Chapter 2: Godly Women in Exodus
by Walter A. Boyd, N. Ireland
There are not many women mentioned in the book of Exodus, and of those that are mentioned not all are identified by name. In some cases there is not enough information given to substantiate the description of being godly. In this chapter we will examine the godliness of life seen in Moses’ mother and Moses’ sister, both chapter 2; the Hebrew midwives, chapter 1; diligent women who spun material for the tabernacle, chapter 35.
It is interesting to note that some of those who are obviously godly are also anonymous when first mentioned. For instance, Moses’ mother is introduced as "a daughter of Levi" 2.1; "the child’s mother" 2.8. Moses’ father and mother are unnamed when they first appear on the page of Scripture but are later named as "Amram" (father) and "Jochebed" (mother) in 6.20. As a very practical observation, we should take encouragement from the fact that anonymous but faithful people were used of God to accomplish His purpose in very difficult days. Not many believers achieve widespread fame; indeed, few are noticed outside their own small circle of acquaintances. That does not diminish their worth in the eyes of God, nor does it lessen their usefulness to God if they are prepared to live a godly life. To be well known is not a prerequisite to working for God.
The nation of Israel had an inauspicious beginning in the great story of redemption in Exodus: "Seventy souls ... in Egypt" 1.5. Yet, in spite of that small commencement, they have an illustrious exodus from Egypt when the Lord brought "the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt by their armies [hosts]" 12.51. The children of Israel, who were so few in number in v.1, grew to become "fruitful, and increased abundantly, and multiplied, and waxed exceeding mighty; and the land was filled with them" 1.7. The descendants of thirteen men grew to such an extent that Pharaoh sensed the threat of their greater numbers and devised a plan to prevent any further growth. He said, "let us deal wisely [shrewdly] with them, lest they multiply, and it come to pass, that, when there falleth out any war, they join also unto our enemies, and fight against us, and so get them up out of the land" 1.10.
The edict of Pharaoh most likely struck fear into the hearts of the people of Israel. But the leader of the greatest civilisation of that time didn’t appreciate that by it he had set himself on a course against the will of God. The people of Israel had nothing to fear; God was going to preserve and deliver them from Pharaoh’s violent plans and evil grasp. You may find yourself in a situation where someone has evil intentions to cause you harm, perhaps in work or in the community. When God’s eye is upon you, you have nothing to fear. As it was with Israel in Egypt, there may even come a time when the opposition and danger reach such a pitch, it seems that all hope is lost. Remember, while you live in the will of God, no-one can ever do you any long-term harm. God is in control and will bring to nothing the plans of those who oppose Him.
If Israel had nothing to fear, Pharaoh had everything to fear; for any man who picks a fight with God will never win! Pharaoh was mistaken on a number of counts. He thought that Israel would be able to leave Egypt by force of numbers; "lest they multiply ... and so get them up out of the land" 1.10. They certainly were going to "get up out of the land"; not because they were strong in numbers but because God was with them. Pharaoh assumed that Israel would get themselves out of Egypt by means of war; "and it come to pass, that, when there falleth out any war ... they fight against us, and so get them up out of the land" 1.10. There definitely was going to be a fight involved in delivering Israel; not Israel fighting against Pharaoh but Pharaoh fighting against Israel’s God. Pharaoh’s plan was to weaken the children of Israel by persecution. He got it all wrong! The more he persecuted them the stronger they grew, 1.12. How frustrating for any man who tries to thwart the purpose of God or leaves God out of his reckoning. Everything Pharaoh thought should have happened; did not happen, and things that he never thought of took place and he could do nothing to stop them. This is typical of how God works in our lives. There will be times when we face opposition and danger, and we feel that the outcome must be against us. When your mind calculates the outcome and your heart trembles, it is time to "Fear ... not, stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord, which He will shew to you" 14.13.
The plan and purpose of God for His people, which had been revealed hundreds of years earlier to Abraham, Gen.15.13,14, is now beginning to come into effect. To bring that plan to fruition God is going to reveal His presence and demonstrate His power. It is always the same, God’s plan requires God’s presence and power. There is no point in us feeling we can bring about God’s purpose on our own, we must depend upon Him.
Who did God use initially in the display of His power in Egypt? He will raise up a great leader called Moses, but not just yet. The mighty wheels of God’s great plans for the nation are first turned by two godly women. It is as a result of the devotion of those two women that the baby destined to be the world’s greatest leader is born safely; Moses, the servant of God, Josh.1.2. Their refusal to bow to the edict of an evil ruler had consequences far beyond what they could ever have foreseen. Likewise, almost sixteen hundred years later, the mighty wheels of God’s further plans for the nation are turned, and again He uses a godly, devoted woman called Mary. Two godly midwives in the Old Testament are used by God to bring forth a great leader in the plan of national redemption. One godly, young virgin in the New Testament is used to "bring forth her firstborn Son" Lk.2.7, Who will eventually be the greatest of all leaders of the nation, and will be the Redeemer of all who believe in Him. Let us examine some of the features of these midwives and learn from their godliness.
Their Names – v.15
"The name of the one was Shiphrah [beauty, brightness] and the name of the other was Puah [splendid, light]" 1.15. God is careful to place on eternal record the names of these two women who feared Him. How much better it is to fear God, live for His glory and gain His approval with eternal reward, than to please men and lose eternal reward from God.
The biggest character in Egypt at that time was the man upon the throne. We’re not given his name; in fact, historians find it difficult to accurately identify which Pharaoh ruled in Egypt at the time of the exodus. However, God, Who pays no notice to the ‘big’ names of earth, is careful to place on record the names of two humble, God-fearing midwife slaves. God notices the big faith of two small women!
Their names are indicative of their character and devotion; both qualities shine forth in their actions. The character and quality of these two godly midwives are later seen in the lives of some of those whose birth they attended. As well as Moses, they likely attended at the birth of Aaron, his older brother. The influence of these godly women was later seen in the service that Aaron rendered for God as he served in garments "for glory and for beauty", 28.2. Aaron would eventually wear the garments of the high priest, which were "garments for glory" (Puah means ‘splendid’) "and for beauty" (Shiphrah means ‘beauty’) 28.2. It was well worthwhile for them to live for God in devotion and obedience. Many a servant of God carries into his life and service the influence of godly, devoted sisters who attended at his spiritual birth or had an influence upon him as a child, see 2Tim.1.5. God was glorified and the nation was helped through two godly women; what a privilege they had and what a change they made! Their circumstances gave them the opportunity to live for God and make an impression on the lives of others. They didn’t complain about their hardship but they did what they could with what they had. What a lesson for us who live in much easier circumstances.
Shiphrah – Beauty, or Brightness
There is nothing as beautiful in our damaged world as a godly woman’s life. The quiet, consistent spirituality that Peter refers to as "the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price" 1Pet.3.4. How effective in our dull world is the bright testimony of a godly woman’s life; it has won many a disobedient husband’s heart, see 2Pet.3.1.
Puah – Splendid, or Light
Her life and devotion were certainly splendid – excellent in quality and worthy in an otherwise beggarly and poor world. Her devotion and obedience to God radiated a testimony to the light of heaven amidst the darkness of heathendom. She knew what it meant to "have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them" Eph 5.11. She had the courage to let her "light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven" Matt. 5:16. Had she not done so, what would the result have been for the nation?
Their Circumstances – vv.11-14
These two Hebrew midwives were working in a hostile environment. Pharaoh had implemented a two-fold plan for the destruction of the people of Israel: incarceration and extermination. Incarceration: he "made their lives bitter with hard bondage" 1.14. Extermination: in addition to that incarceration he attempted to slow down the birth rate by infanticide; by telling the midwives that "When ye do the office of a midwife to the Hebrew women ... if it be a son, then ye shall kill him, but if it be a daughter then she shall live" 1.16. But two godly women derailed that plan: "but the midwives feared God, and did not as the king of Egypt commanded them, but saved the men children alive" 1.17. How courageous they were to refuse the king!
When the king discovered that they were not obeying his instruction he called for them. If they needed courage to refuse to obey him, they needed even more to stand before him after their disobedience. They knew well what Peter and others would do centuries later, when they said, "We ought to obey God rather than men" Acts 5.29. We ought to live by the same principle: obedience to the state ought to be unwavering, except when the state’s demands are contrary to the Law of God. Already in the western world we are beginning to see Christians faced with the decision of obeying the state, in so-called equality legislation that is unequally biased in favour of sodomites, or obeying God’s Law that declares such a lifestyle to be sinful and wrong. May we be given the courage of these two humble women who stood face to face with a wicked, callous king that gave no thought to the murder of innocents. The lives of two adults was no more precious to him than the thousands of male babies he was determined to destroy, and thus they placed themselves in harm’s way to save the lives of newborn babies.
The midwives were given instructions to do what was patently wrong – murder children. We might never be faced with an instruction to murder; but what about the second aspect of their instruction to harm their fellow Israelites? They may well have thought of self-preservation, every man for himself, and said, "Let’s just quietly obey and say nothing. It’s not our responsibility, we have to do what we’re told." No doubt that approach would have enhanced their standing before Pharaoh and his officers, and gained them favour. That’s the way of the world, especially in the world of employment – stand on another person to lift yourself a little higher. A Christian should never think of doing another person harm so as to enhance his own prospects.
Why did Pharaoh order the death of the male children? Behind Pharaoh was the nefarious hand of Satan himself. At the fall of Adam, God said to the serpent, "I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; HE (Newberry margin) shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise His heel" Gen.3.15. From the very beginning, the serpent was aware that his downfall would be by the promised male seed, and thus at every opportunity Satan would launch an attack against males in a vain attempt to prevent that prophecy coming to pass.
Their Godliness – v.17
It is amazing that, after 400 years in Egypt in which there is no record of worship of the God of heaven, here are two women of whom it is said, "but the midwives feared God" 1.17. In fearing God they seemed to be out of step with even their own nation. This was the secret to their power when they stood before Pharaoh. It was not their stubborn, forceful and determined personalities; it was simply a reverent recognition of the God of heaven. They had a consuming zeal not to do anything that would offend God. Lesser beings would have feared a king who had such murderous plans, but not these two. The fear of God enabled them to overcome any human fear they might have had of Pharaoh.
Pharaoh epitomises what the Scriptures say about the sinner; "Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness: Their feet are swift to shed blood: Destruction and misery are in their ways: And the way of peace have they not known: There is no fear of God before their eyes" Rom 3.14-18. What a contrast in these two midwives: their feet were swift to save blood because of the fear of God.
The fear of God enables any Christian to live for God in whatever circumstances they are found. The godliness of these women was manifested by refusing to do what was wrong. Their greatest exploit was in what they didn’t do rather than in what they did do; they just carried on the daily routine of their work but refused to commit the sin that the king ordered. God is looking for men and women who will give him their whole heart; He is not looking for special human beings that stand head and shoulders above their peers in human attributes. God is seeking spiritual, sincerely humble servants who fear Him and reverence His Word. Some people live as if making an impression on others is all that matters. God sees through that hypocrisy and disdains it. He focuses on inward realities; those sterling qualities that are cultivated over time by walking with Him in a spiritually disciplined life. To such a person He promises the Divine prosperity and protection that was enjoyed by the two Hebrew midwives. "Oh how great is Thy goodness, which Thou hast laid up for them that fear Thee; which Thou hast wrought for them that trust Thee before the sons of men! Thou shalt hide them in the secret of Thy presence from the pride of man: Thou shalt keep them secretly in a pavilion from the strife of tongues" Ps.31.19,20.
Their Blessing – vv.20,21
These two midwives proved that it is worthwhile to fear God and live for Him. God granted them personal blessings: "Therefore God dealt well with the midwives" 1.20. He treated them favourably. What greater blessing could a person have or want than to know the favour of God? The same holds good for us today: if we want the favour of God we must fear Him. He says, "them that honour Me I will honour" 1Sam.2.30.
God granted extended blessings: "and the people multiplied, and waxed very mighty." As a result of two women fearing God and refusing to obey an evil king, the nation grew in size and in strength. Pharaoh’s original intention was to prevent them from multiplying, 1.10, but the very thing the king set out to prevent is what God accomplished through two humble slaves.
The Parents of the Child
Chapter 2 opens with what seems to be a rather ordinary, everyday event, the marriage of a man and woman. The man and woman are so ordinary that we are not even given their names. But what God does say about them is important: "a man of the house of Levi... a daughter of Levi" 2.1. At this stage of the story God highlights that they are of Levi. Here are two people of similar interests and with similar links to the God of heaven. Amram and Jochebed didn’t seek a partner for life in heathen Egypt. Had they done so, how would Moses have been reared? What would have dominated his upbringing: the knowledge of the God of Israel or the knowledge of the multiple gods of Egypt? Just as it was for them, so it is today; the foundation of a stable marriage and family begins with a man and a woman who love the same God and want to bring their family up in His fear. That statement of parentage causes a thoughtful reader to look back to the last time Levi was mentioned in the Scriptures, and then look forward to where it appears again.
The last time Levi’s name appeared was in the blessing of Jacob on his sons in Gen.49.5-7. There, linked with Simeon, Levi is associated with "instruments of cruelty" Gen.49.5; "they slew a man" Gen.49.6; "Cursed be their anger, for it was fierce; and their wrath, for it was cruel" Gen.49.7. How deep and mysterious are the ways of God. He now brings descendants of that same Levi to the fore, and we find them subjected to cruelty, slaughter, fierce anger and cruel wrath!
When we look forward to the house of Levi, we find that they only were permitted by God to serve in relation to the tabernacle of Israel. Moses will be born into that house and he will be the leader called of God to serve in a priestly capacity: Moses will represent God to the people and represent the people to God. Under the supervision of Moses the tabernacle will be built and the worship of God commenced in a formal way. In that tabernacle that Moses is given responsibility for, there will be servants and priests who will come from the tribe of Levi.
What lay between a dark, cruel past and a bright future in worship for the house of Levi? Redemption from bondage! So it is with us today. We had a dark, sinful past; but we have been redeemed by the blood of the Lamb and by the power of God. Redeemed to worship and serve in priestly capacity. Redemption by blood is absolutely essential before a sinner can ever serve or worship God. When the house of Levi stood on the safe side of the Red Sea rejoicing in redemption, they may have thought, "What a blessing - safety!" Yet God has greater and even more enjoyable things in store for them, those are worship and service. However dark our past before conversion, God expects worship and service after redemption.
The father and mother of Moses are later identified as Amram and Jochebed, Ex.6.20. In Heb.11.23 we are told that "Moses ... was hid ... by his parents". Faith is accredited to both parents but, when the details of the story are followed in Exodus, it seems that Moses’ mother took the lead and was the main contributor to the plan for his safety. Amram means ‘the people are exalted’ and Jochebed means ‘Jehovah is glorious’. If we consider carefully the meaning of their names it may explain why Jochebed took the lead in the plan to save the child and raise a son for God’s glory. Names in the Bible are very significant, and frequently the meaning of the name describes the character of the person. Perhaps the meaning of his name tells us that Amram could see no farther than the people; as far as he was concerned their exaltation was the important thing. But for Jochebed it was different; the bent of her life was to testify that Jehovah is glorious! If she lived long enough to be rescued from Egypt, her heart must have been bursting with delight when she joined her son Moses to sing the song of redemption on the banks of the Red Sea: "I will sing unto Jehovah for He hath triumphed gloriously" Ex.15.1. What she sang contained the meaning of her name: ‘Jehovah is glorious’. The principle of God holds true: "Them that honour Me I will honour" 1Sam.2.30.
The Arrival of The Child – vv.1,2
There is a gap between the events of verses 1 and 2 of Exodus chapter 1. Moses was not the first child to Amram and Jochebed; Aaron and Miriam were born before him. However, the record in chapter 2 is concentrating on the birth of Moses and thus his birth alone is mentioned at that stage.
The child, when born, was seen by his mother to be "a goodly child" [‘fair’, J.N.D.] 2.2. The idea is that he was good in quality in every respect. It is the same description that God used at creation: "And God saw every thing that He had made, and, behold, it was very good" Gen.1.31. Heb.11.23 describes him as "a proper child" [‘comely’, Newberry margin]. There is something special about a mother’s intuition. She recognised in her third child a special quality and took steps to ensure his preservation. That recognition not only emphasises the quality she saw in Moses but also the quality of faith that God saw in her; her spiritual perception was such that she saw something special in her child.
The Safety of the Child – vv.3,4
As a result of seeing that particular quality of goodness in her newborn son, she hid him for three months. When Pharaoh couldn’t get the Hebrew midwives to co-operate in his evil plan to kill male children at birth, he charged all the Egyptians with the responsibility to cast into the river every Hebrew son that is born, Ex.1.22. At three months Jochebed "could no longer hide him" Ex.2.3. Can you imagine the impossible task of trying to hide the presence of a 3 month-old baby in the home? The countryside was teeming with Egyptians, who as vigilantes would be eager to please their evil ruler by throwing any Hebrew baby boys they found into the Nile. The slightest cry of the baby Moses would alert them to his presence.
Jochebed then devised a very careful and well-thought-out plan for Moses’ safety. With great care and attention she built a little basket of wickerwork and waterproofed it with a tarry substance from the banks of the Nile. She placed her 3 month-old baby in it and carried it to the river’s bank. She didn’t just push it out into the river’s current and hope for the best. She placed it carefully among the reeds at the edge of the river. She had a definite plan: she was not depending upon ‘fate’ and waiting to see what would happen. This is a responsible, God-fearing woman who had it all thought out. She has done what she could for the child and is now handing him over to the protection of her sovereign God.
The river Nile was not like a swimming pool where you could step into it at any place; there were places where it was safe to bathe; places where there was easy access from the bank with a firm footing and safety from crocodiles and strong currents. These places were frequented by Egyptians for bathing in the powerful waters of their great Nile. It appears that Jochebed set the ark of bulrushes into the reeds at such a place, knowing that it would be easily discovered. While it is speculation, I am satisfied that Jochebed set the ark at a place where she knew the daughter of Pharaoh bathed. Such a spot on the river would not be used by commoners who, upon discovery of the ark, would toss the baby into the river: it was reserved for the use of the daughter of Pharaoh.
Of course, the whole thing worked out exactly as Jochebed anticipated. One of the Egyptian maids discovered the ark and was sent by Pharaoh’s daughter to bring it to her, Ex.2.5. When Pharaoh’s daughter opened the ark, the little baby "was weeping" (Newberry’s marginal sign). Miriam was standing at a distance; was she ever glad that baby Moses had just then decided to exercise his lungs and keep at it! The sight and sound of a crying baby moved the heart of the Egyptian princess and "she had compassion on him" Ex.2.6. She was also able to identify him immediately as "one of the Hebrews’ children" Ex.2.7.
Notice the first word in v.7: "then said his sister to Pharaoh’s daughter." Just at the right moment, again no doubt under the hand of the sovereign God of Israel, Miriam moved forward. She waited until she was sure that the princess was compassionate. As soon as she heard him identified as one of the Hebrews’ children, Miriam waited no longer in case he was in danger of being thrown into the Nile. She waited long enough but not too long. How difficult it is, when waiting on the Lord, to be sure that you wait for Him and act at the right time but not to wait too long.
Miriam asked if she should find a woman to look after the child, but didn’t tell the princess that she was going to fetch the child’s mother. With her permission she went to get a woman who would be able to nurse the child and who better than Jochebed? When she came to take the child, Jochebed didn’t say that she was his mother. They were not being deceitful but acting with wisdom and care. Walking by faith does not mean that you stop thinking or acting with caution. There is always a balance between wholehearted dependence upon God and careful, prudent planning.
The Future of the Child – vv.5-8
The next step in the rescue plan of baby Moses was the command from Pharaoh’s daughter to Jochebed: "Take this child away and nurse it for me, and I will give thee thy wages" Ex.2.9. I’m sure Jochebed could hardly believe what she was hearing. Perhaps she reasonably expected that the princess would accept Miriam’s proposal of a Hebrew woman to look after the baby, but to get paid for doing so was more than she expected. She has ensured the safety of her child; he is preserved from the Nile by the command of Pharaoh’s daughter; she has the sanction of Pharaoh’s daughter to rear her own child that would otherwise have been slain, and she has a salary for doing so! That is typical of our God, "Who is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think" Eph.3.20.
The future of Moses, therefore, is safeguarded both materially and spiritually. The palace is going to meet the expenses of his upbringing, and his own mother is going to have the privilege of teaching him about the God of Israel in her own home. What Moses learned as a child about his parents’ God appeared from time to time in his later life. When Moses was "come to years, [he] refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter; choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God ... esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt: for he had respect unto the recompence of the reward" Heb.11.24-26. Where had Moses learned about the people of God, the riches of the reproach of Christ, the recompence of the reward? Not in his education when he went to live in the palace. These things were instilled into his young heart as a boy during the time his mother reared him for the princess.
The Care of the Child – vv.9,10
Think of the choices Jochebed had to make in her responsibility of rearing the child. The instruction given by the princess was, "nurse it for me" 2.9. She knew that she was doing it for Pharaoh’s daughter, and one day she would have to hand her own son over to live in the palace of the evil king who had ordered the murder of all the male children, including that baby son. Would she teach the young child to hate the Egyptians? Would she embitter him to such an extent that he would become a revolutionary when he entered the palace? Would she cynically instruct him to ingratiate himself to Pharaoh so that he could ‘milk the system’ to their advantage? Obviously Jochebed did none of these. She concentrated on teaching him about the God of his fathers, that Jehovah is glorious, according to the meaning of her name.
The lesson for us today is to teach our children the truth concerning God. Even though they are being raised in a world that is opposed to God and His Word, we don’t need to train them to be reactionaries against a godless government. It is sufficient to instruct them in the ways of God and show them how to live in His fear and for His glory. The best preparation a child can have to live in this world is to instil in them the values of the world to come. That’s what Jochebed did for Moses, and he imbibed what she taught and lived it out in his adult life. When big decisions had to be made, Moses made them in light of the truth his mother had taught him as a child. No greater testimony can be given to a mother’s love and devotion than to live according to the values she taught you as a child.
We are not told how long Jochebed kept Moses in her home. The word "grew" in 2.10 means that he was continually growing, suggesting that she had Moses through a prolonged period of growth, likely into teenage years or adolescence. However long it was, Jochebed had enough time to teach him about the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. When he had ceased growing; "when Moses was grown" 2.11, he left his parental home and made his way to the palace. Can you imagine what that meant for Jochebed? To hand her son over to the palace would not have caused swelling pride in the heart of a mother who feared the Lord. There would be no boasting to other mothers, "look where my son Moses has gone!" As a godly mother she would have known that there was every bit as much danger for her son in the palace as there had been in the Nile. Danger of a different and more subtle kind, but nevertheless it was real danger. Jochebed could hand him over knowing that she had done everything possible to influence his course in life. She would treasure the memories of those early years and her daily instruction of her child. She would have no regrets about not having given her time to things other than the raising of her family. Would that Christian mothers in our day would give the same diligence and time to their families, and treasure the opportunity to influence them for God. But we live in a world where financial demands are great, and to release them to find employment, the temptation for many mothers is to hand their children over to the care of others. God’s ideal is still that young mothers "guide the house" 1Tim.5.14.
Moses’ sister is not mentioned by name in chapter 2, and it is assumed (although not categorically stated in Scripture) that Miriam the sister of chapter 15 is indeed the same person. The story of Moses and his mother starts and ends in the same way. She arrived into the story because of her faith, while she remains in the story her faith is active, and she leaves the record of Scripture with her faith and testimony intact. Sadly the same cannot be said about Moses’ sister, Miriam. She appears at the start of the story as a young woman, helping in the plan of God for the deliverance and safety of Moses. She appears briefly in chapter 15, assisting Moses in his song of deliverance. But any subsequent mention of her in the Old Testament is not so positive. The immediate lesson is salutary: it is one thing to start well, it is more important to end well.
In the book of Exodus we first meet Miriam on the bank of the river Nile, where she had a hand in the personal deliverance of Moses. We next meet her on the bank of the Red Sea, again with her brother Moses, having enjoyed the national deliverance of the nation.
On the Bank of the River Nile
As with his mother, Moses’ sister is introduced to us in the story without her name: just "his sister" 2.4, 7; "the maid" 2.8. Notice the actions of Miriam: "she stood" 2.5; she "said" 2.7; she "went and called the child’s mother" 2.8. We are not told what age she was, but being called a "maid" means that she was not very old. It is encouraging to see that God had a part for a young person in the great plan of rescuing Moses, which was ultimately part of the greater plan of rescuing the nation. It is important to teach young people that they have a valuable role to play in assembly life. They can make their lives count for God and live for His glory, even though young.
How did Miriam play that role in God’s plan? She did so by her obedience. Her mother brought her into the plan by having her stand "afar off" and observe what would happen when Pharaoh’s daughter discovered the ark of bulrushes. What if Miriam had decided that it wasn’t on her agenda for that day? Her role was absolutely essential to the rescue of Moses. In later days Miriam could have reflected upon that day at the river Nile and say that if she had not played her part things would have turned out differently. Young people need to be assured that they are valued. Give them a sense of worth and identity. Don’t disregard them as mere children who know nothing. Miriam also had to use her initiative. When the ark was pulled out of the reeds and the baby cried it was Miriam’s task to suggest to the princess the possibility of a Hebrew woman to nurse the child. Miriam played her part well and then stepped back out of the limelight. As a young girl she moved in the fear of God for the blessing of His people. She would not have understood the far-reaching consequences of her simple obedience to her mother. Godliness is not something reserved for older people. It is possible, indeed it is expected that younger Christians should live godly lives within the parameters of their growing maturity and spiritual development.
On the Bank of The Red Sea
In Exodus chapter 15, when we see Miriam again on the bank of the Red Sea, she is eighty years older than in chapter 2. Not only is she much older, she is described as "Miriam the prophetess" 15.20. There are only five prophetesses in the Old Testament: Miriam, Ex.15.20; Deborah, Judg.4.4; Huldah, 2Kgs.22.14; Noadiah, Neh.6.14; the unnamed wife of Isaiah the prophet, Isa.8.3. The role of the prophetess was similar to that of the prophet, to speak to the people on behalf of God. We have no record of anything that Isaiah’s wife said. Noadiah appears to be classed with the enemies of God, and thus false. Of all the prophets in the Old Testament, the words of only three women are recorded as being for the people; corroborating the view that the practice of women functioning as prophets was not initially in the mind of God for His people. They certainly did function as prophets for God, but in national emergencies.
She is identified as "Miriam the prophetess, the sister of Aaron." You would have expected her to be referred to as the sister of Moses. After all, Moses had long since become the prominent character in the events of the nation. Perhaps there is a hint of family division. Miriam and Aaron were both born before Moses and would naturally link themselves together. Did they view Moses as a newcomer and regard him with suspicion or envy? As the older siblings perhaps they were a little annoyed at all the fuss over the new baby; and then to crown it all he is taken to the palace, while they have to remain at home in the slaves’ hut. Miriam’s bond with Aaron appears again in Numbers chapter 12.
Scripture says that she "took a timbrel in her hand; and all the women went out after her with timbrels and dances" 15.21. Not only did she have influence; she had influence over ALL the women! It takes a spiritual person to handle that sort of authority; it would be so easy to use it selfishly or in the flesh. On this occasion she was still acting in praise of God and for His glory. How important to ensure our actions are for the glory of God and the good of others. We could be an influence for good or bad. I recall the late Albert Leckie telling me as a young believer, that it is important to ask yourself before taking part in an assembly meeting, "What I am about to do: is it for the glory of God and the good of those who listen?" Wise advice!
It seems that what Miriam and the women sang was a refrain to the main song of Moses and the children of Israel, in vv.1-18. Moses and the children of Israel sang together, v1; Miriam and all the women sang together, vv.20,21. The one thing of concern that I have noticed while pondering this passage is that Moses and the children of Israel "sang unto the Lord" 15.1; whereas the Holy Spirit records that "Miriam answered them" 15.21. It seems that, as they sang the song with Moses, Miriam and the women sang either to each other or to the whole congregation. The words of her refrain were good; they sang exactly the same as Moses and the children of Israel. But Moses’ song was "unto the Lord" and Miriam’s refrain was to answer them. When we sing, how important it is to sing unto the Lord, and to put our whole heart into it: not just in response to others’ singing or, even worse, so that others might hear.
Miriam in Numbers chapter 12
This chapter gives very important insights into the mind of Miriam, and could be enlarged upon in much greater detail than will be done in this chapter. The disagreement is disguised as a spiritual matter; "hath the LORD indeed spoken only by Moses, hath He not spoken also by us?" 12.2. However, the real root of the problem seems to be personal jealousy and rivalry among leaders; "Miriam and Aaron spake against Moses because of the Ethiopian woman he had married" 12.1.
The words at the close of v.2 are very solemn: "and the Lord heard it". Let us keep that in mind when we criticise those whom God has raised up as leaders among His people. This is what makes their criticism more serious; God regarded it as criticism against Himself and not just against Moses. We have the advantage of learning from these things which have been "written for our admonition" 1Cor.10.11. This incident should help us control our tongues, if the favourite pastime of ‘bashing the elders’ starts around a dinner table.
Their criticism caused open division. The idea in v.1 is that "Miriam and Aaron spake openly against Moses." This was no behind-the-hand whispering campaign – it was an all-out, public assault on the leadership that God had placed among His people. God took it very seriously: "And the anger of the LORD was kindled against them and He departed" 12.9. When unjustified criticism of God’s leaders begins, remember that God is angry and God is absent. Could that account for the lack of His presence in our gatherings at times? Just as their criticism was in public, so too was the discipline from God. Miriam could not hide her leprosy; it was evident for all to see. She had to be placed outside the camp; her absence inside and her presence outside could not be hidden. God had acted, and the people had to agree with God by placing her for a time outside the fellowship of the camp. Let us see to it that when God acts in judgment we are in harmony with His discipline, Matt.18.1.
Before we leave our cursory remarks on this solemn chapter it is important to show how Moses dealt with this very personal, public attack. In the wilderness journey Moses had already been angered by the misbehaviour of those under his care. But in v.3 we have this delightful description by the Holy Spirit: "Now the man Moses was very meek, above all the men which were upon the face of the earth." Moses is described as a man, he is a real human being, not some other-worldly creature. But his meekness is highlighted. At this stage of his life, notice the absence of anger. He has grown and matured in his attitude. His response to this attack is to cry to the Lord for Miriam’s healing at the request of Aaron, 12.13. His natural reaction would have been to let her suffer the consequences of her own sin, but the spiritual reaction was to pray for her recovery. If you were criticised in public how would you react? If you saw the hand of God against your critics, how would you feel? This is the real test and display of Moses’ meekness. He didn’t hold any grudge, nor did he withhold his intercession.
These women were skilled in spinning to produce the fabric required for the tabernacle. The fine linen was used in every aspect of its construction and service: the outer walls of the court; the tent and its coverings; the gate, the door and the vail; the garments of the high priest and priests; the cloths to cover the furniture when in transit. The work of these women was indispensable to every phase of tabernacle life: its construction, its daily service and worship, its transit from place to place. What these women produced in the privacy of their homes had an affect on every part of tabernacle life and service. In a New Testament assembly the same principle pertains. While not public, the role of women is vital to the correct functioning of the assembly in everything it does for God. The influence of a godly wife affects the input of married men, even overseers; the influence of godly mothers in the home affects their children who are in assembly fellowship; the influence of godly sisters affects younger women in the assembly, Titus 2.3,4.
Women with Willing Hearts – Ex.35.5
In Ex.25.1 God instructed Moses to take an offering "of every man that giveth it willingly". God’s primary consideration was the willingness of the person; nothing was to be given grudgingly. The offering was important, but the heart that brought it was more important. Whether he brought something large or small, valuable or not so valuable, the first consideration was willingness. In assembly life today we too should pay careful attention to the willingness with which we offer our worship and service to God. If our service is not willing then God does not want it!
Women with Wise Hearts – Ex.35.10
Moses makes a further stipulation to the people. Not only must those who give be willing but those who make must be "wise hearted". "And every wise hearted among you shall come, and make all that the Lord hath commanded" 35.10. From 36.1 we see that this wisdom came from God. These people had been slaves in the brickfields of Egypt, not skilled in the fine work required for the construction of such a glorious structure. God is going to transform them into a team of craftsmen. No apprenticeship is required – God will equip them for the task He gives them. Isn’t it remarkable to see the same principle at work in an assembly? People from all walks of life, with differing levels of practical and educational ability, working together as a team and building a spiritual structure for God’s pleasure! What a change there is in a heart that is willing, when God gives the wisdom to do His will and understand His instructions. A New Testament assembly can be established and function for the glory of God and according to His Word without secular education: it only requires that those who have been raised up and equipped by God are Spirit-filled and willing to follow His instructions.
Women with Working Hands – Ex.35.25,26
"And all the women that were wise hearted did spin with their hands, and brought that which they had spun, both of blue, and of purple, and of scarlet, and of fine linen. And all the women whose heart stirred them up in wisdom spun goats’ hair."
Their willingness did not produce the fabric. Their wisdom did not produce the fabric. They must set to work with their hands. They could talk all they liked about how they would love to do something for God in producing material for the tabernacle, but unless they got up and started they would accomplish nothing. They might feel that they had the skill and wisdom to produce fabric, and even give advice to others how to do it, but unless they got up and started they would accomplish nothing. The level of their input was not measured by how much their heart was willing nor by how much advice they gave; it was measured by how much fabric they produced.
In assembly life it is too easy to ease our consciences by yearning to do something but never getting our hands to work to actually do it! It is too common to hear advice as to how things should be done from people who are doing nothing themselves. Working hands must be accompanied by wise and willing hearts. Wise and willing hearts must find expression in willing hands. When all three work together, then something is achieved for God’s glory.
Our consideration of godly women in the book of Exodus shows that there is an essential and valuable part for women to play in domestic and family life, in national life and in spiritual life. We have seen that, while the emphasis of this chapter is on the contribution of godly women, there are practical lessons for men as well. Their work in the assembly must be motivated by wisdom and energised by willingness.
Every generation needs godly women, but ours more so because of the breakdown in family and married life in the world. Any generation is largely the product of the one that went before it. What kind of example are we producing for the rising generation? If the Lord has not come and our generation has gone, what will we have left behind?
The years of our life give us an opportunity to live for God and follow the example of godly women in the Scriptures: "Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might" Eccl.9.10.