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“MIRIAM AND AARON OPPOSE MOSES”
Sunday, October 17, 2021:
Commentary (The UGP Curriculum)
Lesson: Numbers 12:1-16; Time of Action: about 1445 B.C.; Place of Action: Desert of Paran
Lesson Text: Numbers 12:1-16
King James Version (KJV)
I. AARON AND MIRIAM COMPLAIN AGAINST MOSES (Numbers 12:1-9)
1. And Miriam and Aaron spake against Moses because of the Ethiopian woman whom he had married: for he had married an Ethiopian woman.
2. And they said, Hath the Lord indeed spoken only by Moses? hath he not spoken also by us? And the Lord heard it.
3. (Now the man Moses was very meek, above all the men which were upon the face of the earth).
4. And the Lord spake suddenly unto Moses, and unto Aaron, and unto Miriam, Come out ye three unto the tabernacle of the congregation. And they three came out.
5. And the Lord came down in the pillar of the cloud, and stood in the door of the tabernacle, and called Aaron and Miriam: and they both came forth.
6. And he said, Hear now my words: If there be a prophet among you, I the Lord will make myself known unto him in a vision, and will speak unto him in a dream.
7. My servant Moses is not so, who is faithful in all mine house.
8. With him will I speak mouth to mouth, even apparently, and not in dark speeches; and the similitude of the Lord shall he behold: wherefore then were ye not afraid to speak against my servant Moses?
9. And the anger of the Lord was kindled against them; and he departed.
II. MOSES, THE INTECESSOR (Numbers 12:10-16)
10. And the cloud departed from off the tabernacle; and, behold, Miriam became leprous, white as snow: and Aaron looked upon Miriam, and, behold, she was leprous.
11. And Aaron said unto Moses, Alas, my lord, I beseech thee, lay not the sin upon us, wherein we have done foolishly, and wherein we have sinned.
12. Let her not be as one dead, of whom the flesh is half consumed when he cometh out of his mother’s womb.
13. And Moses cried unto the Lord, saying, Heal her now, O God, I beseech thee.
14. And the Lord said unto Moses, If her father had but spit in her face, should she not be ashamed seven days? let her be shut out from the camp seven days, and after that let her be received in again.
15. And Miriam was shut out from the camp seven days: and the people journeyed not till Miriam was brought in again.
16. And afterward the people removed from Hazeroth, and pitched in the wilderness of Paran.
Golden Text: “And he said, Hear now my words: If there be a prophet among you, I the Lord will make myself known unto him in a vision, and will speak unto him in a dream” (Numbers 12:6).
I. INTRODUCTION. If you have never been faced with jealousy and betrayal, just keep on living trying to do the right things. It seems that when we are doing our very best to please the LORD, jealousy and betrayal will raise their ugly heads and these behaviors can come from the most unlikely people. It could be someone we considered to be a friend who betrays us, or a jealous co-worker who feels the need to move up at our expense. But probably the worst kind of betrayal is when it is done by a friend or family member. Moses faced such jealousy and betrayal in this week’s lesson. His brother and sister, Aaron and Miriam, attempted to revolt against his authority complaining about his marriage to a foreign woman. They may have had a reasonable complaint since Moses later taught that Israelites were not to marry foreigners (see Deuteronomy 7:1-3); and he married one himself (see Numbers 12:1). But the truth of the matter is that if their complaint was really their true concern, they could have brought it to Moses or to the council of elders he had recently formed (see Numbers 11:16-17) to resolve the issue. But instead of doing that, which would have been both the right and the wise thing to do, they demonstrated their jealousy and betrayal. This week’s lesson reveals that in reality, their complaint was merely a means to start a general rebellion against Moses as well as the LORD, with the aim of elevating themselves to positions of ultimate power by removing Moses as the nation’s leader.
II. THE LESSON BACKGROUND. On the twentieth day of the second month in the second year after leaving Egypt, God took up His cloud from off the tabernacle which indicated that it was time to continue their journey and they moved on to the wilderness of Paran (see Numbers 10:11-12). We are not told why, but for some reason, the people again complained displeasing the LORD who sent fire among them that consumed those who were on the outermost part of their campsite (see Numbers 11:1). And once again, the people cried out to Moses who prayed to the LORD. The LORD heard Moses and He stopped the fire and Moses named that place Taberah, because the fire of the LORD burnt among His people (see Numbers 11:2-3). Following that incident of complaining, the people once again complained that they were tired of the manna God was providing for them daily (see Numbers 11:4-6). When Moses overheard their complaint he turned to the LORD complaining himself that he couldn’t handle these people any longer and wanted the LORD to just kill him if things were going to continue as they had (see Numbers 11:10-15). But instead of killing Moses, God had a better plan. He commanded Moses to gather seventy respected elders in Israel and bring them to Him and He would give them some of Moses’ spirit so that they could help him govern the people (see Numbers 11:16-17). Then God told Moses to tell the people to sanctify themselves because the next day He would give them meat to eat. But there was a catch. God would give them so much that it would come out of their nostrils (see Numbers 11:18-20). Moses then showed his dwindling faith when he complained about the great number of Hebrews there were and how was God going to feed them all (see Numbers 11:21-22). God knew that Moses was questioning His power so He replied to him saying “Is the LORD’S hand waxed short? thou shalt see now whether my word shall come to pass unto thee or not” (see Numbers 11:23). Moses did as the LORD commanded and assembled seventy elders with him to meet with the LORD at the tabernacle where God put His spirit on them enabling them to prophesy. However, although God gave His Spirit to all seventy elders, two of these men, Eldad and Medad remained in the camp prophesying (see Numbers 11:24-26). While they were prophesying in the camp, a young man ran to Moses and told him what they were doing. This prompted Joshua to ask Moses to make them stop prophesying in the camp when they should be at the tabernacle with the other sixty-eight elders. Moses rebuked Joshua for making that request, and declared that he wished all of God’s people were prophets (see Numbers 11:27-29). Then God sent a wind into the camp that brought so much quail with it that the people greedily gathered more than could eat. But before they could finish chewing one bite, God demonstrated His anger with the people by smiting many of them with a great plague causing Moses to name that place Kibroth-Hattaavah, because they buried the people who lusted for meat there (see Numbers 11:31-34). Then the Israelites continued their journey and stopped at Hazeroth for a while (see Numbers 11:35). Our lesson begins with chapter 12.
III. AARON AND MIRIAM COMPLAIN AGAINST MOSES (Numbers 12:1-9)
A. The reason for the complaint (Numbers 12:1). Our first verse says “And Miriam and Aaron spake against Moses because of the Ethiopian woman whom he had married: for he had married an Ethiopian woman.” It appears that just as soon as God had dealt with one incident of murmuring and complaining by His people (see Numbers chapter 11), He and Moses are once again faced with another one. We are told that “Miriam and Aaron spake against Moses because of the Ethiopian woman whom he had married: for he had married an Ethiopian woman.” On the surface, their complaint was “against Moses” the brother of “Miriam and Aaron” and was about his marriage to “an Ethiopian woman,” a woman of a different race. But before we continue, how many of us would have thought that such a complaint “against Moses” would come from those whom God had called and ordained for religious service, for “Miriam” was a prophetess (see Exodus 15:20), and “Aaron” was the high priest (see Exodus 28:1-4, 29-30, 40). God had designated both of them to work with “Moses” for the deliverance of Israel (see Micah 6:4). This was bad enough, but the situation gets worse when we consider that “Miriam and Aaron” were Moses’ siblings and were his closest relatives. But based on what “Miriam and Aaron” said about “Moses” in verse 2, their motive for complaining against him really had nothing to do with him marrying “an Ethiopian woman,” a woman of a different race. At this time, under the Law of Moses, marrying a Canaanite was forbidden (see Exodus 34:11, 16), but marrying an Egyptian or Cushite was not; for Joseph’s wife was an Egyptian (see Genesis 41:45). Therefore, their motive for complaining against their brother had everything to do with them wanting to remove “Moses” from his divinely appointed position as Israel’s leader so they could take his place. Note: Ethiopia was the ancient African nation south of Egypt and was sometimes called “Cush.” This wife of “Moses” is called a “Cushite woman” in many modern bible translations (i.e., the NIV, the American Standard Version, the English Standard Version, etc.). But because the ancient borders of Cush and Midian sometimes overlapped, Miriam may have been referring to Moses’ wife, Zipporah, who she considered to be a Cushite or “an Ethiopian woman” instead of a Midianite (see Exodus 2:21). But it is also possible, and maybe more likely, that Zipporah had died and Miriam was referring to a second wife described as “an Ethiopian woman.” But since this incident of complaining took place right after God commanded “Moses” to select the seventy elders who would assist him in governing the people (see Numbers 11:16-17), it seems that “Miriam” may have been the instigator of this rebellion against “Moses,” and “Aaron” joined in because he may have been upset about not being consulted in choosing the seventy elders. One would certainly think that “Aaron,” of all people would not take part in this matter since he was not sinless himself. If “Aaron” had remembered how “Moses” prayed for him when God was angry with him for making the golden calf (see Deuteronomy 9:7-20), maybe, just maybe he would not have rendered to “Moses” evil for good (see Psalms 38:20). But his behavior proves that “the law maketh men high priests which have infirmity” or weaknesses (see Hebrews 7:28). We can go all the way back to the beginning and see how Eve drew her husband Adam into sin. The point is that we must be careful not to allow ourselves to be drawn into quarrels by and with our relatives; for family quarrels always seem to be the worst, and forgiving seems to be far from the quarrelers’ minds.
B. Family jealousy (Numbers 12:2-3).
1. (vs. 2). This verse says “And they said, Hath the LORD indeed spoken only by Moses? hath he not spoken also by us? And the LORD heard it.” As noted in the comments on verse 1, in this verse we see the real reason why Moses’ siblings complained about him. “And they said, Hath the LORD indeed spoken only by Moses?” It appears that they were not complaining so much about how he was leading and governing God’s people, but that he was monopolizing his position. They felt that he was acting as if he was the only leader for Israel, and of course he was. But in their jealousy they posed the rhetorical questions, “Hath the LORD indeed spoken only by Moses? hath he not spoken also by us?” In other words, their question was much like many weak and immature Christians would probably ask, “should Moses be the only one who can choose the elders on whom the spirit of prophecy will come? And hasn’t God also spoken through us? Shouldn’t we have had a part in that effort as well?” They didn’t deny that God had spoken through “Moses,” but they implied that He had spoken by them as well (see Exodus 4:27; 9:8). As a result, they wanted to make themselves equal with “Moses” who had no equal in Israel, as we shall see in verse 8. The last part of this verse says “And the Lord heard it.” What’s interesting here is that “the LORD heard” the complaining from Aaron and Miriam but nothing is said about Moses’ response. Note: It appears that although “the LORD heard” these siblings express their jealousy for their brother, “Moses” either didn’t hear them, paid them no attention or decided that this was not the time to reply, showing his humility. But he had good reason to resent the complaint. Their behavior was wrong and the timing was wrong. They did it when the people had just been guilty of rebellion, which could easily break out again if the people listened to Aaron and Miriam. But when God’s honor was at stake as in the case of the golden calf, no one was more zealous or eager for God than “Moses.” However, now when Moses’ own honor was attacked, no one was more meek and humble than he was. Again, the real reason for criticizing “Moses” is plain to see; his brother and his sister were jealous of him. God had given Miriam and Aaron important places in His plan for Israel (see Micah 6:4), but if their jealousy of “Moses” was not addressed, it could do great harm to the work of God. As we shall see in verse 10, God would do something about it; or as Deputy Sheriff Barney Fife would say, God would “nip it in the bud.”
2. (vs. 3). This verse says “(Now the man Moses was very meek, above all the men which were upon the face of the earth).” Although “Moses” was powerful he didn’t deserve this criticism from his siblings. He answered their challenge to his leadership with gentleness and humility. With a parenthetical statement, “Moses,” the writer of Numbers said “(Now the man Moses was very meek, above all the men which were upon the face of the earth).” Simply speaking, at that time, and maybe even until the time of Christ, “Moses” was the humblest man on “the earth.” Humility is such an important fruit of the Spirit (see Galatians 5:22-23) that Jesus Himself spoke of His own meekness when He said “I am meek and lowly in heart” (see Matthew 11:29). Trust me, it doesn’t get any more “meeker” than that!
C. The LORD summons Moses, Aaron and Miriam (Numbers 12:4-5).
1. (vs. 4). This verse says “And the LORD spake suddenly unto Moses, and unto Aaron, and unto Miriam, Come out ye three unto the tabernacle of the congregation. And they three came out.” According to verse 2, “the LORD” had heard “Aaron, and Miriam” declare that He had spoken to them as well as to “Moses.” Now He did just that. He spoke to all three leaders “Moses, and unto Aaron, and unto Miriam” and called for them to “Come out ye three unto the tabernacle of the congregation.” All “three” leaders obeyed God’s command “and they three came out” of the camp and went to “the tabernacle of the congregation” which refers to “the tabernacle” itself.
2. (vs. 5). This verse says “And the LORD came down in the pillar of the cloud, and stood in the door of the tabernacle, and called Aaron and Miriam: and they both came forth.” Once all three parties involved in this incident were in place at “the tabernacle,” we are told that “the LORD came down in the pillar of the cloud, and stood in the door of the tabernacle, and called Aaron and Miriam.” Normally, “the pillar of the cloud” which was the sign of God’s presence, hovered above “the tabernacle” (see Exodus 40:38) and didn’t move until it was time for the people to continue their journey to Canaan (see Exodus 40:34-37). But this time was different. Yes, earlier God “came down” in “the cloud” and “stood at the door of the tabernacle” to speak with Moses (see Exodus 33:9). But this time He only “called Aaron and Miriam” to come closer; He didn’t include Moses. This had to have them wondering what was about to happen. The phrase “came down” is often used in Scripture to indicate a special way that God dealt with people and earthly events (see Genesis 11:5; Exodus 3:7-9; 19:20; Numbers 11:17, 25; Psalms 144:5; Isaiah 31:4; 64:1; Micah 1:3).
D. Moses, God’s faithful servant (Numbers 12:6-7).
1. (vs. 6). This verse says “And he said, Hear now my words: If there be a prophet among you, I the LORD will make myself known unto him in a vision, and will speak unto him in a dream.” God, who normally spoke directly to Moses, now spoke directly to Aaron and Miriam, this conniving duo. First, God got their undivided attention when He said to them, “Hear now my words.” He spoke audibly so that there could be no doubt that it was God. Then He said, “If there be a prophet among you, I the LORD will make myself known unto him in a vision, and will speak unto him in a dream.” God placed a great deal of honor on the prophets, for He said “I the LORD will make myself known unto him” either by “a dream” when they were asleep, or by “a vision” when they were awake. Once God made Himself “known,” or revealed Himself to the prophets, they in turn made Him “known” to others. Today, the LORD does not make Himself “known” in dreams and visions, as He did in ancient times, but He does it by the “Spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him…”(see Ephesians 1:16-18). He makes “known” to us as believers, things which “many prophets and kings” longed to see and hear but didn’t (see Luke 10:24). Therefore, in these last days, it is said that “sons and daughters shall prophesy” (see Acts 2:14-17) or preach the gospel because they will know more about the mysteries of the kingdom of grace than even the prophets themselves did (see Hebrews 1:1-2).
2. (vs. 7). This verse says “My servant Moses is not so, who is faithful in all mine house.” When God said “My servant Moses is not so,” He was saying that He didn’t make Himself know to “Moses” like He did other prophets because “Moses” was different. God said that “Moses” was “faithful in all mine house,” meaning that God trusted him with all of His people of Israel, described here as “all mine house.” God trusted “Moses” to deliver His mind to the Israelites and they trusted “Moses” to stand for them with God. He was faithful to both God and Israel. Everything “Moses” did proved that he was an honest man whose entire focus was God’s honor and the welfare of Israel. To reward “Moses” for demonstrating his meekness and patience through this entire ordeal, for He kept quiet through it all, God praised him with the memorial honor that he “is faithful in all mine house.”
E. A very special relationship (Numbers 12:8-9).
1. (vs. 8). This verse says “With him will I speak mouth to mouth, even apparently, and not in dark speeches; and the similitude of the Lord shall he behold: wherefore then were ye not afraid to speak against my servant Moses?” Here God continued to tell Aaron and Miriam why “Moses” was not like other prophets whom He spoke to in dreams and visions (see verses 6 &7). God first said “With him (Moses) will I speak mouth to mouth, even apparently, and not in dark speeches.” In other words, “Moses” was honored to have a more intimate relationship with God, more than any other prophet. When God spoke to him, “Moses” would be blessed to hear more clearly and distinctly from God than any other prophet for God spoke to him “mouth to mouth…and not in dark speeches.” It was said earlier that God spoke to him “face to face, as a man speaketh unto his friend (see Exodus 33:11), someone He speaks with freely and without any confusion. The point is that no other Old Testament person had a more intimate relationship with God than “Moses.” But for the Christian who is in Jesus Christ, the glory of God’s goodness and mercy that was withheld even from “Moses” is shown to believers through the Holy Spirit (see Exodus 33:19-20; John 1:14; II Corinthians 3:18). However, the believer also looks forward to an even greater vision of God; seeing Jesus Christ “face to face” (see I Corinthians 13:12; Revelation 22:3-4), clearly and “not in dark speeches” or riddles. Through other prophets, God sent His people rebukes and predictions of good or evil, which were delivered “in dark speeches,” figures, types, and parables. But through “Moses,” God gave laws to His people, and instituted holy ordinances, which could never be delivered “in dark speeches.” They had to be expressed in the clearest and most understandable way. The description here of prophetic revelation as “dark speeches” or “riddles” implies that sometimes prophecies in Scripture should be taken figuratively instead of literally. Then the LORD said “and the similitude of the LORD shall he behold.” In other words, “Moses” would see more of God than any other prophet. The word “similitude” refers to “a likeness” or “a representation” of the real thing. As God’s special prophet, “Moses” would be privileged to see “the similitude of the LORD” like he saw it in Horeb, when God proclaimed His name to him (see Exodus 3:1-4, 13-14). “Moses” only saw “the similitude of the LORD” or His likeness in the burning bush. Like any human being, if “Moses” ever saw the LORD’S face, he would die (see Exodus 33:19-25). But angels and glorified saints always see the face of our Father. Since “Moses” had the spirit of prophecy unlike anyone else, which set him far above all other prophets (and surely his siblings had to be aware of that), God asked Aaron and Miriam, “wherefore then were ye not afraid to speak against my servant Moses?” or “Why then were you not afraid to speak against my servant Moses?” They were so full of jealousy that it never occurred to them that God would be angry with what they were doing and consider it to be a complaint against Him as well. We too, ought to be “afraid” of saying or doing anything against the servants of God. It is dangerous if we do, for God will plead on their behalf because He protects them “as the apple of his eye” (see Deuteronomy 32:9-10). Note: A revealing detail in this story is that Aaron and Miriam’s purpose was to force themselves into positions of power. The truth is that a thirst for power can never be a legitimate motivation for rebelling against authority. If we have a grievance against our boss, we should first try to resolve it with him or her. If the boss’s abuse of power or incompetence prevents this, we should then try to have him or her replaced by someone of integrity and ability (Oh, if we could only do this in congress!). But if our purpose is to magnify our own power, then our efforts become unjust, and we have even lost the ability to perceive whether the boss is acting legitimately or not. Our own cravings have made us incapable of discerning God’s authority in the situation.
2. (vs. 9). This verse says “And the anger of the LORD was kindled against them; and he departed.” Once God showed Aaron and Miriam the error of their ways, He then showed them His displeasure. We are told that “the anger of the LORD was kindled against them; and he departed.” God was so angry with these complainers and rebels that “He departed.” God left them right where they were. He didn’t need to wait for any excuses because He understood what they were thinking from far off (see Psalms 139:2), and departing from them without another word spoken was enough to show that he was angry and displeased. When God takes His presence from us, it’s the surest and saddest sign of His displeasure with us. Woe unto us if He ever departs. But we can be sure that He will never depart unless our sin and foolishness drive Him away from us (see Psalms 51:3-11).
IV. MOSES, THE INTECESSOR (Numbers 12:10-16)
A. Miriam is stricken with leprosy (Numbers 12:10). This verse says “And the cloud departed from off the tabernacle; and, behold, Miriam became leprous, white as snow: and Aaron looked upon Miriam, and, behold, she was leprous.” As a demonstration of His anger and displeasure, God’s departure and His judgment upon “Miriam” took place at the same time. We are told that “the cloud departed from off the tabernacle; and, behold, Miriam became leprous, white as snow.” There’s no doubt about it, when God departs evil comes. We cannot expect any good to happen when God removes His presence. The LORD’S punishment for this episode was directed at Moses’ sister for “Miriam became leprous, white as snow.” Leprosy was a disease often inflicted by the immediate hand of God as punishment for some particular sin, as it was on Gehazi for lying (see II Kings 5:15-27), on King Uzziah for attempting to do the service of the priest (see II Chronicles 26:16-21), and here on “Miriam” for complaining and rebelling against her brother. It may be that the leprosy first appeared on her face, so that everyone who saw her knew that she had been struck with it. Note: It’s interesting that God only struck “Miriam” with leprosy and not Aaron. The reason may be because she instigated the transgression against Moses, and it appears that God saw a difference between those who mislead and those who are misled. Although as the high priest, Aaron’s office didn’t save him from God’s anger; it did seem to have helped him avoid God’s judgment by leprosy. If Aaron had been struck with leprosy, he couldn’t officiate in the tabernacle especially now when his presence was needed since he and his two remaining sons were the only priests. In addition, having leprosy would have been a lasting blot on his family. The last part of this verse says “and Aaron looked upon Miriam, and, behold, she was leprous.” Who would know better what leprosy looked like than the priests? “Aaron,” as priest was the one who had to determine when the leprosy was gone (see Leviticus 14:1-3). The Hebrew word for leprosy can refer to different skin diseases. But it was clear to anyone who saw “Miriam” that God had condemned her attitude. Aaron shared the humiliation, but God did not make him leprous since his position as high priest (second in importance only to that of Moses) needed to be protected.
B. Aaron pleads with Moses on behalf of Miriam (Numbers 12:11-12).
1. (vs. 11). This verse says “And Aaron said unto Moses, Alas, my lord, I beseech thee, lay not the sin upon us, wherein we have done foolishly, and wherein we have sinned.” Witnessing God’s judgment upon his sister and partner in crime, “Aaron said unto Moses, Alas, my lord, I beseech thee, lay not the sin upon us, wherein we have done foolishly, and wherein we have sinned.” With that request, “Aaron” was begging “Moses” to forgive them. The authority of God’s chosen leader must be respected. When we rebel against such a leader we are rebelling against God himself. “Aaron” also showed his submission to “Moses” by referring to him as “my lord” or “my master.” He humbles himself to “Moses,” confesses his “sin” a(see James 5:16), and begs for his forgiveness. “Aaron,” who had just joined his sister in speaking against “Moses” their brother, now confesses that they “have done” or acted “foolishly.” He speaks respectfully to “Moses” calling him his “lord,” and also speaks as someone ashamed of what he and his sister had done.
2. (vs. 12). This verse says “Let her not be as one dead, of whom the flesh is half consumed when he cometh out of his mother’s womb.” After begging Moses to forgive them for their sin, Aaron appeals to Moses’ compassion for the horrible physical condition of his sister and says to him “Let her not be as one dead, of whom the flesh is half consumed when he cometh out of his mother’s womb.” Of course Aaron realized that they both had sinned, but he didn’t want Miriam to die; for he said “Let her not be as one dead” comparing her death to a stillborn baby who comes “out of his mother’s womb” with his “flesh … half consumed” or half eaten. Aaron vividly describes the misery of Miriam’s situation hoping to incur Moses’ pity. He seems to indicate that he thought Moses had something to do with Miriam’s leprosy and could do something about it. But Moses knew he couldn’t do anything himself to help his sister, but he knew who could as we shall see in the next verse.
C. Moses prays for Miriam (Numbers 12:13). This verse says “And Moses cried unto the LORD, saying, Heal her now, O God, I beseech thee.” Being the humble and honorable man he was, just as he had done more than once for the Israelites, “Moses” intercedes for his sister. “Moses cried unto the LORD, saying, Heal her now, O God, I beseech thee.” Moses’ cry to “the LORD” indicated that he had fully forgiven his sister for her complaining and rebellion against him. He didn’t accuse her before God, nor did he call for justice against her. “Moses” was so far from doing any of those things that when God chastised her, he quickly begged the LORD to reverse His judgment against his sister and “Heal her now.” The humble and meek man “Moses” is a good example of Jesus’ command to “pray for those that despitefully use us” (see Matthew 5:44; Luke 6:28). Note: Moses’ behavior should remind us that we must never take pleasure in the most righteous punishment inflicted either by God or man on those who have harmed us. If we are in positions of authority, we are likely to face opposition just like “Moses” did. If we, like “Moses,” have gained authority legitimately, we may be offended by opposition and even recognize it as an offense against God’s purpose for us. We may even be in the right if we attempt to defend our position and defeat those who are attacking it. Yet, like “Moses,” first we must care for the people over whom God has placed us in authority, including those who are opposing us. They may have legitimate grievances against us, or they may be seeking to take over. We may succeed in resisting them, or we may not. We may find common ground, or we may find it impossible to restore good working relationships with them. Nevertheless, in every situation we must demonstrate humility, meaning that we must act for the good of those God has entrusted to us, even if it costs us our comfort, power, prestige, and/or our self-image. We will know we are pleasing God when we find ourselves speaking on behalf of those who oppose us, just as “Moses” did with Miriam.
D. God’s response to Moses’ prayer (Numbers 12:14). This verse says “And the Lord said unto Moses, If her father had but spit in her face, should she not be ashamed seven days? let her be shut out from the camp seven days, and after that let her be received in again.” When God replied to Moses’ intercessory prayer for his sister Miriam, He indicated that He had forgiven her, but there were still consequences for her actions. God compared the consequences to an act of displeasure shown by her father. We are told that “the LORD said unto Moses, If her father had but spit in her face, should she not be ashamed seven days?” It appears that God was saying that if her earthly “father had but spit in her face,” to show his displeasure with her, “wouldn’t she be so troubled and concerned by it, and so sorry that she had deserved it, that she would shut herself up in her room for some time and not enter her father’s presence, or show her face in the family, because she was ashamed of her own foolishness?” God’s point is this: if such reverence is given to our earthly fathers, when they correct us, with even more reverence we ought to humble ourselves and “be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live” (see Hebrews 12:9). There are some scholars who take this verse literally to mean that if Miriam’s “father had spit in her face” because he was displeased with her, she would have to leave the Israelite campsite for “seven days.” At this time, there was no specific law regarding this. However, being spat on was a sign of contempt and displeasure (see Deuteronomy 25:5-9), and the person who was spat upon, like one who had leprosy, was also considered ceremoniously unclean and had to wash themselves (see Leviticus 15:8). Of course, Miriam’s sin deserved more than being separated from the camp for “seven days.” God, in His sovereignty could have sent her out of the camp permanently; but instead, He showed His great mercy and limited her punishment. He said to Moses, “let her be shut out from the camp seven days, and after that let her be received in again.” A separation period of “seven days” from the public was the norm for those who had contracted leprosy (see Leviticus 14:1-10), and after that the priest had the authority to pronounce that they were clean or cured of the leprosy. Then their time of isolation would end and they could return to the camp. Note: Although this punishment may seem too lenient to us, it would still serve its purpose. First, and foremost, it would cause Miriam to recognize her sin and repent of it. Second, her punishment of leprosy would be public, and all Israel could take it as a warning against any rebellion. And consider this: if Miriam, the prophetess was subject to such humiliation for a few hasty words spoken against Moses, what can we expect for our murmurings and complaining? Miriam’s conduct reveals how people, by sin, will bring dishonor to themselves and stain their own character. When Miriam praised God, she was at the head of the congregation leading them in a song of praise to the LORD (see Exodus 15:20-21). But now that she has offended God we find her expelled from that same congregation.
E. Miriam’s isolation and recovery (Numbers 12:15). This verse says “And Miriam was shut out from the camp seven days: and the people journeyed not till Miriam was brought in again.” According to God’s instructions, “Miriam” suffered the consequences of her sin, for she “was shut out from the camp seven days.” Her punishment also delayed the people’s progress toward Canaan. We are told that “the people journeyed not till Miriam was brought in again.” At this time, God didn’t move the cloud, so the people didn’t continue their journey to the Promised Land. This should remind us that sin not only affects the sinner, but it can, and often does affect others. In this case, Miriam’s punishment for her sin of speaking against Moses would delay the Israelites’ march ahead to Canaan. For sure, there are many things that may oppose us, but nothing hinders our way to heaven like sin does. We also see God showing compassion to “Miriam” as a mark of respect to her. Her trouble and shame would have been greater if the Israelites had continued their journey while she was in isolation. Therefore, in God’s compassion to her, the people remained in their current location until her period of separation was over. At that time, she most likely had to complete the h the usual ceremonies of the cleansing of lepers. Note: Those who are being censured and rebuked for sin should still be treated with tenderness, and not be swallowed up with the shame they deserve; they should not be “counted as enemies” (see II Thessalonians 3:13-15), but “forgiven and comforted” (see II Corinthians 2:7). Yes, sinners must be cast out from among us with grief, but those who repent must be taken in with joy.
F. Israel on the move again (Numbers 12:16). Our final verse says “And afterward the people removed from Hazeroth, and pitched in the wilderness of Paran.” After her seven day period of isolation, when Miriam was absolved and re-admitted to the congregation, the people finally went forward “from Hazeroth” and made camp “in the wilderness of Paran,” close to the southwestern border of Canaan, which was the Promised Land in the east-central portion of the Sinai peninsula.
V. Conclusion. People today tend to think that it’s okay to criticize and complain about people in positions of leadership and authority. Some even consider it to be a God-given right. But this week’s lesson teaches otherwise, especially when it comes to spiritual leadership. We should never assume that it’s always appropriate to criticize those who serve God; those who God has given authority over us. Although both Aaron and Miriam were guilty of opposing Moses, God’s chosen leader, in His sovereignty, God chose to only discipline Miriam. Just as He did with Miriam, the LORD chastises us as well, because He loves us and wants to keep us from falling deeper into sin (see Hebrews 12:6); and we should be grateful for that.
PRACTICAL POINTS FOR DISCUSSION:
1. If you ever feel the need to complain against someone, make sure it’s not for the wrong reasons, but that it is justified by the Word of God (Numbers 12:1).
2. Meekness is not a weakness, and we should demonstrate it whenever possible (Numbers 12:2-3).
3. The LORD will hold those accountable who speak wrongly against His chosen leaders (Numbers 12:4-5).
4. God not only honors faithfulness; He expects it from His people (Numbers 12:6-8).
5. No one is beyond the LORD’S discipline when their sins have kindled His wrath (Numbers 12:9-10).
6. Even though we may repent of our sins, there may still be consequences (Numbers 12:11-16).
***The Sunday School Lesson, Union Gospel Press Curriculum; The Bible Expositor and Illuminator***
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