Then Miriam, the prophet, Aaron’s sister, took the timbrel in her hand, and all the women followed her, with timbrels and dancing. Miriam sang to them: “Sing to the LORD, for he is highly exalted. Both horse and driver He has hurled into the sea.”
For context, read all of Exodus 15
Remember the young sister of Moses who was watching from the reeds when Pharaoh's daughter found Moses? She grew up to play an important role in rescuing her people. In Micah 6:4, she is listed among her brothers as those sent by the Lord to guide the Israelites: “I sent Moses to lead you, also Aaron and Miriam.” That’s right, a woman listed among men as the leadership of God’s people.
In Exodus 15:20-21, we see her as the first recorded female worship leader. After God parted the Red Sea and the Israelites passed through on dry land, Moses and Miriam led the Israelites in praise to the LORD. The women followed behind Miriam’s leadership, singing and dancing to God in worship for what He had done for them.
In addition to her role as a worship leader, notice that she is called a “prophet” or a “prophetess”. No other woman before her held this title. We do not know the details of any revelations that the Lord spoke through her. But in Numbers 12:2, Aaron and Miriam asserted that they both had acted as prophets: “Has the LORD spoken only through Moses?...Hasn’t He also spoken through us?”
In this instance, Miriam and Aaron were grumbling against Moses because he had married a Cushite woman (an Ethiopian). While they claimed to be upset at his marriage, it appears more likely that they were becoming jealous of the position that Moses held and the issue with his new wife was used as a pretext for their real problem.
Apparently, Miriam had been the instigator, because she was punished. God came down to meet with them in a pillar of cloud and He told them Moses was more than a prophet. He was privileged to speak with God face to face. Basically, He reminded Aaron and Miriam of their place. They may have been prophets and leaders, but God had specifically called Moses for a unique role that they were not privileged to share with him.
God was angry at them for speaking against His servant. When the cloud lifted, Miriam’s skin was white from leprosy. Though her brothers pleaded with God on her behalf, she was unclean. She was sent outside of the camp for a week. It seems that Miriam thought more highly of herself and her role than she ought. Pride and jealousy got the best of her and she was punished for her sin.
The WORD about women in the story of Miriam is both encouraging and a lesson for us. We can be encouraged that women have a place in the leadership of God’s people. While it is often a source of contention in many churches, the Bible shows us examples of women like Miriam who held leadership roles. And yet, Miriam is also a reminder of the boundaries that God has placed. When she opposed Moses’s authority, God punished her. This is a warning for us to remember to respect the men that God has specifically called and placed in authority over us.
According to Scripture, what leadership positions are open to women in the church? Which roles has God reserved for men?
Father, I want to be used by You. Show me how You want to use me to serve Your people. Help me to humbly submit to the leadership you have placed over me. Amen.