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Mary Elizabeth Baxter :: Miriam, The Prophetess—Numbers 12.

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"I will pour out My Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy."-Joel 2:28.

Miriam, the prophetess, the sister of Aaron (Exd 15:20.), is the first of her order mentioned in the Word of God. While the Lord never ordained a woman to be priest, nor do we read of women as bishops or pastors in the New Testament, the vocation of "prophetess" is common to both dispensations. Hannah (1Sa 1:2) was practically a prophetess, and so was Huldah, to whom King Josiah went in his time of perplexity. Deborah (Jdg 4:5) was a prophetess (2Ki 22:14), and there were also false prophetesses, such as Noadiah (Neh 6:14), as well as false prophets.

In the New Testament, Peter specially declares that the pouring out of the Spirit of God upon all flesh should be upon sons and daughters, servants, and handmaids, "and they shall prophesy," quoting from the Old Testament. (Joel 2:28-32); compare (Act 2:17-18.) A number of those who "spake"


of the wonderful works of God on the Day of Pentecost, were women speaking in the spirit of prophecy. Philip, the deacon, we read, had four daughters "which did prophesy" (Act 21:9); the Apostle Paul speaks of those women who laboured with him in the Gospel. (Phl 4:3.) It is he who specially recommends that, when women pray and prophesy, their heads should be covered; and explains what is this office of prophesying in the words: "He that prophesieth speaketh unto men to edification, and exhortation, and comfort." (1Cr 11:5; 1Cr 14:3.) And while he commands that women should not speak in church, he ordains that all, i.e., both men and women, may prophesy, one by one, that all may learn, and may be comforted. (1Cr 14:31-34.)

God's order in the family is not according to earthly birthright. Speaking of the leaders of His people Israel, He says: "I sent before thee Moses, Aaron, and Miriam." (Mic 6:4.) All these children of Amram were of the prophet order. Miriam was the eldest, Moses the youngest; yet Moses is first mentioned, because he knew his God more fully than either his brother or his sister. Aaron, his elder brother, ranks next, and Miriam, the eldest of the three, ranks last.

We have already noticed how Miriam watched by the infant Moses on the borders of the Nile, and how she called her mother to be her infant brother's nurse in the employ of Pharaoh's daughter. From this time, no more is heard of Miriam until the wondrous deliverance of Israel from the Red Sea by a miracle of God. Then the prophetical vocation of Miriam is first recognised in Scripture. She, as well as Moses, took in the greatness of the deliverance, the glory of the living God whom she served.

Moses spoke the inspired song with which begins: "and Miriam the prophetess, the sister of Aaron, took a timbrel in her hand," and with the enthusiasm of one who was inspired, led the praises of the pious women of Israel, who went out with her "with timbrels and with dances." (Exd 15:20.) She composed a chorus which they should sing together:

"Sing ye to the Lord, for He hath triumphed gloriously; the horse and his rider hath He thrown into the sea." (Exd 15:21.) Here Miriam was in her place, exercising, as a helpmeet to her brother, the gift which God had committed to her;


But in her further history, Miriam had to learn a lesson which is greatly needed to be learnt by many female evangelists. "Miriam and Aaron spake against Moses because of the Ethiopian woman whom he had married," (Num 12:1.) and their reproaches took the form of a contention with Moses for the leadership of Israel.

"Hath the Lord indeed spoken only by Moses? Hath He not spoken also by us?" (Num 12:2.)

No one could deny that Aaron and Miriam were inspired, and that they uttered the words of God, and had a prophet vocation; but God had never called them to the same leadership of Israel to which Moses was called. The office of both of them was subordinate. God had said to Moses: "I have made thee a god to Pharaoh; and Aaron thy brother shall be thy prophet." (Exd 7:1.) "And he shall be thy spokesman unto the people: and he shall be, even he shall be to thee instead of a mouth, and thou shalt be to him instead of God." (Exd 7:1; 4:16.)

How many a church, how many a mission, has been mined by internal divisions! Some whom God has not called have striven for the mastery, because they have money, position, talent, or some earthly advantage. Should they not fear to sacrifice the welfare of God's own work for the aggrandisement of their own little personality?

If it was unbecoming for Aaron to seek the pre‐eminence, it was infinitely more unbecoming for Miriam to seek it. If a woman evangelist loses the retiring spirit which is becoming to a woman, she has lost all which Paul would express by the covering for the head which should accompany the exercise of prophesying in a woman. A bold woman evangelist (1Cr 11:5) does more harm by her unfeminine manner than she does good by her words.

But will God interfere in family quarrels? When Aaron and Miriam spoke against Moses, it is written: "And the Lord heard it…And the Lord spake suddenly unto Moses, and unto Aaron, and unto Miriam, Come out ye three unto the tabernacle of the congregation." (Num 12:4.)


in such a family, which was set in evidence before all God's people, could not be hushed up on the quiet. All Israel was involved in it. If their leaders showed the spirit of jealousy, if ambition should actuate Aaron and Miriam, then ambition could be allowed among the people too. If strife and anger were seen in their leaders, it would justify the people in committing the same sins. God is intensely strict with spiritual leaders.

"And they three came out." (Num 12:4.) All the congregation of Israel must witness what God had to say and do in the family of Moses. "And the Lord came down in the pillar of the cloud." (Num 12:5.) The matter was so important that there must be an actual manifestation of God's presence before the wrong could be put right. The pillar of cloud stood in awful solemnity in the door of the tabernacle, and the Lord "called Aaron, and Miriam: and they both came forth." (Num 12:5.) God should decide between the brothers and sister, and He said: "Hear now My words: If there be a prophet among you, I, the Lord, will make Myself known unto him in a vision, and will speak unto him in a dream. My servant Moses is not so, who is faithful in all Mine house. With him will I speak mouth to mouth, even apparently, and not in dark speeches; and the similitude of the Lord shall he behold: wherefore then were ye not afraid to speak against My servant Moses?" (Num 12:6-8.)

Aaron and Miriam had presumed upon their vocation. They were prophets; why should Moses be greater than they? But God bore witness that Moses was


His faithfulness was superior to the highest spiritual gift. God would speak to him, not in a dream, nor in dark speeches, but mouth to mouth and face to face. After these solemn words, we read: "And the anger of the Lord was kindled against them, and He departed." (Num 12:9.) The cloud, the Lord's glory, "departed from off the tabernacle." (Num 12:10.)

But an awful judgment had fallen on the family. "Miriam became leprous, white as snow;" and all the congregation of Israel must behold her disgrace. According to the law, Miriam must be shut out from the camp. "Every leper…both male and female shall be put out, without the camp shall ye put them, that they defile not their camps, in the midst whereof I dwell." (Num 5:2-3.) Aaron keenly felt the rebuke, and owned the sin as his, equally with his sister. Unable himself to speak directly to the Lord under the sense of his sin, he said to Moses, "Alas, my lord, I beseech thee, lay not the sin upon us, wherein we have done foolishly, and wherein we have sinned. Let her not be as one dead, of whom the flesh is half consumed when he cometh out of his mother's womb." (Num 12:12.) And Moses prayed for her healing.

God heard the prayer: Miriam was healed. But for seven days she was without the camp, excommunicated like any common leper: and the whole camp of Israel was hindered one whole week on their journeys, until Miriam was received again! Miriam was no private individual; a flaw in a prophetess, and the sister of Moses, affected every soul in Israel. No doubt from this time she became a humbler woman, and learnt that faithfulness is more important than the greatest gifts.

O that God may teach many a sister evangelist who reads these words to be lowly in heart, to take a second place, and, above all, never to allow for an instant the spirit of strife and jealousy, lest God's judgment should come upon her, and she be humbled as Miriam was. And let us learn how tremendous is the influence of a teacher, man or woman, for good or evil. One member may hinder blessing in a whole congregation, and their blood will be required at his or her hands. (Eze 18.) "None of us liveth to himself, and no man dieth to himself." (Rom 14:7.) Only one thing more are we told of this prophetess. When the people abode in Kadesh, "Miriam died there, and was buried there." (Num 20:1.)

Zipporah, the Wife of Moses—Exodus 4:18-26 ← Prior Section
Rahab—Joshua 2. Next Section →

The Blue Letter Bible ministry and the BLB Institute hold to the historical, conservative Christian faith, which includes a firm belief in the inerrancy of Scripture. Since the text and audio content provided by BLB represent a range of evangelical traditions, all of the ideas and principles conveyed in the resource materials are not necessarily affirmed, in total, by this ministry.


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