Notable Families

Albert McShane, N. Ireland

There are some family circles in Scripture which exhibit the grace of God in an outstanding way. To them He has shown exceptional favor, and they in turn have rendered to Him their devoted service. In the history of Israel there are particular examples of families which call for special attention. One of these is the household of Amram and Jochabed. They had three children, Aaron, Miriam and Moses, all of whom were famous in this nation. Moses was the great lawgiver, Aaron was the first high-priest, and Miriam was the first prophetess. No other family in Israel was so distinguished, nor did any other family produce such dignitaries.

What is surprising to our minds is the fact that the parents of these worthies were closely related, for Amram married his aunt, his father’s sister. It is clearly stated that she was the "daughter of Levi," whereas her husband was of "the house of Levi" (Exodus 2:1). This implies that she was the direct daughter of Levi the son of Jacob. He was in the next generation, for his father, Kohath was a direct son of Levi (Ex. 6:15-20). Obviously Jochabed was born to Levi when he was very old, for we are told that she was born in Egypt, so she did not go down with the seventy souls mentioned in Genesis 46. It is interesting to consider that she was nursed on the knee of one who went down to Egypt, and that she herself nursed three who went up out of Egypt. Many believe that when we read of "daughter" we must not think of a direct daughter, but of granddaughter, or great-grand-daughter, but had such been the case, she too would have been like her husband, merely of the house of Levi.

A difficulty confronts us when we try to span the period Israel spent in Egypt with so few generations. If, as many think, the Israelites were 430 years in Egypt, she could not possibly be the daughter of Levi, but if the exact time spent in Egypt was only 210 years, the difficulty disappears. We are told that the "sojourning of the children of Israel who dwelt in Egypt was four hundred and thirty years (Ex. 12:40), but the dwelling in Egypt was only part of the "sojourning." It began at the time when Abraham, the father of the nation, left Ur, and became a sojourner. When the prophecy of the future of his offspring was given to him, again 400 years are mentioned, for already he had been a pilgrim for 30 years (Gen. 15). What confirms the interpretation of these numbers is the fact that they were to come out of their bondage in the fourth generation. This was fulfilled for Levi, Kohath, Amram and Moses make up these generations. In no way can four generations stretch 400 years. Paul gives the time between the covenant with Abraham and the giving of the Law as 430 years (Gal. 3:17).

What is most interesting in the history of this family was that all three became famous when over 80 years old. At the time of the Exodus, Moses the youngest was 80, Aaron was 3 years older and Miriam was perhaps close to 90, for she had been old enough not only to watch over her brother Moses when he was in the ark, but also when the ark was opened, she was wise enough to tell the daughter of Pharaoh that she could find a nurse for the weeping babe. While in early life Moses was mighty in word and deed, it was not until he was sent to Pharaoh that his work for God actually began. Minding sheep was a humble task, and one often done by women, so as long as he was in Midian he had nothing of which he could boast. Likewise Aaron had no place in Egypt until he was accompanied with his brother and stood before Pharaoh. Miriam like her brothers, never appeared to have any fame until she magnified the Lord at the Red Sea. Probably their parents never thought they were nursing such a trio. Keeping the children alive in the midst of persecution would have been their one concern. If spared until the time when Moses fled to Midian, this ended their contact with him, for they would never have seen him again. With the limits of communication in that day no news of his whereabouts could have reached them. Forty years makes great changes in any man’s life, so when he did return, Aaron and Miriam may have had difficulty in recognizing their long lost brother. One thing is sure, they could not but admire his courage and the wonders wrought by his hand, not only in Egypt, but also at the Red Sea. The victory then enjoyed caused Miriam to sing with lustre, and exalt the Lord. It is interesting to see that all three are mentioned as having been sent before Israel to lead them out of Egypt (Micah 6:4).

In the lives of great persons it is difficult to pinpoint the special occasion when they reached their zenith. In the case of these three there were outstanding days in their respective lives which must have remained permanently in their minds. Moses could never forget standing before the Lord at the burning bush, Miriam had her big day when she rejoiced on the banks of the Red Sea, and Aaron had his greatest glory when he was robed with the garments of glory and beauty, and wore the girdle, together with the breastplate and golden crown (Lev. 8:7-9).

There is another more solemn side to the history of this notable family, for all three of them had a major breakdown. Aaron, when he made the golden calf (Ex. 32); Miriam, when she spoke against Moses and became a leper (Num. 12); and Moses, when he lost his temper at Kadesh, and spoke unadvisedly with his lips (Num. 20). These sad happenings impress upon us the fact that the most honored by God can fail, and, in the case of Moses, fail in their strong feature, for he was "the meekest man on earth." Aaron failed because he yielded to the demands of the people, Miriam failed because she was disappointed at the wife of Moses. Obviously Miriam had never seen Zipporah until this time, for when the dispute broke out between Moses and his wife (Ex. 4) she returned to her father, and so was absent all the time Moses was confronting Pharaoh. She was brought back to him at the mount of God (Ex. 18:5), so this was the first occasion that Miriam saw her.

Naturally, the sister of such a famous man as Moses would expect him to have selected a beautiful wife, but her expectations were dashed when she discovered that he had married an Ethiopian. It is interesting to see that when he was a babe she was instrumental in preserving his life, and now after more than eighty years she was smitten with leprosy, but was spared through his intercession. Moses failed when his patience became exhausted and he lost his temper before the rock at Kadesh (Num. 20). None of these breakdowns were private, but were in the sight of all Israel, and dishonored the Lord before His people. There were words spoken by all three at the time when each fell, which they must have regretted. Aaron speaking before the golden calf said "Tomorrow is a feast to the Lord." Miriam said "Hath the Lord indeed spoken only by Moses?" And Moses said "Hear now ye rebels; must we fetch you water out of this rock?" All three were sorry they ever used such words, but alas they were said, and the consequences could not be averted. It must have been most disappointing for such a noble family that not one of them entered the land of promise.

There are lessons we can learn from this family. One, is the sovereignty of God in the choice of instruments. That the immediate children of a father, who was so severely rebuked when the tribes were blessed by Jacob (Gen. 49:5-7), were chosen by Him, clearly shows that He is not controlled by human reasoning. A second lesson, and one which should be given special attention at the present time, is that God can use those who have reached old age. Even though the span of life was longer in those days, yet many would imagine that all three were past their prime when they were called to His service. The common policy in the world is to retire the mature, and fill their place with youth. A third important lesson here is that failure can appear in the lives of the choicest of His servants. The fact that they were specially honored by God meant that they were exposed to dangers, and were all the more likely to break down. A fourth lesson is that long experience in His school is no guarantee that all danger is passed. In the case of Moses the disaster occurred at almost the end of the wilderness journey. The constant murmuring of the people exhausted his patience, and caused him to act as he did at the rock in Kadesh. A fifth lesson is one that can be learned from Miriam. Her mistake arose from failing to understand that Moses, when he married Zipporah, was escaping from Egypt, and was merely a shepherd. At that time he was not the great leader she saw him to be. Countless quarrels have arisen because the wives chosen by men did not come up to the standard expected by their in-laws. Obviously the wife of Moses was not as good as his mother, for neither of her two sons were famous in Israel. When he was appointing a successor, he passed them by and turned to another house, and to another tribe.