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3. Miriam (Numbers 12:1-15)

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Lesson three Handout (Click Here).     Lesson three study group Questions (Click Here).

I. Introduction

“Jesus embodies the rule of God in which no one is beyond God’s forgiveness no matter who they are or what they have done.”1

Do you believe that?

Women of Influence are not perfect women, we know no one is perfect. We know that all of us make mistakes, we all have failures, we all sin and that’s why we all need a Savior. So when we fail, when we sin, no matter how little or how big that sin is, we need to remember, with God there is forgiveness. Our God forgives.

Nehemiah in looking back to this period of Hebrew history says (Neh. 9:17):

They refused to listen and failed to remember the miracles you performed among them. They became stiff-necked and in their rebellion appointed a leader in order to return to their slavery, BUT You are a forgiving God, gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love… (NIV)

David would never get over being amazed at God’s forgiveness. (Ps 103:2-3)

Praise the Lord, O my soul and forget not his benefits-who forgives all your sins… (NIV)

Paul wanted the entire world to know that in Jesus Christ God has forgiven us.

Eph 1:7 In him (Jesus) we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins. (NIV)

Col 3:13 Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another, Forgive as the Lord has forgiven you. (NIV)

There is Forgiveness for Sin with God that is a THEME throughout Scripture all the way back to the Garden of Eden and all the way forward until eternity.

Because God has always provided a way back to Him, forgiveness for our sins, He calls us to come to Him, confess to Him, receive from Him our forgiveness.

He calls us to then Live in our Forgiveness. This also became true for Miriam, our next woman of Influence. We’re going to look at a brief overview of her life and focus on her failure and her forgiveness.

II. Miriam

1. Name means “Bitterness” Greek version= Mary, Mara, Miriam. It was/ is a popular Hebrew name.

2. Numbers 26:59 = We know that her parents were Amram and Jochebed, so she was a full sister to Aaron and Moses. Exodus 2:4 = she is the first born, the oldest of the 3 siblings.

3. Also from Ex 2 we know she was the one who stood guard when her mother put baby Moses in the basket into the Nile. She was the one who was her mother’s eyes and ears as she watched to see what happened to the baby. She was the one who bravely spoke to Pharaoh’s daughter and offered to find a Hebrew nurse for the baby.

Miriam was the key person to oversee the course of the floating cradle and then to intercede at just the right moment with a suggestion that not only ensured the baby’s life but also helped to prepare him for his destiny.2 Dorothy Patterson

Quick on her feet, protective of her little brother, perhaps (ask those of you who are first born to witness) perhaps she always felt a certain responsibility for her younger brothers. I see this in my daughter who has 2 younger brothers and my granddaughter who has 2 younger brothers. There is this nurturing, some might say “mothering”. Funny, my daughter is only 18 months older than her next brother, but until he was 7 he did exactly what she said. Amazing. One day, I remember, he said “You’re not my mother!” It was all over, then we had normal sibling rivalry. The youngest brother never let her do that! I see history repeating itself in my grandchildren.

FROM OUR story we see that as a young girl, Miriam was a caring, courageous sister. But when he was about 3, Moses left her home and lived in the palace. About 40 years go by. Perhaps word got to her when Moses fled after murdering an Egyptian. We know that another 40 years pass before God uniquely calls Moses to go back to Egypt, go back and deliver the Hebrews from their oppression.

Miriam is a witness to the Exodus. She is there to see her brother Aaron as the right hand spokesman for Moses. She is there as days and likely months pass while God displays his Power and His miracles in front of Pharaoh. She is there the night they all leave Egypt and she is there when God parts the Red Sea allowing the Hebrews to cross and drowning all the Egyptians. She is there, she sees it happen and she is filled with gratitude. That’s the next time her name is mentioned.

4. Song leader, Women’s Leader, Prophetess

Exodus 15:20-21 Miriam the prophetess, the sister of Aaron, took a hand-drum in her hand, and all the women went out after her with hand-drums and with dances. Miriam sang in response to them, “Sing to the LORD, for he has triumphed gloriously; the horse and its rider he has thrown into the sea.” (NET)

The people of God have just experienced a tremendous God-given deliverance from their enemy, they are free people and this song is composed to celebrate that victory. Throughout history people compose and sing songs that solidify their experience and tell their story. We, in America have a song that tells our freedom story. Star Spangled Banner our national anthem. (We really fought 2 wars against the British for our freedom, the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812. At the end of the latter war, that Francis Scott Key penned our victory song after on morning he saw the large American flag flying triumphantly above Fort Covington, the city’s last line of defense. )

O say can you see by the dawn’s early light,
What so proudly we hailed at the twilight’s last gleaming,
Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight,
O’er the ramparts we watched, were so gallantly streaming?
And the rockets’ red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there;
O say does that star-spangled banner yet wave,
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

Miriam led the women in their victory song. She was an influential leader of the women, they followed her in praise. We’re also told here that she was a prophetess=female prophet. That meant God spoke to her and spoke through her to the people. We don’t know how many prophetess were in Israel over the years; just a few are recorded. Huldah (2Kings 22:1-20) Deborah (Judges 4,5) Anna (Luke 2:36-38) Phillip’s 4 daughters who are all prophetesses (Acts 21:9). To be called a prophetess meant God was using her mightily, she had great influence for good and then…

III. Her Failure (Numbers 12)

Set this story in context. The Hebrews have been given the law, set out, they are traveling to the Promised Land. So this is early in their journey. People have been grumbling about water, food. Even Moses has complained to God that he needs help, God instructs him to delegate out to 70 elders some of the responsibility of leading. We know that complaining is contagious, next complainers are Miriam and Aaron. We are in Hazeroth when this happened.

Numbers 12:1 Then Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses because of the Cushite woman he had married (for he had married an Ethiopian woman). (NET)

Then, Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses…Don’t you wonder what the backstory was? We don’t know, but possibly she began to question Moses’ decisions. Perhaps if they made the decisions as a team, the 3 of them, it might be better. Or they could take turns leading. We don’t know what she was thinking but there was discontent brewing and it came to a head over Moses’ wife. …they spoke against Moses because of the Cushite wife, for he had married a Cushite.

Who was this woman he married? We know he married Zipporah (Ex. 2:21) she was a Midianite, so who is THIS WOMAN?

Two explanations are possible:

1. This is a reference to Zipporah, “Cushan” was a part of Midian (Hab 3:7) Both Midianites and Cushites were nomadic.

2. Moses married a second woman in Egypt, a Nubian= Cush. The latter is more plausible since Nubia was part of the Egyptian empire and dark skinned women were considered beautiful.3

Bottom-line is we don’t know, but this just seems to be a smokescreen to their real complaint.

Numbers 12:2 They said, “Has the LORD only spoken through Moses? Has he not also spoken through us?” And the LORD heard it. (NET)

Has the Lord spoken only through Moses? they asked. Hasnt he also spoken through us? Both Miriam and Aaron are involved in this but were focusing on Miriam. It would seem that she was discontented with the influential role God had given her and she wanted more. Miriam tried to step out of her role and wanted to step into her brother’s. We can fall into this trap too, in our churches: the ministry roles God gives us; our workplaces: complaints about our boss; even at home: our discontent with where we find ourselves can cause us to lose influence for good. Because we know that Moses had his authority to lead directly from God, her rebellion and discontent was ultimately against God Himself. So, she launches a power play that backfired.

Numbers 12:2 They said, “Has the LORD only spoken through Moses? Has he not also spoken through us?” And the LORD heard it. (NET)

and the Lord heard it. God says to Moses, Aaron and Miriam, you three, meet Me at the Tent of Meeting. When they get there, God says Aaron and Miriam, you two, step forward. Listen to me, when I talk to prophets, I send visions, dreams but not so with Moses. I talk to Him directly, face to face, I speak clearly to Him, special, unique. Why were you not afraid to speak against Him? Divine Rebuke. We’re told this made God really angry and He leaves. When He does, they look at each other and Aaron sees Miriam is covered with leprosy. We don’t begin to know how horrible that disease was in ancient times. For her it meant isolation, leaving the community and living outside the camp, alone (Numbers 5:1-3). Because of the intercession of her two brothers God limits her time for seven days before she could return.

People have often questioned why did God just punish Miriam with leprosy? Why not Aaron too? There is no biblical answer but there are hints in the text to the backstory. Jewish Study Bible and other readings conclude that…

..Miriam and not Aaron was punished because she instigated the gossip and vocalized it, as indicated by the feminine gender of the verb “spoke” in 12:1 and the placement of Miriam (name) before Aaron (name)” it’s speculated that Aaron was silent or just agreed.4

Joseph Telushkin suggests this difference stems from the Hebrew verb used to describe their comments about Moses’ wife. It is feminine – veteddaber (“and she spoke”) – indicting that Miriam was the one who initiated the conversation against Moses (Telushkin, 130).

There were consequences of her sin, just as there is with ours. She faced humiliation, a week separated from the community; surely tension in the family.

This was a great failure, a tremendous loss of influence for her. And what a great warning to us not to lose our influence for good by our own sin.

But I have included her failure for another reason.

That is to be encouraged by her forgiveness. No, we don’t hear of her again for almost 40 years, that’s not to say she doesn’t still lead, we just don’t know. But what we do know is that God recorded her death, and that’s very significant. Very few of female leaders have details of their death. Numbers 20:1 In the first month the whole Israelite community arrived at the Desert of Zin and they stayed at Kadesh. There Miriam died and was buried.

Many scholars believe this is the 40th year of the Exodus, toward the end of the journey, close to entering in the Promised Land. They people have come full circle and the land is just ahead. Right before they enter, all three deaths, Miriam, Aaron and Moses are recorded. The ones who had led for 40 years passed the baton to others.

Although Miriam sinned and suffered some consequences we know that God forgave her. How? God gives her Divine Biography hundreds of years later, through the prophet Micah right before Assyria captures Israel. Micah (contemporary of Isaiah) records a conversation with God who gives a case against Israel.

Micah 6:2-4 Hear, O mountains, the Lord’s accusation; listen you everlasting foundations of the earth. For the Lord has a case against his people; he is lodging a charge against Israel. “My people, what have I done to you? How have I burdened you? Answer me. 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)

This is the God who years later included her name as a leader of His people. He could have written her off, could have excluded her name but He forgave her and remembered her. You see:

Truth: When we do sin, we can be forgiven. We can go forward and Live in our forgiveness.

There may be consequences, but God forgives and God restores. That’s our God of grace and mercy. This is the God of Calvary.

1. This is the gospel.

We have all sinned and fallen short of God’s glory (R3:23) but the free gift of God is forgiveness in Christ Jesus (R10: 9,10) When we confess with our mouth and believe in our hearts that Jesus is Lord we are forgiven. For me personally I was raised in a Christian home, in church all my life, but it wasn’t until I was married, in my mid-twenties that I embraced Christ as my Savior and Lord. It’s not enough to be raised a Christian; to have Christian parents, a believing heritage, each one must on our own embrace the faith. Each one of us is called to have a faith story. Wonder what is yours?

As we go on to live the Christian life, we live into our forgiveness by:

2. Keeping short accounts with God

I John 1:8-9 If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us [all of us will have failures, fall into sin like Miriam did] If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. (NIV)

For Miriam, in another time, the law required she be put out of the camp, an isolation for seven days of purification, after which God restored her. There were seven days before she could live into her forgiveness. For you and I our relationship with God eternally is secure because of the Cross. When we fail and sin in our everyday life and we confess, he forgives instantly because of the Cross. There may be consequences of our sin we have to live through, but when you…

Live in Your Forgiveness there is no shame, no guilt, no condemnation because we are forgiven. Part of our inheritance as believers is a Peace with God (R 5:1) and we have the Peace of God ruling our hearts (Phil 4:7). You really cannot be a woman of influence if you’re still carrying your sin, if you haven’t given it to the foot of the Cross and asked for his forgiveness. But if you have, and you know that He has released you and you still carry guilt, and shame….you are not fully

Living in your Forgiveness and you won’t be able to tell others about our God who forgives all our sins.

My pastor says that when you have asked God’s forgiveness and you know that He has forgiven you, but you can’t get peace, it won’t let you go, then perhaps you need to ask for prayer, for help from the church, from others.

James 5: 13-16 Is any one of you in trouble? He should pray. Is anyone happy? Let him sing songs of praise. Is anyone of you sick? He should call the elders of he church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other that you may be healed. (NIV)

There is a healing for the sin-sick heart, its called Forgiveness. But we cannot talk about Living in our Forgiveness without mentioning …

3. Forgiving others

For the believer this is not optional, it’s an integral part of our faith and our influence. The Lord’s Prayer says:

Forgive us our sins as we forgive others. It’s the key to living in harmony in our homes, churches in our world. i.e. Peacemaker’s Four Promises of Forgiveness

1. I will not dwell on this incident.

2. I will not bring this incident up and use it against you.

3. I will not talk to others about this incident.

4. I will not allow this incident to stand between us or hinder our personal relationship.5

My story: another stone of remembrance is learning to forgive my husband. Story of separation and rejection.


1. So let me ask you, are you satisfied where God has placed you? With what he has given you to do, to be? Do you minister to others out of a grateful heart or honestly is Miriam’s discontent resonating with you? In every season of life we can face this temptation. Yet, truly women of influence are marked by contentment not resignation, contentment not rebellion. Women of influence cannot get over the fact that God would choose to use them and that reflects in a humility that allows God to use you greatly.

2. Are you carrying any guilt or shame that God has forgiven? Do you need to release it? Do you need to talk to someone you trust? A safe person?

3. Have you forgiven others? Have you let go of past wounds and pain, no matter how difficult, how great the hurt?

There is a call on our lives as believers, and that call is to …

Live in your Forgiveness


1 Lewis B. Smedes

2 Patterson, 58.

3 Jewish Study Bible, 308.

4 Jewish Study Bible, 309.

5 Peacemaker Ministries

Related Topics: Forgiveness, Women

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