Numbers 12: Miriam and Aaron get jealous
In the last chapter, we saw a great example of Moses’ humility: When the LORD took some of His Spirit off of Moses, and put that Spirit on the other leaders, Moses didn’t get jealous. Instead, he was happy that the LORD’s will was being done, regardless of who was doing it. In this chapter, we see the opposite: Moses’ siblings, Miriam and Aaron, seem to be jealous of Moses’ special relationship with the LORD.
Their concern starts off with the fact that Moses had married a Cushite, instead of an Israelite. (After all, the Israelites were the LORD’s chosen people—not the Cushites.) However, verse 2 indicates that this wasn’t their only concern—or even their primary concern:
“Has the LORD spoken only through Moses?” they asked. “Hasn’t he also spoken through us?” And the LORD heard this.
In other words, “What’s so great about Moses? The LORD speaks to us, too!” I don’t actually recall a mention in the Bible of God speaking directly to Aaron or Miriam, I only remember cases where He spoke to the entire Israelite community, but it’s possible that they’re referring to an incident that wasn’t recorded. Or, they’re just blowing smoke.
But this passage is then, again, contrasted with Moses’ humility, in a parenthetical aside:
(Now Moses was a very humble man, more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth.) (verse 3)
(I was actually thinking of this verse, while writing about the last chapter, when I was talking about Moses’ humility. If I could have remembered where it was, I would have quoted it, but I thought it was in Deuteronomy somewhere. I feel silly, now that I see it was in the very next chapter!)
So the LORD decides to nip this in the bud. He calls them to come to the Tent of Meeting—and it almost sounds like He is summoning unruly children: “… Come out to the Tent of Meeting, all three of you. …” (verse 4). They do so, and then He calls forward Miriam and Aaron, to properly explain to them Moses’ position:
he said, “Listen to my words:
“When a prophet of the LORD is among you,
I reveal myself to him in visions,
I speak to him in dreams.
But this is not true of my servant Moses;
he is faithful in all my house.
With him I speak face to face,
clearly and not in riddles;
he sees the form of the LORD.
Why then were you not afraid
to speak against my servant Moses?”
The anger of the LORD burned against them, and he left them.
After this, the LORD’s cloud lifts from the Tent, and they find that Miriam has been struck with some form of skin disease. (As usual, the text says that she was “leprous,” but with a footnote indicating that the word doesn’t necessarily mean “leprosy,” just some form of skin disease.) When Aaron sees Miriam, he immediately repents:
“Please, my lord, do not hold against us the sin we have so foolishly committed. Do not let her be like a stillborn infant coming from its mother’s womb with its flesh half eaten away.” (verses 11b–12)
Moses then pleads with the LORD to heal her, and I love the LORD’s response:
The LORD replied to Moses, “If her father had spit in her face, would she not have been in disgrace for seven days? Confine her outside the camp for seven days; after that she can be brought back.” So Miriam was confined outside the camp for seven days, and the people did not move on till she was brought back. (verses 14–15)
This passage quoted above, from verses 6–9, makes it clear that Moses was more than just a prophet: he saw the LORD in a unique, and special way. He, in fact, actually saw the LORD—or at least “the form of the LORD.” Other passages refer to Moses speaking with the LORD “face to face.”
Which makes Moses’ humility all the more striking. I don’t know the cause or effect—whether the LORD had His special relationship with Moses because of Moses’ humility, or if Moses was humble because he’d seen himself more directly compared with the LORD than anyone else ever had—and it gets even more confusing to try and determine causality when the LORD is in control of everything. But it doesn’t matter; regardless of the cause or effect, emulating Moses’ humility is something we should strive for, as Christians.