As I continue to read through Numbers, preparing myself for more numbers, the story took a different turn. For a moment, Moses had to take time away from receiving and giving instruction about Godly worship and life to deal with regional leadership and domestic issues. What really stood out to me (the reason for this blog) was Numbers 12. The issue at hand was rebellion.
1 Miriam and Aaron began to talk against Moses because of his Cushite wife, for he had married a Cushite. 2 “Has the LORD spoken only through Moses?” they asked. “Hasn’t he also spoken through us?” And the LORD heard this.
Miriam is Moses’ sister. She was responsible for putting the infant Moses, in the sight of Pharaoh’s daughter. She was also responsible for making the suggestion to Pharaoh’s daughter that kept Moses connected to his family (Exodus 2:7). As family members and sisters go, she was a great sister.
Aaron was Moses’ brother and right hand man. Aaron was with Moses when he confronted Pharaoh and was Moses mouth piece (when Moses had something to say, Aaron said it for him, literally!). As family members and brothers go, he was a bit more unstable but he was a great brother.
Passages in the Bible like Numbers 12 can have lots of controversial issues for believers and unbelievers alike. It is filled with human flaws and poor decision making, it’s real and when God steps into this reality things don’t always work out like we would want them to—it can get messy.
Without taking too much time a quick background is helpful.
The children of Israel, 1 million or more men, women and children, were just set free from 400 years of slavery. From the Israelites perspective, they were set free by one man, Moses. The people didn’t have the face-to-face exposure to God like Moses, they got everything second hand. Now they were on a journey to some place that they could call their own. It was all by faith that they followed Moses. Which was a big problem for these people, because they weren’t the faith kind-of-people.
Moses’ second wife, an Ethiopian (Cushite) wife, is first introduced here in Numbers 12.
The Other Woman
How many leaders in our society, under the pressures of leadership turn to the comfort of another woman? It’s unclear whether Moses took wifey number two because of stress or lust. Either way, this extra wife was causing some problems.
Wife number one: Zipporah, was with him during the time after he fled Egypt because he killed a man and all through the plagues, liberation and now the exodus. She was not a Hebrew like Moses was, but she was a spiritual woman who sometimes saw things that Moses refused to see (Exodus 4:25). She was what we would call today, the wife of his success. Zipporah was the woman of the phrase “behind every great man is a great woman.”
Then Moses took a second wife. If I can speak honestly, but having one marital relationship is work enough, a second-concurrent relationship is crazy. And there is proof in Scripture that a second wife or more is asking for trouble. In today’s society they are called “mistress” or “the other woman,” but the trouble is still the same no matter what.
There is no telling how long Moses was married to the Cushite woman because the main focus of this verse is not how long they were married, but that she, the Cushite woman, was the reason for Aaron’s and Miriam’s contention.
I could imagine that whatever this problem was it was festering in their hearts for a while. And now, with circumstances becoming more stressful, Aaron and Miriam could hold their tongues no longer.
“Has God only spoken to Moses!” they spoke as one voice. This was more than concern over Moses’ leadership, this was an attack and an attempt to overthrow Moses’ leadership. I say this because though the cause of their contention was the Cushite wife, they did not address the problem they were having with her, instead, with their words they attempted to overthrow Moses’ leadership.
3 (Now Moses was a very humble man, more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth.)
This parenthetical was written by Moses himself. The biased approach in this passage makes people doubt the inspiration of God’s Word. I, on the other hand, believe that it adds to the credibility of God’s Word and to the longevity of it. The fact that this kind of self-defense still remains in the Bible shows that it wasn’t manipulated to make Moses look better than he should. This need to promote himself only makes him look like a sad, tired and overwhelmed leader. “I’m so humble that I have to tell everyone about it!”
4 At once the LORD said to Moses, Aaron and Miriam, “Come out to the Tent of Meeting, all three of you.” So the three of them came out.
Have you ever been called into the Principal’s office. It’s the same if you are going to the Pastor’s or your boss’s office. They don’t ask to see you in their office unless it’s something serious. If it was important they would tell you anywhere you are, but this is serious and private. To make matters worse for Aaron and Miriam is that the Lord called this meeting as soon as He heard their dangerous chatter.
This is where the story takes a terrible turn, especially for Miriam. Aaron was a hot mess from the beginning. God dealt with his unstable actions before (chief maker of the golden cafe, father of rebellious children and himself holding God in contempt resulting in a near death experience). God had plans for Aaron, so it seemed that he was less severe with him. With Miriam, he dealt with her more harshly.
5 Then the LORD came down in a pillar of cloud; he stood at the entrance to the Tent and summoned Aaron and Miriam. When both of them stepped forward, 6 he said, “Listen to my words:
“When a prophet of the LORD is among you,
I reveal myself to him in visions,
I speak to him in dreams.
7 But this is not true of my servant Moses;
he is faithful in all my house.
8 With him I speak face to face,
clearly and not in riddles;
he sees the form of the LORD.
Why then were you not afraid
to speak against my servant Moses?”
9 The anger of the LORD burned against them, and he left them.
At this point I felt a little remorseful. Why? Because sometimes I felt the way Aaron and Miriam felt. And even have acted in a similar manner. When problems developed within relationships and they are relational problems, not ministry problems, and they aren’t dealt with directly, these relational problems can be misdirected at leadership. Their problem with Moses was a personal one, but they made it a professional problem.
Moses was not the best leader, its evident, but he was leader because of God’s choosing not his own. God lectures them on how He relates to people. Some people He gives them dreams or visions to communicate His message. But Moses, he wasn’t like other prophets. He had a unique relationship with God, a face-to-face relationship.
Aaron and Miriam were put in their place. Aaron may have been Moses’ right hand man, but he was not the man. God was upset by their actions and their rebellion and He decided to teach them a lesson.
God Gives Miriam
10 When the cloud lifted from above the Tent, there stood Miriam—leprous, like snow. Aaron turned toward her and saw that she had leprosy; 11 and he said to Moses, “Please, my lord, do not hold against us the sin we have so foolishly committed. 12 Do not let her be like a stillborn infant coming from its mother’s womb with its flesh half eaten away.”
Miriam could not have thought that her complaining and anger at Moses would have turned her into a Leprous mess. Leprosy was a skin condition with various stages. Miriam seemed to have a very serious stage and this changed her dramatically. Not only was the skin condition unattractive, it was extremely dangerous and required that she be sent out of the camp community until she was cured. What if she never was cured? Then it was a life of seclusion and exile with only other lepers to comfort you in their community of illness.
I can’t help but be afraid of God because of these actions. I can only imagine the horror in Miriam’s heart and it’s apparent that Aaron, her brother, felt the same kind of horror. His attitude changed and even called Moses his lord. Aaron intercedes for her, pleading with Moses to ask God to not hold their foolishness against her. I believe that Miriam was a victim of Aaron’s anger and resentment. Aaron was the culprit this time, just like he was times before, even to the point that God sought to kill him. Moses stepped in and interceded for him saving his life and now, Aaron was interceding for his sister.
13 So Moses cried out to the LORD, “O God, please heal her!”
I was seriously concerned for Miriam. Her life was over if God did not heal her. The worse part of it is that this people group was always on the move. She would have to follow along at a distance, she would never have made it. Oh, Lord, why? Why did God do this?
God didn’t strike Miriam with this illness because she was a female. God is no respecter of persons. His favoritism is not based upon gender, but upon whoever He desires to favor. His wrath however is specific to the individual, Miriam was paying the price for her own words.
God is in the teaching business. God was teaching Aaron a lesson, one that he never had to learn. Think of it like this, Aaron was in charge of the biggest intercessory group in existence, the Levites. He was responsible for being the middle man, between God and Man. This job wasn’t given to Moses, but it was given to Aaron as his future and the future of his family line. But Aaron, during our encounters with him thus far, has not really stood between God and Man. He stood between Moses and Pharaoh or the people, but never did he cry out for someone, pleading for mercy from God.
That is, until now! Aaron, motivated by love and guilt put himself between Miriam and God. Aaron saw that his rebellious efforts to usurped Moses’ leadership had serious consequences. He didn’t think through his words and didn’t think through the consequences of what he was saying. He couldn’t see that these words were foolish when he sow seeds in Miriam’s heart and then into the hearts of the people. Now, with Miriam’s disproportionate punishment (because he didn’t get leprosy), he could see that it was all foolishness. Miriam I am sure looked at Moses differently, saw God different and even lived life differently.
Thankfully, God being rich in mercy, hears Moses’ cry and healed Miriam of this disease. We learn that our words can cause many problems not just for ourselves, but for others who hear them. Miriam wasn’t guiltless, she had it in her heart but something brought it out of her heart and into her mouth and within earshot of a very loving and just God.
Lord help us that we won’t become like Aaron and Miriam. That we won’t let the disappointments of our past sit in our hearts, growing day by day by discontent. That we won’t take family related problems and blow them up into bigger issues. Help us to always remember that those people who are called into leadership positions have it hard and make tough decisions and sometimes make wrong decisions…just like we do, only our mistakes can be kept quietly between the walls of our home.
Thank you for this learning lesson, I hope we learn it and live it.