The Many “Miriams” In the Bible
The name Miriam comes from the Hebrew word Miryam meaning rebelliously or bitterly. It is essentially the same name that is translated in the New Testament as Mary. In the Old Testament the name is translated Miriam. The New Testament was originally written in Greek so the name was a Greek translation of Miriam– Marie in Greek. Therefore when the Bible was translated into English, the Old Testament was translated from the Hebrew as Miriam, whereas the New Testament was translated from the Greek Marie into the name Mary.
Two women are named Miriam in the Old Testament. The first is this Miriam who we see in Exodus 15:20 the second is from I Chronicles 4:17.
The Marys of the New Testament are Mary, the Mother of Jesus, Mary Magdalene (Luke 8:2, 24:10,) Mary the Sister of Lazarus and Martha (Matthew 26:7, Luke 10:39-42 John 11, 12:3), Mother of James (John 19:25, Matthew 27:56, Mark 15:40), mother of John Mark (Acts 12:12) and a helper of Paul Romans 16:6).
The Dutiful Daughter
The first Miriam that we meet in the Bible is a young Hebrew slave in Egypt in the time of the Pharaohs. The Pharaoh decreed that all Hebrew baby boys be killed so Miriam’s mother in desperation fashioned a basket of reeds and hides her baby in the bulrushes and the baby’s sister tends to her baby brother. Many of us know the story of Moses and Miriam’s contribution to the Hebrews of her time is shadowed by her famous brother. For many chapters, our heroine drops from the story. However, it is important to note that without Miriam’s obedience to her mother, Moses would never have been able to rescue his people from their bondage to Egypt. (Exodus 2:1-10)
She Becomes a Prophetess
She was the third member of the deliverance family team along with her brothers Moses and Aaron. Moses was the leader, Aaron was the beginning of the priests’ lineage, and Miriam was the prophetess. After Pharaoh’s army drowned in the Red Sea (Exodus 15:20and 21) she lifted her timbrel and sang a victory song.
“Sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously;
Horse and rider he has thrown into the sea.”
Later, she spoke out against Moses’ marriage to a Cushite woman makingher guilty of gossiping, or speaking negatively about someone.
They said, ‘Was it only to Moses that God spoke? Did He not speak to us as well?
God calls all three of them to the tebernacle door and chastened Miriam and Aaron for demeaning Moses authority. Miriam was struck with leprosy, but Aaron was not. Why was Aaron not afflicted? According to the Rabbis of the Talmud, Aaron did not receive the same punishment because if he were punished in the same manner, he would not have been able to perform as the high priest. Miriam was forced to live separated outside the camp.
Aaron asked Moses to pray for her healing. She was disease free in seven days (Numbers 12:1-15).
In Micah 6:4, Miriam was considered equal to Moses and Aaron. Moses was the religious leader, whereas Aaron was head of the Priestly line. Miriam was the first of the prophets.
When the children of Israel were in the desert of Zin in the first month, the people lived in Kadesh where Miriam died and was buried there. After her death, After her death, the congregation realized that they were without water. They were starting to panic that they would die of thirst in that desert. Moses had been frustrated with the fact that despite the fact that God had shown the people over and over again that he would provide for them. Moses along with Aaron gathered the people together. in his frustration, Moses spoke out against the people and struck the rock twice rather than speaking to the rock as the Lord had commanded. The resulting spring from the rock became known as the water of Meribah which means water of strife. As a result, they were unable to get passage to the Jordan through Edom, Aaron was demoted from behind high priest and his son was given the position. In addition, neither Moses nor Aaron would be able to see the promised land. Aaron died at Hor.
At the Passover Seder, the “Cup of Miriam is often filled with water and placed beside the customary “Cup of Elijah” which is filled with wine. The cup containing water is in memory of Miriam’s well and according to legend went with the Israelites in their travels through the desert. Miriams well is traditionally believed to be at Mount Carmel.
Personal Take Away Related to This Character
Miriam did not realize that the chore she had in going to the river to feed her baby brother was part of a bigger plan of God.
I too must be faithful in the small things if I expect God’s rewards
She became a prophetess one of the leadership positions in the early Hebrew religion. In that position, however, she fell into gossip and backbiting of the God ordained leader by criticizing his bride who came from a culture that was different from her own. Her disobedience separated her from those she loved as well as her position as someone who declared the wonderful things that God is doing.
As a Christian, I too must be careful what I say, especially about individuals in leadership positions, or I might experience hardship and separation from family and friends as well as a separation from my creator.
Immediately after Miriam’s death, Moses made a similar error by striking the rock twice instead of just speaking to the rock. In addition, he told the people what he thought of them rather than what God told him to say to them. As a result, neither Moses nor Aaron (who stood in agreement with him) would enter the promised land.
Strife is also a way of separating us from the promises that God has for us. If I want the promises of God, I must become more of a peace maker rather than being someone who gets upset about everyone else. I need to extend to them the grace that God has given me.
Cygnet Brown has recently published her first nonfiction book: Simply Vegetable Gardening: Simple Organic Gardening Tips for the Beginning Gardener
She is also the author of historical fiction series The Locket Saga. Her upcoming book A Coward’s Solace will be available soon. Click here for more information about Cygnet Brown and her books.