By Gene Price
Pastor, Tumbling Creek Baptist Church, Gleason
Focal Passage: Numbers 12:1-11, 13-15
Do you remember the words to the old western ballad, “Home on the Range?” The range was a place “where never is heard a discouraging word, and the skies are not cloudy all day.” Words are how we communicate. Words can build up or words can tear down. Today people will say things on social media that they could never say to someone’s face. In our passage we see the outcome of destructive criticism.
A person often has a critical spirit because of jealousy. Moses, the chosen leader of the Israelites, hears destructive criticism from unlikely sources: his brother, Aaron, and his sister, Miriam. Both Aaron and Miriam held respected positions among the Israelites, yet they were jealous of their brother. They compared themselves to Moses which led to jealousy and then to a critical spirit toward Moses. The criticism of Moses centered around his marriage to a Cushite woman. That was not the real issue because immediately the issue of God only speaking through Moses was raised. Both Aaron and Miriam thought they should have the same rights as their brother to be spokespersons for God. Therefore, this attack by Miriam and Aaron was personal. This criticism of Moses is unjustified because the Bible tells us that Moses was probably the most humble man on the face of the earth. Both Aaron and Miriam should have considered the opportunities God had given them. Aaron was the only man who could enter the Holy Place on the Day of Atonement. Miriam had been the one who saved Moses’ life as a baby, and she held a prominent place as a prophetess.
A person with a critical spirit can expect the judgment of God. God will not tolerate a critical spirit. Immediately God called Moses, Aaron, and Miriam to the tent of meeting to deal with Aaron and Miriam’s critical attitude toward Moses. When the three of them arrived at the tent of meeting, the Lord descended in a pillar of a cloud, which was a visible expression of God’s presence. In this meeting, God made the point that Moses was no ordinary prophet. Exodus 33:11 states that “The Lord spoke with Moses face to face, just as a man speaks with his friend.” God makes it perfectly clear that Aaron and Miriam needed to respect Moses as their leader. God was very angry with Miriam and Aaron. When the cloud left, Miriam was afflicted with some form of leprosy. Why was Miriam afflicted and not Aaron? It appears that Miriam was the instigator of this affair. However, Aaron cried out for mercy both to God and to Moses.
A person with a critical spirit can be used mightily by God once they repent. Upon seeing Miriam diseased, Moses prays for her. The character of Moses is revealed once again in that he prayed for his sister who had challenged his authority in every way. God healed Miriam but she was isolated for seven days based on Leviticus 14:1-32. Apparently after this incident, Miriam continued in her place of leadership among the Israelites because centuries later she is mentioned in Micah 6:4 in a favorable way. She is not remembered for this ungodly incident but for her leadership among God’s people. Her repentance of a critical spirit allowed Miriam to successfully return to her leadership purpose for which she was created in God’s plan.