Forty women: 16. Miriam

He’s always been the special one. Even when you were a little girl, you had to look after him, to watch when your mum put him in the river, to make sure that she was allowed to keep caring for him when he was taken to the palace. He’s your little brother, and he’s always been special. Different. Set apart.

And now he’s back. Back from his self-imposed exile in Cush, with a wife and a family of his own. Now he’s back and apparently he’s here to lead the Israelites out of Egypt. He’s here with God’s staff in his hand and God’s word in his mouth. Him and Aaron, your other brother.

And you.

Because you’re a prophet too. (Exodus 15:20).

God speaks through you, just as he does through your brothers. And on that day when Moses has led you all on dry ground through the waters of the Red Sea, and led everyone in singing praise to God, your voice is heard too. You are singing too, leading all the women in their praise to God.

Moses isn’t that special, is he? He’s married to a foreigner, for a start. And yes, fine, God speaks through him, but as you and Aaron point out to each other, God has spoken through the two of you as well. You’re expecting to confront Moses about it. But instead God calls all three of you, brothers and sister, and he is going to confront you about it.

You, Miriam, stand before God, with your two brothers, and hear his voice. And suddenly, you realise, it is different. Moses is different. Special. Set apart. For while you have heard God speak, as he does to all his prophets, you have not stood face to face with the living God. You have not gone up the mountain into the cloud.

You have stood at the bottom of the mountain with everyone else, trembling and terrified. Because God’s holiness is terrifying.

And so now, as you stand there, and the Lord’s anger burns against you – you, personally; you, Miriam – you realise that you have sinned. And not just against your brother, Moses. You have sinned against your God, Yahweh. You have sinned by calling into question how he has chosen to speak to his people. You have sinned against God by thinking yourself more important than you are. You have been foolish and you have been sinful and you need to learn humility.

God sends his judgment on you, turning your skin white and flaky with the unmistakeable signs of leprosy. Uncleanness. Exclusion.

There is the humility. You can’t do anything. Aaron can’t do anything. But he turns to Moses and asks for help. And Moses, holding no grudge, turns to the Lord, on behalf of you, his sister, and prays, “Please, God, heal her!” (Numbers 12:13).

You and I also have a brother who holds no grudges, who is a better mediator between God and his people even than Moses. We have a brother we can’t claim to be equal with but whose humility exceeds our own. We have a brother we can turn to, no matter how foolish or sinful we have been. We have a brother who intercedes for us, crying to the Lord, “Please, God, heal her!”

Forty women: 17. Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah and Tirzah.