Miriam and Moses

Article by

Founder & Teacher, desiringGod.org

"My God, Moses, the girl is black!"
The end of Miriam's attack
Made Moses wince and set his jaw
Like stone to guard his tongue with law,
And hold his peace, if somehow love
Might be reborn. There was more dove
In Moses than the hawk. Her words,
Like wolves upon the hapless herds
Of Midian, had almost ripped
The meekness from his heart and stripped
Him of the deep respect he'd known
For Miriam. Almost a stone
Now, Moses watched his sister's face,
And feared, lest pedigree and race
Had eaten, like a leprosy
Of pride, the root of sympathy,
And killed the power to confess,
And serve as Israel's prophetess.

Two years Zipporah had been dead.
And though she was not born or bred
A Hebrew lass, she looked like one.
Perhaps too swarthy in the sun
Some said. But few denied that she
Was strong and helped her husband be
The greatest man in Israel.
None doubted Moses loved her well.
Now she was gone, and in her place
The great man Moses turned his face
To love a Cushite slave. He shocked
All Israel. And while some mocked,
He married her and made her free,
And said, "She will be wife to me.
Zipporah came from Midian,
The Cushite from the Land of Sun.
God made them love himself, then me;
There is here no idolatry."

But Miriam seemed singed with hell:
"Are there no maids in Israel!
And is our own tribe so unfit
That you should turn your face and spit
On all the widows in the land
And offer up your noble hand
To foreigners? Has not the clan
Of Levi any wives a man
Like you could love or tolerate?
Or, Moses, do you really hate
Your own, to raid a Cushite shack?
My God, Moses, the girl is black!"

The thought flashed over Moses' mind:
This is not Miriam, the kind,
And gentle prophetess. Oh, she
Was strong, but animosity
Was not the way her strength would show.

And then she gave another blow,
And stunned her brother once again:
"Do you think you're the only man
Who hears the Lord in Israel?
When God has plans does he not tell
To me as well, and Aaron too,
What he designs and plans to do?"

The knuckles of his hand turned white
Around his rod, and all the might
Of Moses' meekness ruled his heart,
Until the silence broke apart
With heaven's voice: "Come out you three
Before the tent. Confer with me,
And we will have a reckoning."
And as they came before the King,
The Lord descended in a cloud,
And stood with glory for a shroud,
And said to Miriam, "Stand forth
With Aaron now and hear the worth
Of murmuring against the friend
Of God. There is a sudden end
For pride in priest and prophet both.
Beware, for I am God, and loath
To let my friend be vilified
For long. Do you not know I hide
My plans from prophets in a dream:
They are not always what they seem.
Not so with Moses, Miriam,
All of the words I speak to him
Are mouth to mouth and clear as day,
And he knows everything I say.
Why were you not afraid to mock
The faithful shepherd of my flock?"

And suddenly the cloud was gone,
And Aaron looked, and saw upon
The skin of Miriam, as white
As melting snow, the dreaded sight
Of leprosy. And Aaron turned,
"Have mercy Moses, we have learned
Our lesson well. Let her not be
Among the living dead. For we
Are old, and do not always say
What we approve. Now, brother, pray
For her."

Before the words were out
Of Aaron's mouth there was no doubt
What Moses meant to do. He knelt
Beside the rotting flesh and felt
A wave of pity break behind
His eyes and flood his face with tears,
And heave his chest for all the years
That he had known his sister's joy,
Since he was just a little boy.
She pressed her forehead into him,
And heard him say, "I love you Mim.
It's only right, you know, that I
Should hold you near me now and try
To save your life the way you saved
Me more than once, because you braved
The river glades and made the ark
To carry me with pitch and bark
Above the flood of Pharaoh's wrath.
And many times along the path
For eighty years now you have raised
Me up with songs, and I have praised
The Lord for your prophetic gift.
Forbid that there should be a rift
Between us in the evening of
Our lives; I feel the same deep love
For you today I felt beside the sea
When you sang out the victory
Of God, and led the massive choir:
Ten thousand women full of fire!
Oh, Miriam! Has not our God
Been good to us! You see this rod?
It's been a snake, and eaten three!
It's beckoned frogs and split the sea.
Now, Miriam, I'm going to pray."

"There's something first I'd like to say,
I'm sorry, Moses. What I said
About your wife was wrong. Your bed
Is pure. Of all the women I
Have taught in Israel, they fly
Beneath the heights of faith and love
Where she's at home just like a dove
On wind. And it is no surprise
That you should choose not Hebrew eyes
Or Hebrew skin, but one who loves
Your God and soars on wind with doves.
It was an ugly thing to say,
Perhaps the leprosy should stay."

"I think not, Miriam! Let's pray:
O God, I simply ask today
That you would heal my sister's life;
Remove the remnants of our strife.
Create a bond between my wife
And Miriam, and let no knife
From earth or hell divide with pride,
Or shame."

And so the Lord replied,
"I give you what your love has seen:
In seven days she will be clean."

Today let fire from candle three
Consume all family enmity.
Let all repent and all forgive.
Let Miriam and Moses live.
And as we sing the birth of Christ,
Think well why He was sacrificed.