MIRIAM; Or, The Power of Gratitude

James Smith, 1856

"And Miriam the prophetess, the sister of Aaron, took a timbrel in her hand; and all the women went out after her with timbrels and with dances. And Miriam answered them: Sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously; the horse and his rider has he thrown into the sea!" Exodus 15:20, 21.

Gratitude is one of the most pleasant and profitable exercises of the soul. It rewards us at present, and secures benefits to us for the future. A grateful person is sure to be happy, and when gratitude is expressed in praise and thanksgivings to God, it brings us within the compass of a most precious promise. For thus says the Lord, "Whoever sacrifices a thank offering honors Me."

A grateful person is never disliked by men; nor can such be neglected of God. True gratitude springs from grace, and is one of the effects of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit of God. An unsanctified person is never a truly grateful person. For while the heart is enmity against God, it cannot be grateful to him, or delight in praising him. But there may be a low degree of grace — where there is but little gratitude, and those who are grateful today, may be filled with unbelief and ingratitude tomorrow. This is a humbling thought. It should lay us in the dust. It should stimulate us to cry mightily unto God, and in self-loathing to plead earnestly with God for more grace. But let us look at Miriam, as setting before us the power of gratitude, and consider —

First, the CAUSE of her gratitude. Her people had been enslaved, oppressed, and cruelly treated in Egypt. She had witnessed their sufferings. She had suffered with them. She saw her mother's anxiety and distress about her brother Moses, when he was a babe. She heard the long and painful conferences held between her mother and father for his preservation. Perhaps she fetched the reeds which her mother made into the ark, saw him placed in it, heard the heartfelt prayer as he was hushed to sleep before he was covered up, witnessed her mother's tears, and united with her in weeping over his danger. She followed him to the river's brink, and then took her station at a distance to see what would become of him.

Her spirit was daily wounded, and her heart pierced with the groans and sighs of those dear to her soul. Tales of oppression and cruelty harrowed up her feelings from day to day. Long had she watched, waited, hoped, and prayed. She saw the cloud thicken, the darkness increase, and the case of her people become desperate.

Moses had fled from Egypt. Pharaoh was a hardened monster of cruelty, and his people were very much like himself. Her noble heart was wrung with anguish. She endured days of agony and nights of woe. In this way, week after week passes, year after year heavily rolls away. At length Moses appears again. The news flies in every direction that God had heard their groanings, pitied their sorrows, and was about in mercy to visit them. Hope buds afresh, prayer is more frequent and energetic, and they are on the tip-toe of expectation.

But again and again they are disappointed. Pharaoh's heart is hardened. Judgment follows judgment, and mercy follows mercy — and he is more cruel, determined and oppressive. At length comes the assurance of immediate deliverance. The mysterious ceremony of the Passover is instituted and observed. The lamb is selected, slain and roasted. The blood is sprinkled on the lintels and doorposts of the houses. A deep silence reigns. Prepared for the march and awaiting orders, they stand in silence and eat the lamb with the bitter herbs.

But, hark! What is that wail? It deepens, it increases, it spreads! Listen, what are those piercing words, rolling from house to house, and from street to street, through the land, "We are all dead men!" The retribution is dreadful. The excitement is intense. The sufferings are terrible. Moses is called for. The order is given, Israel must march. Freedom is come. Liberty is granted. The slaves are emancipated. The oppression is at an end. The Hebrews are once more, men. Their deliverance is as remarkable — as their bondage was severe.

But they are once more placed in imminent peril. They have no sooner reached Pihahiroth, where the sea rolls in grandeur before them, and the rocks on either hand cast their frowning shadows — than they hear the tramp of troops, and the sound of martial music behind them. It is Pharaoh, with the best of his army, come to fetch them back, and reduce them to slavery again. This is striking the dying, dead. Yes this is worse than death. Every face turns pale. Every heart beats high. Every spirit sinks. Moses cries aloud to God; it is a prayer characterized alike by fear, faith, and fervor. A voice is heard. It is the voice of God. "Say to the children of Israel: Go forward!"

"Forward!" now rings through all their ranks. "Forward!" proceeds from every mouth. They press onwards, and the sea recedes before them, a firm and solid path is prepared for them, and they pass out of Egypt through the sea. But, see, Pharaoh follows; hear the rattling of his chariot, and the prancing of his horses. Israel, hasten! Hasten, Israel, before he overtakes you!

They have passed through the deep, they stand on the opposite shore, they hear a roaring sound, a terrific shriek — they turn to look, the waters have returned, and Pharaoh and his hosts are tossed upon the angry waves, and sinking into the fearful gulf! Oh, what excitement is felt now. How the heart beats. How the bosom heaves. "The enemy boasted, 'I will chase them and catch up with them. I will plunder them and consume them. I will flash my sword; my powerful hand will destroy them.' But you blew with your breath, and the sea covered them. They sank like lead in the mighty waters. Who is like you among the gods, O Lord—glorious in holiness, awesome in splendor, performing great wonders? You raised your right hand, and the earth swallowed our enemies!" Exodus 15:9-12

This is the crowning mercy, without which all had been incomplete. This is the closing judgment — the hard heart of Pharaoh that would not yield — is now crushed. Jehovah has triumphed. Israel is liberated. The Hebrews are free. The promise is made good. Patient perseverance is rewarded. Egypt has seen God's faithfulness. The people are all delivered — not a hoof is left behind. Can we wonder that gratitude is produced, that God is praised, and that the warm heart of Miriam is expanded and glows with devotion? But let us observe —

Secondly, how her gratitude was EXPRESSED. It was according to the custom of the age, and the nature of the dispensation under which she was placed. She took a timbrel, she called her companions, she uttered the song, she led the dance. All was joy. All was pleasure. All was praise. It was before the Lord, that she danced. It was to the Most High God, that she sang. It was devotion in raptures. Gratitude in flames. Love at a white heat.

As a public character, she took a prominent place; for a public deliverance, she gave public praise. Openly before her whole nation, publicly in the midst of the vast assembly — she lifted up her voice, she rang her timbrel, she led the dance. All glory was ascribed to God, as all had been wrought by God. Man was nothing here. He was entirely lost sight of. His praise or blame were not taken into account. He had merited nothing. He could claim nothing. He should have nothing ascribed to him.

"Sing to the Lord," is the strain caught and repeated by her fellows. "Sing to the Lord," must be the sentiment of every soul. "Sing to the Lord," sounds through the camp, and is echoed by the mountains and the hills. "Sing to the Lord — for he has triumphed gloriously!" is the song of earth, and the song that was sung to the music of angelic harps above. Every talent was called into exercise, extensive cooperation was sought, for the same feelings ruled in the soul as in that of the Psalmist, when he said, "O bless the Lord with me, and let us exalt his name together!"

But believers have experienced a greater deliverance. They are rescued not from Egypt — but from Hell. Not from an earthly Pharaoh — but from "that old serpent, the devil, and Satan, who deceives the whole world." They are delivered not merely by the exercise of divine power — but by the blood-shedding and sacrifice of God's dear Son! Their deliverance is more costly,
their freedom more complete,
their prospects more glorious, and
their privileges more distinguishing.

Therefore they should feel deeper obligation and express more lively and holier gratitude.

My brethren, if we felt aright, praise would be our daily, hourly employment. The heart and the voice would be engaged in praising and blessing the Lord.

Our gratitude should prompt us to self-denial, activity, and cooperation with the Lord's people. What should we withhold, from him to whom we owe our all? It ought to be a pleasure to deny ourselves anything, at anytime, if thereby we can please Him who has done such great things for us. Every day, every hour — we should be ready to do anything he may require of us —
however contrary to flesh and blood;
however humbling to proud human nature;
however painful or costly.

Whatever will honor God, or glorify the Lord Jesus, ought out of gratitude to be done promptly and cheerfully by us.

Nor ought we to wish to stand alone, or show our gratitude in secrecy. But stand ready to cooperate with all and everyone, however in some things they may differ from us — who serve in his cause, spread his fame, and glorify his most blessed name.

Miriam is the same root word as Mary, and signifies bitterness. How suitable the name to the circumstances in which she was born, and in which she spent her early years. But Miriam, like Mary, had cause to say, "My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior!" So will it be with many who may now be called Miriam, Marah, or Mary, because the Lord deals very bitterly with them; for "those who sow in tears — shall reap in joy. He who goes forth weeping bearing precious seed — shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him."

Our bitterest trials, often prepare the way for our most joyous triumphs; our deepest sighs, for our sweetest songs. The valley of Achor ends in a door of hope — which introduces to vineyards, wealth, and songs. The valley of Baca leads us to Jerusalem — the abode of peace, and to the temple, which resounds with the praises of our God, Our present Egypt will soon be exchanged for a better Canaan than Moses saw from Mount Pisgah, or Joshua introduced Israel to. We shall soon stand, not on the shore of the Red Sea — but on the "sea of glass mingled with fire," with those who have gotten the victory, and, like Miriam and her happy companions, with purer gratitude, to a far sweeter tune — we shall sing "to the Lord who has triumphed gloriously!"

Our song will be ever new,
our gratitude will be always perfect,
our joy will be eternally full,
and our God will be all in all.