Wisconsin Lutheran Chapel logo

God’s Word for You

Numbers 20:1 Miriam

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Monday, October 18, 2021

The Death of Miriam

20 The people of Israel, the entire community, came to the Wilderness of Zin in the first month, and the people stayed at Kadesh. Miriam died there and was buried there.

Centuries later, when the Lord spoke of her, he spoke of her as a prophetess: “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” (Micah 6:4). Her name was revered in Israel from this time forward, and the women we encounter in the New Testament who are called Mary, including the Lord’s mother, were named after her.

When she was a girl of ten or twelve, she had followed the ark made of reeds along the shallows of the Nile to watch her baby brother drawn from the river by the daughter of Pharaoh. That was a hundred and twenty years ago, and she was feeling the years today.

When she was fifty or so, that same baby brother killed an Egyptian and fled for his life, and she and Aaron carried on their life of slavery under a Pharaoh who didn’t even know about Joseph who had once been the second most powerful man in the land, and perhaps in the world at that time (Exodus 1:8).

When she was ninety, her brother Moses appeared once again out of the desert, and he went before a new Pharaoh to deliver the word of God: “Let my people go.” Months of plagues and miraculous signs went by, and then there was a single terrible night. While she and her brothers ate a quick meal with blood painted on the doorposts, screams and cries of grief and fear came howling from the Egyptians. After that awful plague on the firstborn, the Pharaoh had sent them away, and they hurried off. She remembered the Egyptian women bringing gold and silks and baskets of fruit and dates to her as they left, panicked offerings out of fear of the Lord God who protected these Hebrews.

She remembered the hurried dash through the towering walls of water when God held back the Red Sea for them. The pillar of cloud kept the Egyptian soldiers from catching up with them, but after a whole day of traveling, when the last Israelites were through, the cloud of God’s glory let the soldiers in, and the walls of water collapsed on the Egyptians. Miriam had taken a tambourine and led the women of Israel in a song and dance:

    “Sing to the LORD,
    For he is highly exalted.
    The horse and its rider
    he has hurled into the sea.”

Moses her brother had included her song in his record of those early days, the book we now call Exodus (Exodus 15:21).

It doesn’t seem to us that she ever married. Perhaps this was because, having been an unmarried slave in Egypt, her age at the time of the Exodus (about 90) was prohibitive to her potential as a new bride. When she and Aaron rebelled against Moses over the issue of his second wife (Numbers 12:1-16) Miriam was struck with leprosy, and she was healed only when Aaron interceded for her (Numbers 12:11-12).

Now her years had advanced to more than a hundred and thirty. She was close to the age that Amram her father reached (137, Exodus 6:20),  which was the same age that their ancestor Levi had reached (Exodus 6:16). Miriam’s years were now at an end. Like the other adults who escaped from Egypt, there was no escape from God’s judgment. They were condemned not to enter into the Promised Land. Yet Miriam also knew her Lord and Savior. She knew that there is forgiveness for sins even when there are earthly consequences. The Israelites had by now ended thirty-nine years of wandering, and toward the beginning of the final year they arrived once again in Kadesh (Numbers 33:36). We’ve been told almost nothing at all about 38 of those forty years. We know from Numbers 33:3-49 that there were many stages in their journey, but by this time they had returned to the high valley of Kadesh. Once there had been a wonderful gushing stream there, but at this time it was dry. Yet Miriam’s spirit was not dry. She died in faith, trusting in the Savior Moses had promised and even prefigured for the people. The wonderful tabernacle that God provided for Israel showed that atonement was possible for God’s people: atonement for sins through the shedding of blood (Hebrews 9:22). Our sins are atoned for through the blood of Christ. All of the sacrifices of the Old Testament pointed ahead to Christ and depended on his ultimate sacrifice. He completed all of those sacrifices and brought them all to an end. We are saved because we trust in him, which is the same promise that saved Abraham and all the Children of Israel.

After Miriam died and her body was buried in the sand south of Canaan, her brothers surely said a prayer. It may have been similar to the prayer that millions have heard over the centuries: “May the Lord in his love and mercy help you with the grace of the Holy Spirit. May the Lord who frees you from all sin save you and raise you up.” We can still pray as her brothers surely prayed and as anyone might pray nightly for a loved one:

“Lord God, bless her body, now returned to the earth, bless her spirit now ascended to you in heaven, and bless her beloved memory. Do not let me or anyone say anything to diminish her name or reputation as your dear daughter. In the name of Jesus our Savior. Amen.”

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim Smith

About Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please contact Pastor Smith.


Browse Devotion Archive