From the banks of the Nile to the triumphal exodus through the Sea of Reeds to her miraculous well, Miriam’s story is as vital to God’s people as water is to us.
I am blessed to have two big sisters. Both of whom I love and adore for a variety of reasons. I can honestly say they have both been good to me. They always loved and looked out for me, even though they told everyone I wasn’t really their baby brother but some kid they ordered from the Sears catalogue.
I am also blessed to have seven sisters-in-law. I think it’s best not to say anything more. I know better, having once said a mother in law joke in church while my mother in law sat in the pew leering at me. All nine of these women have added to my storied life - teaching me lessons that one often learns the hard way.
Now there isn’t any one specific thing that Miriam taught her brothers that’s recorded in the Bible. But if you have an older sibling, or if you are one yourself, then you know she couldn’t help herself to give her two cents.
Everyone knows that other than being a built-in babysitter for your parents, one of the many roles of the big sister is being bossy. Just ask my eldest daughter, who has no problem wielding her power over her brother and sister...or over me. She knows I am forever the baby brother, and she constantly uses that to her advantage.
Some of the best lessons I’ve learned from my sisters have happened by observing them. I’ve watched how they welcome people with openness and kindness. They're always ready to jump in and help out, and always willing to listen to your problems. Their actions have helped me considerably in shaping my ministry. I have also watched both my sisters struggle with some really difficult things in their life, too. As result I have learned how to persist in spite of the obstacles that try to stop me.
Miriam was like that. A persistent and strong role model for her brothers. And at a time when women were to be seen but not heard, nevertheless, Miriam persisted.
Because of her tenacity she was much more than a big sister, she was vital and invaluable to Israel’s story. Perhaps that is why she is mentioned more than 15 times in five separate books of the Old Testament. My favorite comes from the prophet Micah who does something unheard of in his day. He boldly declares Miriam as one of God’s great messengers of deliverance (Micah 6:3-4).
Although she’s often overshadowed by her famous brothers, Micah made it pretty clear that Miriam is on par with Moses and Aaron as having been appointed by God to deliver the Israelites from their Egyptian captors.
This is a far cry from where she started out – as a young unnamed girl babysitting her brother on the banks of the Nile River.
You know the story (Exodus 2:1-10). After living in Egypt for four hundred years, the Hebrew people began to outnumber the Egyptians. With a similar fear to what some of us have in our own country about foreigners, a paranoid Pharaoh declared that “Every male born to the Hebrews must be thrown into the Nile.” Fearing for her son’s life, Moses mom hides the infant in a basket and places him in the reeds on the bank of the river. Moses’ sister, which is how Miriam is introduced, waited and watched to see what would happen.
When Pharaoh’s daughter discovers the basket, Moses’ sister does the unthinkable: she approaches the princess and starts up a conversation. Like that wasn’t dangerous enough for a slave girls to do, Moses’ sister convinced the princess to defy her father’s royal decree, and even tricks her into paying Moses’ mom to nurse her own child.
Because of her bold confidence, her fearless tenacity, and her law-breaking/deal making skills, Miriam not only protected and restored her family, but also solidified Israel’s freedom and redemption. And yet, this celebrated savior remained unnamed.
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That’s so like God isn’t it? Lifting up people because of what they can do; not because of who they are. It’s not that our names are unimportant, but I believe it’s our actions that people will remember us by. Miriam was no different.
Thirteen chapters later in the Exodus story, we not only learn Miriam’s name, but also discover she’s a prophet – someone who was chosen to speak for God.
My big sister Sally loves to speak for the entire family, often at a very loud decibel level. I can honestly say, none of it is very prophetic, or godly for that matter. Even though we don’t get any specific details - the Bible gives us some clues to the way Miriam prophesies. For example, after God sends the plagues upon Egypt and delivers the Israelites through the Sea of Reeds, Miriam leads all the women in worship with song and dance (Exodus 15:20-21).
I know for a fact that Miriam’s short song was never a Billboard hit, but it is forever recorded in the holy scriptures as the climax to Israel’s four hundred years of oppression. Ever since then, God’s people have remembered this heroic woman by singing her song during Passover. Talk about an unexpected prophetic witness.
Her song makes me wonder about my own witness. What is my song that I lift up for God’s glory? What can I do to get people dancing and moving with such exuberant joy?
Again as the prophet Micah writes, “and what does the Lord require but to love justice, and love kindness, and walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8).
Love. Kindness. Humility. That is to be our song, our witness in the world.
Unlike her brothers who focused on stirring speeches, Miriam chose singing and dancing in moments of joy. It’s been said that because of her exuberant praise after crossing through the waters, God rewarded Miriam’s joy in the most unexpected way.
A sister, a prophet, a savior and sustainer. Miriam is a heroic figure who is still able to lead us through the wilderness of our time. Micah wasn’t just being nice to include her in his prophecy; he was being accurate. He recognized her importance and made sure that her name would be forever engraved on the heart of Israel, and Christians as well.
Like Miriam, Jesus’ story was framed in water. From his baptismal font in the Jordan River, to the wedding at Cana, to the piercing of his side on the cross, Jesus is described as Living Water. It’s written in John’s gospel, that anyone who drinks of this water will never thirst again.
Just as Miriam did for her people, Jesus does for all; lifting us up and sustaining us in times of fear, uncertainty and death. Much like his ancient ancestor, Jesus defied the system and status quo to bring relief to the poor, the sick, and the marginalize. And he still does this today. His cup overflows with the love of God so that all who thirst for righteousness receive it.
On those hard days when you thirst for justice, or want to savor God’s grace; when you feel like you’re trapped inside your house or out there struggling in the wilderness; when you fear you’ll never sing your favorite hymns the way you used to or dance with joy because it feels like there is no more joy to go around, remember the story of Miriam, the big sister prophet, the vessel of God’s loving grace, a leader among men.
As J. Lee Grady says of Miriam, “She was not an inferior appendage, smiling from her tent, washing clothes and preparing food with the other women while Moses and Aaron managed the problems of the nomadic nation. Miriam was given authority by God to lead. She functioned, along with her brothers, as a governing elder.”
And isn’t that what Christ has called us and empowered us to do? To lead - boldly and fearlessly?
I hope that you will leave here today knowing that you too are not only a vessel of God’s goodness, but in Christ you are also a leader. One who steps up when it’s not expected, when it goes against cultural expectations, or when it means stepping up to royalty, and disobeying the written law of the land, Jesus calls us to be like Miriam, who despite the odds set against her, nevertheless, in faithfulness, she persisted.
How blessed are we that we have her story, and “the stories of so many persistent women of faith who fought against the limiting rules and unjust laws, who risked family and life, who spoke when they weren’t supposed to speak, who did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, to ensure that God’s justice shall reign on earth.”
Following in this tradition, I encourage you to go and do the same. Just as Miriam was a prophet who paved the way for Christ’s reign it’s now our turn to pave the way for Christ’s return. It’s time to be the one who gets the world to sing and dance and laugh and celebrate again.
So let us go now, and fill each other’s cup with love and joy and all the goodness of life that God has given to us through Christ Jesus. Let us make that our story and our song that bring all glory to our God, now and forever, Amen.
Alexander, T. Desmond and David W. Baker, eds. Dictionary of the Old Testament: Pentateuch. Downers Grove, Il: Inter-Varsity Press, 2003.
Artson, Bradley. Miriam: Water Under The Bridge. https://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/miriam-water-under-the-bridge/ (accessed Aug 07, 2020).
James, Thomas. Persistent Women: Miriam. Sermon on Sept. 9, 2018. https://wsumc.com/multimedia-archive/miriam (accessed Aug 07, 2020).
Mandel, David. Miriam. https://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/miriam/ (accessed Aug 07, 2020).
Siegal, Madisen. The Forgotten Sister. January 18, 2017. https://jwa.org/blog/risingvoices/forgotten-sister-miriam (accessed Aug 07, 2020).
An ex-copywriter turned punk rock pastor and peacemaker who dedicates his life to making the world a better place for all humanity.
"that they all might be one" ~John 17:21
“Prius vita quam doctrina.”
~ St. Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274)
* “Life is more important than doctrine.”