Recently, I have been drawn to the story of Miriam. Her name comes from the word Myrrh.
Myrrh was the main ingredient of the anointing oil that Moses sprinkled on the tabernacle, which made it not only visually but also olfactory prominent in Israel’s camp. (Exodus 30:23).
And though it referred to the fragrant spice used in the tabernacle, it was also considered bitter.
Because of Myrrh’s connection to bitterness, some believe Miriam’s name originally meant “sea of bitterness” or “sea of sorrow” or “rebellion.” Her mother may have given Miriam this name because of their hard life in Egypt.
Miriam was a leader among the Hebrew women. She was a prophet and gifted musically. She used her leadership role to direct the women to praise the Lord often through the dance. She was a godly influence in their lives. Miriam was one of God’s special gifts to the people of Israel.
As was typical of the day, these dances were often spontaneous. The women would follow Miriam in the dance copying her movements and singing the words that came out of her mouth for that occasion.
As Israel struggled during their captivity in Egypt, I am sure Miriam led the women in dances through grief and mourning because of the suffering and unfair treatment of her people.
However, when Israel arrived at the Red Sea, Miriam witnessed a great miracle as they watched their deliverance from the hardness and cruelty of their taskmasters, as a wall of water swallowed up the Egyptian army.
In that moment Miriam experienced something rising up within her that could not be contained. In a moment, her anger and bitterness turned into great joy producing an exultant behavior above and beyond anything she had experienced before.
God’s presence consumed her like a fire and filled her with an insurmountable joy that could not be contained. I can see Miriam, stepping out and gathering the women throughout the camp as she began to sing and dance.
“0 And Miriam the prophetess, the sister of Aaron, took a timbrel in her hand; and all the women went out after her with timbrels and with dances.21 And Miriam answered them, Sing ye to the Lord, for he hath triumphed gloriously; the horse and his rider hath he thrown into the sea. (Exodus 15:20-21 KJV)
Miriam had exchanged the bitterness of captivity with the joy of freedom and deliverance.
The Psalmist writes about this transformation:
“You have turned my mourning into dancing for me; You have taken off my my sackcloth and clothed me with joy. That my soul may sing praise to You and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give thanks to You forever.” (Psalm 30: 11-12 AMP)
Bitterness and anger are always lurking in the background and they can be triggered by envy and resentment. If we allow it to fester, it can send us back to a life of captivity and bitterness and that is what happened to Miriam.
12 Miriam and Aaron began to talk against Moses because of his Cushite wife, for he had married a Cushite. 2 “Has the Lord spoken only through Moses?” they asked. “Hasn’t he also spoken through us?” And the Lord heard this. (Numbers 12:1-2 NIV)
God chose Moses to lead Israel out of Egypt and Miriam became envious of his position and she questioned Moses’ leadership. Though Aaron joined Miriam in this mini rebellion, it is clear she was the leader.
Miriam wanted more power and authority and she tried to reduce Moses’ position in the camp by criticizing his Cushite wife.
A prophet in her own right, Miriam then questioned if Moses was the only person God could speak through.
Triggered by envy and jealousy, Miriam was returning in her heart to the Egyptians captivity. But after God judged Miriam with leprosy (Numbers 12:10), she repented and God healed her (Numbers 12:11-14).
Things can change so quickly for us if we allow resentment and envy to rise in our hearts.
In the past I have allowed anger into my life as I experienced Miriam’s envy and watched God use others. I have murmured and complained. At times, I have even thought in my own heart that God speaks to me as well.
As women, we are particularly vulnerable to envy and jealousy because we often compare ourselves to other women. We must be watchful for envy and jealousy rising in our hearts, because it can destroy our joy and return us to a captivity of anger and bitterness.
I will build you up again,
and you, Virgin Israel, will be rebuilt.
Again you will take up your timbrels
and go out to dance with the joyful. (Jeremiah 31:4 NIV)