By Mike Willis
The book of Numbers records the wanderings of the children of Israel in the wilderness and records several significant events that happened in the way. Among them is the rebellion of Miriam and Aaron against their brother Moses.1 Recorded in Numbers 12, this narrative is worthy of our study.
Moses married an Ethiopian woman (Num. 12:1).2 Miriam and Aaron were jealous of Moses’ position over Israel and said, “And they said, Hath the Lord indeed spoken only by Moses? Hath he not spoken also by us?” (12:2). Significantly, the text adds, “And the Lord heard it” (12:2).3 To confirm that this complaint was totally unjustified, the book of Numbers adds, “Now the man Moses was very meek, above all the men which were upon the face of the earth” (12:3).
The Lord called the three children of Amram and Jochebed to meet him in the Tent of Meeting. The Lord vindicated Moses and indicated his approval of his conduct and disapproval of that of Miriam and Aaron. The anger of the Lord was kindled against Aaron and Miriam (12:9). When the glory of the Lord departed, “behold, Miriam became leprous, white as snow” (12:10).4
Aaron approached his brother saying, “Alas, my lord,5 I beseech thee, lay not the sin upon us, wherein we have done foolishly, and wherein we have sinned” (12:11). Aaron asked that Miriam not have to carry the burden of this leprosy with her through the remainder of his life.
Moses interceded for Miriam.6 The Lord determined that Miriam should be unclean for seven days at the end of which she would be cleansed from her leprosy (12:14-15). The children of Israel abode in Hazeroth until she was cleansed and rejoined the camp.
Lessons from the Rebellion of Miriam and Aaron
1. Good people sometimes become involved in sinful rebellion. The Old Testament record of the lives of Miriam and Aaron testifies that these were good people, children of God. Nevertheless, even children of God can fall into sin, just as did the Apostle Peter (Matt. 26:69-75; Gal. 2:11-14). I have witnessed good people get caught up in the wiles of sinful rebellion in churches as well. Perhaps they are jealous of the role of a brother in the congregation, sincerely mistaken about something, enamored with the leaders in a rebellion, or whatever. Even though these people are good brethren, they find themselves fighting against God and hurting the Lord’s church and his people, just as Miriam and Aaron hurt Moses by their accusations.
Envy is a work of the flesh to which all are susceptible (see Gal. 5:21). W. Binnie warned,“When some one whom you have known familiarly as your junior or inferior is raised above you in office or wealth, in gifts, or in grace, watch and pray, else you will be very apt to fall into Miriam’s sin” (The Pulpit Commentary: Numbers 135).
2. Good people can be wrongfully charged. The charges implied against Moses (namely that he was usurping greater authority than he should) were wrong, even though the ones who made the charges were his respected brother and sister! Can you imagine what added weight was given to the charge against Moses by the fact that his brother and sister were the ones making the charges? Nevertheless, the charges were not true. The divine record plainly declares, “Now the man Moses was very meek, above all the men which were upon the face of the earth” (12:3).
I have witnessed good men be blasphemed, just like Moses was. Brethren with whom I have worked in the closest of associations and whose personal character I know as well as I know myself have been condemned as religious zealots who are trying to run the church and who think of themselves as apostles and who nose into everyone else’s business. I have seen them condemned and criticized as “buzzards,” “barking dogs,” “jingoists,” sectarian brethren with a cause to promote, and other such unsavory epithets. The same charge is made against them as was made against Moses — one is taking too much authority upon himself. What is so ironic is that such criticisms usually occur in articles written by brethren calling for better treatment of those with whom one disagrees!
3. To rebel against the authority of Moses was tantamount to rebellion against God’s authority. Moses was God’s appointed messenger. The statement made in the New Testament about God’s messengers is always true: “He that receiveth you receiveth me, and he that receiveth me receiveth him that sent me” (Matt. 10:40). We must not lose sight of the same truth today.
- The one who rebels against the word of God rebels against God. One cannot have a proper relationship with God while refusing to obey his word.
- One who rebels against his Messiah, rebels against God.
- One who rebels against his divinely ordained government of the church (elders) rebels against God.
4. God knows about one’s rebellion. The text specifically states, “And the Lord heard it” (12:2). God is aware of what happens in the affairs of men. The wicked are the ones who think that God does not know what happens among men. David described their attitude: “He hath said in his heart, God hath forgotten: he hideth his face; he will never see it” (Ps. 10:11). One must never forget today that God is just as aware of our conduct as he was of Miriam and Aaron’s.
5. One can overcome his emotions to intercede for the sinful. Moses was hurt by his brother and sister. Nevertheless, he overcome his emotional response to their hurting him and prayerfully interceded to God that his sister not be a leper throughout the rest of her days. No doubt, he could have said, “She deserved it, for the Lord is the one who smote her, not me. She will just have to bear her affliction the rest of her days. That will teach her and others a lesson.” But that is not how Moses thought. This was his sister — the same sister who watched over the ark in which he was placed when he was a baby (Exod. 2). His love for her helped him to overcome these fleshly temptations and intercede in prayer to God on her behalf. His great love for his brethren enabled him to make intercession on several other occasions. Miriam and Aaron were indebted for their deliverance to the man whom they had wronged, just as we are of Christ!
Even the faithful must ever live with an awareness of the temptations of Satan in their own life. Sometimes he appeals to our spiritual pride, just as he did to Miriam and Aaron. None of us is so strong that the temptations of Satan do not threaten us.
When we are wronged, as Moses was, we also can overcome the temptation of vengeance and revenge to offer our prayers in behalf of those who have wronged us. We can overcome the temptations of bitterness, sinful anger, malice, and wrath to pray for those who repent of their sins against us.
- One is impressed with the faithful record in the Bible of the sins of the men of faith. The Scriptures are impartial in recording the sins of those who were its heroes, just as it records the sins of the wicked. There is no whitewashing of sin just because the sinner is one of the author’s favorites.
- Moses’ first wife was Zipporah (Exod. 2:21-22). Whether this second marriage was a marriage Moses entered that was polygamous, a marriage that he entered after the death of Zipporah, or a marriage following a divorce is not revealed.
- Just why Miriam and Aaron were jealous of Moses’ position is not recorded. The implication is that this marriage had something to do with their jealousy. We also must not forget that Moses was the younger brother of Aaron and Miriam (Aaron was three years older than Moses, Num. 33:39; cf. Deut. 34:7; Miriam was the older sister who watched over the baby Moses when he was put in the river, Exod. 2). One is especially tempted to envy when those who once were inferior in position rise to positions above him.
- Why was Moses not also stricken with leprosy? Several answers have been suggested: (a) The character of Aaron that is revealed in the Pentateuch shows him to be a follower rather than a leader (cf. his role when the golden calf was molded, Exod. 32). This suggests that Miriam probably took the leadership in this rebellion. This is confirmed by her name being mentioned first, the verb “spake” is in the feminine form, and she alone was punished. (b) Aaron was the High Priest and having leprosy would have disqualified him from serving as High Priest.
- What a contrast between “my lord” and the charges made in 12:1!
- In the prophecy that God would raise up a prophet like unto Moses (Deut. 18:15-19), one must not forget Moses’ role as an intercessor (see Num. 11:2; 12:13). Indeed, in this role he typified Christ, our mediator.
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