If her father had but spit in her face, would she not bear her shame for seven days?

After asking His previous question, the Lord withdrew from the immediate presence of Miriam and Aaron. It was then that Miriam found herself covered with leprosy. Aaron begged for forgiveness for the both of them.

Moses prayed for God to heal Miriam and the Lord asked another question.

If her father had but spit in her face, would she not bear her shame for seven days?

Spitting in a person’s face is a universal sign of rejection. When God withdrew from the presence of Miriam and Aaron, it was a sign of rejection, like spitting in their faces.

According to the law, anyone who touched anything unclean was required to leave the camp during a time of cleansing. In ancient times, a person with leprosy was considered unclean and was removed from normal social life. After seven days, the person with leprosy would appear before a priest to be examined (Leviticus 13). Once a person was cleansed of his or her leprosy, they could reenter then camp.

God instructed that Miriam be shut up for seven days outside the camp so that afterwards she could be received again. Miriam and Aaron obeyed God. Miriam stayed outside the camp for a week and the group didn’t move on until she had rejoined them. Miriam could have been out indefinitely but she wasn’t. God dealt graciously with her.

When Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses, it wasn’t because the Lord convicted them to. Their wrongful grumbling was addressed by God Himself. Miriam’s discipline in the form of a skin disease must have humbled her greatly. Her inward pride affected her words and actions. God made Miriam’s outward appearance look like her heart.

Why leprosy? Let’s consider the similarities between leprosy and gossip.

  • Leprosy is contagious and so is gossip. As leprosy poisons the body, gossip poisons peoples’ minds.
  • Leprosy causes numbness and a person can hurt themselves for lack of feeling. Gossip desensitizes our hearts towards others and makes us less compassionate.
  • Leprosy can permanently damage someone’s eyesight. Gossip causes us to view others differently and we may never be able to see them clearly again.

Leprosy is curable and so is gossip. If someone is gossiping, don’t listen. Remove yourself from a person who gossips. Wait until the person can control his or her tongue before you engage in frequent conversation.

Does gossiping have a hold on you? Are you the one who speculates about others or spreads thoughts of unflattering possibilities? If so, you must stop. There is a time and place to talk about other people (see guidelines in Matthew 18), but it is best to avoid talking about someone else negatively. If you have a complaint against someone, talk to that person about it. If that person won’t listen, then you can consider talking to a third party.

If your outward appearance looked like your inner self, how much difference would you see? Do you strive to keep up a pleasing exterior, but secretly harbor private sins? Do you feign friendliness to those you actually despise? Are you openly social to those that you speak poorly about to others?

Whatever we struggle with, be it gossiping or something else, we can always go to God, our High Priest. We can seek Him with confidence that He is able to cure us of ourselves.

Why then were you not afraid to speak against My servant, against Moses?

Have you ever walked in on people when they were talking about you? Has anyone ever overheard you talking about someone else? It is uncomfortable to be caught in mid-gossip, but that is exactly what happened to Aaron and Miriam, the siblings of Moses.

We met Aaron earlier in this study. Aaron stood by Moses’ side when it was time to approach Pharaoh about letting the Israelites go free. After the Exodus, Aaron had priestly duties and helped Moses in leading the people. Aaron’s sons were set apart to be priests as well.

Miriam was known as a prophetess. After the people crossed the Red Sea and their pursuers, the Egyptian soldiers, were drowned in the Red Sea, Miriam led the congregation in singing. (Exodus 15) Generally, women were not given leadership responsibilities in ancient culture, but Miriam was in a respected position to guide the people.

In the very beginning of Numbers 12, we find Miriam and Aaron speaking against Moses because Moses had married a Cushite woman. They said, “Has the Lord indeed spoken only through Moses? Has He not spoken through us as well?” (Numbers 12:1-2) God heard them.

So what is it about a Cushite woman that had Miriam and Aaron so tied up in a grumbling attitude? The Cushites were descendants of Cush. The lineage tree from our first History Break (below) can help us uderstand. Cush was one of the sons of Ham and from Ham came the Babylonians and the Ninevites, who were not known for their righteousness. Many of the world’s false religions were born in Babylon. Given the habits of some of these religions, such as human sacrifice, it would be understandable that people who loved God would abhor the practices of the people who were involved in these religions. As a Cushite, Moses’ wife might have been judged by the practices of her relatives.

In the midst what might have been racial tensions or sibling rivalry, the Lord, as the Father, took action. He called all three of them (Moses, Aaron and Miriam) out for a little talk. In a cloud pillar at the doorway to the tent, He addressed Aaron and Miriam and said,

Hear now My words: If there is a prophet among you, I, the Lord, shall make Myself known to him in a vision. I shall speak with him in a dream. Not so, with My servant Moses, He is faithful in all My household; With him I speak mouth to mouth, Even openly, and not in dark sayings, And he beholds the form of the Lord…

Then the Lord asked this question…

Why then were you not afraid to speak against My servant, against Moses?

 As seems to be the habit with humanity, God’s question goes unanswered. I admit that I probably wouldn’t have had much to say myself if I were in that position.

One of the interesting points about this question is that God first called Moses “My servant” and then He called him by name. Moses’ whole identity was wrapped up in his service to God. By this time, Miriam and Aaron had seen God use Moses very clearly. By identifying Moses as belonging to Him, God was making it clear that any issue Miriam and Aaron might have had with Moses, was also an issue with God.

God had placed Moses in a place of authority which Miriam and Aaron should have respected. Does this mean that we should never question those in church leadership? No. We can all think of examples of churches with corrupt leadership. False teachers line their pockets from the donations of their congregations and preach whatever is the most profitable message at the time. Some churches are manipulated by controlling pastors who have their own agendas.

So where did Miriam and Aaron go wrong?

It is good to watch church leaders and to keep a close eye on their doctrine. Scripture advises us to test what we see and hear against what God has said. Where there are gray areas we should pray and read Scripture. If someone in church leadership is wrong, then we should use Scripture to respectfully and gently show them.

But that  is not what Miriam and Aaron did. Instead of going to God and asking Him about their issues with Moses, they gossiped. They simmered bad attitudes and it stirred up their own pride and arrogance.

Miriam’s and Aaron’s supposed case against Moses was in regards to the woman he had married. We are not told much about Moses’ wife. We don’t know how much her Cushite ancestry affected her or if she loved the Lord or not. But was that really the main issue Miriam and Aaron had? Remember their questions to each other, “Has the Lord indeed spoken only through Moses? Has He not spoken through us as well?” (Numbers 12:1-2)

Pride was at the heart of their grumbling. It wasn’t that they thought Moses was sinning, it was that they thought they were on the same authority level as Moses. Their arguments were about gaining power for themselves, not lovingly correcting a brother. And God heard them.

When will any of us learn that God hears every word we say? And more than that, He sees our hearts and the motives that drive us to speak. When we gossip about a brother or sister in the Lord, God hears us. Whether we are right or wrong about someone else isn’t the point. We should go to God first, check our motives with Him, and then listen for His instructions. If we need to correct someone, then we should do so gently, being motivated by love. If someone else is not in the wrong and we are simply being prideful or jealous, then we need to let go of the issue and move on.

Do you see someone with something you wish you had? Authority, position, skills, health, money, education, family, beauty, attention…? What is your attitude toward that person?

Instead of wanting what someone else has, what can you think of to be thankful about?

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