When Pharaoh’s horses, chariots and horsemen went into the sea, the Lord brought the waters of the sea back over them, but the Israelites walked through the sea on dry ground. Then Miriam the prophet, Aaron’s sister, took a timbrel in her hand, and all the women followed her, with timbrels and dancing. Miriam sang to them: “Sing to the Lord, for he is highly exalted. Both horse and driver he has hurled into the sea.” (Exodus 15: 19-21)
Miriam was the eldest child of Amram and Jochebed, and the sister of Aaron and Moses. Miriam owed much to her ancestry. She was the daughter of godly parents and the sister of two of Israel’s greatest figures.
Miriam has been an intelligent child. Her mother had entrusted her with an assignment of much importance that the life of her younger brother was dependent upon her success. She completed her task with courage, bringing her mother, a Hebrew woman, and an Egyptian princess in contact with each other. Thus her brother was rescued, benefitting both their family and God's people. The child was Moses, mediator of the old covenant, the prophet who spoke face to face with God. When he became the great hero, how Miriam must have been grateful for her share in preserving her baby brother from the cruel fate of other Hebrew infants.
As an adult, Miriam was a woman of stature. Miriam appears for the first time by name when she is called a “prophetess,” and is identified as the sister of Aaron. Both her words and work were full of the inspiration of God and she is brought as a leader and pattern to the women of Israel. Prophets and prophetesses are those raised up by God and inspired by His Spirit to proclaim the will and purpose of God. It is at the Red Sea that we see Miriam standing out so prominently, proclaiming and singing the power and faithfulness of God. She, it was, who led the Israelite women in dancing and instrumental accompaniment as she sang the ode of praise and victory. By this time Miriam was well past middle life. If she was about 12 years of age when Moses was born, and he spent 40 years in Egypt, then another 40 in the land of Midian before the dramatic episode of the Red Sea, then Miriam was an aging woman in that time when longevity was normal.
After the plague that fell upon Egypt, Pharaoh let God’s people go. Moses, leader of the almost two million people, with his brother Aaron as high priest, and his sister Miriam as his chief singer, set out for the land of promise. God caused the waters to roll back and the Israelites passed through on dry ground, but as soon as they were through the waters rushed back and drowned the pursuing Egyptians. Miriam, the first poetess in the Bible, led the joyous acclamations of the multitude, and using her timbrel, sang, “Sing ye to the Lord, for he hath triumphed gloriously: the horse and his rider hath he thrown into the sea.” The Song of Moses and Miriam has been referred to as one of the oldest and most splendid natural anthems in the world.
Miriam was a born leader. The women readily followed her. And although they could not foresee the future, their singing would become an endless source of support to the women during the long wilderness wanderings. The journey was long because of the disobedience of the people.
The circumstance that revealed Miriam's inner character was Moses' second marriage, this time to an Ethiopian. Miriam found this difficult. Moses, a man of God, marrying a woman from another nation. She was concerned about how the results of this marriage might affect the people.
Miriam, who had ascended to the highest post ever held by a woman, and who was named by God in the same breath as the two great male leaders, had simply surpassed her boundaries. She started to consider herself on the same level as Moses. She started to become jealous. Together with Aaron, they tried to usurp Moses' authority. This endangered the unity of the entire nation.
Moses, meekest of all men, acted as a deaf man who heard not, and as a dumb man who opened not his mouth. God had heard the complaints Miriam had voiced and He called the trio of leaders to meet Him at the tabernacle of the congregation. Taking up the defense of Moses, God spoke directly to Miriam and Aaron in no uncertain terms that they had not only hurt Moses but that they had failed in their duty toward Him. Moses received divine vindication as God’s servant who had been faithful, and as the one whom He had chosen as the medium of a divine revelation. Then the rebellious sister and brother were reprimanded by God for speaking against His honored servant. How silenced the three must have been when, standing at the door of the tabernacle, they were silenced by the austerity and authority of the divine voice! In righteous wrath God withdrew from the holy place.
As the divine cloud left the tabernacle, the eyes of Aaron sought his beloved and forceful sister, and to his horror she had been smitten with leprosy—the foul disease that made the victim look like death, white as snow, a living corpse. The proud, jealous prophetess was condemned to endure the most humiliating of diseases. While Aaron was united with Miriam in rebellion against Moses, judgment only fell upon Miriam which indicated that she had been the instigator, and had influenced her pliable brother.
How humiliating it must have been for Miriam to see people fleeing from her—the one who had before led them so triumphantly. Her judgment was swift and signal, even though hers was a temporary disgrace. Aaron and Moses, overcome with pity for their condemned sister and filled with brotherly love, prayed for Miriam that the punishment might pass from her. Prayer was heard on her behalf, and after her separation from the camp for seven days, she was healed of her leprosy. Evidently Miriam had the sympathy of the whole nation during her week of purification.
Miriam was a woman on top. It was an exceptional position, a commission which had been entrusted to her by God. Miriam's story offered a wonderful challenge as long as she used her position to honor God.
Source: Bible Gateway / Her Name Is Woman (By Gien Karssen)