Moses’ Sister: A Sad Finish

Posted on October 9, 2019

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By David Ettinger

Note: When Miriam, Moses’ sisters was a girl, she played a commendable role in Israel’s early history. However, it was when she grew to adulthood that a bad attitude cost her dearly. Please read her short account here.

Good Start
So, what got into Miriam? Her behavior, besides being unacceptable, seems nonsensical. Why all the hostility toward the brother she had helped rescue (Exodus 2:1-10)? Let’s try to figure it out.

miriam

The early part of Miriam’s life is admirable. With Pharaoh looking to kill all male Hebrew newborns, Moses’ mother Jochebed knew she had to act quickly. She formulated a plan to save baby Moses by placing him in a papyrus boat and nestling him among the high reeds of the Nile.

Pharaoh’s daughter, who bathed daily in the Nile, noticed the child, ordered one of her attendants to fetch the basket, and, on hearing the child’s cries, fell hopelessly in love with him. There was a problem, however: the child needed to be fed, but who was there to nurse him?

Enter Miriam. Playing her role of “the innocent” perfectly, she told the Egyptian princess that she knew of a woman who could nurse the squawking child. Miriam summoned her mother, and Jochebed was commissioned to nurse her own child for the next few years. When Moses’ period of weaning ended, Jochebed was required to deliver her child back to the princess. And this was, perhaps, where Miriam’s discontent began.

Difficult Conditions
While Moses would be raised in luxury as Pharaoh’s adopted grandson, Miriam would endure the next 80 years mired in the misery of Egyptian bondage. She would spend her days in the fields toiling under the oppressive sun, watching her youth melt away. While her brother Aaron would eventually marry, leave the house, and start a family of his own, we are told nothing about Miriam ever marrying.

With Moses gone and Aaron married, perhaps Miriam felt the need to remain at home and help take care of her aging parents. As a faithful daughter, such a trying responsibility may have caused her to forsake pursuing a family of her own.

egypt

Eventually, she and Aaron had to bury their parents. And all along, for at least 40 years, Moses was living in grandeur. He would eventually be forced to flee Egypt and spend the next 40 years as a shepherd in Midian. He would also marry a Midian wife named Zipporah, a foreigner.

Turning Bitter
Eight decades following the time Moses went to live in the Egyptian court, Miriam, age 90 to 92, was informed that Moses has been chosen by God to lead the Israelites out of Egyptian bondage. Did Miriam consider this a strange choice? After all, she may have reasoned, he has lived an easy life. He knows nothing of the heartache we Hebrews have endured all these years.

If this was her thinking, Miriam, called a “prophetess” (Exodus 15:20), never let on in the early days of Israel’s emancipation. In fact, the contrary. When God rescued the Israelites from the Egyptians at the Red Sea, she led the women in a triumphant celebration of song and dance. “Sing to the LORD, for he is highly exalted. Both horse and driver he has hurled into the sea” (Exodus 15:21), they sang in joyous festivity.

But years later, after Moses remarried (Zipporah may have died), we see a new side of Miriam. In bitterness, she told her brother Aaron, “Has the LORD spoken only through Moses? Hasn’t he also spoken through us” (Numbers 12:2). Why such hostility?

It is true Moses married a Cushite (Numbers 12:1), another foreigner, and perhaps Miriam seethed at what she perceived as an unpatriotic act. However, it appears Moses’ marriage was more of a pretext for Miriam to vent years of hostility and resentment against her baby brother. Though she may have resented Moses having a new woman to confide in – one perhaps younger and prettier than she – this only appeared to have brought her years of bitterness to a head.

dead rose

Where was Moses when I broke my back working in the fields and watched my looks fade when I was still young? Where was Moses when and I buried Father and Mother? Where was Moses as I forsook a family to look after him and Aaron during these wilderness years?

Learn From Mirian
God punished her insubordination with a bout of leprosy. It was a sad finish for Miriam. Even sadder, we are told nothing of her life beyond this episode. Her life of leadership and praise were spent in wonderful devotion to God, but her final days were characterized by discord and discontent. We can only hope she repented and sought her brother’s – and God’s – forgiveness.

Miriam’s life is a lesson for every Christian regarding our relationship to God. Though we may start off well, it is important not to let discord and bitterness hijack our faith. Let us be diligent to run the race through to its very end.