The Biblical female name Miriam is of Hebrew origin and is considered to be an older version of the name Mary. It means “wished for child,” or perhaps even a quite different meaning, which is “bitter” or “rebellious.” There is also a very similar Egyptian name, based on the word myr, meaning “beloved” or mr meaning “love.”
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Miriam was the daughter of Amram and Jochebed, and the older sister of Moses and Aaron, all of whom were Levites. We first learn of Miriam as she and her three-year-old brother, Aaron, are welcoming a new child into the family.Unfortunately for that time, the baby was a boy, and there is a decree that all Hebrew baby boys be killed. Miriam had godly parents who trusted the God of Israel, however, Egypt’s Pharoah hated her people. Miriam would have been only about 5 years old when this baby, Moses was born.
Her mother hid him for three months, but when she could no longer do so, she got a papyrus basket for him and coated it to make it waterproof. Then she placed Moses in it and hid it along the bank of the Nile river. Miriam then watched to see what would happen to him.
When the Pharaoh’s daughter went down to the river to bathe, she noticed the basket and sent a slave girl to get it. After she opened it and saw the baby, she fell in love with him. At that moment, Miriam bravely stepped forward and offered to find a Hebrew woman to nurse the baby for the princess, who had decided to keep the baby as her own. And so it was, that Moses’ own mother was paid to care for him until he could be weaned and then given over to the Princess to be raised as an Egyptian.
Just from this one incident, we can glean from Miriam’s life that she was already caring, competent, and certainly brave. It would have taken quite a bit of courage to be so forthright with the Pharaoh’s daughter. She must have also been very obedient, because although the Bible doesn’t tell us, it would seem as though her mother had left her to watch over Moses, and see what would become of him.
Then one day, perhaps Miriam received the news that Moses had killed an Egyptian, and had fled to the desert, in fear for his life. Our Bible timeline shows he would have been 40 years old by then, and it would be another 40 years until they would meet again.
During that long period of Moses’ absence, the Pharaoh, who wanted Moses killed, dies himself. The Hebrew children groaned in their slavery and cried out, and their cry for help went up to God, Who heard their afflictions and remembered His covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Therefore, God looked on His towards children who were still in bondage in Egypt and was troubled over them.
It was God’s perfect time to deliver the Israelites, and He knew who He was going to use to accomplish His will. It would be Moses, who had by now made a completely new life for himself in the land of Midian, with a wife, two sons, and a career of tending his father-in-law’s flocks.
Moses returns to Egypt, and with Aaron as his spokesman, they delivered God’s commands to Pharaoh. Miriam watched God confirm their message with the great miracles they performed.
At long last, the treasured night came when the Israelites were allowed to leave Egypt with the mourning cries of the Egyptians resounding in their ears. Every home with children was grieving the death of a firstborn.
Miriam was there when this immense number of people came to the seemingly impassable barrier of the Red Sea. Miriam was right there when they looked behind them and saw the chariots of the Pharaoh and all his armies chasing after them, since he had changed his mind about letting them leave, and was determined to take them back to Egypt or to kill them on the spot. She witnessed the miracle when God opened a path through the sea, allowing the children of Israel to walk across on dry land. Again, she was there on the other side when Pharaoh’s chariots and horses stepped in to follow along the same path, and the massive walls of water that had stood so secure for the Israelites dissolved and filled in that whole dry bed, and drowned the mightiest army of that time.
The Israelites were free from Egypt’s brutal captivity, and Miriam had seen it all! It was a time for rejoicing, and a time for singing. Exodus 15 records the first song in the Bible, which was from Moses, and that is not without significance. It is a song of praise from a redeemed people.
Here is Miriam’s response to what the LORD had accomplished:
And Miriam the prophetess, the sister of Aaron, took a timbrel in her hand; and all the women went out after her with timbrels and with dances. And Miriam answered them, Sing ye to the LORD, for he hath triumphed gloriously; the horse and his rider hath he thrown into the sea.” Exodus 15: 20&21
Miriam was a leader among the Hebrew women, and she was gifted musically. She took the place of leadership that the LORD gave her, and used it to direct the woman to praise the Lord. She was a godly influence in their lives.
Notice that Miriam was one of God’s special gifts to the people of Israel. In fact, the Bible tells us that in Micah 6:4:
“For I brought thee up out of the land of Egypt, and redeemed thee out of the house of servants; and I sent before thee Moses, Aaron, and Miriam.”
She was a gift from God, and that is why she was so influential, however, at some point about 2 years into their journey, things begin to change in Miriam’s heart. The protective sister, the prophetess, the woman’s worship leader, the woman who supported Moses, became his rival and critic.
Moses had the final word on everything, and Aaron was the high priest. She was a prophetess. However, the people of Israel were not being governed by a committee of three. Miriam wanted more power, more authority, and began to speak even against Moses with Aaron because of his Cushite wife.
She was actually being driven by pride, jealousy, and envy at this point and even began to criticize Moses’ wife, and then question that he was not the only one God spoke to.
The Lord finally disciplines Miriam with leprosy for a week. Perhaps this brought her great shame and humiliation, even long after the week had passed. She lived thirty-eight more years under Moses’ authority, and never questioned it again. In fact, the Bible never mentions her after that, until she is about 130 years old, and the children of Israel are on the border of the Promised Land for the second time. It is now the first month of the fortieth year of their travels, and she dies, never having entered into the Promised Land.
Important World Leaders and Events During This Time
- Egypt is the undisputed world power during this time.
- Egyptian bondage and oppression increase, especially towards the Hebrew people.
- This period saw the beginning of the Hurrian conquests.
- Hittite King Mursilis I fought the Hurrians on the upper Euphrates River.
- The Cretan palaces at Knossos and other centers flourish despite disasters.
- The city of Mycenae, located in the northeast Peloponnesus, comes to dominate the rest of Achaea, giving its name to Mycenaean civilization.
- Cecrops I builds or rebuilds Athens following the great flood of Deucalion and the end of the Golden age. He becomes the first of several Kings of Athens whose life account is considered part of Greek mythology.
- Cecrops I, legendary King of Athens, dies after a reign of 50 years. Having survived his own son, he is succeeded by Cranaus.
- Egypt started to conquer Nubia and the Levant.
- The element Mercury has been discovered in Egyptian tombs dating from this period.
- Settlers from Crete, Greece move to Miletus, Turkey.
- There is evidence of the Mayan civilization developing in Belize.
- The Phoenicians develop an alphabet.
- King Cheng Tang of Shang of China, the first ruler of Shang Dynasty, ruled China for 29 years beginning in 1600 B.C.
- The Edomites lived south of the Dead Sea and blocked the passage of the Israelites to travel through their territory on their way north.
- The rise of Assyrian power begins to be established.
- The Kassites rose to political power in Babylon.
- The Hyksos kingdom was centered in the eastern Nile Delta and Middle Egypt.
- In Greece, there was a group of people known as “The Pelasgi,” who lived in the region of the Aegean Sea before the coming of the Greeks.
- The historical, recognizable beginnings of Persia took place in this era.
- The ancient Chinese art of astronomy is recorded.
- China is recognized as implementing the first old-age pension plans.
- Lyrical poetry begins among the ancient Greeks, usually accompanied by a lyre or other stringed instrument.
Main Bible Characters
- Aaron, the younger brother of Miriam.
- Moses, the youngest brother of Miriam.
- Jochebed and Amram, the parents of Miriam, Aaron, and Moses.
- Thermuthis, the Egyptian princess, who adopted Moses.
Main Bible References
- Exodus Chapters 2 & 15
- Numbers Chapters 12 & 20
- Micah 6:4
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