Message notes by Pastor Ewings on a sermon based on Numbers 12:1-15
There was a family feud going on in Moses’ life, and it was no game show. Miriam and Aaron, Moses’ sister and brother, are leading the charge against God’s prophet. Moses has already faced one struggle after another. God’s people have already complained that Moses had brought them out of Egypt into the desert to die. They have moaned and groaned against their leader, and now Moses’ own family decides to get in on it. This story is an example of sibling rivalry—but not among children. These are adults who adopt the tactics of children in the school yard.
The initial attack on Moses concerns his wife. Miriam instigates the bickering with her reference to Moses’ Cushite wife. It is possible that Moses’ wife, Zipporah, is the one whom Miriam slanders, exaggerating the claim. It is also possible that Zipporah has died and Moses recently took a new wife who was a Cushite. This attack is obviously meant to hurt, and the account paints the term “Cushite” in a contemptible manner, like a racist slur. But really, this is just the pretext. Like so many, Miriam presents a smoke screen before she comes out with the real issue. Her main concern is, “Why is Moses God’s favorite?” Together with her brother, they try and topple Moses from his position of authority and claim some fame for themselves. They verbally object to Moses’ leadership, asking “Has the Lord spoken only through Moses? Hasn’t He also spoken through us?”
The next verse is quite interesting. In your NIV Bible, it reads, “Now Moses was a very humble man, more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth.” That is a very likely translation of the verse, but another option is possible. It would seem strange for a humble character to make the aforementioned claim, that of being more humble than anyone else on the entire planet. It could rightly be that Moses fought with the Holy Spirit, saying, “Please don’t make me write that!” and the Lord said, “Moses, My servant, you will write what I have authored; you don’t get a say in the matter.” That would attest to Moses’ true humility. It could also be that the word translated “humble” could mean “miserable.” The word “miserable” could hardly be more fitting in the context of the chapter considering Moses’ plight. He has found his lot so difficult, the task so unmanageable, the pressure so unbearable that he cried out “The burden is too heavy for me!” in the previous chapter. With attacks now originating from within his own family, he is indeed miserable.
Some of the most harrowing words in this text come follow Miriam and Aaron’s outcry. We read, “And the Lord heard this.” What follows is a dramatic appearance of God with pointed words defending His prophet and condemning all who would oppose Him. He called Miriam and Aaron forward. Then He called them to listen. And then He spoke. His words settle the matter; Moses speaks with God’s authority and no one has the right to question the man the Lord has put in place. The last line of His response is chilling: “Why were you not afraid to speak against My servant?” To heighten the matter, the Lord speaks of His burning anger against this sin. Worse yet, He left them. The God Who does not abandon or forsake left them.
Wouldn’t you expect Moses to rejoice? Wouldn’t you expect Moses to say I told you so!”? Yet we see why so few men are as highly regarded in the Bible as the one who spoke with the Lord face to face. After all the harm she had caused him, he pleaded with the Lord to heal Miriam.
What lesson are we to learn from this? “Don’t speak against your pastor or else!!!” “Leprosy awaits all who make racist remarks!!!” No; let the Lord Himself show us. He takes sin seriously. He punishes all who transgress His commands and here, His justice was swift, firm and public in the face of a public sin. At the same time, see the heart of God’s servant who demonstrates love even in the midst of a family feud.
Lesson 1: Numbers 12:1-15
Lesson 2: James 3:13-18
Gospel: Mark 9:30-37