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Whyte's Dictionary of Bible Characters

Miriam


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AARON AND MOSES, AND MIRIAM THEIR SISTER

WATCH well, Miriam, and never let thine eyes off that ark of bulrushes Watch that little ark with all thy wit, for no other maiden shall ever have such another watch till the fulness of time, when another Miriam shall watch over another child still more fair to God. Of those born of women only One shall ever be greater than thy little brother away down there among the flags by the river's brink. Watch well, Miriam, the brink of the river, and that ark among its waters, and thou shalt not want thy wages. For far greater riches are hidden in that little ark than all the treasures of Egypt. The civilisation and the sanctification of the whole earth is in thy keeping; the law and the prophets to come; the very Lion of the tribe of Judah Himself and all His kingdom, are all under thine eye today. O highly favoured Miriam, the sister of Moses. Only perform thy part well, and wherever this gospel shall be preached in the whole world, there shall this also that thou art doing be told for a memorial of thee!

What a witty little woman did Moses sister prove herself to be that day! If it was all out of her own head, what a quick-witted little prophetess she was already! 'Shall I go and call to thee a nurse of the Hebrew women, that she may nurse the child for thee?' And then, ye mothers among us, what amazing self-control that was in God-my-glory, the mother of Miriam and Moses. Just the proper proportion, and just the perfect mean, between a nurse's paid love for a foundling, and a mother's love for her own restored child. Could you have so hardened your heart till you got him home? And could you have always been on your guard to hold him at arm's length when an Egyptian neighbour came near as Moses' Hebrew nurse did? A mother worthy of prophets, and priests, and prophetesses; and, best of all, God-her-glory!

By the next time we see Miriam, Moses and Aaron and Miriam are at the head of the children of Israel. All Israel under their leadership have escaped out of the land of Egypt, and are standing on the shore of the Red Sea singing the praises of the Lord like the sound of many waters. By this time Miriam herself is a prophetess, and is able to take the foremost place in the women's sacred songs and sacred dances. Some sharp-eyed scholars who are able to read between the lines assure us that they see tokens of Aaron and of his eloquence in the triumphant song that Miriam took down from Aaron's lips and taught to the devout and talented women, till Aaron and Miriam, with Moses so proudly looking on, made that day a day to be remembered for its songs and for its dances, as well as for its great deliverance, in the house of Israel. And we have the promise that if we flee from Egypt, and do not return to it, we ourselves also shall one day join Moses and Aaron and Miriam on the sea of glass, where, with the harps of God in our hands, we shall all sing together the song of Moses and the Lamb, saying, Great and marvellous are Thy works, Lord God Almighty; just and true are Thy ways, Thou King of saints. For Thou hast brought them in, Thou hast planted them in the mountain of Thine inheritance, in the place, O Lord, which Thou hast made for Thee to dwell in; in the sanctuary, O Lord, which Thy hands have established.

But for her brother's marriage, Miriam would have been the sovereign woman in all Israel for all her days. But Moses' marriage was more than Miriam could bear. Miriam had been Moses' sister, and his mother, and his closest companion, and his most confidential friend now for forty years. Miriam had sat at the council-table with Moses and Aaron and the assembled elders of Israel. What Moses and Aaron were to the one half of the people, Miriam the sister of Moses was to the other half. Miriam was the first famous woman in Israel who had borne the honourable and universal name of a mother in Israel. And, but for Moses' marriage Miriam would have shone beside Moses till her eye also was not dim, nor her natural strength abated. But Moses' marriage made Miriam as weak and as evil and as wicked as any weak and evil and wicked woman in all the camp. Set me as a seal upon thine heart! Miriam cried to Moses, in a storm of tears, when she saw the Ethiopian woman coming to take her place. Set me as a seal upon thine arm! For love is strong as death. Jealousy is cruel as the grave. The coals thereof are coals of fire, which hath a most vehement flame. What a life of torment did Miriam live in those days because of Moses' marriage! Her heart was full of hell-fire at Moses' innocent wife and innocent children, and even at her meek and innocent brother himself. Till her wild jealousy kindled her wild pride, and her wild pride her wild, insane, and impious envy, and then her insane and impious envy soon led her into her fatal trespass against Moses and against God.

Aaron had great gifts of the intellectual kind, and he performed great services both of that and of the spiritual kind; but Aaron had little or no strength of character. Aaron could speak well when some stronger man inspired him and held him up, but that was all. Aaron never had much mind of his own. He was always weak in his will. He was easily caught up, easily tossed about, and easily swept away. His two great trespasses were at bottom not his own trespasses at all. In the one case it was the idolatrous and rebellious people, and in this case it was his envious and rebellious sister. We have not a thousandth part of what Miriam said to Aaron. There are days, and nights, and weeks, and years of insinustion, and suspicion, and wounded pride, and gnawing envy all gathered up into a few words, as the manner of Scripture is. 'Hath the Lord spoken only by Moses?' Miriam demanded of Aaron. 'Hath He not also spoken by us?' And Aaron had pride enough and ambition enough and envy enough smouldering in his own heart, that when Miriam blew long enough upon it, Aaron's heart also burned up into an answering flame. And all the time Moses was not blind. Moses was not deaf. And Moses' wife was not a stock nor a stone, though she was not a prophetess. And no little shame and pain-great distress and great and sore sorrow-was seen of the Lord in Moses' tent because of Miriam's abominable injustice and cruelty. But, all the time, Moses her brother was as if he were a deaf man who heard not, and a dumb man who openeth not his mouth. My lovers, said David, and my friends stand aloof from me, and my kinsmen stand afar off. They also that seek after my life lay snares for me; and they that seek my hurt speak mischievous things, and imagine deceits all the day long. Hear me, lest otherwise they should rejoice over me; when my foot slippeth they magnify themselves against me. For yet my prayer also shall be for them in their infirmities. 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. And they three came out. Look at them. Pity them. Pray for them. Moses the leader and lawgiver of Israel, and Aaron the high priest, and Miriam the prophetess, and all Israel looking after them in terror, and the anger of the Lord kindling round about them. That is the wages of Miriam's sin begun. That is the fruit of all her envy, and insinuation, and detraction, and slander against her brother and her brother's wife. And that in Aaron is what comes of weakness and softness and easiness under temptation. Aaron feels now the full shame of letting Miriam come to his tent and sit and whisper and backbite, when he should have turned her to the door, prophetess and all. How they both wish now that he had! And the Lord called Aaron and Miriam, and they both came forth. What was it that ye two so sat and spake against your brother? In what had he hurt you? In what had he taken any word of Mine out of your mouth? In what had he failed in all his duty to Me? My servant Moses is not so, who is faithful in all Mine house. And the cloud departed from off the tabernacle; and, behold, Miriam became leprous, white as snow. And Aaron looked upon Miriam, and behold, she was leprous. And for seven days and seven nights Miriam was shut out of the camp of Israel, and the people journeyed not till Miriam was brought in again.

Look well at Miriam, all you envious and evil-spoken women. Look back at Miriam's beginning. Look at her watching the ark of bulrushes. Look at her nursing her little brother in the house of her godly mother. Look at her in her rapture, like one out of the body with the joy of the Lord, at the Red Sea. And now see to what her wicked heart and her wicked tongue have brought her. Look at her with her hand upon her throat, and with a linen cloth upon her lip, and with her hoarse, sepulchral, noisome voice wandering far from the camp, and compelled to cry Unclean! Unclean! when any one came in sight. Look at all men fleeing from her. Look at her hiding her shame all day behind the sandhills of the wilderness, and coming out at night to look at the lights in Moses' tent and in Aaron's tabernacle. Look, O envy-filled men and women, look at your mother with her flesh half consumed upon her as if she had been seven days dead. Go out and walk all night with her. Go out and hide all day with her. Go out and cry her cry, all you who cannot endure to see or to hear the honours, and the successes, and the services, and the calling, and the gifts of God in your brother. Go out; your true place is not here. Your true place is outside the gates of all good and honest men. Your heart is hard and dry, and like a leper's dead body. You very voice is hoarse as with the asthma of hell.

What a week that was in the camp of Israel! How many thoughts of how many hearts were that week revealed! Miriam's thoughts of her heart were that week revealed. For seven days and seven nights she dwelt alone among the multitude of her own miserable, remorseful, despairing thoughts. What all her thoughts were that week let him tell us who is the chief of sinners, and whose sin has found him out to public exposure and public outcasting. What Aaron's thoughts were as he exercised his office on his sister, and pronounced it leprosy, and passed sentence upon her, and hurried her out of the camp, and shut the gate upon her-what Aaron's thoughts all that week were let him tell us who has had to bear witness against, and to sentence, and to execute judgment on some one in whose sin he himself had been a partaker. I tell you the lepers in Israel had extra-tender treatment at Aaron's hands ever after that awful week. I would like much to know what Moses' wife's thoughts were all that week. Her thoughts, I mean, about her banished sister-in-law. If I knew her thoughts that week on that subject, I would know then to a certainty whether Moses had married well or no. I would know then whether Miriam had any good reason and justification for resisting her brother's marriage. I would know then whether the Lord God had made that Ethiopian woman an help meet for Moses. I would know then whether she was black, but comely, and whether she was a good minister's wife or no. Was she glad in her heart when she heard of Miriam's leprosy? Did she laugh behind the door like Sarah? Did she say, Let her rot in the wilderness, for she deserves it? Was she sad all the eighth day and night after Miriam had been healed? Or, did she go up to the court of the Ethiopians, and there importune her brother Aaron to importune his God on behalf of his sister? Did she look out at the gate many times every day all that week, but could never see or hear Miriam for weeping? Did she buy the two birds for the cleansing of a leper with her own money, and did she have them all ready with her own hands for days before Aaron could as yet take Miriam back? I do not know. I do not read. Only, I know that the thoughts of no woman's heart in all Israel were more revealed all that week than the thoughts of that Ethiopian woman, Moses much-injured wife. I can well believe that was the best week for the whole house of Israel till that week came when a Greater than Moses and Aaron and Miriam all put together suffered without the gate for their envy and for all their other trespasses. I can believe that that week's halt did more to secure and to hasten their subsequent march through the wilderness than a year of their best roads and their best weather. I can well believe that we have many psalms and the seeds of many psalms out of that fruitful week. I can easily believe that many future judges and prophets and priests in Israel were inquiring and thinking children for the first time that stand-still week. Why are we standing still? they would ask. Where is Miriam all this week? Why is Aaron always so sad? Why is Moses always walking alone? Why is my mother always weeping so? And why, when the seventh day came to a close, was there such gladness again? Imagine for yourselves the questions and the answers in every tent in Israel that week. Imagine the wise answers, and the foolish answers, and the silences, and the embraced and the lost opportunities. Imagine the young minds that would open that week, and the young hearts that would break for the first time, and begin to bleed for sin for the first time, that week. It was that week!-they would often say after they were home in the promised land-it was that week in the wilderness!

Miriam did not live long after that week. It was not her age, and was not the dregs of the leprosy. Miriam died of a broken heart. All the sprinklings, and all the bathings, and all the thanksgivings, and all the benedictions of Aaron her brother; and all the love, and honour, and trust, and confidence of Moses her other brother; and all the sisterly tenderness of Moses wife; and all the sports, and plays, and leaps, and laughters of Moses children-all could not heal Miriam's broken heart. Miriam's name is never heard of again in Israel. From that week Miriam blotted herself out of all her brother's books. Miriam died to Israel and to all the world in the lazar-house of Hazeroth, Miriam's songs and dances were all past. Not even on the Sabbath-day would Miriam leave her weeping tent. Unclean! Unclean! If you would ever see or hear Miriam now you must venture and go out of the gate to where the lepers sit solitary, and where they follow the camp afar off. That is Miriam the prophetess, the sister of Moses and Aaron, who is taking out meat and medicine and linen for the lips of the lepers. She is sitting down with them. She is talking to them. She is telling them all about herself. She is pledging herself to speak to Aaron her brother for them. She will buy the two birds on her way home after dark. No. It was not years. And it was not sickness. But Miriam soon died. And Miriam sleeps at Kadesh in the wilderness of Zin till they shall awaken her with the song of Moses and the Lamb, saying, and she answering them with a timbrel, Just and true are Thy ways, Thou King of saints. Who shall not fear Thee, O Lord, and glorify Thy name? for Thou only art holy.


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Bibliography Information
Whyte, Alexander. Entry for 'Miriam'. Alexander Whyte's Dictionary of Bible Characters. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/wbc/m/miriam.html. 1901.

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