The Good Eye – Miriam and the Princess

The Good Eye – Miriam and the Princess

The Good Eye – Miriam and the Princess.

I am profoundly moved by that encounter on the banks of the Nile between an Egyptian princess and a young Israelite slave-child – The contrast between them – in terms of age, culture, status and power – could not be greater. Yet their deep humanity bridges all the differences, all the distance. Two heroines. May they inspire us.” (Rabbi Sacks, from his commentary on Exodus).

There were two brave girls, not yet women, who were responsible for the eventual liberation and redemption of the people of Israel. One wonders what would have happened if Moses, the man of God’s choosing, had not been rescued as a baby by the “good eyes” of his sister Miriam and the Egyptian princess from the Pharaoh’s household. Both girls defied the Pharaoh’s orders at the risk of their lives as they saved baby Moses from certain death at a time when all Hebrew baby boys were being executed at birth by the orders of Pharaoh.

The princess, while bathing in the Nile River, observed a floating basket, looked inside the basket, and saw a beautiful baby Hebrew boy. The baby was crying, and the princess “had compassion on him” (Ex. 2:6). The princess knew about her father’s strict orders to kill baby boys coming from Hebrew households, but she bravely defied those orders, arranged with Miriam for a time of nursing, and raised Moses as her son in the palace. The princess had a generous heart as she looked at the baby in the basket, and she became determined to rescue that baby and adopt him as her son.

We would never have had a Moses were it not for the heroics of Miriam and the princess. They joined a small group of women that enabled Moses to survive the dangers of his birth. In a breath-taking act of civil disobedience, the two Hebrew midwives defied the king’s order, “The midwives feared God, and did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but saved the male children alive.” (Ex. 1:17). According to historian and religious writer Rabbi Jonathon Sacks, this was the first recorded incident of civil disobedience in biblical history, and deserves special mention. One rabbinic tradition maintains that those two midwives, Shifrah and Pual, were actually Yocheved, Moses’ mother, and Miriam, Moses’ sister. Many historians have had their doubts about this, but we won’t know for sure till we get to ask them in the New Jerusalem. At any rate, Moses’ mother and sister were in a plot to defy the King’s orders in order to protect the life of Moses. There was Yocheved, a Hebrew slave who had the courage to deliver and keep a baby boy. And there was Miriam, a young child, who plotted to defy the king to protect her brother. When Moses was three months old, he was placed in a floating basket to escape the Pharaoh’s edict, trusting in God’s will to protect Moses. It was Miriam who kept track of where the basket traveled, and it was her who shrewdly developed a plan to save Moses. Rather audaciously, she proposed to the King’s princess, who found Moses in the water, that Miriam take the baby to a nursing mother who would care for the child until the princess could care for him. When the boy Moses was weaned, Miriam agreed to return Moses to the princess to be raised by her in the palace. The compassionate princess was persuaded to go with Miriam’s plan, so Moses’ sister merely took him back to his original mother to be nursed. Miriam showed inspired ingenuity, not to mention great courage, to succeed in delivering her brother from certain death. By doing this, Miriam ensured that Moses in his younger days would grow up being aware of his family, his heritage, his Hebrew identity.

We don’t know much more about the wonderful princess of Egypt, but there is no doubt that Miriam is one of the greatest women in Biblical history. She was used mightily by the Lord in a prophetic ministry that lasted her lifetime, starting at a very young age. Her life was a gospel story because she demonstrated so many Christ-like character qualities. Miriam reflected the gospel virtues, including:

(1) Shrewdness. Miriam displayed an amazing amount of responsibility and ingenuity for a young girl when it came to caring for and protecting her special brother Moses. Her instinct to cleverly plot a scheme to care for Moses was savvy, and street-smart. She was truly “clever as a snake and innocent as a dove” (Matt. 10:16). She no doubt nurtured Moses as he grew up before being returned to the princess. And she helped to guide his development in his early years. In some ways, Moses’ character reflected Miriam’s character.

(2) Inspiration. Miriam prophesied to her parents that they were to give birth to a special boy to be used by God for something important (according to rabbinic sources), and she was surely guided by the Spirit to put together such a clever scheme to care for her baby brother Moses. Perhaps her greatest moment of inspiration came at the Red Sea, contributing her part in the great Song of Moses, leading all the women in rejoicing before the Lord and praising His miracle of freedom and deliverance. She undoubtedly continued in her role as choir director throughout the wilderness journey, strengthening the wandering Israelites through her musical gifts. Miriam was indeed a prophetess, God’s spokesperson to the people.

(3) Leadership. Miriam was never shy about taking charge when the situation called for it. She led the way in devising the ways to protect and guide baby brother. She wasn’t afraid to take a step away from the crowd to lead her people in praise and worship. She also helped her brother Moses carry the burden of leadership by being by his side during the wilderness journey. Her important role was even highlighted by the prophet Micah as he includes Miriam in the leadership team tapped by Yahweh to bring the Israelites “up from the land of Egypt, redeemed by God from the house of bondage, and I sent before you Moses, Aaron and Miriam.” (Micah 6:4). She was unafraid in her ability to take on leadership when it counted, and she had a good eye along the way.