moses asks the Lord to heal her. Miriam is healed, but she must remain outside the camp for seven days and the people have to stay put and wait for her. Imagine her shame when the woman who had led the nation in worship must now face the reality that the nation knows of her discipline for rebellion. After elevating her own honor and opinions against God's appointed leader and mediator, she now faces the humiliating consequences for her pride.

Along with the rest of her generation, Miriam dies in the wilderness before reaching the land the Lord had promised His people. But she gets one more mention. Micah, a minor prophet living centuries after Miriam, speaks for the Lord, "For I brought you up from the land of Egypt and redeemed you from the house of slavery, and I sent before you Moses, Aaron, and Miriam." In the end, the Bible affirms Miriam as a leader of Israel. Miriam was humbled, but she was also restored.

Is there a lesson for modern readers in this? I know I find one for myself. I have some pretty strong opinions about life in general. Sometimes pride can rise up like a monster and I act out of an attitude roughly equal to, "Has not the Lord spoken through me also?" Sometimes I have to take a time out for a while and reverse that pride. How about you? Have you wrestled with the beast called pride? What will it take for you to be humbled?

Lisa May is an author of blogs, books, and Bible studies available at


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