Book of Numbers Chapter Twelve Commentary by
Pastor Ron Beckham
Jealousy, Gossip And Grace
Genesis Chapter 2 presents God creating humanity out of one man and one woman, which makes it clear that all of us are close relatives. That homeless person I pass on the street is my cousin. The woman I might otherwise have wrong thoughts about is my mother, sister and daughter. We are one race, the human race, and when somebody succeeds, I can be pleased for them, even when I don't really know them, for they are my blood. The opposite of that realization is jealousy, a word we can see in places like Galatians 5:20 as one of the "works of the flesh." The Greek word there is "zelos," which is accurately translated, "to burn with jealousy." That emotion, which may also be called "envy" or "covetousness" has been a problem for humanity since the beginning of time, starting wars, ending relationships, and it is seen clearly in Verses 1-2 of this chapter: "Then Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses because of the Cushite woman whom he had married (for he had married a Cushite woman); 2 and they said, 'Has the Lord indeed spoken only through Moses? Has He not spoken through us as well?' And the Lord heard it." They were asking, demanding actually, "Why is he, my kid brother Moses...Why is HE in charge of things? God has spoken to me, too!"
Moses married a "Cushite woman," or in other translations, an "Ethopian woman," and Miriam, his older sister, and Aaron, his older brother, were upset about it. The wife was African, whereas Moses and his family were Asian. It's interesting that God will allow relationships and activities that tend to draw out unexpected emotions from us. Moses' siblings were already jealous of him, and his marriage brought that jealousy into the open, revealed in the unhealthy, unholy expression of gossip. Aaron was a weak man, which is interesting because God placed him into a position of authority, and in both siblings, Aaron and Miriam, envy was rising within them like pus in a wound.
Verse 3 is especially interesting: "(Now the man Moses was very humble, more than any man who was on the face of the earth.)" Numbers is one of the Books of Moses, and yet Moses could not have written this parenthetical verse, because if he said about himself, "I am the most humble man on earth," he would not be humble. He had an assistant named Joshua, who was an amanuensis, a term used for a secretary who had the right to make limited additions to the text. Paul also used amanuenses such as Sosthenes (1 Corinthians 1:1), Timothy (2 Corinthians 1:1, Philippians 1:1, Colossians 1:1), and he utilized two such men, Silvanus and Timothy, in places like 1 Thessalonians 1:1. Here in this verse we have Joshua, who was continually by Moses' side from the time he was essentially a boy, and he observed about the older man that he "was very humble." And note in various places that Moses was bold, he became angry, he gave orders, and he killed a man, strongly indicating he was human like the rest of us. Humility, as observed by Joshua and later by Paul the Apostle, is to walk as "light in the Lord" (Ephesians 5:8). To walk in the light is to become open and honest, being who we really are, recognizing that the God we trust knows everything about us anyway, so there is no reason to hide. Joshua observed this quality of honesty in the very human Moses and concluded, "that's humility."
The three siblings, Miriam, Aaron and Moses, were abruptly summoned by the Lord in Verses 4-6: "Suddenly the Lord said to Moses and Aaron and to Miriam, 'You three come out to the tent of meeting.' So the three of them came out. 5 Then the Lord came down in a pillar of cloud and stood at the doorway of the tent, and He called Aaron and Miriam. When they had both come forward, 6 He 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.'" I don't know about you, but though I know that I love the Lord and He loves me, I would likely be terrified if a pillar of cloud came down and spoke to me. Their emotions were unsettled as well. In Verse 6 we find an interesting description of the way in which God usually spoke to His servants the prophets—in dreams and visions, and we should take note of it when we have an especially striking dream, for God may be speaking to us also.
But there was something remarkably different in the manner of God's communication to and with Moses, as seen in Verses 7-8, where the Lord continued, "'Not so, with My servant Moses, He is faithful in all My household; 8 With him I speak mouth to mouth, even openly, and not in dark sayings, and he beholds the form of the Lord. Why then were you not afraid to speak against My servant, against Moses?'" There was something wonderfully DIFFERENT about Moses, which is spelled-out in Hebrews 11:24-29—"by faith" he refused to be of Pharaoh's family, by "faith" he suffered affliction with the people of God, by "faith" he left Egypt, and by "faith" the people passed through the Red Sea. Aaron and Miriam did believe in the Lord, but the faith of Moses was much deeper—no matter what happened, including his failed attempt to deliver Israel when he was 40, and his resultant 40-years of exile, he TRUSTED that the Lord knows what He is doing. Moses was a true leader, in that he had learned to trust and obey the Lord in everything. Aaron and Miriam heard all this from the Lord and they were terrified as they observed the unfolding reality of Verse 9: "So the anger of the Lord burned against them and He departed." The two siblings were told that God literally SPOKE with Moses like a friend, and they also learned that those who speak against others should be afraid.
Verses 10-12: "But when the cloud had withdrawn from over the tent, behold, Miriam was leprous, as white as snow. As Aaron turned toward Miriam, behold, she was leprous. 11 Then Aaron said to Moses, 'Oh, my lord, I beg you, do not account this sin to us, in which we have acted foolishly and in which we have sinned. 12 Oh, do not let her be like one dead, whose flesh is half eaten away when he comes from his mother’s womb!'" Aaron fixedly stared at his sister, Miriam, with open-mouthed fear before he spoke, and we have to wonder why Aaron was not leprous like his sister. He probably thought, "I'm next!" Aaron was responsible for the creation of the idolatrous golden calf of Exodus 32. Two of his sons died after offering "profane fire" (Numbers 3:4) and in general, Aaron's life was not perfect, but it was characterized by something that has helped us all—the grace of God. We have failed also, and though we may have suffered as a result, not unlike Aaron, things could be much worse.
In Exodus 32, we saw a characteristic of Moses that set him apart from his siblings—they had faith that the Lord existed, but Moses had deeper faith, for he prayed like we all should—knowing that God will answer and deliver the one who prays, seen here in Verse 13, where "Moses cried out to the Lord, saying, 'O God, heal her, I pray!'" Sometimes when we pray, God says "Yes" and acts immediately in relation to our requests. Other times, I have seen that the answer is "No"—the outcome differed from what I thought I wanted. Another interesting answer is "Wait," and I have seen Him answer in the affirmative, literally decades after I finally gave up all hope. A reason for a "No" in response to prayer is seen in 2 Corinthians 12:7-10, where God emphatically answered "No" to Paul's fervent, faithful prayer. Another "No" is seen in Matthew 26:39, where the Son cried out to the Father, "If it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will." In each case, for Paul and for the Son of God, the "No" provided an opening in which the answer was something infinitely higher and better than the request. Paul was given God's strength instead of a mere physical healing, and the cup did not pass from Jesus, resulting in His death on the cross and return to eternal life, allowing the wonder of salvation to be released into humanity. Like the cure offered by a wonder drug, we take Him in faith as our Savior, bringing salvation into the very center of our being.
The interesting, shocking answer of the Lord to Moses' prayer is seen in Verses 14-15: "But the Lord said to Moses, 'If her father had but spit in her face, would she not bear her shame for seven days? Let her be shut up for seven days outside the camp, and afterward she may be received again.'" The answer was a qualified "Yes" to the prayer, for Miriam would suffer the consequences, the fear, the isolation and rejection of leprosy, but only for a week that must have seemed like a lifetime to her. It was for her like being spit in the face by her father, Amram. These were harsh words from the Lord because Miriam had a deeper problem than leprosy—jealousy and gossip, which are not unlike a leprosy of the soul. Therefore, in Verses 15-16, "So Miriam was shut up outside the camp for seven days, and the people did not move on until Miriam was received again. 16 Afterward, however, the people moved out from Hazeroth and camped in the wilderness of Paran," and once more, they had a lot to think about. Most people have suffered shock from some kind of isolation and rejection in their lives. I remember being confined on an ice bed within a hospital isolation ward for 30-days, which felt like 30-years. I remember 5-years in a wheelchair that felt like forever. Miriam had time to think as all do, about who we are, what we are, and ask the question, "Why has this happened to me?" God gives us time and circumstances that should reveal us for what we are, and when we are ready, He might return us to the "normal" world, with a deeper understanding of our sin and God's grace.
Father, I have been jealous and I have gossiped, which is sin. I confess my sin and ask You to deliver me from such thoughts and actions, which are a sort of leprosy in my soul. I trust in You, Lord, like never before. I am sorry, Lord, and I am Yours. I love You. Thank You for Your grace and for loving me. In Jesus Name. Amen.