5.3 Miriam’s Leprosy

Meditating on the Judgements of God:  

5.3  Miriam’s Leprosy

Num 12:9-11  The anger of the LORD burned against them, and he left them. When the cloud lifted from above the Tent, there stood Miriam–leprous, like snow. Aaron turned toward her and saw that she had leprosy; and he said to Moses, “Please, my lord, do not hold against us the sin we have so foolishly committed.

Judgements, we have seen, come in all different forms. In our studies so far we have considered the judgments of

  • banishment from a land,
  • banishment from a community,
  • a widespread flood,
  • a man cursed,
  • a people scattered with different languages,
  • tumours and illness,
  • complete destruction of two cities and of a hesitant woman,
  • the death of a bad man,
  • the death of a man who refused to honour their family,
  • a famine,
  • ten plagues on a pharaoh,
  • execution of some 4000 idolaters,
  • fire consuming two casual priests,
  • the executions of a blasphemer
  • the execution of a Sabbath breaker,
  • fire breaking out because of grumblings,
  • and finally plague coming because of further grumblings.

Seven of that list (the ones italicised) did not result in death, Seven of them involved individual deaths, and five of them involved many deaths. In every case others learned by what happened and obviously in the case of the seven where death did not follow, those closest involved learnt.

So now we come to another of God’s judgments that did not involve death but which obviously came as a sharp lesson in discipline. The story starts as follows: Miriam and Aaron began to talk against Moses because of his Cushite wife, for he had married a Cushite.” (Num 12:1)  The apparent cause of their criticism was the fact that Moses had a wife from an area in the southern Nile valley in Egypt.  Moses first wife Zipporah had been a Midianite and so presumably after she died he took another wife (who may have been one of those who had come out of Egypt with Israel, an Egyptian who later history shows us would be now considered part of Israel). But that isn’t their only criticism for they continue: Has the LORD spoken only through Moses?” they asked. “Hasn’t he also spoken through us?” (Num 12:2) For some reason they allow the enemy (we suggest) to nudge them in this temptation to challenge Moses’ leadership.  They are basically saying, ‘Aren’t we as good as Moses, shouldn’t we be seen as main leaders as well?’

The folly of this, of course, is that Moses was very obviously God’s chosen servant (Ex 3 & 4) and even though he initially used Aaron as a mouthpiece in confronting Pharaoh, there was no doubt that, observing all the happenings at Sinai, Moses was THE number on leader of this people.

But then we read, “And the LORD heard this.” (v.2c) Of course He did, He hears everything, but it simply means He took note of what they were saying. Note carefully what follows: “Now Moses was a very humble man, more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth.” (v.3) The implication is that Moses did not respond – but the Lord did! “At once the LORD said to Moses, Aaron and Miriam, “Come out to the Tent of Meeting, all three of you.” (v.4) The Lord does not delay but somehow communicates (possibly through Moses) His desire to meet with them at the Tent of Meeting outside the camp. There He explains that mostly He reveals Himself to His people through  dreams and visions but that is not so with Moses: “But this is not true of my servant Moses; he is faithful in all my house. With him I speak face to face, clearly and not in riddles; he sees the form of the LORD.” (7,8) In other words He makes very clear to them His thinking. Moses is special and they are foolish not to realise this.

Then we see, “The anger of the LORD burned against them, and he left them. When the cloud lifted from above the Tent, there stood Miriam–leprous, like snow. Aaron turned toward her and saw that she had leprosy;” (v.9,10)  The Lord’s anger is an indication of their wrongness. The leprosy is a result of His judgment. What is interesting is that it is only Miriam and not Aaron who is afflicted. He is the high priest and he has got to just carry on and perform his priestly daily duties while being aware of the state of his sister and we see “he said to Moses, “Please, my lord, do not hold against us the sin we have so foolishly committed. Do not let her be like a stillborn infant coming from its mother’s womb with its flesh half eaten away.” (v.11,12) Thus Moses cries to the Lord on her behalf and he is told to have her put outside the camp for seven days and Israel’s progress is halted while they wait for her to be cleansed – which happens. Thus we find this is a temporary judgment, a strong act of discipline.

So what was so wrong in this situation. Essentially Aaron and Miriam are challenging Moses’ authority and in so doing they are challenging God. Moses is God’s man and, as we’ve noted, everything about his recent few years shouts that. The testimony of the Bible is that God stands up for His servants’ they are special and those who stand against them have God to answer to.

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