Meditations in Exodus: 81. Ongoing Folly
Num 12:1,2 Miriam and Aaron began to talk against Moses because of his Cushite wife, for he had married a Cushite. “Has the LORD spoken only through Moses?” they asked. “Hasn’t he also spoken through us?” And the LORD heard this.
Now I have to say, if when you read these current meditations you are tempted to go elsewhere to find happier writings, I would fully understand. There are two areas of the Old Testament that I find particularly depressing; they are the book of Judges and the period of Israel travelling from Sinai to Kadesh recorded in Numbers. They are depressing because they reveal an ongoing folly (I use that expression to make it sound more gentle) in the people of Israel. How the modern Jew can look at the history of the Old Testament and still feel good about being a Jew, I don’t know. But then I realise that these are just one bunch of human beings revealing the sinfulness of mankind and if you look carefully at the history of ANY nation you will find that same sinfulness revealed. We are ALL the same and if these studies say anything, it must be that we are a sinful people and we NEED the salvation revealed through Jesus Christ.
So we’ve just seen in chapter 11, first of all grumbling in the camp that brought about fire from God around the outskirts (v.1,2), then the rabble craving meat and grumbling (v.5,6) which had ended in all the grumblers dying of plague. At this point you would have thought anyone in Israel would have been looking over their shoulder, so to speak, to make sure they and others were walking well before God to avoid any further disciplinary action coming from heaven.
You would have thought! But no! Next it is the turn of Aaron and Miriam. I am surprised Aaron is still alive after the incident with the golden calf but it is almost as if the Lord says to His chief priest, ‘No, you will live with the knowledge of what you have done, and I will keep you alive. Your role of chief priest can be a blessing (you are still alive) and a bane (this memory will nag you).’ Aaron and Miriam are, you might remember, Moses’ older brother and sister. So what do they do?
They do two things. First they complain about Moses’ wife. The reference to a Cushite may refer to a second wife that Moses took after the death of his first wife, or it may simply be a derogatory term for his first wife who came from Midian. But that is really only a cover-up for their second thing is they complain that Moses is getting too much praise and glory. Come on, they say, does God only talk to him, hasn’t He also talked to us? Well, yes, but not much!
And there in parenthesis we get this beautiful description of Moses: “(Now Moses was a very humble man, more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth.)” (v.3) Older versions speak of him being the meekest man on earth. Perhaps another way of saying it in modern terms is, “Moses wouldn’t say boo to a goose”, a modern expression that means very shy, timid and not aggressive in any way. When Moses gets attacked we see again and again he falls on his face before the Lord pleading for help (e.g. Num 14:5, 16:4,22,45, 20:6). He doesn’t ever have a go at his detractors.
The bad news in verse 2, as far as this couple are concerned is that, “the Lord heard this.” So, “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. 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, he said, “Listen to my words.” (4-6) The Lord then points out to them that when He speaks to a prophet it is in visions and dreams (v.6) but with Moses He spoke face to face (v.7,8). Hadn’t they realised the significance of this, and so, “The anger of the LORD burned against them, and he left them.” (v.9)
Was that the end of it? Not a bit of it! “When the cloud lifted from above the Tent, there stood Miriam—leprous, like snow.” (v.10a) Now whether it is leprosy or some other skin complaint is irrelevant; the Law said there were specific ways to deal with such things (Num 5:1-4) and that was to put that person outside the camp until it is cleansed and healed. Aaron pleads with Moses: “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)
Now Moses could have turned his back on the couple but that is not God’s way, “So Moses cried out to the LORD, “O God, please heal her!” (v.13) That was the natural thing to ask but it ignores the sin, so, “The LORD replied to Moses, “If her father had spit in her face, would she not have been in disgrace for seven days? Confine her outside the camp for seven days; after that she can be brought back.” (v.14) Thus we then see, “So Miriam was confined outside the camp for seven days, and the people did not move on till she was brought back.” (v.15) In other words, because the whole camp would have heard why they were at a standstill, her shame was seen by all!
Now there seem three obvious lessons from this passage:
First, don’t grumble against God’s leaders. Complain to Him about them by all means but don’t grumble about them in public or to any individual.
Second, when people ‘attack’ you, let your first response be to take it to the Lord and leave it with Him, to deal with it.
Third, when you are praying for other people’s healing, it may be natural to just ask for healing but there may be a genuine reason for their state which needs dealing with first. Pray for the big picture.
And we might add to these three, four, just realise afresh the folly and stupidity that we are all prone to, and ask the Lord to grant you wisdom on a daily basis to avoid such things. May we learn these things, not just in our heads but also in our lives.