I asked myself for the first time recently: Why didn’t Aaron’s skin also turn leprous when his sister was stricken with a defiling skin rash? After all, surely he was just as guilty of bitchery about his brother? I visited Numbers 11:0, and 12:0,) and learned:
- What triggered the outburst (verse Numbers 11:1)
Both Miriam and Aaron got annoyed about Moses’ marriage to a foreigner. It is unlikely that he’d just recently married a ‘Cushite woman’ – an African from Ethiopia (Genesis 10:6) – for there‘s neither mention of Zipporah’s death nor of any wedding. She was a Midianite whom he’d married during his forty-year exile (Exodus 2:16-20). And Cushan would appear to be another name for Midian (see Habakkuk 3:7). Were they using ‘Cushite’ as a nasty racist gibe? Either way, this was only the smouldering fuse that had caused their frustrations of heart to explode in spoken criticism. After all, Moses could have fallen for one of Egypt’s society debutants during his early life in Pharaoh’s palace. Instead, he’d chosen a girl from a God-fearing home in the back of beyond.
Miriam had never married, and Aaron (of the tribe of Levi) had wed a true Israelite (a woman of Judah, Numbers 1:7; Exodus 6:23) – indeed, though he couldn’t have known, his bride was of royal (Ruth 4:19-22), even messianic ancestry (Matthew 1:4). Between them, they may have felt smug and spiritually superior. And the recent eruptions of mass protests against Moses over the hardships of wilderness travels (Genesis 11:1) and then about the monotonously bland diet (Genesis 11:4-6,10) may have activated their own time bomb of ill-will against Moses. Also, seventy tribal elders had just momentarily prophesied (Genesis 11:16-30).
- The underlying explosive issue (verse Numbers 11:2a-2b)
What actually disrupted their former team spirit (Micah 6:4) was jealous rivalry over Moses’ high profile ministry that challenged their sense of their own importance. They wished to emerge from Moses’ shadow: were they not prophets too (see Hosea12:13; Exodus 7:1-2 and 15:20)?
- The unseen listener (verse Numbers 11: 2c)
‘And the Lord heard it’ is a phrase that always has an ominous ring to it throughout the Old Testament (see Numbers 11:1; 2 Kings 19:4; Isaiah 37:4; Ezekiel 35:12-13 – with one heart warming exception in Malachi 3:16-17 – go learn!).
- The measure of the offence
God weighed the sin of both against
- Moses consistent, outstanding humility (verse Numbers 11:3) and
- His unique relationship with the Lord (verses Numbers 11:4-9), but
- Miriam’s greater guilt is only hinted at:
[i] Was she the instigator (implied in the order of their names in verse Numbers 11:1 when contrasted with verses Numbers 11:4, and 5,)? And [ii] had she been a spoilt brat from childhood (implied in verse Numbers 11:14, ‘If her father had but spat in her face’)?
- The answer (verses Numbers 11:11-13 = Moses’ intercession)
* Watch your lip, Mother warned me as a lad. Firstly, watch your heart (Proverbs 4:23).