While they were at Hazeroth, Miriam and Aaron criticized Moses because he had married a Cushite woman. They said, “Has the Lord spoken only through Moses? Hasn’t he spoken through us, too?” But the Lord heard them. [Numbers 12:1-2 (NLT)]
Thomas isn’t the only Bible personality who gets a bad rap. Consider Miriam, the resentful sister who, along with Aaron, attacked Moses for marrying a Cushite woman. The implication in their complaint is that it was a recent union; perhaps Moses’ wife Zipporah was dead. The Cushite woman may have been one of the many non-Israelites who joined the Hebrews in their exodus from Egypt. That she wasn’t an Israelite shouldn’t have been an issue to them since Zipporah had been from Midian. The land of Cush, however, was used to describe Black Africa and the siblings may have been disparaging the woman’s dark complexion. Moses’ new wife, however, wasn’t the real issue. Miriam and Aaron simply were jealous of their brother and, since they couldn’t find fault with his leadership, they spitefully chose to criticize his choice of wife.
Appointed by God as Moses’ spokesman, Aaron served as high priest and Miriam was God’s prophet. Although they assisted their brother, Moses was the indisputable leader. God spoke with him face-to-face and, as God’s spokesperson, he became Israel’s law-giver. Unsatisfied with their roles, however, the siblings wanted equal authority with their brother. When God heard their hostile words, He upheld Moses’ position as His chosen leader. As the instigator of the complaint and mini-rebellion, Miriam received the brunt of the punishment and was given a skin condition and required to stay outside the camp for seven days! (A Biblical form of “time out.”)
Whenever Miriam is mentioned, I first think of the jealous, spiteful, complaining, and possibly racist sister of Aaron and Moses. Miriam, however, also was the caring and concerned big sister who kept an eye on her baby brother as he lay in a basket floating on the edge of the Nile. It was she who approached Pharaoh’s daughter and innocently offered to find a Hebrew nurse for the hungry infant. It was her quick thinking that reunited the boy with his birth mother. She probably continued to be Moses’ link between Pharaoh’s palace and his Jewish family for several years. It was the prophetess Miriam who led the women in song and dance as they proclaimed God’s victory over Pharaoh right after the Israelites safely passed through the Red Sea. Loving sister, poetess, and prophet, and yet I remember her as an envious disgruntled woman.
Fortunately, we don’t define most of the Bible’s characters by their failures and shortcomings. Even though Aaron shared in Miriam’s complaint, we remember him as Moses’ right-hand man. We remember David as the giant killer rather than a murderer and adulterer, Rahab as the woman who saved Israel’s spies rather than a pagan prostitute, John Mark as the author of a gospel rather than the man who deserted Paul, and Solomon as a wise king rather than the man who disobeyed God by amassing horses, foreign wives, and a huge amount of wealth.
Church tradition holds that Thomas carried the gospel message to Parthia or India where he was martyred, so he didn’t define himself by his doubt. As the one who spoke powerfully on Pentecost, healed the lame, and preached before the Sanhedrin, the Apostle Peter didn’t define himself by his failures and I’d like to think that, when Miriam returned to camp, she didn’t define herself by hers either. I know God didn’t because, when He spoke to the people through the prophet Micah, He joined Miriam’s name with those of Aaron and Moses and said, “For I brought you out of Egypt and redeemed you from slavery. I sent Moses, Aaron, and Miriam to help you.” [6:4]
From their accomplishments, it seems that, rather than defining themselves by their failures, they learned from them. What about us? How do we define ourselves? None of us are perfect and we probably have a long list of failures, missteps, and transgressions. God has forgiven us; have we forgiven ourselves? Each day, God gives us a clean slate—let us erase the past and confidently move forward to be better person today than we were yesterday and a better person tomorrow that we are today!
You must learn, you must let God teach you, that the only way to get rid of your past is to make a future out of it. God will waste nothing. [Phillips Brooks]