Meet Miriam: Moses' Sister and Prophetess During the Exodus

Miriam Moses' Sister

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Moses' sister, Miriam, accompanied her younger brother when he led the Hebrew people in their escape from slavery in Egypt. Her name in Hebrew means "bitterness." Miriam was the first woman in the Bible to be given the title prophetess. Although her jealously later in life led to disaster, Miriam's quick wit as a young girl helped change the course of Israel's history by protecting its greatest spiritual leader.

Question for Reflection

Miriam might have avoided God’s judgment if she had paused to examine her interior motives before criticizing Moses’ choice in a wife. We can learn from Miriam’s bitter mistake. What we deem “constructive criticism” may result in our destruction. Do you stop to consider the motives of your own heart before critiquing someone else? 

Moses' Sister in the Bible

Miriam first appears in the Bible in Exodus 2:4, as she watches her baby brother float down the Nile River in a pitch-covered basket so he would escape Pharaoh's order to kill all male Jewish infants. Miriam boldly approached Pharaoh's daughter, who found the baby, and offered her own mother—Moses' mother too—as a nurse for Moses.

Miriam was not mentioned again until after the Hebrews had crossed the Red Sea. After the waters swallowed up the pursuing Egyptian army, Miriam took a timbrel, a tambourine-like instrument, and led the women in a song and dance of victory. The words of Miriam's song are among the oldest poetic lines of verse in the Bible:

"Sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously; the horse and his rider he has thrown into the sea." (Exodus 15:21, ESV)

Later, Miriam's position as a prophet went to her head. She and Aaron, also Moses' sibling, complained about Moses' Cushite wife and rebelled against their brother. However, Miriam's real problem was jealousy:

"Has the LORD spoken only through Moses?" they asked. "Hasn't he also spoken through us?" And the LORD heard this. (Numbers 12:2, NIV)

God rebuked them, saying he spoke to them in dreams and visions but spoke to Moses face to face. Then God struck Miriam with leprosy.

Only through the pleading of Aaron to Moses, then Moses to God, was Miriam spared death from the dreaded disease. Still, she had to be confined outside the camp seven days until she was clean.

After the Israelites had wandered in the desert 40 years, Miriam died and was buried at Kadesh, in the Desert of Zin. 

Accomplishments of Miriam

Miriam served as a prophet of God, speaking his word as he instructed. She also was a unifying force among the cantankerous Hebrew people.

Miriam was first of many musical women in the Bible.

Strengths

Miriam had a strong personality in an age when women were not considered leaders. No doubt she supported her brothers Moses and Aaron during the arduous trek in the desert.

Even as a young girl, Miriam was a quick-thinker. Her nimble mind and protective nature quickly devised a brilliant plan that made it possible for Moses to be raised by his own mother, Jochebed.

Weaknesses

Miriam's desire for personal glory led her to question God. Miriam rebelled not only against Moses' authority but also God's. If Moses had not been a special friend of God, Miriam might have died.

Life Lessons from Miriam

God doesn't need our advice. He calls us to trust and obey him. When we grumble and complain, we show that we think we can handle the situation better than God.

Hometown

Miriam was from Goshen, the Hebrew settlement in Egypt.

References to Miriam in the Bible

Moses' sister Miriam is mentioned in Exodus 15:20-21, Numbers 12:1-15, 20:1, 26:59; Deuteronomy 24:9; 1 Chronicles 6:3; and Micah 6:4.

Occupation

Prophet, leader of the Hebrew people, songwriter.

Family Tree

Father: Amram
Mother: Jochebed
Brothers: Moses, Aaron

Key Verses

Exodus 15:20
Then Miriam the prophetess, Aaron’s sister, took a tambourine in her hand, and all the women followed her, with tambourines and dancing. (NIV)

Numbers 12:10
When the cloud lifted from above the Tent, there stood Miriam—leprous, like snow. Aaron turned toward her and saw that she had leprosy; (NIV)

Micah 6:4
I brought you up out of Egypt and redeemed you from the land of slavery. I sent Moses to lead you, also Aaron and Miriam. (NIV)