After Israel buried the people who became a burden at Kibroth, they traveled to Hazeroth and set up camp. Everything was fine until those closest to Moses began to complain!

 Numbers 12:1KJV

1 And Miriam and Aaron spake against Moses because of the Ethiopian woman whom he had married: for he had married an Ethiopian woman. 2 And they said, Hath the LORD indeed spoken only by Moses? hath he not spoken also by us? And the LORD heard it.

If it’s not one thing, it’s another. Moses wanted to die at Kibroth, so God made life bearable again. Everything was fine until they reached Hazeroth and his siblings challenged his authority.

What provoked Miriam and Aaron to complain about their brother?

Some of their dissatisfaction stemmed from Moses complaint that he could not bear the burden of the people alone. God sent Moses, Aaron and Miriam to lead the nation.

 Micah 6:4 NIV

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.

Moses pity party revealed an insensitivity to his siblings gifts and callings throwing fuel on the fire that blazed into an open rebellion. God never intended for Moses to bear the burden of the people alone. Aaron and Miriam had the same call to lead that Moses did and no doubt could not understand why Moses would not acknowledge them.

Since Aaron was a weak leader there is no doubt in my mind that Miriam led the conspiracy and Aaron followed her. God dealt with her much more severely than Aaron but not for being the ringleader. Leading the rebellion was only a symptom of festering wounds. The real sadness of this story is Miriam’s claim was true. She was a prophet called by God to lead the nation just like Moses and Aaron. It is not the blatant lies that destroy us but truth poured from hurting vessels. Her pain began when Moses was recognized as no ordinary child.[1]

Miriam’s parents are listed in Hebrews chapter 11 as commendable examples of the faith that pleases God. Therefore, it is not surprising that all of their children were called to ministry. When there is a calling on your life, you know it; most of the time at a very early age. We don’t know exactly how old Miriam was when Moses was born. We do know that she was the eldest and old enough to understand that Moses received a lot of attention because he was special, but so was Miriam. She bore the same calling to lead that her brothers did.

The Jewish historian Josephus reveals that if Pharaoh’s order to throw all male newborns into the Nile was not obeyed the entire family of the baby would be destroyed as well.[2] Miriam’s parents were willing to risk death that the life of their special child might be preserved. Miriam followed their example to the extreme. When mother put the infant Moses in the Nile and returned home to weep over his uncertain future, Miriam remained to watch over baby brother. She wanted to be a part of his extra ordinary life. But her actions risked exposing whom the baby belonged to and put her own life as well as the entire family in jeopardy of death. God worked it all out for good. Miriam became the hero that brought baby brother home to sooth mothers sorrow and be taught the faith of their fathers. There is no doubt in my mind that in Miriam’s mind Moses owed her! Her actions planted a seed of entitlement that lay dormant for many years before it blossomed into rebellion.

Miriam helped mother care for Moses until he toddled off to Pharaoh’s house to live in the lap of luxury reserved for Kings. For forty years, Miriam endured the underprivileged life of a slave while Moses was educated in the best schools of Egypt and became a general of the Egyptian army that was mighty in word and deed. Miriam endured because her payday would come! She saved Moses. One day Moses would save her.

But before Moses delivered Israel from Egypt, he delivered Egypt from the Ethiopians. While Moses led the armies of Egypt against Ethiopia, Tharbis, daughter of the King of the Ethiopians, saw Moses and fell in love.  Tharbis sent one of her most trusted servants to tell Moses how she felt about him. Upon hearing this message, Moses did something common for his day. He agreed to marriage for political gain. The servant returned to Tharbis with a promise from Moses that if she helped him take possession of the city he would marry her. She kept her end of the agreement and the city fell. Moses kept his end of the agreement and consummated the marriage. He returned to Egypt with great honor and an Ethiopian wife.[3]

Miriam thought her day had come when Moses turned forty and finally understood that God had preserved him and prepared him to deliver Israel. Unfortunately, Israel rejected Moses and Miriam’s hopes of fulfilling her calling were dashed. Moses went to Midian to start a new life without his Ethiopain wife and did something else common for his day. He took a second wife, Zipporah the daughter of a priest and without doubt experienced the same despair that Miriam did. The despair when circumstances and people block you from fulfilling a God given calling.

Forty years elapsed before God appeared and renewed the faith and hope of Miriam, Aaron and Moses. At God’s command Aaron left Egypt and returned with Moses in tow to announce that the time had come for the visitation Joseph spoke of before he died. But the Bible does not give any indication that Miriam attended the meetings that took place between the elders of Israel and Moses nor is her name included in the long negotiations with Pharaoh even though God clearly said “I sent Moses, Aaron and Miriam to lead you.” Men thought little of women in those days even more so than these days. The women had no representation in their deliverance and it is highly unlikely Miriam knew what transpired between these men or how God intervened on the behalf of the oppressed women.

Consider the first time Pharaoh gave Moses permission to leave Egypt that they might worship their God in the desert. Pharaoh had endured blood, frogs, gnats, flies, a plague, boils, and a hailstorm for the record books when Moses and Aaron stopped by to tell him that locusts would be next. Pharaoh’s officials could take no more and pleaded with Pharaoh to let Israel worship their God. Pharaoh needed the support of these officials to stay in power so he relented and,

 Exodus 10:8-10

8 Then Moses and Aaron were brought back to Pharaoh. “Go, worship the LORD your God,” he said. “But just who will be going?” 9 Moses answered, “We will go with our young and old, with our sons and daughters, and with our flocks and herds, because we are to celebrate a festival to the LORD.” 10 Pharaoh said, “The LORD be with you–if I let you go, along with your women and children! Clearly you are bent on evil. 

Pharaoh called Moses and Aaron back but wanted to know exactly who would attend this festival to the Lord. Moses said everyone. That did not sit well with Pharaoh and there is a specific reason why. Moses introduced something new into the negotiations. The next statement from Pharaoh reveals that sometime between the day Moses arrived in Egypt and the day this meeting transpired Moses had a change of heart. Pharaoh said,

Exodus 10:11

            No! Have only the men go; and worship the Lord, since that’s what you have been asking for.”

Do you hear what Pharaoh said! This statement from Pharaoh is clear. Until this meeting, Moses had only asked Pharaoh to let the MEN go into the desert to serve the Lord. Racism is more than the black and white issue it is in America. The church is full of racist men who oppress women called to lead and then wonder why God will not let the church go forward. This is an important point that has been missed for centuries because somewhere in time the church lost the true faith of Abraham.

Moses never asked Pharaoh to let them leave Egypt so they could start a new nation. Moses only intent was to bring the men of Israel to the mountain where God appeared to him and teach them how to worship their God again. Like Abraham before him, Moses believed in the resurrection. They could not become the nation God promised them without Jesus, the son Abraham saw afar off, the same one Moses called the prophet to come.

Moses had permission to leave with the men but what about the women! Moses sister was a prophet like him. Did she watch over him at the risk of her own life just so he could grow up and leave her in Egypt? She had a calling to serve the Lord just like he did. Do you think the women in Israel were unaware that Moses only came for the men? Do you think Miriam was unaware that Moses would have left her in Egypt? If you have ever been excluded from something that you are gifted to do over something you could not change, like your sex or the color of your skin, you know the deep the hurt Moses insensitive attitude inflicted.

But there was something important Miriam missed because she could see no farther than Moses. She missed the fact that God was leading them not Moses. Moses was only a steward serving God to the best of his ability. God was in charge of their deliverance, not Moses. From Miriam’s perspective when the time came to leave Moses plan to take only the men suddenly and mysteriously changed. Everybody went into the desert to worship God. Moses was not thinking about Miriam but God was.

It is questionable that Miriam ever learned how Moses obtained permission to leave with the men and how God refused to let them go. Instead, God struck all of Egypt with a plague of locusts. God did not let Pharaoh and Moses dictate who would worship him.[4] If the sister’s can’t go and fulfill their calling nobody would go. We only hurt ourselves when we exclude others. Israel’s journey to worship God was delayed while God taught valuable lessons to the hardhearted men who serve him.

 Exodus 10:1-2

1 Then the LORD said to Moses, “Go to Pharaoh, for I have hardened his heart and the hearts of his officials so that I may perform these miraculous signs of mine among them 2 that you may tell your children and grandchildren how I dealt harshly with the Egyptians and how I performed my signs among them, and that you may know that I am the LORD.”

God wanted the story of how the men had permission to leave but God would not let them leave without the women to be told to every generation that followed so we would know who is Lord.

God’s refusal to let them leave was not about the women just because they are women. Our God shows no partiality. God’s refusal to let them leave was a revelation of how God helps the oppressed. In this story, the women were the oppressed. The men don’t want the women to go into the desert with them. It was God and God alone who intervened on woman’s behalf. If the women had been in places of power and desired to exclude the men God would have intervened on behalf of the men.

Unfortunately making oppressors do the right thing is easier than changing their oppressive attitudes. Miriam found herself in the desert with the men, but she is still treated arrogantly because they are now equal but separate.

When Israel crossed the Red Sea on dry land and realized how God had delivered them from their Egyptian oppressors,

 Exodus 15:1

Then Moses and the Israelites sang this song to the LORD:

The Hebrew word translated Israelites in this passage is ben, which means a son; Moses and the sons sang to the Lord. While ben can mean both son’s and daughters and it is certainly possible the men and women were singing this song, I can’t help but wonder about the event that followed. After the men lead a song of praise to the Lord, Miriam picked up a tambourine to lead worship but only the women followed her with tambourines and dancing. This story has been used to justify that women can lead but they should only lead women. Does that also mean only women should dance? Does that also mean only women should worship God with all of their heart, soul and body.

On the day the women alone followed Miriam dancing became a “woman thing.” Men don’t dance. Men worship with all their spirit and soul but not their bodies. Moses separate but equal attitude bound men for hundreds of years from worshiping God freely with all of their might spirit, soul and body. Why didn’t Moses pick up a tambourine and dance with Miriam? The men followed Moses lead to their own detriment. Until the day, a man after God’s own heart danced before the Lord.

After King David tried to bring the ark of God into the city, or we could say the presence of God into the city, and it resulted in death, the Bible says David was angry. Where there is anger there is pride. But David didn’t give up his quest to bring the presence of God into the city. He knew that God resists the proud and gives grace to the humble. The second time he sought to bring the presence of God into the city he humbled himself by dancing with the women.

David humbled himself when he broke the taboo in Israel that men don’t dance because that is a woman thing. By his actions a King said we will be equal but separate no more and a woman looked out the window and despised him for it. David tore down the wall Moses erected between men and women at the Red Sea and a woman criticized him because the women followed Miriam’s lead just like the men followed Moses.

When Moses stood up to lead worship at the Red Sea, he sang this song to the Lord “I will sing to the Lord for he is highly exalted.” When Miriam stood up to lead worship she sang to Israel: “Sing to the Lord for he is highly exalted.” [5] Moses was singing to the Lord as an example. Miriam was singing to the crowd and telling them what to do. Hundreds of year’s later women were still telling men how to worship the Lord because David’s wife rebuked him for dancing. Miriam’s worship at the Red Sea was an effort to validate herself and her place in the church because she was deeply hurt when Moses excluded her. She was so hurt that she never recognized what God did for her. Her eyes were on Moses instead of God and that only served to multiply her pain.

While they were at Rephidim and Moses father in law saw Moses had too much to do he suggested a reasonable plan. Moses followed his advice and appointed rulers over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens. But out of the more than 100,000 thousand appointed rulers Moses only choose men.[6] His actions stuck a knife in Miriam’s wounded bleeding heart.

Finally, they came to Kibroth and Miriam heard Moses complaining that he can’t lead all these people alone. To make matters even worse God told him to pick seventy leaders to institute a new form of government that would bear the same spirit of leadership Moses possessed.[7] What about Miriam? She had the same spirit of leadership Moses possessed. Now not only are the men against her. It appeared God was against her as well.

God was never against Miriam, but he does give grace to the humble and resist the proud. Moses was not the only one with racism in his heart. Before Israel set up camp at Hazeroth people died at Kibroth because the “mixt multitude” or the foreigners that lived among them “fell a lusting”[8] which stirred up the children of Israel to weep instead of worship and ended in the death of many. In the minds of the Israelites, they died because the foreigners enticed them to be discontent with the things God had given them.

By the time Israel settled at Hazeroth, Miriam considered Moses an inept leader and was ready to be rid of him. Aaron’s agreement emboldened Miriam to openly rebel.  Miriam and Aaron complained about the Ethiopian woman, a foreigner, part of the mixt multitude that left Egypt with them, who Moses had married. If the nation got rid of Moses, they would also be rid of the favor his foreign wife gave all foreigners in Israel. This wasn’t a new wife they were complaining about. Moses married that Ethiopian woman before he gave up Egypt to follow the Lord. He was bound to her by the oath he swore to marry her if she helped him conquer a city. Moses was simply a man ahead of his time living the Christian life the way the Apostle Paul told us to live.

If you get saved, and an unbelieving spouse wants to leave, let your spouse leave, but if your spouse is content to stay let him or her stay. We don’t know if the Ethiopian woman accompanied Moses to Midian. If not their relationship was renewed when Moses returned to Egypt to deliver Israel. Whatever the circumstances, she had been married to Moses for a long time when Miriam complained about her. I don’t know if the Ethiopian woman was a believer or not, but she was obviously content to stay married to Moses.

Miriam’s rebellion had nothing to do with the Ethiopian woman and everything to do with Miriam’s arrogance that Moses owed her and he didn’t pay up. Moses didn’t know he owed her; in fact he didn’t owe her anything. Miriam didn’t save him when he was a baby. God did! Moses did not call her to ministry. God did. She kept getting hurt by Moses because she wanted Moses to give her a place and recognition instead of waiting and trusting God to exalt her. While Moses was singing to the Lord, she was singing to the crowds trying to obtain the recognition only God can give. Miriam lacked something Moses possessed.

 Numbers 12:3

3 (Now the man Moses was very meek, above all the men which were upon the face of the earth.)

Speaking of the holy women of old Peter tells us,

 1 Peter 3:3-5 KJV

Whose adorning let it not be that outward adorning of plaiting the hair, and of wearing of gold, or of putting on of apparel; 4 But let it be the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price. 5 For after this manner in the old time the holy women also, who trusted in God, adorned themselves,…

Women who trust in God adorn themselves with meek and quiet spirits. Miriam was a holy woman from the old time who had stopped trusting God. She knew she was a prophet and called to lead just like her brother Moses, yet we find her leading a rebellion against not only her brother in the Lord but her own flesh and blood brother. She does not possess the meek and quiet spirit that “is in the sight of God of great price.”

Why didn’t she take her sorrow to God and trust him to vindicate her and exalt her in ministry. Why was she looking to Moses for righteousness when all man’s righteousness is as filthy rags compared to Gods? The whole idea of separate but equal is a filthy rag. If she believed her God was righteous, she never would have sought to exalt herself.

Have some mercy for Miriam. She walked in a difficult frustrating place. Miriam had grown weary of waiting for God to straighten out the hardhearted men who preach a gospel of love but have no love for her. Once she had Aaron’s support, she seized an opportunity to turn the hearts of the nation to follow her. In her quest for equality with the men who oppressed her, she made a fatal error. The hurt in her heart blinded her eyes to the truth, God had changed Moses heart but God could not exalt her because she would not let the Lord heal her wounded heart so she could forgive Moses. All her plan did was anger the only one who cared about her when she stopped trusting God to make the injustices committed in his house right.

When the Lord heard what Miriam and Aaron were saying,

 Numbers 12:4-5

… the Lord spake suddenly unto Moses, and unto Aaron and unto Miriam, Come out ye three unto the tabernacle of the congregation. And they three came out.  And the Lord came down in the pillar of the cloud, and stood in the door of the tabernacle, and called Aaron and Miriam and they both came forth.

It is not clear whether they knew why they were being called to the tabernacle. Neither do we know if Moses knew until after the fact what Miriam and Aaron were saying about him because God called this meeting on his own initiative. If Miriam was thinking God finally realized her potential and was going to remove Moses, she was in for a shock.

 Numbers 12:6-8

And he said, Hear now my words; If there be a prophet among you, I the Lord will make myself known unto him in a vision, and will speak unto him in a dream. My servant Moses is not so, who is faithful in all mine house. With him will I speak mouth to mouth, even apparently and not in dark speeches; and the similitude of the Lord shall he behold; wherefore then were you not afraid to speak against my servant Moses?

“My servant,” Miriam not your servant. Moses had been faithful to God but she had not. No matter how much the people abused Moses and made his life a misery, he never accepted God’s offer to kill them all and start over. Why was Miriam trying to get rid of Moses? Yes! He would have left her behind. Yes, he never thought about her or included her in leadership meetings. But once they were in the desert he never took advantage of an opportunity to get rid of her.

Moses was more than a prophet. Moses was faithful to the people God sent him to lead. His faithfulness was not the kind of faithfulness some teach today, like faithfulness to church attendance, tithing and praying. Those are good things, yet there are people who teach such things that would throw you away, even drive you away when you don’t measure up to their standards. They love the institution of the church and their careers in the church but not the people for whom God created the church.

Our brother’s and sister’s lack of love for one another can be a heavy burden, but if we really acted like Christ, we would never sit quietly by when God is angry enough to destroy them. We would not seize an opportunity to be rid of them. We would not start or join a conspiracy to drive them from their God given place. We would bear their burden as Christ has borne ours. We would be faithful to one another.

 1 Corinthians1:9-13 KJV

God is faithful, by whom ye were called unto the fellowship of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord. 10 Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment. 11 For it hath been declared unto me of you, my brethren, by them, which are of the house of Chloe, that there are contentions among you. 12 Now this I say, that every one of you saith, I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ. 13 Is Christ divided? was Paul crucified for you? or were ye baptized in the name of Paul?

Miriam’s quest to replace Moses created the same kind of division they had at the spiritually immature Corinthian church. You can be sure that some were for Moses, some for Aaron, some for Miriam and some for the Lord. God was not about to tolerant the division over foreigners because inclusion is the heart of the gospel. Jesus died to do more than take away our sins. Jesus died that God might unite Jew and Gentile (foreigners) into one new man or one new nation. God is more than God of the Jews. God is God of all and faithful to all.

When God chose to deal with one family because humanity in general rejected him he never ever intended to leave anybody out. That was the mystery that is no longer a mystery because the mystery has been revealed. Paul wrote,

 Ephesians 3:3-6 KJV

3          … by revelation he made known unto me the mystery; (as I wrote afore in few words, 4 Whereby, when ye read, ye may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ) 5           Which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit; 6            That the Gentiles (the foreigners) should be fellow heirs, and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel:

Miriam’s words drew God’s attention because if Miriam had succeeded she would have destroyed the truth of the gospel. The truth that everyone can be an heir and partake in the promises God made to Jesus through the covenant God swore with an oath to fulfill when Abraham believed God can raise the dead.

How many of us are guilty of speaking against Jesus for the foreigners he allows in his church. Prejudice is fueled by pride and runs deeper than the color of our skin. The root of prejudice is the belief that our group is superior to others in some way. It can be unchangeable things like our sex or color of skin. It can be changeable things like the way we dress, talk, or even worship. The attitude that you must be like me to be pure, holy and acceptable to God is the uncleanness that defiles making us unacceptable to God.

 Numbers 12:9-10

And the anger of the Lord was kindled against them; and he departed. And the cloud departed from off the tabernacle; and, behold, Miriam became leprous, white as snow; and Aaron looked upon Miriam, and, behold, she was leprous.

It was not the foreigners that were unclean in God’s sight. It was Miriam. The one who sought to exalt herself that she might exclude Moses and the foreigners! As a leper Miriam would be required to put a covering over her upper lip and cry unclean, unclean.[9] Miriam used her mouth to say unclean things and now she will leave the presence of God declaring to all the camp that she is unclean. Not only must she declare she is unclean to anyone who dares come near she must dwell alone outside the camp. No longer can she use her prophetic gift and be a leader in Israel. Your mouth can get you in an awful lot of trouble.

It was her brother’s arrogance in Egypt that watered the seed for this disaster in Miriam’s life and it was her brother’s humility that saved her.

 Numbers 12:11-13

And Aaron said unto Moses, Alas, my lord, I beseech thee, lay not the sin upon us, wherein we have done foolishly, and wherein we have sinned.

Moses acknowledged that he was part of Miriam’s problem. We sinned. Let her not be as one dead, of whom the flesh is half consumed. Moses cried unto the Lord, saying, Heal her now, O God, I beseech thee.

If Moses had wanted her out of the way like she wanted him out of the way this was a good time to keep his mouth shut. Why didn’t he? Moses had his flaws but he was faithful. Moses fought for Miriam to keep her place in the church but what Miriam did was so foul in God’s eyes even faithful Moses intercession could not completely calm the anger of God toward her.

 Number 12:14-15

And the Lord said unto Moses, If her father had but spit in her face, should she not be ashamed seven days? Let her be shut out from the camp seven days, and after that let her be received in again. And Miriam was shut out from the camp seven days: and the people journeyed not till Miriam was brought in again.

Miriam really rubbed God the wrong way. But why deal so severely with Miriam and not Aaron. They were both speaking against Moses.


It is true that they both spoke against Moses but only the woman had God fighting for her place in his church. When Pharaoh gave permission for the men to go worship God in the desert God refused to let the church go forward. God fought for Miriam’s place in the church and this is how she repaid him. She tried to take over and leave Moses behind. She gave her heavenly father cause to spit in her face because she forgot what he did for her in the past and stopped trusting him to make the future better. She will not be a leper because the brother that wounded her prayed for her but she will bear her shame. Leave her outside the camp for seven days God said. Once again, all Israel’s journey was delayed because their sister was not in her place. The first time it was an honor. This time it was a shame.

[1] Hebrews 11:23, Acts 7:20, NIV

[2] Works of Josephus Vol. II Book II Chapter IX page 153

[3] Works of Jospehus Vol. II Book II Chapter XI page 159-160

[4] See Deliverance, Educating Pharaoh

[5] Compare Exodus 15:1 and Exodus 15:21

[6] Exodus 18:25 KJV

[7] Numbers 11;16

[8] Numbers 11:4

[9] Leviticus 13:45-46 KJV

About Teena Myers

Teena Myers is the Chairman of Southern Christian Writers, a freelance writer and author of three books.
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