...about the fourth month of this second year [from the exodus]. *
1 And Miriam and Aaron spake against Moses because of the Ethiopian woman whom he had married: for he had married an Ethiopian woman.
Clearly the leader in this incident was Miriam, mentioned first and punished.
Miriarn had a high position in Israel. Micah 6:4 refers to Moses, Aaron and Miriam as the three sent before Israel to lead them. And Exodus 15:20 speaks of her as a prophetess.
Prominence and power are always great temptations to pride.
If it was an Ethiopian woman - a new wife Moses had just taken, we can see how Miriam would feel that her leading position in Israel was threatened.
If it were Zipporah, the prominence of Zipporah's father and brother at this time, and Moses taking their advice as in the appointment of the captains over Israel, may have been the cause of her jealousy.
All this would lessen Miriam's prominence and influence on Moses. There could have been a series of incidents or circumstances that would aggravate Miriam and make her feel justified in opposing Moses.
But see how different Moses' reaction was in similar circumstances, Num. 11:29-
"Enviest thou for my sake? Would God that all the Lords people were prophets, and that the Lord would put His spirit upon them!"
Moses had a great sense of responsibility for his people, and of duty toward God in leading them, but no pride or desire for pre-eminence. He was rather anxious that all should be exalted as high as possible.
We must not judge Miriam and Aaron too harshly. The record is searching and unsparing, but this is only one incident in long lives of which we know very little. There may have been much of faith and service and suffering for God of which we are not told.
But we must learn the lesson of this incident. They lost sight of the overall picture and thought only of themselves. They did not seek God's guidance. They did not consider the wellbeing of the Body, for any dissension or rivalry among the leaders would inevitably weaken and discourage the congregation.
They did not consider the tremendous weight and burden that Moses was laboring under. They should have been thankful for Moses' strength and faith, and anxious to comfort and support him, and uphold him before the people.
They wanted to be leaders, but Aaron had clearly manifested in the case of the golden calf, that he was lost without Moses and could not possibly have filled Moses' shoes. Miriam here reveals that her spirit was inferior to Moses.*
2 And they said, Hath Yahweh indeed spoken only by Moses? hath he not spoken also by us? And Yahweh heard it.
Why were they not afraid? Because they did not stop to think it through. Because they were obsessed with and blinded by their own fleshly desires.
They were deceived. The flesh deceived them. It led them into self-destructive paths. Wisdom would have saved them, and led them to honour instead of dishonour.*
3 (Now the man Moses was very meek, above all the men which were upon the face of the earth.)
Meekness is self-abasement and self-control. The world thinks bluster and dominance is a sign of strength, but that is really the sad farce of ignorant weakness. Meekness is the only true strength or wisdom. The Proverbs say (16:32)-
"He that ruleth his own spirit is better than he that buildeth a city."
He that examines himself - all his inner motives and emotions - and decides by the light of God's word, which is good and which is evil; and roots out the evil and builds up the good, that alone is true accomplishment. Meekness is a matter of spiritual intelligence.*
4 And Yahweh spake suddenly unto Moses, and unto Aaron, and unto Miriam, Come out ye three unto the tabernacle of the congregation. And they three came out.
Sometimes God seems to delay ages before He moves. Sometimes He moves with terrible swiftness. It is all a matter of what best suits His purpose, but we can always be sure He is fully aware of every incident of our lives and will call them to account at the proper time.
So God called Moses, Aaron and Miriam to the door of the tabernacle, and He manifested Himself visibly by the pillar of cloud which came down from above the tabernacle and stood in the doorway. The pillar of cloud was very fitting in many ways.
l. It manifested God (multitude, rain, dew).
2. It led Israel.
3. It was a protecting covering (natural and spiritual).
4. It illuminated the darkness and,
5. Absolute obedience was required (Num. 9:15-23).
God told Miriam and Aaron to come forward before him. It was a fearful occasion. They perhaps had not thought very much about what they were saying. They perhaps did not ever mean it very seriously, just a natural, fleshly, criticism of their brother such as it is so easy to fall into when the flesh is agitated.
But now, they suddenly stood face to face with God to answer for it. Their hearts must have been filled with terror, but there was worse to come. *
6 And he said, Hear now my words: If there be a prophet among you, I Yahweh will make myself known unto him in a vision, and will speak unto him in a dream.*
The word for 'faithful' means 'sure' and 'established,' and is sometimes translated that way. Moses was something very special - established over the entire house - but as a servant - till God's Son should come.
Moses, the meekest man, held the highest position in the Divine plan outside of Christ. His was the greatest burden - eighty years of preparation, forty years of carrying the whole burden of the evil and rebellious nation. His was the most intimate relationship. . *
8 With him will I speak mouth to mouth, even apparently, and not in dark speeches; and the similitude of Yahweh shall he behold: wherefore then were ye not afraid to speak against my servant Moses?
"The Scriptures plainly teach that the Father is a tangible person ... We will not say that the Being with Whom he (Moses) had this intercourse was actually THE ETERNAL ONE, because it is evident from what Stephen and Paul teach that it was an angelic manifestation ... Yet it is affirmed that to Moses it was a similitude of Yahweh (Num. 12:8). It was therefore a manifestation of the Deity."
10 And the cloud departed from off the tabernacle; and, behold, Miriam became leprous, white as snow: and Aaron looked upon Miriam, and, behold, she was leprous.
Miriam's leprosy could have worked for good. It could have strengthened faith in God's power, in His constant observations, in His justice and judgment. It could have comforted the obedient and warned the wicked. It could have strengthened Moses' authority. These events were in the first half of the second year after coming out of Egypt. The first year was taken up with getting to Sinai, receiving the Law and building the Tabernacle. *
12 Let her not be as one dead, of whom the flesh is half consumed when he cometh out of his mother's womb.
In God's mercy, He gave Miriam a brief, though terrible, affliction and humiliation, instead of destroying her.
The Voice ceased, the Cloud departed. But it was not over.
Aaron looked at Miriam and she had suddenly become a loathsome leper, "as one dead". The most dreaded and horrible disease of all. *
13 And Moses cried unto Yahweh, saying, Heal her now, O El, I beseech thee.
Aaron cried out to Moses for mercy and forgiveness, and Moses cried to God on her behalf. God healed her at Moses' entreaty, but decreed that she should be shut outside the camp as unclean for seven days.
In pride, she presumptuously sought honour, and rebelled against God's appointments, and it brought her the deepest dishonour possible in full public knowledge of all the people.
She became a symbol of divine judgment and perpetual warning concerning leprosy, as we find in Deut. 24:9-
"Remember what the Lord thy God did unto Miriam by the way,
after that ye were come forth out of Egypt."
Apart from this verse, she is not mentioned again, though she lived another forty years till the end of the wilderness wandering. Like Moses and Aaron, she died before entering into the land. *