1 - 2 Miriam and Aaron speak against Moses
1 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.
The discontent of the people because of the hardships of the wilderness journey is more against God than against Moses. But now Moses has got to pay for it as well. It is not so much the people who are revolting, but the leaders. The evil of discontent among the people also affects the leaders.
Miriam and Aaron are annoyed by the fact that Moses has a Cushite, or Ethiopian, woman, referring possibly to Zippora. That their brother hath taken a wife from the Gentiles is a thorn in their eye. They cannot bear the fact that grace is shown to the Gentiles.
In the parable of the vineyard that the Lord Jesus later tells, it appears that the same attitude of intolerance toward the proving of grace to the Gentiles dominates the Jews (Lk 20:16). Even later we see that nothing has changed among the people. When Paul speaks about grace going to the Gentiles, the Jews become fierce (Acts 22:21-22).
Aaron as a person again shows his weak character. He gave in to the will of the people and gave them a golden calf (Exo 32:1-2). Now his sister, who seems to be taking the initiative, whispers something about Moses to him, he submits again and follows her in her revolt against Moses.
The remark of Miriam and Aaron that God did not only speak through Moses is true. Miriam is called “the prophetess” (Exo 15:20) and Aaron is the high priest. They have both a place as a connection between God and the people. Together with Moses they occupy an important position, which is given to them by God. The prophet Micah later points this out to God’s people: “Indeed, I brought you up from the land of Egypt And ransomed you from the house of slavery, And I sent before you Moses, Aaron and Miriam” (Mic 6:4). But that should not be a reason to rise to that position or to be jealous of what the Lord has given another. They indicate that they want to be equal to Moses. By having a heathen woman, he has lost his rights, they think, or at least they are on the same level as Moses, they think.
Perhaps Miriam did not say her remarks out loud, but only whispered in Aaron’s ear, but “the LORD heard it”. Our most confidential remarks have a Hearer in Heaven.
3 Moses, the Humblest Man
3 (Now the man Moses was very humble, more than any man who was on the face of the earth.)
This testimony that the Spirit of God gives about Moses makes the allegation of Miriam and Aaron all the worse. Someone claiming his rights may evoke jealousy. But the claiming of rights is completely absent from Moses. Moses does not take the law into his own hands. He does not stand up for himself. That does not fit his humbleness.
The higher a person’s position is among his fellow human beings, the more difficult it is for the natural heart to accept attacks on his person without reaction. Moses is wroth with anger when the glory of God is tarnished. But when it comes to himself, he hands over his case to God. In this he is a picture of the Lord Jesus and an example for us: “For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps, who committed no sin, nor was any deceit found in His mouth; and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting [Himself] to Him who judges righteously” (1Pet 2:21-23).
4 - 9 The LORD Testifies of Moses
4 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.
7 “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?”
9 So the anger of the LORD burned against them and He departed.
God stands up for Moses. It is striking that the LORD immediately comes into action. He commands the slanderers to go together with Moses to the tent of meeting. That is where the matter has to be looked at. Sin in the midst of the church must also be treated in the church.
The LORD comes down and tells what a special prophet Moses is. He is not just a prophet. God speaks of the faithfulness of Moses in His house. He is herein a picture of the Lord Jesus, with a difference. Moses is faithful in God’s house, and he is a servant in it: “Moses was faithful in all His house as a servant” (Heb 3:5). However, we read from the Lord Jesus that He is faithful as “as a Son over His house” (Heb 3:6). The Holy Spirit indicates here in picture how unique the place of the Lord Jesus is in what is now God’s house: the church.
God speaks directly to Moses (Exo 33:11a; Deu 34:10). Moses is connected to God that closely. God does not speak of the weaknesses that a man like Moses also has. God does not do this if He defends a man. We see this later also when He forces Balaam to bless the people, while he wants to curse the people (Numbers 22-24).
10 - 13 Leprosy; Confession; Intercession
10 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!” 13 Moses cried out to the LORD, saying, “O God, heal her, I pray!”
Miriam becomes leprous. Her name is first mentioned in verse 1. As said, it seems that she is the instigator. Leprosy follows as a prophet and priest rise up and reach out to the place which only belongs to Moses. God wants to be recognized in His sovereign grace that He allows those who are not entitled to it to share in the blessings of Christ.
The leprosy of Miriam is a striking picture of God’s judgment on the rebellion of Israel against showing grace to the Gentiles, represented in the wife of Moses. Israel should recognize God’s sovereignty. They did not do so and therefore they were struck with leprosy in their character of witnesses or prophets.
The application for the church is that where a man or a ministry assumes the place of Christ, the judgment comes from God. There, too, the principle of grace disappears. When a place that does not belong to him is assumed, leprosy breaks out. Maybe Miriam’s jealousy has been there a long time before it erupts here. The will of the flesh becomes public. God makes clear in His time where leprosy is present.
In the pictures of the Bible, the woman is a picture of a particular state and the man is a picture of practice. The condition of Miriam is that of leprosy. Fortunately the practice of confession in Aaron is also there, and this immediately after the leprosy has broken out. Aaron immediately returns to his right place as mediator and speaks to Moses in all humility. His words show a radical confession.
The first words we hear in this history of Moses are those of an intercessor. He becomes a mediator. Herein we see his true greatness. Of any grudge appears nothing.
14 - 15 What to Do with Miriam
14 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.” 15 So Miriam was shut up outside the camp for seven days, and the people did not move on until Miriam was received again.
The intercession of Moses receives an answer. The LORD uses an example of everyday life to illustrate His statement. When a father spits his daughter in the face, he expresses his dissatisfaction with her actions. This humiliation by her father must convince her of the disgracefulness of her behavior. Seven days she will hide from her family out of shame.
There is no immediate healing after the confession. Miriam first has to stay outside the camp for seven days. A full recovery must take place and a full period, represented by the number seven, is needed for that. Evil can be so serious that the punishment must be imposed, even though forgiveness has already taken place. This will be the case when the public testimony of the Lord has been damaged.
The whole people are involved in the exercise of the punishment. They can’t move on. There is no strength when a certain evil becomes public. The whole church must be exercised and come to purity: “For behold what earnestness this very thing, this godly sorrow, has produced in you: what vindication of yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what avenging of wrong! In everything you demonstrated yourselves to be innocent in the matter” (2Cor 7:11). A broken spirit is important in the exercise of discipline.
This history shows how heavy God takes it when we speak ill of a brother or sister, especially when it comes to someone who does a service for the Lord (cf. 1Tim 5:19). Even when it is about real facts, this kind of speaking is nothing more than a form of jealousy.
16 From Hazeroth to the Wilderness of Paran
16 Afterward, however, the people moved out from Hazeroth and camped in the wilderness of Paran.
The people move out when the discipline over Miriam has had its full effect. The following place where they camp is in the wilderness of Paran. They are now close to the land.