Miriam means “prophetess” or “lady.” Moses appears to be Egyptian, as in Thutmoses (child of Thut); or may simply mean child of the water. The Hebrew word moseh also means “pulled out of,” as in pulled out of the water.
Miriam was a leader of the Hebrew people during the Exodus; the great founding event of Judaism. The episodes we have about her are disjointed and probably only represents a fraction of the stories originally told in the oral tradition of the Hebrew people.
The story of Miriam contains four different episodes: I have condensed her activities in this read. Please read further to a better understand each summary.
1 Miriam saved her brother Moses from a death sentence. Exodus 2:1-10. We are familiar with this well-known story. It is the survival of the leader of the Exodus, Moses, depended on the courage and ingenuity of one young woman, his sister Miriam. This story is posted earlier in our Women of Faith story of Moses’ Mother.
2 The song of Miriam, Exodus 15:20-21. This fragment of the Song of Miriam is one of the oldest poetic couplets in the Old Testament. It is an example of a literary genre devoted to celebrating military victories with triumphal poems.
3 Miriam’s ordeal, Numbers 12. This story is about the authority of established law. Moses was the great lawgiver of the Hebrew people Moses’ legislation formed the basis of Hebrew life. The story acknowledged that Miriam and Aaron were both popular leaders, but they were bound by the Law, represented by Moses. Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses because of the Ethiopian woman who he married. The Lord’s anger was kindled upon them. Miriam was stricken with leprosy until Moses interceded for them.
4 Miriam’s death, Numbers 20:1-2. Miriam, with her brothers Moses and Aaron, led the Hebrew people throughout the forty years when they reverted to the nomadic life, searching meanwhile for a land where they could settle. The life they led was hard, and they must often have yearned for the stability and settled life they had left back in Egypt. Water was always scarce, the food supply was unreliable, and the physical living conditions were rigorous. Eventually these conditions took their toll on Miriam, and she died. “The Israelites, the whole congregation, came into the wilderness of Zin in the first month, and the people stayed in Kadesh. Miriam died there, and was buried there.” Water, the symbol of life, had played quite a large part in Miriam’s life. She saved her brother from the water; she led the song of victory after the parting of the Red Sea; she died in a waterless place. Immediately after her death, God gave abundant water to the people, in the form of a spring.
Read Numbers 20:1-2
The Exodus was the great founding event of the Jewish people. It had three major themes:
• A journey cycle involving exile, wandering and return to a promised land
• The responsibility to fight injustice wherever it was encountered
• The covenant between God and his people.
Miriam’s life had been one of service and leadership. She expressed all the robust qualities that are best: courage and ingenuity in a dangerous situation, loyalty to her family, a love of music, story-telling and dance, and intellectual enquiry into questions about authority and social responsibility. She remains a model for women and men today.
Psalms 119: 81-106