Lesson: Miriam and Aaron Oppose Moses
By Rev. Leo H. McCrary II – October 17, 2021
Taught From – Numbers 12:1-16
Over the past couple of weeks we have been taking a look at the faithfulness of the Lord. We have seen the Lord’s faithfulness towards the camp of Israel even when they grumbled and complained about only having manna to eat. Now, we did see that those who instigated the grumbling and complaining were punished even though the Lord was faithful to the rest of the camp of Israel. We’re going to see the Lord’s faithfulness towards His chosen servants in our lesson this week, and towards those that do wrong and repent. This week’s lesson is being taught from Numbers 12:1-16.
Miriam and Aaron Speaks Against Moses
Our lesson opens with Miriam and Aaron being upset with their brother, Moses. It is believed that Miriam was the sister mentioned in Exodus who watched to see what would happen with Moses after their mother placed him in an ark in the reeds of a river bank in Egypt (Ex. 2:2-4). We are also told in the book of Exodus that Miriam was called a prophetess (Ex. 15:20). Aaron, we know, was the high priest of Israel. So, we could consider that Miriam, like Moses and Aaron, was considered a leader so this was a household of spiritual leaders of Israel.
Anger towards Moses
We are told that Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses because Moses had married an Ethiopian woman (v. 1). Why were they upset with Moses? I believe it was because they felt it went against their law where the Israelites were not supposed to marry Gentiles. Now, this was Moses’ second wife with Zipporah being his first wife. In the book of Exodus we are told that Moses was given Zipporah to be his wife by Jethro after he had fled from Egypt (Ex. 2:21).
Zipporah was not a child of Israel as Jethro was a Midianite. Now, we don’t know what happened to Zipporah as she is only mentioned a few times in scripture. The last time she’s mentioned in scripture is when Jethro brought her to Moses when he and the children of Israel were in the wilderness of Sinai (Ex. 18:2). So, it is possible that Zipporah passed away, stayed behind with Jethro, or she could have still been with Moses which would mean that it was possible that Moses was married to two women at the same time. Again, I want to state that we don’t know for certainty what happened to Zipporah.
What we do know is that Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses marrying the Ethiopian woman. We then see Miriam say, “Has the Lord indeed spoken only through Moses? Has He not spoken through us also (v. 2)?” So, it does not seem to be just that Moses had married an Ethiopian that was driving Miriam’s anger towards Moses. Miriam seems to be jealous of Moses as well.
So, essentially we see Miriam accusing her brother Moses of committing a sin and she also seems to be jealous of him as well. I almost wonder if she’s upset and feels like Moses is getting away with a sin because of his position. I feel like now is also a good time to point out that it seems Miriam is leading the charge between her and Aaron.
Miriam is mentioned first in scripture to be speaking against Moses. She appears to be the only one that made a statement about the Lord speaking through her and Aaron. Aaron seems to just be nodding his head and following along with Miriam which would be true to his character – just as we saw when the children of Israel wanted him to make the calf of gold. You will recall that Aaron did not speak out against the children of Israel’s actions at that time but simply followed along with them (Ex. 32:1-4, 21-22).
The Lord calls a family meeting
While Miriam was trying to accuse her brother of doing wrong, we are told that the Lord heard her. Then scripture makes it clear that Moses was not a bad person as Miriam appeared to be trying to judge him as. We are told that Moses was a very humble man and that there was none that was as humble as him (v. 3). After hearing Miriam’s accusation, we are told that the Lord called a family meeting at the courtyard of the tabernacle (v. 4).
God came down in the pillar of cloud and stood in the doorway of the tabernacle to speak to Moses, Aaron, and Miriam (v. 5). God is going to speak of Moses, Miriam, and Aaron to make things clear to these two about their brother.
We see the Lord speak to them about the difference between a prophet and Moses. The Lord tells them that He makes Himself known to prophets through visions and that He speaks to prophets through dreams (v. 6). However, with Moses, the Lord tells them that He speaks to Moses plainly and face to face (vss. 7-8). So, the Lord is telling Miriam and Aaron that He does have a very special relationship with Moses. This was a relationship that Moses had earned because as God had said, Moses was faithful in all the house of the Lord.
I believe the Lord called this family meeting to first make things clear to Miriam and Aaron. Yes, Moses was very special among the people. Secondly, I believe the Lord wanted to convey to Miriam and Aaron that it was not their place to judge Moses. If Moses had done wrongly, I believe, the Lord was telling them that He would personally deal with it. Again, the Lord is faithful and in his faith towards Moses, He would let him know when he has gotten off track.
I believe this is why we face the consequences of what we have done wrongly — God loves us. As my uncle once said, the Lord will prune you as a vinedresser prunes a vine. God will often rebuke and correct us when we have gotten off track. Now, we can choose to either accept our pruning and grow when the Lord corrects us or we can be stubborn, which would only prolong the Lord’s correction until we get back on track.
Miriam faces consequences
Speaking of facing the consequences. As we continue on in our lesson, we see that the Lord’s anger was aroused against Miriam and Aaron. The Lord departed from the family meeting without even a response from Aaron and Miriam (v. 9). It doesn’t seem that the Lord allowed them to respond, which seems to show just how aroused He was at their accusation of Moses.
After departing from the family meeting, we are told that Miriam became leprous, as white as snow (v. 10). Aaron and Moses turned and saw that their sister was now a leper and they began to plead to the Lord on her behalf. They say to the Lord, “Oh, my lord! Please do not lay this sin on us, in which we have done foolishly and in which we have sinned (v. 11).”
I believe that Aaron had said this part of their plea to God. I say this because Moses had not necessarily done anything wrong here. Rather it was Aaron and Miriam who had actually wronged Moses by speaking against him, and again, it was really Miriam who was leading the charge. This is probably why we only see Miriam facing the consequences here for speaking against Moses.
Though, I do want to point out the good of Moses and Aaron pleading on Miriam’s behalf. They say, “Please do not let her be as one dead, whose flesh is half consumed when he comes out of his mother’s womb (v. 12)!” And we see that Moses adds, “Please heal her, O God, I pray (v. 13)!” Again, we see the character of Moses in his pleading on sister’s behalf even when she had been speaking against his character.
How often do you pray for those that falsely accuse you and do wrong by you? Let us remember what Jesus taught us. Jesus said, “love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust (Matt. 5:44-45).”
In our lesson today, we see an example of Moses practicing what Jesus was teaching. At that moment, Miriam was acting as an enemy of Moses yet Moses was still approaching her with love. I would also tell you that the Lord still loved Miriam as well because He stepped in to correct her when she was thinking and speaking wrongly.
The Lord’s faithfulness
In the closing verses of our lesson, we are going to see that the Lord was still faithful to Moses, Aaron, and Miriam. After hearing the plea of Moses and Aaron, we see that the Lord acknowledges their plea. Not only does He acknowledge their plea but He makes it clear that Miriam was not going to die, yet she would suffer the shame of her leprosy for a week.
God tells them, “If her father had but spit in her face, would she not be shamed seven days? Let her be shut out of the camp seven days, and afterward she may be received again (v. 14).” To spit in someone’s face was considered to be an act that would shame the one whose face was spat on. We would certainly consider it a great shame and even disrespectful for someone to spit on us.
In his poverty, Job said, “now I am their taunting song; Yes, I am their byword. They abhor me, they keep far from me; They do not hesitate to spit in my face (Job 30:10).” In the book of Isaiah, the servant, Israel’s hope, said, “I gave My back to those who struck Me, And My cheeks to those who plucked out the beard; I did not hide My face from shame and spitting (Is. 50:10).” This servant was the suffering servant – Jesus Christ. Being spat on brought about great shame.
Miriam was wrong in her speaking against Moses who was a special vessel of the Lord. Moses was so special that the Lord told him of another Prophet that would come to Israel like him (Deut. 18:15). Again, that Prophet that the Lord told Moses and that Moses spoke of to the children of Israel was Jesus, the suffering servant that suffered great shame for our sin. So, though Miriam would not die, she would suffer shame for speaking against Moses, a servant of the Lord (v. 15). After this, we are told that the camp moved from Hazeroth and camped in the wilderness of Paran (v. 16).
Though we may mess up, make our mistakes, and error, I believe it is good for us to see that the Lord is still faithful towards us. Yes, we may have to face the consequences of our actions, but it is good to see that the Lord cares enough to correct us so that we don’t make such mistakes and errors again. What is also good for us to see in this lesson today is that the Lord is faithful towards us when our enemies do their best to antagonize us, whether we hear it in person or they do so behind our backs. We should again be very grateful that we have such a caring God as our Lord.