Miriam: From song and dance to leprosy and back

Growing up with three older brothers, I have a keen sense of what’s fair and what’s not.

Take for example, the day when my brother closest in age to me (3 1/2 years older), was given more chocolate chip ice cream — my favorite — by our mother. “He’s got a bigger stomach,” she said. Really. Let’s see. He didn’t have to eat more more lima beans or more liver at the dinner table because of that bigger stomach. He didn’t have to do more work around the house because he was older. But he got more ice cream because he had a bigger stomach? NOT fair.

So I suppose I have a soft spot for girls with brothers, especially brothers that seem to get most of the attention. Take Miriam, Moses’ older sister, the fourteenth woman in the Bible to have her words recorded. She was there as their mother floated the Moses in the Nile, trying to save him from Pharaoh’s mandate of annihilation for all Hebrew male children under two. As Pharaoh’s daughter picked him up and saved him from being crocodile bait, Miriam volunteered their mother as a nurse (I’d be pretty thankful for her grace under pressure were I Moses’ mother).

Later, she accompanies both her brothers as Moses leads the people out of Egypt on their journey toward the Promised Land. None of them make it all the way; they all die before the people cross into the border town of Jericho. Two significant things happen for Miriam on that journey: After the Hebrew people have successfully left behind the old for the new — crossing the Red Sea — she, as the first woman singer on record, leads her people in song and dance.

Picture her with a timbrel, chanting these words ( Exodus 15:11): “Sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously; the horse and his rider has he thrown into the sea.” Awesome.

But years later, Miriam gets nailed by God in what I see as an unfair punishment (sorry, God, but it’s the way I see it). She speaks against Moses, apparently angry that Moses has chosen a second wife from outside of his own people, marrying an Ethiopian woman instead of a Hebrew woman. She complains, saying “Has God spoken only by Moses? Has he not spoken by us? (Numbers 12:2).

God punishes her, inflicts leprosy upon her, throws her out of camp — banishment from the community was a big deal in those days — and generally condemns her. Moses intercedes for her, and after seven days, God relents and lets her back into camp. Compelling is this fact: the Hebrew people did not move from camp while she was cast away into the wilderness. Awesome. They weren’t going to leave her there. They seemed to have loved her.

I’m glad it all turned out alright, although I note that Miriam’s hair did turn white. Well, yeah.

The Creator of all creation goes after you, personally, for a few insults after pretty close to perfect service for years. Yes, that would cause white hair.

I, would like to think that Miriam is enjoying eternal life now: relaxing with Moses and Aaron and yes, maybe even God. Maybe God is dishing up ice cream. Maybe, just maybe, she’s getting the biggest bowl. Should that be the case — which I hope it is — it’s about time.

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