Leslie Basham: Nancy Leigh DeMoss asks, “Would you rather communicate your own ideas or God’s ideas?”
Nancy Leigh DeMoss: If you have a message for other women, you have a message for your children, you have a message for women that you’re discipling and mentoring in the ways of God—if you want to be an effective servant of the Lord, you have to know God. You have to rely on what God puts in you through His Word to give out and speak to others.
Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss for Wednesday, August 27.
We’ve been looking at the birth of Moses over the last few sessions. A group of women were involved in saving the life of baby Moses, including his sister Miriam. To hear how God brought these five women together, listen to the archives at ReviveOurHearts.com.
Now Nancy’s continuing in the series Remember Miriam.
Nancy: We started out several days ago saying that this was going to be a series on Miriam. And you’re probably wondering when we’re really going to talk about Miriam. We’ve gone on several rabbit trails and talked about the other women associated with Miriam in the incidents surrounding the birth of Moses.
Then we came to Exodus 15, and we’ve been talking about Moses’ song. But today we’re going to actually come to Miriam. We want to spend several sessions looking at her life and what we can learn from that life.
We’re in Exodus chapter 15. Let me just backtrack to verse 1 to give us the context here. The children of Israel have just come victoriously through the Red Sea. God has conquered their enemies.
The Egyptians are lying dead in the bottom of the sea, and the Israelites are safe on the other side. Not an Israelite lost and not an Egyptian spared—which, by the way, is a picture of how things will be at the end of all time.
Not one of God’s children will be lost. Everyone will get safe to the other side. We may have had failures and faults and flaws and stumbled along the way, but He will get us safely home if we truly belong to Him.
And not one of those who were on the opposing side, who have not placed their faith in God—not one of those will make it. There will be the destruction, the ultimate judgment, of the wicked.
You don’t hear a lot of teaching on that today. It’s not popular teaching. But you know what? Salvation is not precious unless we realize what we’ve been saved from. We’ve been saved from the judgment, the wrath, of God.
So the Israelites are now safe on the other side, and they’re looking back surveying this scene. The very next thing they do is to have a worship service. It’s their response to what God has done.
So we read in verse 1 of Exodus 15,
Then Moses and the people of Israel sang this song to the LORD, saying, “I will sing to the LORD, for he has triumphed gloriously; the horse and his rider he has thrown into the sea.”
Then we have the whole 18 verses we looked at in the last session of this hymn of praise, which they sing standing there on the banks, the other side, of the Red Sea.
Then look at verse 19:
For when the horses of Pharaoh with his chariots and his horsemen went into the sea, the LORD brought back the waters of the sea upon them, but the people of Israel walked on dry ground in the midst of the sea.
Now, we’ve already read that story. We read about it in chapter 14. Why is it repeated again here? I just think it’s a reminder. As we go to worship, remember why you’re worshiping:
- It is who God is.
- It is His character.
- It is His ways.
- It is His works that we praise when we come to worship.
Pick up at verse 20: “Then Miriam the prophetess, the sister of Aaron, took a tambourine in her hand, and all the women went out after her with tambourines and dancing. And Miriam sang to them”—or, as some of your translations say, “Miriam answered them,” answered the men. Miriam and the women were making a chorus, a response.
And what did they sing? “Sing to the LORD, for he has triumphed gloriously; the horse and his rider he has thrown into the sea.”
We’re going to take that passage apart and look at what we can learn about Miriam and about life as a woman of God. But let me just again give us a little background on Miriam. We know that she was an older sister of Moses by several years.
It was interesting to me as I was researching on her life that Miriam is featured prominently in a lot of Jewish rabbinical literature dating back centuries. She is also in what is known as the Midrash, which is a compilation of teachings based on the Hebrew Bible. The Midrash includes a lot of stories that, while they’re interesting, many of them are not true. They’re based on folklore or legendary stories.
In the Midrash and in some of this rabbinical literature, Miriam’s role is amplified considerably beyond what we learn about her in the Scripture. Here are some of the things, for example, that have been said about Miriam. These are not things the Bible tells us. They’re not things we believe to be true, but they’re things that rabbinical literature and folklore say about her.
For example, prior to Moses’ birth, Miriam is said to have told her father that he would have a son who would deliver Israel from Egypt. It was this prophecy, supposedly, that convinced him to have relations with his wife, in spite of the danger involved because of Pharaoh’s edict to kill all the baby boys.
In many of these writings, Miriam is considered the savior of Israel. It’s just interesting, considering that Miriam is the Hebrew name for the Greek word Mary. In both Old and New Testaments we have women who really were great women of God, but our tendency is to elevate them above appropriate measure.
There is no savior except Jesus Christ. Our natural tendency is to want to look to human beings to be our savior. So some of the extended literature on Miriam gives her that role. But she has a great enough role—no need to elevate it beyond what the Scripture does.
Here’s another interesting thing that certainly is legendary. It’s said in many of these writings that there was a “Well of Miriam” that accompanied the Israelites through their desert wanderings. She’s associated with water. She watched the baby in the Nile. She went through the Red Sea with the Israelites. She sings at the Red Sea.
They say that from that point, as they traveled through the desert for 40 years, there was this rock, which they call the Well of Miriam, that followed everywhere she went. Out of this rock came water that quenched the thirst of all the Israelites for those 40 years.
And the story is that after her death that well disappeared. Where they get this, I found, is in Numbers chapter 20, which tells us in verse 1 that Miriam died. And then the next verse says, “Now there was no water for the congregation.” So from this they get this whole story about this Well of Miriam that followed them.
These are superstitious stories that have arisen around the legend of Miriam. Here’s another one: They say that Miriam, Moses, and Aaron—all three of them—died by a kiss from God.
Now, the Scripture tells us about their death, but it doesn’t give us these additional stories that others do. And again we see here the tendency to elevate people and to make more of them than is warranted.
What makes Miriam’s life instructive to me is not that all these big, supernatural things happened around her, which Scripture doesn’t give us any indication of. What makes her interesting to me was that she was so very human. She was used of God as a very ordinary human vessel in a significant way when she was walking in step with God.
When she was a humble servant of the Lord, God used her in a significant way. And when she stepped outside of God’s boundaries for her life, she suffered consequences. We’ll look at that in the last portion of this series when we get to Numbers 12. We’ll see that there was a time when she stepped outside God’s ways, and as a result she suffered consequences.
So we learn a lot. When we’re obeying God, we’re blessed, and God can use us. When we go outside God’s plan and God’s place for our lives, then we will suffer consequences.
It reminds me of what Romans 15 says:
For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope (verse 4).
Listen, we don’t need all those extraneous stories to give us hope. We have the Word of God. And through the encouragement of God’s Word, we have hope.
So let’s get away from all the extra literature, all the Google stuff, and let’s come back to the Word of God and see what we do know about Miriam’s background. We do know from history that she was born about 527 B.C. She was born in Egypt. She was the firstborn of three children; she had two younger brothers, Aaron and Moses.
She had Hebrew parents who were from the tribe of Levi—which, as you’ll recall, would later be designated the priestly tribe. Her younger brother Aaron would become the first high priest of Israel.
We know that she had godly, believing parents. They’re listed in the hall of faith in Hebrews 11. We’re told that by faith Moses’ parents hid him for three months because they saw that he was a beautiful child, and they did not fear the king’s edict. They were a man and woman of faith.
We know that she was born and lived as a slave in Egypt for the first 80 years of her life. We know that her parents were born and lived as slaves all their lives in Egypt. Her grandparents lived in Egypt all their lives as slaves. So she didn’t know anything else other than the life of hardship and slavery in a foreign land.
As we’re seeing in this series, there are three primary scenes recorded in Scripture that have to do with Miriam. The first we looked at over the last several days was when she was a child. We see events surrounding Moses’ birth.
We’re looking now at the second major incident in her life, which is when she was an older woman, around 90 years of age. So most of the intervening time of her life—virtually all of the intervening time of her life—she has lived in a land of hardship and slavery in Egypt.
But as a little girl, she saw the works of God. She saw the providence of God. She saw the hand of God. And it marked her in a way that would impact her for life.
We saw her when she was a child caring for her younger brother. We saw her to be a conscientious older sister, compassionate, concerned, confident. We saw her to be responsible, alert, brave, bold, and intelligent.
We saw that she must have been close to her little brother whom she helped to rescue and who lived in their home for the first two or three years of his life. She had risked her life to save his, so certainly he had a special place in her heart.
But remember that when he was just a little boy, he left their home and went to live in the palace to be adopted by Pharaoh’s daughter. So Miriam hadn’t spent a lot of time with this younger brother Moses.
Then, when Moses was 40, you remember he fled from Egypt. And for 40 years he was gone. She didn’t hear anything, see anything, know anything of him for those 40 years.
Then Miriam was there in Egypt when Moses returned, sent by God to deliver His people. She was aware of what was going on. They were reunited, and she saw him confront Pharaoh and saw God send the ten plagues when Pharaoh refused to respond. She participated in the celebration of the first Passover in her home.
Undoubtedly, her parents were no longer living at this time. But in her home, they would have put the blood on the outside of the doorposts and the lintel of the house. She heard the cries of the firstborn Egyptian sons dying as the angel of death passed through.
But she saw that the firstborn in the Israelite families lived because the angel saw the blood on the doorposts and passed over. She experienced all of this. She was there as a woman around 90 years of age now.
She joined the other Israelites as they left Egypt in the great exodus. She was with them as they came to the Red Sea. She saw Moses lift his rod. She was with the people who walked through on dry ground. She stood and watched as Pharaoh’s army drowned in the sea.
She was there for this amazing high point of Jewish history. After 400 years of slavery, the reality of their emancipation begins to sink into this woman’s heart, as it does with the others who are celebrating this great triumph of God.
They are free! I mean, you just imagine that it was like you could finally breathe after generations of slavery, of oppression, of hardship, of bondage. They’re free!
They’re free from Pharaoh’s dictatorship, free from his hatred, free from the Egyptian taskmasters and their whips, free from the backbreaking labor building cities for Pharaoh. They are free!
Miriam is experiencing this along with all the others in the Jewish community. As we come to Exodus 15, they’re experiencing this breathing of air again—the ones who’ve been emancipated, set free by God. She is there with the Israelites celebrating at the Red Sea, now as an older woman about 90 years of age.
We see her in this passage as a capable musician and as a leader. She is an influencer, influential among the children of Israel. In fact, interestingly, Miriam in some ways frames the Exodus account.
In Exodus 2, she’s there as Moses is rescued from the Nile; she’s participating in that story. Then in chapter 15, on the other side of the Red Sea, she’s there as God’s people are rescued out of Egypt. Eighty years apart between those two incidents: In the account of the Exodus, she’s there at both ends.
We see Miriam’s life as a model of hope in the midst of the most hopeless and helpless circumstances. Why? Because God has providentially intervened on behalf of His people. This, we’re going to see, motivates her to join in this chorus of thanksgiving.
Look again at verse 20:
Then Miriam the prophetess, the sister of Aaron, took a tambourine in her hand, and all the women went out after her with tambourines and dancing.
“Miriam the prophetess.” I want to focus on that little phrase. Then in the next session we’ll jump into the rest of this passage and see what kind of worship service this was.
Miriam the prophetess: a prophetess is a female prophet. Miriam was one of about eight that are named in the Scripture, depending on exactly how you count. Theologians differ as to exactly what is meant by a prophet or a prophetess, and there may be a slightly different meaning between Old Testament and New Testament uses of those words.
Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary, which is one of the resources that I use for word studies, says:
Though much of Old Testament prophecy was purely predictive [that is, telling the future] . . . prophecy is not necessarily, nor even primarily, foretelling. It is the declaration of that which cannot be known by natural means . . . it is the forth-telling of the will of God, whether with reference to the past, the present, or the future.
So it’s someone who speaks the Truth of God’s Word. John Macarthur, in his study Bible, says virtually the same thing:
“prophetess” refers to a woman who spoke God’s Word. She was a teacher of the Old Testament, not a source of revelation.
Now, Wayne Grudem in his Systematic Theology takes a little different approach, particularly speaking of New Testament prophecy. He says that that kind of prophecy means telling something that God has spontaneously brought to mind.
Well, I’m not going to try and sort through what all these great theologians can’t sort through to find exactly what that means. But I will say, the fact that Miriam was a prophetess tells us some things about her that are helpful by way of background.
First of all, we see that it meant she had a calling of God on her life. She had been set apart by God in a special way to be used for His purposes and Israel’s redemption from Egypt.
In fact, in the little Old Testament prophecy of Micah, written 700 years after the life of Miriam, we see another reference to Miriam. God says,
I brought you up from the land of Egypt and redeemed you from the house of slavery, and I sent before you Moses, Aaron, and Miriam (6:4).
Certainly Moses was the most prominent of those three, and certainly he was the leader in a way the others weren’t. But it’s interesting that Miriam was recognized by God as one of the leaders sent to help His people be redeemed out of slavery in Egypt.
She was apparently recognized as a spiritual leader among the women. You see in this passage in Exodus 15 that when she led the women followed. I believe this is because God had set her apart and marked her life, put a calling on her life. She was fulfilling that calling when she did what she did in Exodus 15 to lead this women’s choir in response to the song of Moses.
I also think the fact that she was a prophetess stresses that her role, her influence, and her gifts as she utilizes them in serving God—all of that came out of a relationship with God. I think she’s a woman who knew God. It was out of that relationship with God that followed her influence and her gifts and her service.
You see, the baton of faith had been handed to Miriam from women who had gone before her: the Hebrew midwives who feared God. She knew that story. She may have known those midwives; she probably did.
She was influenced by the faith of her mother, who dared to trust God against all odds. But having seen the faith of the women who had gone before her, she had developed her own faith. She didn’t ride the spiritual coattails of her predecessors.
She had seen the providence of God herself—first as a child in the rescue of her brother Moses, then at his return to Egypt and the ten plagues. She had seen God move, and she had developed her own personal relationship with God.
That’s important as we see her singing this song. She’s a worshiper because she’s a worshiper out of her heart. She worships God in spirit and in truth. She’s not just singing words; she’s not just leading a women’s choir. It comes out of a heart relationship with God.
We see Miriam’s prophetic gift manifesting itself in a similar way to another account in the Old Testament. Remember when Samuel spoke to Saul before Saul was getting ready to be anointed as the first king of Israel? Samuel said to Saul,
You will meet a group of prophets coming down from the high place with harp, tambourine, flute, and lyre before them, prophesying. Then the Spirit of the LORD will rush upon you, and you will prophesy with them and be turned into another man (1 Samuel 10:5-6).
That is another occasion, like the one we’re reading about at the Red Sea, where prophesying meant to create music designed to accompany a religious celebration or feast. Miriam was tying this occasion into the goodness and the works of God. That was part of her prophetic gift and ministry on this occasion.
She was a woman who was endowed by God with spiritual gifts and insight. The insight into who God was, into what He had done, the theme of her song—it’s not something she made up. It’s not something she manufactured. It’s not something that came out of herself. It’s something that God put in her.
If you have a message for other women, you have a message for your children, you have a message for women that you’re discipling and mentoring in the ways of God—if you want to be an effective servant of the Lord, you have to know God. You have to rely on what God puts in you through His Word to give out and speak to others.
First Corinthians 14 tells us that the one who prophecies speaks to people for their upbuilding or edification, their encouragement, and their comfort (see verse 3). Those spiritual gifts—gifts of teaching, speaking, leading, serving, all these spiritual gifts that God gives to us in an New Testament sense—they’re always for the benefit of others and for the glory of God, for the building up of other believers.
Those gifts are not to impress others with how gifted we are or to put us on display. They’re for the purpose of building others up.
In Exodus 15, in this passage we’re looking at, we see Miriam using this prophetic gift to bless the Lord and to bless others. The spotlight is on God. We’ll notice when we get to the end of this series that when Miriam’s spotlight got out of line—when she tried to turn the spotlight on herself and her own gifts—that’s when she got in trouble.
So those gifts are given by God to us as women for the purpose of serving God and serving others, and they flow out of a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
Used with Permission. Revive Our Hearts.