Who was the first woman prophet in the Bible?

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By BibleAsk Team


The first woman recognized as a prophetess in the Bible is Miriam, the sister of Moses and Aaron. Miriam played a significant role in the Exodus story and the early history of the Israelites. While the Bible does not explicitly label her as a prophetess, her actions and the way she is portrayed indicate her prophetic role and leadership among the Israelites. Let’s explore Miriam’s life and her contributions to the biblical narrative, supported by references from the Bible.

Early Life and Family Background

Miriam is introduced in the book of Exodus as the daughter of Amram and Jochebed, members of the tribe of Levi (Exodus 6:20). She is the elder sister of Moses and Aaron, making her a key figure in the family that would play a pivotal role in the liberation of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt.

Miriam played an instrumental role in protecting Moses during infancy (Exodus 2:4-8). Later on, and during the years of slavery, her task was to communicate to the people messages of hope and deliverance. She may have taught, encouraged, and corrected the Israelites when they got weary of waiting.

Prophetic Role in the Exodus Story

Miriam’s prophetic role becomes evident during the Exodus narrative. In Exodus 15:20-21 (NKJV), after the Israelites safely cross the Red Sea and witness the destruction of Pharaoh’s army, Miriam is described as taking a timbrel in her hand, leading the women of Israel in singing and dancing:

“Then Miriam the prophetess, the sister of Aaron, took the timbrel in her hand; and all the women went out after her with timbrels and with dances. And Miriam answered them: ‘Sing to the LORD, for He has triumphed gloriously! The horse and its rider He has thrown into the sea!'” Here, she was inspired by God with the words of the song. At that time, she was probably more than 90 years of age (Exodus 7:7).

This passage not only highlights Miriam’s prophetic designation but also underscores her leadership role among the women of Israel. Her song of praise celebrates God’s victory and serves as a communal expression of gratitude and worship.

The prophet Micah writes that Miriam worked alongside her brothers Moses and Arron: “For I brought you up from the land of Egypt, I redeemed you from the house of bondage; and I sent before you Moses, Aaron, and Miriam” (Micah 6:4, NKJV). God provided specially qualified and inspired leadership for His people (Psalms 77:20; Hosea 12:13).

She specifically claimed to possess the prophetic gift (Numbers 12:2), and that God had spoken through her. But her task was subordinate in relation to that held by Moses, but comparable to that of Aaron, who was himself subordinate to Moses (Exodus 4:16).

The Talmud [names her as one of the seven major female prophets of Israel. Some of these women are: Deborah (Judges 4:4), Huldah (2 Kings 22:14), the unnamed woman (Isaiah 8:3), and Anna (Luke 2:36).

Rebuke of Moses

Miriam’s prophetic role is further demonstrated in Numbers 12, where she, along with Aaron, confronts Moses regarding his marriage to a Cushite woman. In Numbers 12:1-2 (NKJV), Miriam and Aaron question Moses’ authority, stating, “Then Miriam and Aaron [a]spoke against Moses because of the [b]Ethiopian woman whom he had married; for he had married an Ethiopian woman. So they said, “Has the Lord indeed spoken only through Moses? Has He not spoken through us also?” And the Lord heard it” This incident leads to God’s intervention, with Miriam being afflicted with leprosy as a consequence of her murmur and rebellion against Moses’ leadership.

Miriam’s assertion of divine communication and her subsequent punishment underscore her role among the leaders of Israel. Additionally, her restoration after Moses intercedes for her (Numbers 12:10-15) reinforces her standing as a respected figure within the community.

Death

Miriam’s life concludes with her death and burial in the wilderness of Zin, as recorded in Numbers 20:1 (NKJV): “Then the children of Israel, the whole congregation, came into the Wilderness of Zin in the first month, and the people stayed in Kadesh; and Miriam died there and was buried there.”

While Miriam’s death is not accompanied by explicit commentary on her prophetic legacy, her prominence in the Exodus narrative and her leadership role within the Israelite community ensure her lasting significance in biblical history.

Conclusion

Miriam, the sister of Moses and Aaron, emerges as the first woman recognized as a prophetess in the Bible. Her prophetic role is evident in her leadership among the women of Israel, her contribution to communal worship and celebration, and her confrontation of Moses regarding his authority. While the Bible does not provide detailed accounts of Miriam’s prophetic utterances or activities, her actions and portrayal highlight her as a significant figure in the early history of the Israelites. Miriam’s legacy as a prophetess, leader, and worshipper of God serves as a testament to the diverse roles and contributions of women in biblical narratives.

In His service,
BibleAsk Team

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