Not all firsts mentioned in the Torah were beneficial firsts. There was the first murder in Genesis, the first turning away to another god in Exodus, the first act of strange fire in Leviticus, and now the first act of openly railing against one of God’s anointed here in Numbers. Each of these unfortunate firsts carried with them drastic consequences. For Cain, he was doomed to roam the earth with every man’s hand against him. For the several thousand who rose up to worship the golden calf, they paid with their lives being purged from the camp. The first act of strange fire was punished by the death of both men who brought it. Now we come to Numbers 12.
Up to this point in the Biblical narrative, we were never told of the ethnicity of Jethro’s family. All we knew to this point was that they lived in the desert, in the area of Midian. Now we learn that Moses’ wife and in-laws were Ethiopian. Jethro had proved to be a very wise man and a very capable Father-in-law. Moses’ wife had only ever gotten upset with him enough to have it recorded for us in Exodus 4:25-26. There had been no indication that the ethnicity of Moses’ family would ever be an issue, until we come to Chapter 12 of the book of Numbers.
I’m labouring this point, because too often down through recorded history, and even well into our own time today, people get this strange sense of superiority one ethnicity over another. For many centuries, the bulk of that superiority complex was from white to whichever ethnic society we came across, as if we were higher, more civilized, more in tune with God, etc. As you read the above paragraph, how did you feel when you discovered the ethnicity of Moses’s relations? Did it catch you by surprise? Did you get a strange twinge in your heart that you didn’t expect? If so, you may have some difficult soul-searching to do, having been just caught unwittingly displaying, if even in a hidden fashion within your own heart and mind, a sense of superiority over other ethnic people groups. But don’t think this behaviour is limited to just white people. Maybe you yourself are not white and yet you had that unsuspecting twinge of superiority flash up and die down for a split second.
Miriam, sister to Moses and Aaron, was not white. They came from the line of Abraham who had come through this land from Ur of the Chaldees, or the Mesopotamian area. In other words, they were olive-skinned. The Egyptians they lived among prior to their exodus were olive-skinned as well, for the most part. However even at this point in history, Numbers 12 starts out showing us an inordinate sense of superiority over other ethnic groups. Miriam wasn’t just railing against her own brother, but justifying it by accusing him of marrying a darker-skinned woman.
Numbers 12:1-2 And Miriam and Aaron spake against Moses because of the Ethiopian woman whom he had married: for he had married an Ethiopian woman. 2 And they said, Hath the LORD indeed spoken only by Moses? hath he not spoken also by us? And the LORD heard it.
It’s almost as if Miriam was accusing Moses of some sort of holier-than-thou behaviour somehow attached to the fact he had an Ethiopian bride! She was trying to slam her brother down a few rungs because of his marriage choice. Not only her, but Aaron as well. One gets the impression from what happens when God steps into this family feud, that it was Miriam who had instigated this bout of jealousy and ethnic outrage. God was not happy with her!
After berating both Miriam and Aaron for how they treated their brother:
Numbers 12:9-10 And the anger of the LORD was kindled against them; and he departed. 10 And the cloud departed from off the tabernacle; and, behold, Miriam became leprous, white as snow: and Aaron looked upon Miriam, and, behold, she was leprous.
Pleading with God, Moses and Aaron could at best, only follow God’s decree that she spend 7 days outside the camp before she’d be welcomed back to carry on life as normal.
Anyone who has read my book, “Dressed for Eternity“, will have learned on page 209, that leprosy has existed within a person’s body long before it comes out on their skin. Appearing on the skin is the final outward manifestation that can kill the person. Interestingly enough, simple personal regular hygiene generally helps to prevent it. A quote from that page carries on with the following thought:
Sin has been likened to leprosy because just like leprosy, sin can seem innocuous, inconspicuous even. It might be misconstrued as a minor inconvenience, a twinge of discomfort that is easily brushed off. But just like leprosy, it grows until it consumes the person, body, soul and spirit.
God was showing the three siblings this concept in very graphic terms! Clearly, Miriam had been simmering about this for a while and it finally came out. Aaron didn’t help but actually chimed in railing against their brother. The likeness of leprosy to hidden sin and its dire outward effects was a necessary discipline at that moment. God says elsewhere in Numbers:
Numbers 32:23 (b) . . . and be sure your sin will find you out.
Christ would reiterate the concept of hidden sin affecting outward expression when He said:
Matthew 15:11 Not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man; but that which cometh out of the mouth, this defileth a man.
Solomon had written in the book of Proverbs:
Proverbs 23:7 (a) For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he:
Consequently we are encouraged to guard our hearts! Solomon also wrote:
Proverbs 4:23 Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life.
Miriam had not kept watch over what she allowed into her heart and what she brooded over. It eventually came out against both her brother’s marriage choice and because of that, his standing with God as God’s mouth piece to the nation of Israel. As I tell my now grown children, what you allow into your heart and mind will eventually come out in your speech and conduct.
God wasn’t at all pleased with Miriam and Aaron’s railings against their brother, but His choice of discipline showed the nature of that sinful behaviour.
Do you ever find yourself railing against a brother or sister in Christ because of their situation, status, or lot in life? Do ever find yourself scoffing at those elements and wondering how God uses them so mightily when He can also use others who are “better off” or “better positioned” or who “made wiser choices” than they? Jealousy is a green-eyed monster and it can rear its ugly head within the Church just as easily now as back then. Part of the point God was making to Miriam and Aaron, was that He, in His sovereignty, will use anyone He chooses, to get the job done. So a person came out of a rough background, God may use them in a certain ministry over someone “more qualified” because this person has the needed humility for that task. Maybe a person made poor choices in life, God may choose to use them for a given calling because they are better positioned to help others out of those same choices than someone who never experienced them. On the surface, God has chosen to use some very strange people down through history to accomplish His goals; people that those with hidden superiority complexes would not have chosen if they were the ones in charge. We can all take a lesson from the vision God gave to Peter before sending him to Cornelius’ house. I would encourage my reader to take some time to read the entire chapter of Acts 10.