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Study Resources :: Text Commentaries :: P. C. Headley :: Women of the Bible

P. C. Headley :: Miriam

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Destiny, in the history of an individual and a nation, often turns on apparently an unimportant event. We have in Revelation impressive illustrations of this truth; as if God, by poising his own stupendous plans on the common occurrences of life, would teach man his particular providence, and the solemnity of action on the stage of probation, where the very echo of his footsteps will be heard forever.

The fulfilment of prophecy, and the greatness and glory of the Hebrew nation, were all involved in the preservation of a single man‐child among thousands with whom it was doomed to a violent death. For three months parental love had eluded the edict of the tyrant who "knew not Joseph," (Exd 1:8) till concealment was no longer an experiment of hope. The beautiful child was enclosed in a bark of rushes; and committed to the bosom of the Nile. Miriam, an only sister, was sent to watch the frail vessel, while it floated down the lazy current, the plaything of every ripple, (Exd 2:1-10)

"And every breath of air that chanced to blow."

It was to avoid suspicion that Jochebed remained at home, to indulge a mother's grief, and lift to Israel's God a mother's prayer. And Miriam, a summer day rambler among the flags by the river's margin, or fragrant wild flowers beneath the branching palm, would not arrest the eye of the passing Egyptian. How strangely the bloom of girlhood upon her cheek contrasted with the tear‐drops trembling on the long lashes, which almost, veiled the glance following ever the boat of that young dreamer. An oriental sky bends brightly above her, and the waters sparkle as if in very gladness, around the boy-

"The whispering reeds are all he hears,
The Nile's soft weltering nigh
Sings him to sleep;"-

but her heart beats audibly, and dark thoughts of man and of life are chasing away a thousand glowing visions of the future.

The day wore on, the sun bathed his burning forehead in the Mediterranean sea, and threw the glory of his farewell upon the hills that border on the fruitful valley, whose soil was wet with the blood of her Countrymen. (Exd 1:15-16.) She heard the murmur of voices, and the sound of coming footsteps startling her from a mournful reverie. Pale with fear, she stood like the hunted fawn in his glade, panting before his pursuers. The little Levite, perhaps, was slumbering his last, and would be an evening sacrifice at the hand of the hastening executioner.

When she saw the form of the king's daughter followed by her maidens, hope stilled her fluttering heart. The princess might take her bath without observing the barge of bulrushes-if she did make the discovery, woman's heart was moved by an infant's smile, and touched by its cry.

The tiny ark was seen, and brought to the bank. The babe opened his blue eye on the wondering women and wept, for among them all no maternal arms were extended in welcome, nor familiar voice fell on the ear of the Hebrew's son.

But he had won the royal sympathy; Miriam knew he was safe, and asked permission to find a nurse. (Exd 2:4-7.) With joy that spoke in every lineament of her face, and the fleetness of her arrow‐like step, she returned to the dwelling she left in sorrow, and Jochebed soon clasped the child to her heaving breast, naming him Moses,-drawn from the water. Pharaoh's daughter bade her train him for her father's palace, and bring him there when he reached his boy-hood. (Exd 2:8-10.)

Miriam rose to womanhood with a tone of masculine beauty, and Moses, a manly youth, took an honorable position in the court of Pharaoh. The influences of home were inwrought with all his sympathies, and he looked with deepest scorn upon a despot's favor and a splendid career, while the groans of his oppressed people were filling the heavens. (Exd 2:11-15.) Possessing the traits of a hero in the highest degree, Jehovah by a visible manifestation appointed him chieftain, to strike for the deliverance of his nation. (Exd 3:1-22; 4:1-17.)

He stood with Aaron before the haughty monarch, cheered doubtless by the remembered words of Miriam who had felt the bitterness of oppression, and a mother's blessing, and boldly announced the command of God to let Israel go. (Exd 5:1.) Pharaoh poured contempt on the message and Him who sent it. (Exd 5:2.) Moses lifted up his rod, and the Nile on which he floated in helpless infancy, with every streamlet and pool, was turned into blood! (Exd 7:14-21.) But the king was unmoved when his fears were gone. (Exd 7:22-23.) Fire and hail descended in a tempest, (Exd 9:22-26) and ran in torrents upon the blackening plains. Darkness deeper than broods on mornless chaos blotted out the stars, and quenched the flame of his brightest lamps (Exd 10:21-23)-but not until the first‐born of every Egyptian household in his realm lay a stiffened corpse, as a fearful atonement for the innocents he had slain, did he consent to the departure of his God‐protected slaves. (Exd 11:4-7; Exd 12:29-36.)

They reached the sea, which spread its waste of billows, between them and Canaan. (Exd 14:2.) Again the mysterious rod was raised over the waters, (Exd 14:15-16, 21-22) and they rolled up like mighty scrolls on each hand, and stood in walls of crystal beside their paved and ample path. The grand procession, with flying banners and silent march, wound like a vast Hydra through that parted deep. Just as Moses went up the opposing bank, Pharaoh's pursuing host, with exultant shouts and the noise of numberless chariot wheels, poured into the gorge of uplifted waves. (Exd 14:23.) He stretched out the rod, once more towards his foes, and with the crash of a thousand besieged and falling towers, the billowy mountains fell on that rushing army. (Exd 14:26-28.) Banner and plume-the horse and his rider-weapons of war and shivered chariots, were mingled in a common wreck, and the requiem was the shrieks and curses of dying men, and the roar of foam‐wreathed surges. The trembling multitudes of Israel from their peaceful shore looked mutely on, till that mournful cadence rose faintly on the troubled air.

"Then sang Moses and the children of Israel unto the Lord" (Exd 15:1-19) an anthem of unequalled sublimity-and Miriam, inspired with prophetic fire, "took a timbre in her hand; and all the women went out after her, with timbrels and with dances." (Exd 15:20.) She threw in a chorus worthy the theme and the occasion; the wilderness sent up echoes which never before stirred its solitude, and the notes of rapture floated in a tide of melody over the solemn sea, which was now the grave of an imperial army. That song and response were composed six hundred years before the immortal Grecian swept his wondrous harp in his blindness, and yet in grandeur that towers to the Throne of God, and power that thrills like a trumpet‐blast, it leaves the wandering bard in the low grounds of mortal conflict, or on the sunny mount of contending gods.

It is sad to turn from that jubilant procession led on by the fair prophetess, to the scene of her fall. The Israelites reached the wilderness of Zin, and encamped on its extended plain. On each side stood the sentinel mountains, whose helmets of rock rent the folds of the summer cloud as it passed; the standards were unfurled, and the Tabernacle set up. Miriam had seen Moses robed in lightning on the smoking top of Sinai, and listened to the message from his lips when his brow shone like an angel's (Exd 34:29-35)-she had loved him as a part of her own being, since her lonely vigil by the river's side-but now ambition stalked through the chambers of her soul like a sceptered king, made the affections its vassals, and was environed by the train of riotous passions. Under the new arrangement adopted by Moses at the suggestion of Jethro, his father‐in‐law, (Exd 18:13-24) the power was divided among captains, and her authority weakened. Besides, she had marked with jealousy the presence of Zipporah the Ethiopian in the camp, receiving the attention of the great leader, and the admiration of the multitude.

She went to Aaron, and "spoke against Moses." (Num 12:1-2.) He listened to the complaint, which was an appeal to his own wounded honor, and a conspiracy was matured. The Lawgiver was meek in his majesty, and unsullied by human praise or earthly distinction. (Num 12:3.) He met the frown of the conspirators with unshadowed benignity, nor did their reproaches disturb the tranguillity of his spirit. One morning, a voice from the opening heavens commanded Moses, Aaron and Miriam, to go up to the tabernacle of the congregation. (Num 12:4-5.) Then amid strange spreadings of light, a cloud descended and hung over that sanctuary of the Shekinah which was glowing with purple and blue and embroidered with gold. Silence hung upon the vast assembly, while the three passed in wondering stillness to the open court. Pausing there, Moses stood in the calmness of innocence, his noble figure enveloped in a simple mantle. Aaron was arrayed in his sacerdotal robes flashing with jewels and fringed with golden bells. Between them was the ambitious Miriam, richly apparelled, and sullen in her pride and awakened fears.

That radiant column of cloud filled the door of the tabernacle, and the Almighty spoke from its form reflecting the glory that mantles His Throne. He called Aaron and Miriam into its mysterious folds, and alluding to the evidences of the celestial commission of their brother, and assuring them that with none other did he talk as friend with friend, inquired if they were not afraid to reproach his servant. (Num 12:8.)

Whether with a thunder peal or a blaze of Omniscience he displayed his anger, we know not. But he manifested his kindled indignation, and departed. The cloud rose and vanished from the sight of the gazing tribes, and Miriam was a leper, "white as snow." (Num 12:10.) Aaron beheld her, and fell at the feet of Moses, beseeching him to intercede with God. Miriam was mute, for she was a fallen woman-a loathsome monument of the wrath of Him whose vivid lightning is a passing shadow compared to his glance when once he is angry. She trembled and wept, while the Lawgiver prayed for mercy. (Num 12:13.) The Lord refused to hear till the judgment had impressed the offender, and the entire multitude with its fearful lesson. For seven days she was an exile from the camp; and in their yet unshaken regard, the host waited uncomplainingly for her return. (Num 12:15.) What days of meditation and repentance to the erring Miriam! Genius had been to her as beauty to the wives of the patriarchs, a dangerous gift-and on the dizzy eminence of Power, she forgot her frailty, and the homage due to Jehovah.

In the desert of Zin, Miriam died. (Num 20:1.) The people in all their tents sent up the notes of wailing for the dead, till the dark defiles of girdling summits were filled with the solemn echoes, and Canaan itself seemed to have vanished forever from the horizon of hope. The maiden‐prophetess was dear to her wandering and weary nation. They had heard the story of her watching with breaking heart in her girlhood by the flowing Nile-they had seen her by the Red Sea, beneath the rolling mist of returning billows, stand like a rejoicing angel, and strike her timbrel to the Lord, pouring her chorus of victory upon the ear of solitude, and over the deep grave of the on‐rushing foe! They buried her at the base of a lonely height, whose tower of granite, is a fit memorial of her lofty genius, and singular pre‐eminence as the first female ruler and prophet mentioned in the sacred record. The shadow it flings upon her grave, might remind the beholder of the blemish that darkens her memory, and its gilded top pointing Heavenward when evening has shrouded the plain, indicate the character and destiny of the illustrious sleeper!

Paul refers to the history of Moses as illustrating the power of faith. It was confidence in the promise of God, that in spite of perils which made the effort to save his infant life like waiting at the sepulchre's mouth, committed him to Miriam and the Nile. It was the same trust, breathed in Jochebed's counsels and prayer, that cheered the sweet maiden while she loitered among the reeds, and started at the plunge of the crocodile from his banquet of babes. It was faith that made her worthy to stand with the brotherhood in the Red Sea's wave, and look calmly on its up‐rolling waters. It was faith, woman's faith triumphant, that shouted victory amid the desert's gloom and the thunder of the boiling deep, till the sound reached the very top of Heaven. And finally, faith was by her side with a convoy of angels and chariot of fire, when the last struggle came on in the vale of Paran-and she turned her fading eye in love on the white tents of Israel, while the recollection of her sin, which like a dark cloud had spent its wrath upon her shrinking form and retired, rushed upon her spirit from the luminous past.

So is woman's destiny identified with that of the church of the Living God. More than once the ark of his covenant has rested upon her shoulder, and she has folded to her bosom the whole interests of Zion in peril; leaning as the very "Bride of Christ," when all others had fallen, meekly yet heroically upon the arm of her Beloved.


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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