One day, loyalty to his kindred triumphs over every other consideration, and, roused to fury, he slays, with his own hand, an Egyptian taskmaster whom he sees afflicting one of his brethren. The crime is discovered, and Pharaoh, who can ill brook such conduct in his daughter's adopted son, seeks to slay Moses, who flies from his wrath into the land of Midian, where, true to his instinct as a son of the priestly tribe, he marries the daughter of Jethro, the priest of Midian.
Moses renounces for ever his Royal position, and refuses any longer to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter.
Miriam, meantime, is presumably playing a daughter's part in her pious Hebrew home, surrounded by the Levitical traditions of her tribe. She develops the gift of prophecy, and becomes a notable woman amongst her people. The sacred narrative does not record her marriage, but Josephus mentions Hur, the companion of Moses, as being the husband of Miriam.
A Marvellous Trio
It seems apparent that Miriam was a wife and a mother. But domestic duties do not preclude her from taking a very active part in the affairs of her nation. The oppression of the Israelites has now reached a climax. They have been in bondage to the Egyptians for four hundred and thirty years, and their burdens and sorrows have become intolerable. Miriam is to play a great and glorious part in the redemption of her people. She is a prophetess, to whom the suffering Hebrews come for advice and encouragement, and in the fulness of time she will take her place as one of the divinely appointed leaders in the great Exodus. "For I brought thee up out of the land of Egypt," writes the prophet Micah, "and redeemed thee out of the house of servants; and I sent before thee Moses, Aaron, and Miriam." Truly, Miriam and her brothers are the most remarkable family trio in either sacred or profane history.
At present, Moses is away in the land of Midian, peacefully tending the flocks of
Jethro, his father-in-law. One day on the mountain side of Horeb, the angel of the Lord speaks to him from the burning bush, and commands him to hasten back to Egypt and demand from Pharaoh the liberation of the Israelites. Aaron also receives a Divine message bidding him go forth and meet Moses on his return home.
Miriam, it may be surmised, is now actively prophesying that the day of Israel's redemption is at hand. The babe whom she watched to such good purpose long ago on the banks of the Nile is returning to Egypt in the prime of manhood to fulfil his heaven-appointed destiny. No account is given of Miriam's welcome to her brother at this momentous crisis after their long separation, but later events show that while Moses and Aaron were conferring with the elders of their people as to the measures to be taken to escape from bondage, Miriam was inspiring the women with courage and patriotism.
The infant Moses, adrift on the Nile, watched by his sister, Miriam. Later, this devoted sister accompanied the great law-giver on his perilous wanderings with the people of Israel
From the painting by Delaroche
It is a time of fierce tension. Plague after plague is being visited upon the Egyptians at the hands of Moses and Aaron, and still the heart of Pharaoh is hardened and he will not let the people go.
At length comes the final stroke of the avenging rod, and the Angel of Death makes his dread circuit over Egypt, smiting the first-born of man and of beast. It is a just retribution for that decree of long ago which sent the "goodly child" Moses to the mercy of the river in a frail ark of bulrushes if haply he might escape infanticide. On that terrible night, while there is weeping and lamenting in the homes of the Egyptians, the Hebrews are eating their Passover with girded loins. Miriam has instructed the women in the preparation of the unleavened bread. She has told them to borrow "jewels of silver and jewels of gold and raiment" from the oppressors, ready for the journey into the wilderness. Her woman's wit would aid her in carrying out to the full the Divine command to "spoil the Egyptians."
Miriam next comes before us in the exalted figure of an inspired and jubilant prophetess. The children of Israel, six hundred thousand strong, with their flocks and herds, have accomplished their flight from the land of bondage into the desert. By miraculous intervention they have crossed dry-shod over the bed of the Red Sea, and Pharaoh and his hosts, with their chariots and horses, have perished in the attempt to
Religion follow them. Now it is that Miriam reaches her highest achievement as a prophetess, and down through the ages there comes to us the sound of her triumphant timbrel. "By Egypt's dark sea, Jehovah hath triumphed, His people are free."
We cannot doubt that as Miriam took her part as a leader in the Exodus, she was likewise associated with Moses and Aaron in the preparation of the Tabernacle in the wilderness and in the framing of the various ordinances for the government of the people. The high position enjoyed by Hebrew women in the family and under the law, as compared with the women of other Eastern nations, leads to the supposition that the influence of Miriam passed into the statute book of Israel, protecting her sex from violence and providing for the care of the widow and the fatherless. Even to-day the Jewess in the midst of our own Christian land holds a superior and honoured place under the statutes of her people.
Miriam believed herself to be an inspired servant of God, and the time came when, as is not uncommon in the history of great leaders, she and Aaron magnified their office over that of their fellow leader, Moses. It would seem that there was a family disagreement over the second marriage of Moses, he having taken a wife from among the women of Ethiopia. Miriam and Aaron began to question his position of supremacy in the councils of Israel. For this sin of sedition they were summoned to appear before the Lord in the Tabernacle.
We are not told in what way Miriam incurred the chief anger of the Almighty, but upon her alone was visited the scourge of leprosy. Aaron now besought Moses to intervene on behalf of their sister; and Moses entreated the Divine clemency, and the punishment was commuted to seven days.
For that period was the great prophetess shut out from the camp, an unclean and defiled person. But she was not dethroned from her position as one of the leaders of her nation, for while she suffered punishment the people journeyed not, but abode where they were until Miriam was brought again into the camp.
Miriam was not permitted, as indeed were neither of her brothers, to see the end of the wanderings in the wilderness and the entry of her people into the Promised Land. She died in the desert at Kadesh, and, according to Rabbinical tradition, her funeral obsequies, which were conducted by Moses, occupied thirty days.
One of the most beautiful of the legends which have gathered around the personality of Miriam is the tradition that on account of her sisterly devotion in saving her brother from the Nile, a spring of living water, of which the people drank, followed her footsteps through her wanderings. After her death all the springs were dried up.
Miriam the prophetess leading the exultant daughters of Israel in triumphant rejoicings after the destruction of the Egyptians in he Red Sea