This morning’s reading included everything from a staff sprouting
to signify Aaron’s family as the guards of the sanctuary and the altar
to the striking of a rock by an angry Moses
as he and Aaron faced the thirsty but once-again grumbling Israelites.
This morning’s reading also included very specific instructions
for preparing a sin offering using a red cow,
several unsuccessful attempts of the Israelites to enter cities
on their way to the Promised Land,
and the details of Aaron’s death
followed by the solemn ceremonial transition
of his power to his son Eleazar.
So much happened in these four chapters.
But there’s one verse I keep rereading.
Right in the middle of explicit instructions on how to purify unclean people
and the grumbling of the whole Israelite community,
This “something” is not acknowledged in an emotional way.
And this “something” doesn’t even seem to leave the Israelites feeling sad.
Numbers 20:1 says,
The entire Israelite community entered the Wilderness of Zin
in the first month, and they settled in Kadesh.
Miriam died and was buried there.
The sister who had stood at a distance and watched her baby brother float away in a basket
The sister who had mustered the courage to approach Pharoah’s daughter and
offer to find a Hebrew woman to nurse the abandoned baby
With no fanfare or designated days of mourning,
Miriam exits the Israelites’ redemption story.’
Either stage right or stage left.
Even the way she left is unclear.
But one thing is certain.
Miriam didn’t upstage anyone as she took her last breath.
I did a little research on play directions this morning
and learned that theater stages in the Middle Ages
actually sloped upwards away from the audience.
These raked stages, as they were called,
required actors to either stand “upstage”
or “downstage,” meaning they were either
higher and further from the audience
or lower and closer to them.
When an actor moved upstage and demanded the attention
of the other actors on stage with him or her,
it resulted in a cast of actors
standing with their backs to the audience.
This is where we get the phrase,
Miriam’s death was acknowledged but seemed to turn no heads her direction.
She humbly saved her baby brother then humbly slipped off the planet.
Yet her part in the story still matters.
Without her courage at only five years old,
who knows what might have happened to Moses many years earlier.
I can’t imagine how she felt as she watched her grown-up brother hold up a staff
as God split the Red Sea for His people.
I can’t imagine what she was thinking as her little brother came down from Mt. Sinai,
face glowing and hands filled with God’s commandments.
Did she ever reflect on that morning by the Nile as she watched Moses move through the desert?
Could she still see the basket bobbing up and down as it floated down the river as Moses’ head bobbed up and down in the crowds of people that often gathered around him for instructions?
Maybe she could.
And maybe that’s why she had a weak moment in the wilderness journey years earlier
and found herself trying to move upstage,
attempting to draw the Israelites’ attention away from Moses and toward her.
This upstaging incident didn’t end well for her,
just as it hadn’t ended well for others in the wilderness who found themselves trying to do the same thing.
Leprosy never feels like a reward.
And after this season of envy and pride,
Miriam’s impact on the story of the Israelites seems to fade…..
from a prophetess leading people in praises to God to an unmentioned character in the redemption story…….
until she finally fades away……
I wonder how different her life would have gone had she continued to be a brave sideline sister
who gave God the glory all along the way –
instead of needing glory for herself?
I guess this side of Heaven,
we’ll never really know.
But one thing we can know for sure this morning is this:
Pride never leads to the right kind of attention.
And maybe today, that’s all that matters.
Because God is the director,
and He places us each where we need to be……
because the only direction
heads need to be turned
is toward Him.
Humble yourselves before the Lord,
and he will exalt you.