Miriam, from a painting by Tissot
Sibling rivalry isn’t a new phenomenon. Miriam is the well-known sister of Moses, who guarded his baby basket, set afloat on the Nile. She managed to have their own mother appointed as his nurse, after he was taken into Pharoah’s house. Even at a young age, she could make important decisions, quickly and act on them.
And yet, when Moses grew to manhood, and was God’s chosen leader for the Hebrews, Miriam, along with their brother Aaron, was not so pleased. In essence, they complained that Moses was getting all the attention, adding in a catty fashion, “After all, he didn’t marry anyone special... just a Cushite.” They demanded their right to be heard, stating that God had spoken through them, too.
God actually called the three of them out of the camp, to the cloud in which he appeared during the Exodus. He rebuked Miriam, explaining that Moses was more special than any prophet, and that they should have recognized that. Then God afflicted Miriam with a deadly skin disease. Moses was shocked, and begged for her to be healed. God listened to the plea, and did so. Her much-reduced punishment was banishment from the camp for seven days. After this, Miriam was again a staunch supporter of her younger brother.
Miriam is one of the first strong women leaders mentioned in the Bible. She is called a prophetess, and she led the women in dancing and singing praises after the crossing of the Red Sea. The death and burial of few women are recorded, yet when Miriam died at Kadesh-Barnea (still in the Sinai Peninsula) we are given that information.
Later, the prophet Micah also recalls her leadership, naming her with Aaron and Moses as the leaders of God’s people in the wilderness.
Sometimes, leadership roles don’t place us “in front of the microphone.” Many of the support people who surround a primary leader have to be leaders in their own right. In one sense, their task is more delicate; they must know when to follow and when to lead others along a path chosen by someone else.
It’s quite easy to slip into feelings of jealousy, or even self-pity, when we are called upon to follow behind a star. But if that happens, remember Miriam. God will “call us out,” and remind us of who is in charge (God). If we can learn the lesson, our reward will come at the appointed time.