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Numbers 12 and 13


In reading Numbers 12 and 13 we find two very instructive incidents-Miriam's leprosy and the 12 spies. Two great failures and punishments. One was due to envy, jealousy and the desire for pre-eminence. The other was caused by fear and a lack of faith.

Doubtless they are in some way related. All things are related, in some way having a bearing for good or evil on all concerned. One failure always in some way contributes to another.

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.

The second year began with the setting up and dedication of the Tabernacle (Ex. 40: 17). Then on the first day of the first month they observed the first anniversary of the Passover. The second observance of the Passover on the 14th day of the second month was for those who were unclean and unable to keep it in the first month (Numbers 9:11).

Then on the twentieth day of the second month they started their journey northward from Sinai to the Promised Land which would be about the middle of May.

The very first recorded event of the travel was the complaining by the people and the going out of fire sent upon them from God that destroyed some of them, but Moses prayed for them and the fire ceased. The place was called Taberah-Burning.

This first incident was typical of their whole history. It was both a warning and a confirming evidence of power and control.

The next incident was another rebellion-the lusting for meat, and all the tasty foods of Egypt. They rebelled at the manna - the Bread from Heaven - so gloriously typical of God's eternal covenant of life, if only they could have realized.

All the people made a great weeping at their tent doors because they could not have meat; and Moses was so overwhelmed with the burden of this childish, ungrateful people that he cried to God for relief from them.

God told him to choose out seventy men from the elders of Israel and He would put a measure of the Spirit on them so they could help with the national administration, Num. 11:16,17- ''And the Lord said unto Moses, Gather unto me seventy men of the elders of Israel, whom thou knowest to be the elders of the

people, and officers over them, and bring them unto the tabernacle of the congregation that they may stand there with thee ... and I will take of the spirit which is upon thee, and will put it upon them; and they shall bear the burden with thee."

It should be noted that this is a completely different incident and arrangement from the appointment of captains of thousands, hundreds and tens to judge the people, though both are similar complaints by Moses.

God promised an abundance of meat for a whole month, so that it would surfeit and nauseate them. Even Moses was incredulous, and questioned how it could possibly be done. This gives us an insight into Moses-a man of great faith and dedication, but still struggling with the natural limitations of the flesh.

We must learn, we must believe-that with God all things are possible. Moses was rebuked, but not punished. There is a difference between a struggling faith and a rebellious unbelief.

God gave Israel the meat they cried for, to manifest His power, but He also smote them with a very great plague. And they called the place Kibroth-hattaavah-the graves of lust-summing up the whole natural history of mankind, that toward which all fleshly things tend-the graves of lust.

This brings us to Numbers 12 and 13, about the fourth month of this second year. Num. 12:2-"Hath the Lord indeed spoken only by Moses? Hast he not spoken also by us?" Clearly the leader in this incident was Miriam, mentioned first and punished.

Miriam 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 well-being 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.

Num. 12:3-"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.

Num. 12:4-"And the Lord spake suddenly unto Moses and 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.

God spoke very highly of Moses, and of his unique position before God. An ordinary prophet, like Miriam and Aaron would be instructed by dream or vision, truly a high honor and privilege-but Moses is "not so".

Num. 12:5-7-"And the Lord came down in the pillar of the cloud, and stood in the door of the tabernacle, and called Aaron and Miriam: and they both came forth.

"And He said, Hear now my words: If there be a prophet among you, I the Lord will make myself known unto him in a vision, and will speak unto him in a dream.

, "My servant Moses is not so, who is faithful in all Mine house."

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. .

V. 8- ''With him will I speak mouth to mouth, even apparently, and not in dark speeches: and the similitude of the Lord shall he behold: wherefore then were ye not afraid to speak against my servant Moses?"

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 honor instead of dishonor.

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.

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 honor, and rebelled

against God's appointments, and it brought her the deepest dishonor 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


The time of the spies searching out the land would be July or August, the time of the first ripe grapes. Num. 13:1-2-

"And the Lord spake unto Moses saying, Send thou men, that they may search the land of Canaan, which I give unto the children of Israel: of every tribe of their fathers shall ye send a man, every one a ruler among them."

Like the monarchy, and the temple, the sending of spies was actually the idea of the people, which God permitted, and used for His Own purpose as we learn from Deut. 1:22-

"And ye came near unto me everyone of you, and said, We will send men before us, and they shall search us out the land, and bring us word again by what way we must go up, and into

what cities we shall come."

There was no need for spies. God had told them it was a good

land, and that He would drive out the inhabitants. That was all they needed. God was their leader. He knew all about the land and the people in it. But He allowed them to send spies to confirm their own fears and faithlessness.

Why were they faithless and afraid? They had had a year and a half's experience of the direct hand of God upon them, both to discipline and to protect. In the cloud over the Tabernacle, andin the daily manna, they had a perpetual and continuing tangible evidence of God's presence and care. But it did not profit them. Paul said-"not being mixed with faith" (Heb. 4:2).

It is not for us to judge them, but to learn from their failure.

What if we were in the same position-told to attack a warlike and all-fortified enemy in their own homeland, armed only by faith? Often we fail much less difficult tests than this.

Faith was the missing ingredient. Faith does not just happen, nor can it be acquired overnight just when needed.

Faith involves a cause, and a process. The cause is the Word of God-"Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God."

The process is works, conduct, obedience-"Faith without works is dead." Obedience is the key to faith. Faith cannot live and grow and be strong without it.

If we have real faith, it will control all that we do. Real faith

takes full possession of the mind, and controls all thought and action. Faith is the reality of conviction concerning God, concerning both His power and His goodness. It is conviction both in the mind and in the heart-both mental and emotional.

Israel was unprepared for the great task before them-the great call upon their faith. They doubtless thought that they were ready. They doubtless thought they had faith. But when the test came, it tragically revealed-too late-that they did not.

They had not filled their minds with God-meditated in worship upon all His wondrous works, as the Psalms keep telling us we must do if we are to grow and be strong in faith and ready

for the test.

They had not exercised and built up the muscles of their faith

by day to day seeking God's help and blessing in obedience. They had not developed a personal relationship with God by thinking His thoughts and identifying with Him.

So they failed. They willfully rebelled. They followed the thinking of the flesh instead of the guidance of the Spirit. Right away afterward, they cried and said they would go up to fight, but it was too late-their opportunity had past. God is not mocked. Suddenly He draws the line and shuts the book.

These things are for our admonition. We can succeed, or we can fail. It is up to us. All the ingredients of success are fully available to us. It is entirely up to us whether we choose and use them in wisdom to prepare ourselves for the inevitable, final confrontation-that will lead us to either eternal joy or eternal oblivion.

Bro Growcott