The Many Faces of Jealousy

jeal·ous·y (ˈjeləsē): 

Envious feeling of discontent and ill will because of an other’s advantages, possessions, etc.; resentful dislike of another who has something that one desires.

What is jealousy? Jealousy commonly refers to thoughts or feelings of insecurity or uncertainty, fear or anxiety, and/or concern for a relative lack of possessions. Jealousy can consist of one or more emotions, such as anger, resentment, inadequacy, helplessness, or disgust. People can be dangerously consumed with jealousy. Jealousy is up close and personal.

From scripture, there are many faces of jealousy we could name. Last week, Elaine spoke of Leah and Rachel, two sisters jealous over a man who became rivals. Next week, Rhonda is discussing Eve, whose desire and overpowering longing for something that she couldn’t have ultimately caused the eviction of mankind from the Garden of Eden.

Then there’s Lot’s wife who longed so deeply for the material life that she had in Sodom, that even after being warned, DO NOT LOOK BACK (which, by the way, she totally ignored), was turned into a pillar of salt.

Look at Delilah. She accepted money to betray Samson. Overcome by her greed, she was deceitful, disloyal, and selfish causing Samson to fall into the hands of the Philistines.

And let’s not get started on Jezebel! Unscrupulous, immoral, unrestrained, and corrupt, she resorted to lies and murder to satisfy her jealousy and selfish whims.

That’s at least six faces of jealousy in Scripture I’ve noted. Each one of these women experienced some form of jealousy, and their lives concluded with serious consequences. But I have one more woman that I want to focus on. Let’s take a look at someone rarely mentioned today and what her jealous nature cost her.

Let’s examine Miriam, the sister of Moses, and what history tells us about her from both the Bible and some of the ancient Jewish writings.

Before the birth of Miriam or Moses, the Pharaoh of Egypt ordered the Hebrew midwives, who helped Israelite women give birth, to watch and see if these women had boys or girls. If a boy was born, they were to kill him. If it was a girl, they were to let her live. However, the midwives feared God more than Pharaoh, so they refused to carry out this order (Exodus 1:15-17). In response, Pharaoh’s next order, given to all his people, was:

“Throw every newborn Hebrew boy into the Nile River. But you may let the girls live.” Exodus 1:22 NLT

With this piece of the story in mind, the Bible then tells us of a couple who had at least three children – Miriam, Aaron, and Moses. Scripture tells us that Miriam was the older sister of Aaron and Moses. She is one of the few women in the Bible called a prophetess.

When Moses was three months old, his mother placed him in a basket among the reeds on the banks of the Nile. Miriam then situated herself off in the distance to see what would happen to him. Pharaoh’s daughter would then find him and take him in as her own. Quick to seize the opportunity, a young Miriam approaches the princess and offers her assistance by volunteering to go get one of the Hebrew women to nurse the baby she had found. With the princess’ acceptance of her offer, Miriam comes back to her with Moses’ own mother, who is hired on the spot (Exodus 2:3-9).

In the Torah*, Miriam also anonymously appears as the sister of Moses who stands on the riverbank. In the Midrash*, a collection of highly-respected Jewish writings, the Rabbis associate Miriam’s being by the riverbank with her earlier prophesy. According to these writings, she prophesied that her mother would birth a son who would deliver Israel. When Moses was born, her father was said to have celebrated and praised Miriam because her prophesy had come true.

Sometime later, Miriam appears again in the Bible assisting her brothers in leading the Israelite people to freedom from under Pharaoh’s rule. After many miracles and plagues, the three are found leading the people of Israel safely through the Red Sea, while Pharaoh’s army is swallowed up by the waters (Exodus 7-15).

Then Miriam the prophet, Aaron’s sister, took a tambourine and led all the women as they played their tambourines and danced. Exodus 15:20 NLT

The Torah also mentions Miriam by name in relation to this Song at the Sea.

Interestingly, the Midrash credits her as having contributed greatly to the redemption of Israel from Egypt. Though the writings give Miriam no formal position as a leader, she was considered to be a part of a family triumvirate with her brothers, and therefore, influential. Under the Midrash’s representative rendition of the cup-bearer’s dream from Genesis 40, it is stated that Miriam, Aaron, and Moses are considered to be the three branches of the vine that appear in that dream, representing an emerging and blossoming Israelite people.

According to the Aggadah*, another collection of Jewish writings, Miriam is a central source of vitality, a foremost leader, who cares for Israel’s needs in the wilderness. Miriam is again represented as a very intrinsic member of the Moses-Aaron-Miriam leadership triad.

Are you getting a sense of Miriam’s importance among the Jewish people? So, where did she go wrong?

Maybe a seed of jealousy was planted in Miriam’s heart as she watched the Lord speak to Moses and use Aaron more than her. Maybe Miriam thought she deserved to be placed higher in status than Moses and Aaron because she was the oldest sibling and had the gift of prophecy.

What we do know is her self-righteous tendencies and her jealousy over Moses became apparent when his marriage to a Cushite woman came to light. (It should be noted that the identity of this wife is not explained in scripture and that there are many theories of who she was). Moses, the Bible says, was the humblest of all people and didn’t react to his siblings’ disapproval. What we do know is the conversation was not so much about the woman as it was about Moses breaking Jewish tradition and yet, being used by God.

While they were at Hazeroth, Miriam and Aaron criticized Moses because he had married a Cushite woman. They said, “Has the Lord spoken only through Moses? Hasn’t he spoken through us, too?” But the Lord heard them. Numbers 12:1-2 NLT

When the Lord heard them, (as we all know, He HEARS EVERYTHING) He was angry and called them all to the Tabernacle! Here is the first consequence of Miriam’s jealousy. She is being questioned about her actions and reprimanded in person by the Lord!

Interestingly, it is Miriam that is punished further, which implicates her as the ringleader of this jealous fit. The second consequence of her jealousy was that the Lord struck her with leprosy on His way back to heaven. Moses, as we recall, who wasn’t offended nor reacted to his sister’s angst, continues to show tremendous love for her. In spite of her jealousy towards him, Moses pleads her case to God, asking for her healing. And God complies with a condition. She would be punished with leprosy and put outside of the camp for seven days before being allowed back among the people. Therefore, Moses and the people waited for her before they traveled again (Num. 12:1-15).

Lesson learned! God is paying attention to what His worshipers say to or about one another. To please God, we must avoid undue pride and jealousy. These toxic traits may cause us to smear the good reputation of others and/or our own in the process.

Time for a quick, honest, self-check: Are you harboring any venomous feelings of jealousy toward someone else? Is there anything that you envy having so much that you are obsessed with getting it? Are you feeling resentful, insecure, possessive, bitter, or angry towards anyone? Most importantly, is jealousy coming between you and God?

Precious Father in Heaven, we humbly come to You seeking Your love to fill us to overflowing. We seek You more each day, so that there is no room for jealousy or any other negative emotion. We trust that You will guide us and weed out anything that is not of You. We thank You for Your tender mercies, love, and grace. We thank You for Your hedge of protection from the enemy. In Your precious name, Jesus, we pray. AMEN.

Written by Melony Henderson

Please note all scripture was taken from the NLT – New Living Translation

Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Additional Resources:

Meir, Tamar. “Miriam: Midrash and Aggadah.” Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia. 20 March 2009. Jewish Women’s Archive. (Viewed on July 7, 2019) <https://jwa.org/encyclopedia/article/miriam-midrash-and-aggadah>.

*Jewish writings defined:

  • Jewish Torah – the law of God as revealed to Moses and recorded in the first five books of the Hebrew scriptures (the Pentateuch).
  • Midrash – a type of non-halakhic literary activity of the Rabbis for interpreting non-legal material according to special principles of interpretation (hermeneutical rules).
  • Aggadah – statements that are not scripturally dependent and that pertain to ethics, traditions, and actions of the Rabbis; the non-legal (non-halakhic) material of the Talmud.


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