Who was Miriam in the Old Testament?

The Old Testament tells us that Miriam was Moses’ older sister. Miriam, Aaron and Moses were the children of Amram and Jochebed (Exodus 6:20) who were from the Levite tribe (Exodus 2:1). The prophet Micah says that the Lord delivered Israel out of Egypt by Moses and that Aaron and Miriam assisted him (Micah 6:4).

Background

Miriam was a prophetess of God (Exodus 15:20). She is the first woman that is honored by this title. Her mission, before the Exodus, may have been to inspire the people with the hope of deliverance during the dark years of slavery. She may have taught and reproved the people to walk in God’s path.

First Mention in the Bible

The Bible first mentions how Miriam saved Moses from Pharaoh’s death decree. Jochebed asked Miriam to watch over Moses who was placed among the bulrushes on the banks of the Nile to hide him from Pharaoh. For the king had ordered to throw all Hebrew baby boys into the river (Exodus 1:22—2:4).

While Miriam was looking after Moses, the daughter of Pharaoh came to the river to bathe and she saw Moses and had compassion on him. Miriam prudently asked her if she would like a Hebrew woman to nurse the child for her. The princess said she would. So, Miriam brought her mother. And the princess asked her to nurse Moses and bring him back to the palace when he is old. And the princess adopted Moses (Exodus 2:5–10).

Exodus

After the Exodus, God delivered his people by opening the Red Sea so they can escape from Pharaoh’s pursuing army. And the Lord destroyed the Egyptians in the sea. Then, Miriam led the women in Joyous songs of praise for God’s mighty deed (Exodus 15:20–22). Miriam was probably 90 years of age at the time (Ex. 2:4; 7:7).

But the devil tempted Miriam to speak against Moses for marrying a Cushite or Ethiopian woman, (Numbers 12:1). Further she and Aaron doubted Moses’ divinely appointed position when they said, “‘Has the Lord spoken only through Moses?’ they asked. ‘Hasn’t he also spoken through us?’” (Numbers 12:2).

The Lord was displeased with them and struck Miriam with leprosy. Immediately they repented of their sin. And “Moses cried out to the Lord, ‘Please, God, heal her!’” (Numbers 12:13). So, Miriam was shut out of the camp seven days, and then she received her healing (v. 15). The Scriptures tell us that the Lord disciplines whom he loves (Hebrews 12:6). The basic blunder of Miriam was one of disrespect for, and rebellion against, divine authority. Therefore, God’s people should not criticize His appointed leaders (James 1:26; 4:11–12; Titus 3:1–15; Philippians 4:8; Ephesians 4:31).

Conclusion

Miriam served the Lord along with Aaron. At the end when the Israelites stayed in Kadesh Miriam died and was buried there (Numbers 20:1). This was probably the 40th year of the wilderness wanderings (Num. 27:14; 33:36). She was probably 132 years of age (Ex. 2:4, 7). Aaron, who died a few months later, was 123 (Num. 33:38, 39), and Moses, 120 (Deut. 34:7). She was the eldest of the three.

In His service,
BibleAsk Team

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