Remember Miriam

"Remember . . . Miriam"

January  2018 Janet Lundeen Neumann

As Seventh-day Adventists, most of us treasure a particular Bible text that says “Remember the Sabbath day.”  Sabbath worship is part of our church history -- recent history -- compared to the Scriptures.  The Sabbath is to be “remembered” as our covenant with God.

However there are other significant usages of the word “remember” that lead us to Godly truth and instruction – instruction that directly applies to our lives today.  Not today in generic terms but today – right now!

God said through Moses:

  • “Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, thy servants . . . I will multiply your seed as the stars of heaven . . .” (Exodus 32:13).
  •  “Remember this day, in which ye came out from Egypt, out of the house of bondage; for by strength of hand the Lord brought you out from this place. (Exodus 13:3).
  • “Remember, and do all my commandments, and be holy unto your God.” (Numbers 15:40).

There is one woman, only one woman, in the Bible who, by name, we are told to “remember.” Her name is Miriam. 

Her story is even more intriguing in that it wasn’t until centuries later, through the Spirit of Prophecy, the real reason for her story being recorded in such detail is finally revealed.  Fully revealed for us to “remember” today.

God said through Moses, “Remember what the LORD thy God did unto Miriam . . .” (Deuteronomy 24:9)

Not long before we see Miriam come into the story as a little girl, we see an angry Pharaoh ruling Babylon with a fast multiplying multitude of enslaved Israelites on his hands.  (Remember God’s promise to multiply their seed?)  Fearful that they might one day overcome him with their numbers, the Pharaoh goes to the Israeli midwife’s and ordered them to kill all the newborn male children.   Because they honor God, the midwives bravely devised ways of avoiding his order.  When the Pharaoh returns again to speak to the Hebrew midwives, he demands why they did not obey him.

“And the midwives said unto Pharaoh, ‘Because the Hebrew women are not as the Egyptian women; for they are lively, and are delivered ere the midwives come in unto them.’” (Exodus 1:19)  Such amazing courage while face to face with Pharaoh!  “Because the midwives feared God, that he (God) made them houses.   And Pharaoh charged all his people, saying, ‘Every son that is born ye shall cast into the river, and every daughter ye shall save alive’”  (Exodus 1:21-22).

This new order from the Pharaoh, devastates the homes of many parents in Israel, crushing their hopes for sons who might be the promised leader to deliver them from bondage.  Miriam’s parents, Amram and Jacobed, with the same hope, devised a clever plan to protect their baby son, Moses, from the Pharaoh’s death decree.  And Miriam, at a tender young age, beccomes part of the plan.

Their faith in God spur the actions of Amram and Jacobed, "and they were not afraid of the king's commandment." (Hebrews 11:23).  Their faith is instilled in Miriam.  This makes her unafraid of the king’s command.  She is to be the protector down by the Nile’s edge daily guarding her baby brother.  “And his sister (Miriam) stood afar off, to wit what would be done to him.”  (Exodus 2:4)

”Miriam's force of character had been early displayed when as a child she watched beside the Nile the little basket in which was hidden the infant Moses.  Her self-control and tact God had made instrumental in preserving the deliverer of His people”  (Patriarchs & Prophets, p. 382).

“Even when Moses is discovered by the Pharaoh’s daughter, “Miriam, lingered near, apparently indifferent, but anxiously watching to see what would become of her little brother.” (Patriarchs & Prophets, p. 382)  Miriam never imagined coming face to face with the Pharaoh’s daughter, yet she remains poised and quick-thinking under stress.  She reveals herself as a remarkable young daughter of God saving the next leader of Israel.

The next time we hear about Miriam is in Exodus 15 where as an adult woman, she is taking her place among the leadership of Israel.

Miriam and her brother, Aaron, both occupy positions of high honor and leadership in Israel. Both are endowed with the prophetic gift, and both were divinely associated with Moses in the deliverance of the Hebrews.  Miriam is also richly endowed with the gifts of poetry and music. She is the one who led the women of Israel in song and dance on the shore of the Red Sea celebrating their safe crossing with God blessing.  “All the women went out after her with timbrels and with dances”  (Exodus 15:20).  And Miriam led them all in singing the Song of Moses.

In the affections of the people and the honor of Heaven she stands second only to Moses and Aaron.  Miriam is admired by all and blessed by God.

When Israel is finally freed and able to leave Babylon, all of Israel (millions of them) moves out of Egypt, through the Red Sea on dry land and into the desert.   Israel now lives in tents and is constantly on the move.

It doesn’t take long for the people to begin murmuring.  It begins at the Red Sea and increases all the way to Sinai.  No water.  God gives them water.  No food.  God gives them manna.  They don’t like the manna.  “Give us meat,” they beg.  So.... 

“God gave the people that which was not for their highest good, because they persisted in desiring it; they would not be satisfied with those things that would prove a benefit to them. Their rebellious desires were gratified, but they were left to suffer the result. . .while the most guilty among them were smitten as soon as they tasted the food for which they had lusted” (Patriarchs & Prophets, p.382).

 “Their murmuring was now rebellion, and as such it must receive prompt and signal punishment, if Israel was to be preserved from anarchy and ruin.  The fire of Jehovah burnt among them, and consumed them that were in the uttermost parts of the camp. The most guilty of the complainers were slain by lightning from the cloud”  (Patriarchs & Prophets, p. 379).

But there is also another kind of murmuring going on -- the same evil that first brought discord in heaven sprang up in the heart of this highly regarded, talented woman of Israel, Miriam.

Miriam is first in her dissatisfaction which she quickly shared with her brother, Aaron.  Aaron might have prevented the evil if he had not sympathized with her, but instead he listens to her words of complaint. “Aaron had been highly honored by God in the appointment of his family to the sacred office of the priesthood; yet even this now added to the desire for self-exaltation” (Patriarch & Prophets, p. 383).

During the appointment of the seventy elders, Miriam and Aaron had not been consulted.  Miriam feels ignored.   “And their jealousy was excited against Moses” (Patriarch & Prophets, p. 383).

 “Yielding to the spirit of dissatisfaction, Miriam found cause of complaint in events that God had especially overruled.”  Miriam does not like Zipporah, a woman from another country with darker skin and with whom Moses would discuss important issues. Zipporah “was an offense to her family and national pride. Zipporah was treated with ill-disguised contempt”  (Patriarchs & Prophets, p.383)   Miriam is jealous of her in-laws too.

 “Had Aaron stood up firmly for the right, he might have checked the evil; but instead of showing Miriam the sinfulness of her conduct, he sympathized with her, listened to her words of complaint, and thus came to share her jealousy” (P. 384).

The greatest difference between Miriam and Moses is Moses feels the importance of the great work committed to him as no other man had ever felt it.  He realizes his own weakness, and he humbly makes God his counselor.  Miriam and Aaron continually blinded by jealousy and ambition, lose sight of the humility of Moses.

Aaron esteems himself more highly, and trusts less in God.  “Aaron had been highly honored by God in the appointment of his family to the sacred office of the priesthood; yet Miriam’s murmuring convinced him he should be greater exalted.”  (Patriarchs & Prophets, p. 382)

“Hath the Lord indeed spoken only by Moses?  Hath He not spoken also by us?" (Numbers 12:2), Miriam and Aaron complain.   Because they regard themselves as equally favored by God, they feel they are entitled to the same position and authority as Moses.

Miriam and Aaron, by their murmurings, were guilty of disloyalty not only to their appointed leader, but to God Himself.

Finally God has has enough.  The “seditious whisperers” are summoned to the tabernacle, and brought face to face with Moses.  "And Jehovah came down in the pillar of the cloud, and stood in the door of the tabernacle, and called Aaron and Miriam.  Through Moses, God asked them the question:  “Wherefore then were ye not afraid to speak against My servant Moses?”  And the anger of the Lord is kindled against them and He departs.

Patriarchs and Prophets continues,

Even the cloud disappears from the tabernacle as a token of God's displeasure, and Miriam is smitten. She "became leprous, white as snow." Aaron is severely rebuked by God but is spared Miriam's death sentence.  Why is her punishment more severe?  Because she is the instigator.  She started the murmuring and spread the discontent.  Miriam’s rebellion against Moses is made all the more reprehensible because she is already so highly positioned and honored in Israel.

This is a death sentence for Miriam.  Leprosy had no cure.  Even more, God is gone. 

Can you imagine living in the desert without God?  Without a pillar of cloud to shade you by day?  God truly withdrew His presence from Israel.

Miriam, because of her leprosy, is banished from the encampment.  And not until she is physically removed from the camp did the symbol of God's favor (the pillar of cloud) return to rest upon the tabernacle and shade the people.  For seven days she is in the desert alone.

This manifestation of the Lord's displeasure (absenting Himself from the camp of Israel – taking His protecting shade with Him) is designed to be a warning to all Israel, to check the growing spirit of discontent and insubordination.  If Miriam's envy and dissatisfaction is not signally rebuked, it will result in great evil.

Only then are they humbled.  Aaron confesses their sin.  Aaron pleads with God that Miriam might not be left in the desert to die of the deadly scourge.  But it is the prayer of Moses, the leader and brother against whom she had murmured that God answers and causes her to be healed. 

Does the story of Miriam remind you of someone else mentioned in the Bible?  Someone who lived long before Miriam?   Someone who changed completely?

  • one who was given great responsibility and leadership early in life
  •  one who served just below the “chosen leader”
  • one who led a massive choir
  •  one who first became dissatisfied with his position
  •  one who began murmuring to others
  • one who thought he should be elevated to the same position as the chosen leader
  • one who was jealous by not being consulted about significant plans
  • one who was ultimately cast out
  • one who chose never to return

The attempts at self-exaltation that Miriam and Lucifer chose are parallel in so many ways.  The only difference is one repented and one steadfastly clings to his pride even knowing he will die in the desert.

There is a great deal of detail recorded in the story of Miriam both in the Scriptures and the Spirit of Prophecy.  And after centuries when there is the need to know why, Ellen White reveals to us the reason these details were recorded. 

“The murmurings of Aaron and Miriam are left on the record as a rebuke to all who will yield to jealousy, and complain of those upon whom God has laid the burden of His word” (Selected Messages, vol. 4, p. 20-21).

When Miriam returns to the camp her murmurings have ceased.  Sincere repentance causes the change.  After repentance comes reconciliation and a new beginning.  With Moses as God’s chosen leader, they worked in harmony again -– But only after repentance.

  • Israel demanded meat -- which caused death.
  • Miriam demanded higher position -- which gave her a death sentence.
  •  Israel demanded a king -- which led to repeated slavery and death.

Each of these demands, though sincerely desired and earnestly prayed for, was still against the will of God.

When God says, “Remember the Sabbath day,” we know it is important and we remember.

When He says, “Remember Miriam,” her story must be important too.

When I think of Miriam, I am reminded of a small magnet on my refrigerator at home.  It has a tiny water color painting of a lovely flower garden on it.  And just above the flowers are printed the words, “Grow where you are planted.”  It’s not a Biblical statement, but it has some wisdom.  God knew where to plant each of the different flowers in Eden and He knew where to plant each of His unique people on earth -- where they could grow and bloom the very best.  Where He chose to “plant” each of us (Genesis 1:31) was “very good.”

 Janet Lundeen Neumann lives in College Place, WA.