OPEN: (I had the people stand as we sang the "Star Spangled Banner")
O say can you see, by the dawn’s early light
What so proudly we hailed at the twilight’s last gleaming
Whose broad stripes and bright stars, thro’ the perilous fight,
O’er the ramparts we watch’d, were so gallantly streaming?
And the rockets’ red glare the bombs bursting in air
Gave proof thru the night that our flag was still there
O say does that star spangled banner yet wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.
APPLY: It used to be - shortly after 9/11 – that people would sing that song out loud at ballgames and other public events… but they don’t that so much any more. I’ve been to little league ballgames and they’ll play the song, but nobody sings.
Why don’t people sing this patriotic song as much as they did several years ago?
Well, I can think of a couple of reasons:
1st - people don’t have the sense of "passion" they once had. Right after 9/11 our nation was shaken their and outraged by the atrocity committed against our people, and their anger translated into a patriotism that was at an all-time high for several weeks.
And the 2nd reason folks don’t sing the Star Spangled Banner as much as they did is - at public gatherings - there is generally no one to lead them. It almost seems like noone really wants them to sing. Thus – people don’t sing the song because they’re afraid they may end up singing it all by themselves.
Here in Exodus 15 the nation of Israel sings a powerful song of praise to God. And they sing with all of their hearts because they sense the passion of the moment. Egypt had enslaved their people for a long, long time . But God had led them out of that slavery with His right powerful hand. In fact, when the Egyptian had pursued them God had opened up the Red Sea to let Israel pass and then buried the Egyptian army in the waters as they pursued.
And, not only do they feel the passion, but there are a couple of people to lead them in their singing.
· First, there’s Moses
Exodus 15:1 says “Then Moses and the Israelites sang this song to the LORD: ‘I will sing to the LORD, for he is highly exalted. The horse and its rider he has hurled into the sea.’”
And this song goes on for 19 verses (that’s a long song)
· Then Miriam picks up a tambourine and leads the women in song and they repeat the first verse of Moses’ song:
"Sing to the LORD, for he is highly exalted. The horse and its rider he has hurled into the sea." Exodus 15:21
When I was younger, some Christian college students came up with their own version of this song (based on the KJV rendering of these verses).
“I will sing unto the Lord for He has triumphed gloriously
The horse and rider’s thrown into the sea (repeat)
My Lord, my God, my strength my song
Has now become my salvation.” (repeat)
I don’t know if that’s the melody the Israelites sang that day, but I DO know that the people sang their song of praise with all of their hearts because they sensed the passion… and they had people to lead them in singing
And one of those people who led them in singing was Miriam – Moses’ big sister.
We’re first introduced to Miriam when she’s just a young girl (12/13?).
In Exodus 2 Moses’ parents are faced with a crisis. The pharaoh has decreed that every Hebrew baby boy was to be thrown into the Nile to drown. For three months they hide their baby, but eventually it becomes obvious that will ultimately be fruitless. So they devise a plan. They build a basket and coat it with pitch, they put the baby inside, and then they put the basket in the reeds along the shore to be found.
Exodus 2:4 tells us “(Moses’) sister stood at a distance to see what would happen to him.
Now, she might have been there because her mother asked her to.
Or, she might have decided this on her own (we’re not told)
But one thing becomes apparent… she’s a very smart girl
We’re told that when Pharaoh’s daughter opens the basket, realizes it is a Hebrew child, and she “feels sorry” for the baby. At this point Miriam comes up asks Pharaoh’s daughter,
"Shall I go and get one of the Hebrew women to nurse the baby for you?" Exodus 2:7
She didn’t ask Pharaoh’s daughter if she wanted to keep the baby.
She didn’t ask if Pharaoh’s daughter even loved the child.
She simply PRESUMED this Egyptian would both love her baby brother and keep him as her own, because she treated the decision as if it were already a decided fact.
ILLUS: I used to be in sales (I wasn’t particularly good at it) and one of the things they taught me was – when making a sale - never ask if the client wants to buy your product. Instead, to close the sale, you give them choices.
You ask if they’d like the product in pink or blue
You ask if they’d like it the medium size or extra large.
Or if they would prefer the 5 year contract or the 10.
You give the client a choice and once they’ve begun to make those choices you’ve made the sale. That’s what Miriam did with Pharaoh’s daughter. She was a very smart girl…
But she was also a very spiritual girl.
Her parents had made this basket and they placed it in the river trusting that God would look out for their baby. They trusted God and that was a good thing.
But Miriam went down to the river and WATCHED to see what will happen to the baby.
She EXPECTED something to happen.
And she expected something to happen because she believed God would do something.
That’s a mark of a deeper spirituality
There are a lot of people who place things before God.
They’ll pray and then leave that matter in God’s hands… but they never bother to watch to see what God will do.
Now that’s ok – in so far as it goes.
But they don’t pray “expectantly”.
They just put their basket in the river and hope for the best.
Miriam had a deeper spiritual walk because she went the extra step of watching for God to act.
One of the things you notice is that this whole family are very dedicated to God. And I believe that it was because Miriam and Aaron and Moses were children of very Godly parents and they all showed a dedication and trust in God.
And that is probably why - in the book of Micah - God tells Israel: “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
Miriam and Moses and Aaron were Godly kids from a Godly home
And they grew up to have a deep spiritual strength that God wanted to use when leading His people out of Egypt.
Miriam (like her bro’s) grew up to become the kind of person that God could entrust with great things: She was sent by God to help lead His people
How did she do that? How did Miriam lead God’s people?
Well, Exodus 15:20 tells us she was a prophetess.
A prophet or prophetess was someone who declared God’s word to others.
We often think a prophet would have been someone who predicted the future, but that wasn’t always true. Sometimes they were merely preachers who told others what God intended them to hear. And they didn’t even always just preach: sometimes these prophets were people who led others in singing.
Colossians 3:16 tells us that this is one of the purposes of singing… to teach others.
“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.”
God intends for us to use the songs we sing each Sunday teach and admonish us. The songs we sing aren’t merely for our enjoyment – they allow us to minister to others and lift them up before God. And when someone comes up on stage and sings a song to glorify God – they are also teaching and admonishing us.
1 Chronicles 25:1 tells us that “…David and the captains of the host separated to the service of the sons of Asaph, and of Heman, and of Jeduthun, who should PROPHESY with harps, with psalteries, and with cymbals
Like those prophets… Miriam led in singing.
And who did Miriam lead in this singing?
Well look at Exodus 15:20 with me
“Then Miriam the prophetess, Aaron’s sister, took a tambourine in her hand, and all the WOMEN followed her, with tambourines and dancing.” Exodus 15:20
It appears that Miriam led the women in worship.
A few of us preachers get together every week to work on the sermon together… and we noticed something unusual about this verse.
In verse 20 – whose sister is Miriam said to be? She’s Aaron’s sister.
We puzzled over that for a little while, then it occurred to me. What role did Aaron play in Israel? Well, he was the High Priest. It was his job to lead people in worship. By calling Miriam “Aaron’s sister” in this verse, it might be that the author was telling us that Aaron and Miriam worked together in ministering to the people’s worship needs.
Thus, during the Exodus, it would appear that…
· Moses led the people on their journey
· Aaron led the people in their worship
· And Miriam led the women in singing and praising God
Each of them had their specific and very important area of responsibility
But there came a day when Miriam wasn’t happy with that arrangement.
Turn with me to Numbers 12:1. This tells of an incident that occurred not more than a couple of years after they crossed the Red Sea, just before they come to the border of the Promised Land.
It says: “Miriam and Aaron began to talk against Moses because of his Cushite wife, for he had married a Cushite.”
Notice Miriam’s name comes first (it’s Miriam and Aaron)…
Both she and Aaron are complaining about Moses’ marriage to a Cushite. In the KJV you’ll see that they translate that word as “Ethiopian” because Cushites were Ethiopian. They were black folks.
Both Aaron and Miriam complain - but Miriam’s name comes first in the verse. And later in the chapter she’s the one who God punishes (not Aaron). In other words, she’s the one who’s REALLY upset with Moses and his marriage with this Cushite woman.
Now, a lot of the details in this chapter are left to our imagination, but from the little we ARE told I’ve come to believe that Moses’ first wife has died and he’s taken this 2nd woman, this Cushite to be his bride.
She’s not an Israelite. She’s different from other Israelite women. She’s a black woman.
And Miriam isn’t happy. Miriam --- is a bigot.
But she’s a religious bigot. People like that are rarely obvious in their bigotry.
They often try to wrap this wickedness in religious language.
They try to sound reasonable.
Perhaps she pointed to the day when Abraham refused to let Isaac marry from the Canaanites, or when Isaac complained about the possibility of his sons marrying Canaanites. Those Canaanite women weren’t “their kind” of women.
Or, she’d had a couple of years to study the Law Moses received from God… maybe she’d found some fine point in those decrees that she could have used to try to sway Moses’ opinion.
But Moses isn’t listening to her.
Now Moses was a very Godly man. He talked with God all the time.
Do you suppose he’d talked with God about who he was going to marry?
Of course he would have.
And God has probably given His approval of the marriage… and Moses would have told Miriam as much. That’s the only reason I can think of for Miriam and Aaron to protest:
"Has the LORD spoken only through Moses?… Hasn’t he also spoken through us?" Num. 12:2
In other words: How dare you play this “God card” and tell us God spoke to you and gave you His approval. We’re prophets too and He didn’t say anything to us!”
Now, Miriam was a very smart woman and a deeply spiritual woman… but she suffered from bigotry, and self-righteousness, and pride.
She was a leader in Israel.
She was Moses’ big sister
She had a position that deserved to be respected.
But Moses isn’t listening to her
She’s tried reasoning with him.
She’s tried arguing with him
But Moses isn’t going to change his mind
And the more she thinks about it, the madder she gets until finally – I suspect - she challenged him before the entire assembly (it says she “began to speak against Moses”)
She began to speak… and God listened in.
And then God stepped in.
Look with to Numbers 12:4-10. We’re told God heard what Miriam had said… and
“At once the LORD said to Moses, Aaron and Miriam, ‘Come out to the Tent of Meeting, all three of you.’ So the three of them came out.
Then the LORD came down in a pillar of cloud; he stood at the entrance to the Tent and summoned Aaron and Miriam. When both of them stepped forward, he said, ‘Listen to my words: "When a prophet of the LORD is among you, I reveal myself to him in visions, I speak to him in dreams. But this is not true of my servant Moses; he is faithful in all my house. With him I speak face to face, clearly and not in riddles; he sees the form of the LORD. Why then were you not afraid to speak against my servant Moses?’
The anger of the LORD burned against them, and he left them.
When the cloud lifted from above the Tent, there stood Miriam— leprous, like snow. Aaron turned toward her and saw that she had leprosy.”
Leprosy is a terrible disease that results in a person’s body literally decaying before the sufferer’s eyes. And one of its characteristics is when a person’s skin turns white.
God essentially was telling Miriam – you don’t like the color of this woman’s sin?
Ok. If you like white, I’ll give you white. I’ll give you leprosy.
Her sin was a public sin, and thus her punishment was a very public punishment.
God DID heal her – because Moses asked Him to - but verses 14-15 we’re told that the Lord told Moses
“’… Confine her outside the camp for seven days; after that she can be brought back.’ So Miriam was confined outside the camp for seven days, and the people did not move on till she was brought back.”
Miriam had apparently been very public in her criticism of Moses and his wife, and so the punishment was also very public. Everybody in camp knew Miriam had overstepped her bounds.
Now, what does all this teach us???
1st - It teaches us that Godly children reflect the godliness of their parents.
Parents take note: Miriam and her brothers became the kind of people they did because their parents trusted God and took their faith seriously. Thus Miriam, Aaron and Moses honored their parents in turn by being taking their faith seriously.
And because of the kind of home they grew up in God eventually entrusted them with powerful ministries. Parents remember this, and work to make your children successful in life by being sure that you do everything you can to make your faith real to your children.
And children take note: you honor your parents most when you live your lives to honor God.
2nd - It teaches us that God wants us to use our gifts for Him.
Miriam could sing. And she was willing to be used by God with this gift. Because she was willing to be used by God, He entrusted her with the very special ministry of leading other women closer to God.
3rd - It teaches us that God expects us to treat His gifts and the positions of responsibilities He gives us as privileges… not rights. Miriam had a position of responsibility. She had influence and respect…but she took her position and used it as a weapon to influence Moses to do things HER way
As we’ve just discovered – that didn’t work real well. God wasn’t going to tolerate that kind of power play. And part of the reason God wouldn’t permit that is because that’s not how things are supposed work in God’s kingdom.
In the Gospels we’re told that at one point Jesus told His disciples:
"You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all.
For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." Mark 10:42-45
CLOSE: What I want you to focus on in this story about Miriam was that she was Godly woman. True, she stumbled and suffered a punishment for a harsh sin. But she remained a deeply spiritual woman that (after she’d been rebuked) God continued to use for His purposes.
I doubt she intended to do what she’d done. She didn’t set out to disobey God. But she did forget, for a short period of time, that she owed her ministry to God and that it was a precious commodity.
But God returned her to ministry. And He did that because she really did love Him.
She loved Him so much that she constantly a song to sing to glorify Him.
That’s what every Christian should have in their lives: a song that glorifies God.
Even if we don’t have a pretty voice, we need to be a people who love to sing… because we have a reason to sing.
In his book "Psalms of the Heart," George Sweeting illustrated a great truth from the experience of two Moody Bible Institute graduates, John and Elaine Beekman. God called them to missionary work among the Chol Indians of southern Mexico. Sweeting reports that they rode mules and traveled by dugout canoes to reach this tribe. They labored 25 years with other missionaries to translate the New Testament into the language of the Chol Indians. Today the Chol Church is thriving. More than 12,000 Christians make up the Chol Christian community, which is financially self-supporting. What’s interesting is that when the missionaries came, the Chol Indians didn’t know how to sing. With the coming of the gospel, however, the believers in the tribe became known as "the singers".
"They love to sing now," Sweeting commented, "because they have something to sing about."