Her name means: "Bitterness"
Her character: Even as a young girl, she showed fortitude and wisdom. A leader of God's people at a crucial moment in history, she led the celebration after crossing the Red Sea and spoke God's word to his people, sharing their forty-year journey through the wilderness.
Her sorrow: That she was struck with leprosy for her pride and insubordination and was denied entry into the Promised Land.
Her joy: To have played an instrumental role in the deliverance of God's people, a nation she loved.
Key Scriptures: Exodus 2:1-10; 15:20-21; Numbers 12:1-15
Seven days, I must stay outside the camp of my people, an old woman, fenced in by memories of what has been.
How could I forget our years in Egypt, the cries of the mothers whose children were murdered or the moans of our brothers as they worked themselves to death? I have only to shut my eyes and see—the wall of water, the soldiers chasing us through the sea, the sounds of their noisy drowning, and, finally, the silence and the peace. How I miss the singing of the women I led that day, dancing at the sea's edge, praising God for hurling our enemies into the deep waters, certain we would never see them again.
But we did see them again—our enemies, though not the Egyptians. We let ingratitude stalk and rob us of our blessings. We preferred the garlic and leeks of Egypt, the food of our slavery, to the manna the good God gave us. Enslaved to fear, we refused to enter the land of promise.
Time and again Moses and Aaron and I exhorted the people to stand firm, to have faith, to obey God. But there came a day when Aaron and I could stand with our brother no longer. Instead we spoke against him and his Cushite wife. What part did she, a foreigner to our suffering, have in the promise? So we challenged Moses. Had the Lord spoken only through him? All Israel knew better. We deserved an equal share in his authority, an equal say in how to lead the people.
But the Lord who speaks also heard our complaint and summoned the three of us to stand before him at the Tent of Meeting. He addressed Aaron and me with terrible words.
When the cloud of his presence finally lifted, I was a leper. I could see the horror on every face turned toward me. Aaron begged Moses to forgive us both. And Moses cried out to the Lord to heal me.
The Lord replied, "If her father had spit in her face, would she not have been in disgrace for seven days? Confine her outside the camp for seven days; after that she can be brought back." Then at least I knew my banishment was temporary; my disease would be healed.
Now I see that my enemies were not merely buried in the sea but in my own heart as well. Still, God has let me live, and I believe he will heal me. Though he brings grief, he will yet show compassion. One thing I know, he has hurled my pride into the sea and for that I will also sing his praises.
...Though Scripture doesn't reveal Miriam's thoughts or the attitude of her heart after she was chastened for complaining about Moses, it is not unreasonable to think she repented during the seven days of her banishment.
After all, it's not easy for a person of faith, however flawed, to hear God speaking as though he were spitting on her and still to hold fast to her error.
Perhaps Miriam, and the nation itself, needed a shocking rebuke in order to recognize the seriousness of a sin that threatened the unity of God's people.
Why, you might ask, wasn't Aaron similarly afflicted for his sin? Perhaps because Miriam seemed to be the ringleader. Perhaps, also, because God didn't want the worship of the tabernacle to be disrupted by Aaron's absence as high priest.
The last we hear of Miriam is that she died and was buried in Kadesh Barnea, not all that far from where Hagar, another slave woman, had encountered an angel in the wilderness so many years earlier. Like her brothers Moses and Aaron, Miriam died shortly before the Israelites ended their forty-year sojourn in the desert. She, too, was prevented from entering the Promised Land.
Still, like them, Miriam is one of the great heroes of our faith. As a young girl, she helped save the infant Moses, Israel's future deliverer. Herself a prophetess, she exhorted and encouraged God's people and led the singing of the first psalm ever recorded in Scripture. Yet, strong though she was, she, like all of us, sinned against God and suffered a punishment designed to bring her to repentance.
Miriam's story offers an extraordinary example of God's willingness to forgive those who sin. Though she had to pay the consequences for her actions—seven days of exclusion from the camp and from all those who loved her—she reentered the camp a forgiven woman. Hundreds of years later, she is remembered by the prophet Micah as a leader of Israel with Moses and Aaron (Micah 6:4).
Such liberating forgiveness is available to us as well as to Miriam. God looks with judgment at our sin, waits patiently for our repentance, and then eagerly offers his forgiveness and acceptance. We reenter fellowship with him renewed and clean and forgiven. Our repentance turns a legacy of judgment and punishment into a legacy of forgiveness and worthiness before God.
This devotional is drawn from Women of the Bible: A One-Year Devotional Study of Women in Scripture by Ann Spangler and Jean Syswerda. Used with permission.
Miriam's story offers an extraordinary example of God's willingness to forgive those who sin.