Scripture: Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses because of the Cushite woman whom he had married, for he had married a Cushite woman. And they said, “Has the LORD indeed spoken only through Moses? Has he not spoken through us also?” And the LORD heard it. Numbers 12:1-2 ESV
Observation: In the previous chapter, we read that Moses, per the direction of the Lord, selected seventy men of the elders to receive an infilling of the Spirit (11:24-25). When two of the registered seventy who did not gather at the tent of the meeting began to prophesy, Joshua reported the incident to Moses with the expectation that Moses would stop them. But Moses cautioned Joshua not to be jealous for his sake and graciously expressed his desire that the Lord would place his Spirit on all God’s people (11:30). While Joshua had misguided intentions, in this next story, the two closest family members of Moses (Miriam and Aaron) would speak out of turn with blatant jealousy of Moses’ unique relationship with Yahweh. Leading with criticism regarding Moses’ Cushite wife, the two siblings address the real issue: they want more recognition for their leadership role.
As for the racial slur, scholars debate the identity of the woman. The author’s repetition of Miriam and Aaron’s accusation that Moses married a Cushite would indicate that he had likely remarried another foreigner, perhaps after Zipporah’s passing. Still, regardless of whether they had spoken ill of Zipporah or a new wife, Miriam and Aaron were out of line. The Cushites were distant cousins who had settled in the region of modern-day Ethiopia, for they were heirs of Ham (brother of Shem, who is the forefather of Israel). Regardless, there was no prohibition against marrying foreigners at this point in the journey, for that mandate would come just before entering the Promised Land.
Takeaway: This brief text mentions three teaching points about confronting leadership. First, check your motive. While Scripture speaks of God’s jealousy for his people, this is a godly passionate desire for an intimate relationship with his creation. Here, Miriam and Aaron envy what they perceive as Moses’ favored relationship with God. But they are misguided by their sinful thought process. God appointed them to play their role in his salvation plan for his people—not Moses’. For Mirian, she would watch over Moses floating along the Nile shoreline and then bravely speak to Pharaoh’s daughter and suggest a nursemaid. She would later lead the nation in singing praises to God when he delivered Israel from Pharaoh and his militia. For Aaron, he would become the mouth of Moses and spokesperson of God to Pharaoh. Indeed, the Lord would later speak through Micah to declare that he had sent not just Moses but Aaron and Miriam to redeem Israel from slavery (Micah 6:4).
Secondly, pause and listen before confronting. Aaron and Miriam failed to soul-search their motives before speaking out. Rather than take their concerns to God and wait for him to reveal his perspective, they confronted Moses first with a red herring that seemed indefensible—perhaps to push him into a defensive posture. Then, they addressed their real issue: his presumptuousness (as they perceived). Fortunately for them, Moses remained silent, for the meekest man on earth waited for the Lord to speak (12:3).
Lastly, seek the best of our leaders. Scripture has much to say about those whom God has placed over us. Perhaps the best summary is from the letter to the Hebrews: “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you” (Hebrews 13:17 ESV). We gain nothing by criticizing our leaders. Certainly, if their actions do not align with Scripture, we owe it to the body of Christ to confront them, but always to restore them, and with a spirit of gentleness, lest we too be tempted (Galatians 6:1).
Prayer: Father God, we thank you for the gift of your Holy Spirit, who leads us in this worldly journey to our heavenly Promised Land. Would you please help us follow his lead in seeking to draw out the best in those you place over us so that together we might grow your kingdom and glorify your name? Amen.
Rev. Gordon Green, M.Div., M.A. Counseling
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