His sister stood at a distance to see what would happen to him (Exodus 2:4)
Then his sister asked Pharaoh’s daughter, “Shall I go and get one of the Hebrew women to nurse the baby for you?” (Exodus 2:7)
Moses and I share something in common. I’m not bragging when I say that. It’s simply a statement of fact. I’d like to be able to tell you that we share the same kind of powerful presence as spiritual leaders. It would please me to no end to tell you that I have a prayer life like Moses had, regularly meeting with God face to face, my prayer closet a sacred tanning bed that leaves me glowing. I’d like to tell you those things, but I’d be lying. This however is no lie: Moses had a sister named Miriam, and I do too.
I’ve been rummaging through my memory trying to recall a moment when my sister Miriam did something that might remotely qualify as saving my life. I can’t come up with anything that dramatic. For a more dramatic story you have to look to the Miriam who was charged with keeping an eye on baby brother Moses.
It’s true that as an adult, Miriam doesn’t come off looking so great. She hassles her brother and God afflicts her with leprosy. But in the early chapters of Exodus when Moses is still in diapers, Miriam is the hero. In Miriam we find a model for the life of faith. She doesn’t show up often in the story, but when she does she shows us something important about living life before God. Specifically, she models holy restraint (knowing when to stand back) and holy courage (knowing when to risk stepping in).
Having placed the baby Moses in a basket and hidden him among the reeds of the Nile, Miriam stands at a distance to see what will happen. She is present, but not hovering. She doesn’t endanger the child by getting to close; she doesn’t endanger the child by abandoning him. She steps back and watches. Sometimes we need to do the same. There are situations from which we need to step back, people from whom we need a little distance. Our task is to pray and watch. This is an act of trust that places the circumstances in the hands of God. It is caring, but it isn’t controlling.
However, a moment comes when Miriam takes the initiative to intervene. Once Pharaoh’s daughter finds the floating infant there is a brief moment of opportunity. Miriam takes a risk. She could have bolted form the scene in a panic, but she doesn’t. She steps forward and offers to find a Hebrew woman to nurse the baby. We, the readers of the story, know that this will be Moses’ mother. Miriam is brilliant.
The life of faith means knowing when to stand at a distance and watch, and when to risk stepping up and speaking up. Both are an act of trust. Which of these faith-filled actions do you need to take today?
O God, give me discernment to know when to stand at a distance, and when to intervene. Help me to sense the leading of your Spirit through this day. Where needed, give me a holy restraint. At the right time, give me holy courage. Amen.