Miriam: The Price of Humility

Posted on August 21, 2020


By David Ettinger

This is a fictional account of the biblical narrative of Numbers Chapter 12.

What got into me! How could I have been so stupid!

Lambasting herself wasn’t solving anything, but at least it made Miriam feel as if she had finally gotten it.

Criticizing Moses – my baby brother – what was I thinking?

Thinking. She certainly had time for that as she served her 7-day banishment from the Israelite community. She had been harboring a simmering jealousy against Moses and finally gave voice to it. She even managed to drag her brother Aaron into her rancorous descent.

How did I get to this point? she wondered. I certainly was not like this as a girl, and even as a younger woman. What happened?

It was a good question.

The oldest of three children born to Amram the Levite and his wife Jochebed, Miriam, now in her 90s, could still remember those lovely days when she sat on the floor at her mother’s feet, learning the great songs that told of the history of the Hebrew people. She had them all memorized by the time she was 5, and loved singing them in harmony with Jochebed. When she got a little older, she taught those songs to her brother Aaron. And when little Moses came along, she taught the beloved tunes to him.

Ah Moses, she lamented, what could have caused me to turn against you?

Another good question, especially considering that Miriam, when she was 12, was instrumental in helping to save her baby brother’s life.

Alone in her punishment, Miriam finally allowed a smile to brighten her countenance as she thought back to that extraordinary day.

Israel had been wallowing in bondage in Egypt. Pharaoh, fearing a Hebrew takeover of his nation, ordered all newborn male Israelites to be drowned in the Nile. When Jochebed gave birth to Moses, she knew she must protect him. So, when the child reached 3 months of age, she fashioned a plan.

Knowing Pharaoh’s daughter bathed in the Nile the same time everyday, she put little Moses in a waterproof basket and meticulously placed it among the reeds. She was counting on the princess’s compassion. All went as planned. Pharaoh’s daughter saw the basket and ordered one of her attendants to fetch it. Once laying eyes on the crying baby, Jochebed could see that the princess’s heart was captured.

That’s when Miriam went to work.

Coming “innocently” on the scene, young Miriam asked Pharaoh’s daughter, “Shall I go and get one of the Hebrew women to nurse the baby for you?” (Exodus 2:7). The answer was yes and Jochebed was “hired” to nurse the baby until his time of weaning.

Years later – almost 80 – Miriam was an elderly but robust woman when Moses had unexpectedly reentered her family’s lives. Amram and Jochebed were long dead, but Miriam and Aaron were full of life. Moses had told them that God had sent him to help lead the children of Israel out of bondage.

Why him? Miriam wondered. After all, while our family was toiling away in the mud pits, he was living in luxury in the courts of Egypt.

Of course, that was decades earlier, before Moses killed an Egyptian taskmaster, fled Egypt, and became a shepherd in Midian. Moses’s cushy live was 40 years behind him.

The now “exiled” Miriam again smiled as she thought back just a few years to perhaps the happiest day of her life.

The Israelites – under Moses’ leadership – had at last fled Egypt and appeared to be on their way to safety. However, Pharaoh, regretting his decision to let them go, decided he wanted them back. He sent his army to pursue them and the Israelites were terrified.

Then, the Lord showed His might. He miraculously parted the Red Sea for them, and they passed through safely. When the Egyptians tried to pursue, God closed the sea on them, wiping out their army.

When it was all done, Miriam – among the most prominent of Hebrew women – led the rest of the women in joyous song, dance and celebration: “Sing to the LORD, for he is highly exalted. Both horse and driver he has hurled into the sea.”[1]

It was a wonderful time, but its sheen quickly faded.

Over the next few years, Moses’ stature grew. However, when he remarried – his first wife Zipporah had died several years earlier – Miriam suddenly felt threatened. She cherished the way her baby brother had confided in her, but now feared that Moses would replace her has his primary confidante.

And it made her angry.

“Aaron,” she said one day, spilling her bitterness, “has the LORD spoken only through Moses? Hasn’t he also spoken through us?”[2]

“I believe you are right, sister.”

“I mean, why Moses? Did you ever think about that, Aaron?”

“What do you mean?”

“While you and I were toiling twelve hours a day in the scorching sun for the Egyptians, Moses was living in up in Pharaoh’s palace. And now he gets to lead our people? Aren’t you and I true sons and daughters of Israel?”

“You have a point, sister.”

It was enough.

The Lord summoned Miriam, Aaron, and Moses and expressed His great displeasure. He had spoken to them in a cloud, and when the cloud lifted, Miriam was stricken with leprosy – her skin white and eaten away.

The three froze in horror when finally Aaron fell to his knees and begged Moses to intervene to God for Miriam. The youngest sibling wasted no time, and God healed her – but He was not ready to let her off the hook quite yet.

“If her father had spit in her face, would she not have been in disgrace for seven days?” the Lord bellowed. “Confine her outside the camp for seven days; after that she can be brought back.”[3]

Now midway through her banishment, Miriam knew she had gotten off easy.

And she was grateful.

“Oh Lord,” she said, tears streaming down her face, “please forgive my foolishness and remember me again as the child who learned songs at her mother’s knees.

“Oh Lord, please display your love to me again – as Your child. Your silly, foolish child.”

Humility had come at a price, but for Miriam, it was a price worth paying.

[1] Exodus 15:1

[2] Numbers 12:2

[3] Numbers 12:14