Pray and Read: Numbers 12:1-16
There is a pattern to the last several chapters, and they are leading up to a defining moment for Israel in Numbers 14. In Numbers 10, Israel set out from Sinai as the people of God, with the pillar of fire, the cloud, and the trumpets. Moses called for God to “Arise, let his enemies be scattered,” little knowing that the bodies of that generation would end up scattered across the desert for their unbelief.
And the pattern began. At Taberah, in Numbers 11:1-3, there was rebellion, and Moses’ intercession stopped the punishment of fire. Then the people rebelled against the manna, a symbol of the word of God, and lusted after flesh, that is, quail. So the Lord made a blessing a plague on Israel, and the flesh rotted in their mouths as they ate it, bringing death to many so that the place was called Kibroth-Hattaavah, meaning graves of lusting. It was Moses’ intercession that stopped the plague and brought about the descent of the Spirit on Seventy Elders who would help Moses govern the people of Israel.
Now Moses must endure not just the rebellion of the sons of Israel, but that of his own brother and sister. Miriam and Aaron mount a rebellion that results in leprosy. Only Moses’ intercession heals Miriam and brings her back into full fellowship with Israel. In each case there is rebellion, punishment, and intercession, the same picture of us. We all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, and the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through the intercession of Jesus Christ our Lord.
Key Truth: Moses wrote Numbers 12:1-16 to teach the Israelites that jealousy threatens unity; God defends the humble, and Christ is our intercessor.
Key Application: Today I want to show you what God’s Word says about jealous, humility, and Christ’s intercession.
1. Miriam’s jealousy: Rebellion threatens unity. (Num 12:1-3)
2. God’s response: God defends humility (Num 12:4-10).
3. Moses’ intercession: Moses prefigures Christ (Num 12:11-16).
Exposition: Note well,
1. MIRIAM’S CRITICISM: JEALOUSY THREATENS UNITY (Numbers 12:1-3).
a. Moses was about to find out the pain of family betrayal. Matthew 10:36: “A man’s foes shall be they of his own household.”
b. Miriam and Aaron: The text says, “She spoke, Miriam and Aaron, against Moses.” She was the instigator.
c. Cushite woman: She was only the occasion of the rebellion. They didn’t like her, Moses’ wife Zipporah. Perhaps because through her and her father Jethro came the ideas of the new governmental changes of the 70 elders (Exodus 18:13-36) and changed some of their power. Though some unwisely jump to the conclusion from Scripture’s silence of a second Ethiopian wife (Edersheim), this is unwarranted (Bruce, Richards). The word is Cushite, Kushi, a word describing those of NW Arabia (Exod 2:15, 21; Cushan - Hab 3:7; Amos 9:7). She is foreign, and they don’t like her. But it seems that Miriam and Aaron were making a racist argument to conceal the real source of their resentment for Moses.
d. JEALOUSY: The real issue was not the Cushite wife, it was jealousy of Moses. Apparently Moses the lawgiver, Aaron the priest, and Miriam the prophetess of song (Exod 15:20), had all been leaders for Israel. Now Miriam challenged Moses’ unique place of leadership. The jealousy centered around Moses’ being God’s supreme channel of revelation (12:2). Has the Lord spoken only through Moses? Hasn’t he also spoken through us? All three of them have gifts of leadership, but in different areas. Aaron also spoke for God (Exod 4:15-16; 28:30) as did the prophetess Miriam (Exod 15:20). But with the appointment of the seventy, it was plain that Moses was the central channel of God’s authority, so now Miriam and Aaron, not liking the organizational changes, assert their own equality (Micah 6:4).
e. APPLICATION: If you listen to those who spew out the drivel going around most churches, you know, those critical spirits that are never satisfied, constantly stirring up dissension and creating disunity where it never was, you will find that they bring up one thing as a cover, but the root is often something else. Miriam’s public issue was her opposition to her foreign sister-in-law. But her real issue was jealousy over Moses’ position. Watch these kinds of people. Often those defilers go after the top leadership, because there is a lust in their hearts for power and control. They don’t speak the wisdom from above, as they would have you think. No, their putrid sewerage is from below. A wise leader recognizes it.
Just like Aaron was drawn in by Miriam's gossip, the know-it-all talk, and the better-than-you attitude, you can get drawn into some person’s smokescreen. Second-tier leadership in the church are especially susceptible like deacons or Sunday School teachers listening to defiling talk without the sense to see through it, just like Aaron. Remember Aaron was the one who always listened to things he shouldn’t. He listened to the Israelites while Moses was on Sinai and made them a Golden Calf. Not exactly the most discerning leader in the bag. Be forewarned, if you are drawn into the web of some of those critical, jealous talkers, you’ll be classified with them in sin.
f. APPLICATION: Some have found in Miriam’s jealousy of the Cushite woman a parallel to Israel and the church. The Jewish people, represented by Miriam, jealous of the foreign Gentile bride of Christ, figured in Moses. Charles Spurgeon: “Can we wonder if this vain world opposes Jesus and his spouse, and especially when great sinners are converted? for this is ever the Pharisee’s ground of objection, “This man receiveth sinners.” Still is the old cause of quarrel revived, ‘Because he had married an Ethiopian woman.’”
2. GOD’S RESPONSE: GOD DEFENDS HUMILITY (NUMBERS 12:3-9).
a. Notice Moses’ humility (v. 3): (Exod. 14:13; 32:12, 13; Num. 14:13; 21:7; Deut. 9:18). They accused Moses of pride, and he himself was the most humble living person. Some read this and ask how could Moses write this. Well, he probably didn’t, but whoever wrote about his death (Deut 34), likely Joshua or perhaps Ezra, probably added this inspired line. Moses has not said a word. God defends him.
b. APPLICATION: When you are being attacked and betrayed by those you never expected, acting in humility always works. Why? Because when you are silent like Moses was, when you keep your work and eyes focused on the Lord and let Him take care of the bigmouths, He will defend you. If you choose to get in the flesh and defend yourself, well, God is a gentleman. He won’t force his protection on anyone. But if you let Him do His work, let Him see your heart, let Him defend you and take care of your reputation for you, He will overcome and deal severely with those who assail you. “I will contend with those who contend with you,” says the Lord in Isaiah 49:25.
c. APPLICATION: Moses is a picture of Christ, who, though chosen as the supreme channel of God’s revelation, was the most humble of any man who ever lived. Isaiah 53:7 says that Christ “was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.”
d. Miriam: The sister of Moses had been used to help save Moses from certain death in the Nile. She suggested to the Egyptian princess that she knew a Hebrew woman who would nurse the child. After the Red Sea crossing, Miriam led the special choral singing of the triumphant Israel (Exod 15). By virtue of being Moses’ sister, she assumed great influence naturally among Israel, but she took it too far. She let her influence turn to interference in matters which were none of her business. Her undermining talk was dangerous. Even Aaron had been won over by her critical spirit, and she represented a serious threat to the unity of the camp. God moved quickly.
e. Held accountable: God moved swiftly and called Miriam and Aaron to account. He stressed the unique place and position of Moses, and that no one else could have it. With Moses he spoke face to face (12:8). This speaks of a closer relationship with Moses. He was the model of lawgiver, mediator, and the prophet to come. He and Elijah are the two prophets who appear at the Transfiguration (Mark 9:2-13). But Christ Jesus went even further. He not only spoke with us face to face (lit. mouth to mouth) as God, but he became a man and walked among us, says John 1, in the flesh, the Incarnation.
f. Miriam punished: (cf. Exod 4:6; 2 Kgs 5:27; 15:5; 2 Chron 26:19, 20). Some feminist readers of the text say, aha, here’s an error in the text showing that the Bible is a male chauvinist book. Only the woman was punished, but verse 1 says “She spake” and called her name first. The reason Aaron was spared was not on account of his sex. Aaron was the high priest, and Leviticus 21:10-12 did not allow him to become unclean for any reason. He must always be available to minister on behalf of Israel at all times. So only Miriam was stricken alone, not because she was a woman or her sin was any worse than Aaron’s, but because God in his grace refused to deprive His people of the high priest’s ministry.
g. APPLICATION: Here’s a news bulletin for a few of you listening to me this morning: A lot of what you criticize and pontificate about is none of your business. It was none of Miriam’s business whom Moses married and who she was. It didn’t matter what her ethnicity was. It was none of her business what the Lord did through Moses. It wasn’t any of her business what authority God put on Moses or what kind of leadership gifts Moses had. Instead of thanking the Lord for the role she had in leading worship, instead of focusing on the assignment the Lord had given her, instead of looking to her own responsibilities, Miriam made it her business to correct everyone else’s business. Her root issue was jealousy. Her problem was rebellion. She was threatening the unity of the people of Israel.
Can you imagine what would have happened if Miriam’s diarrhea of the mouth had gotten into that horde of 2 million Israelites? They would have turned on themselves in the desert. That is what happens every week in churches across the country. Somebody with nothing else to do, who doesn’t have enough business of their own to tend to, spends their time running off at the mouth, spreading their poison, creating problems for the Body of Christ, and hampering the work of the Kingdom, and turning people off to a relationship with Jesus Christ.
That, my friends, is grounds for putting someone out of the church. We have lost the good common sense in the Baptist church that our forefathers had. A hundred years ago, you wouldn’t act that way and just keep on and on with nobody saying anything to you because we don’t want to rock the boat. No, they called you up to the front of the church, asked you to repent of your sin of gossip and creating dissension, and if you repented, then well and good. They would assign a deacon to help you get that sin out of your life. If you would not repent, they would weep over you and they would put you out of the camp.
And if we had godly, loving church discipline in our churches today, we would not have some of the shenanigans going on or some of the foolish comments in our business meetings. We wouldn’t have deacons stepping out on their wives or Sunday School teachers getting drunk on Friday nights or marriages breaking up over convenience or our youth smoking weed.
Can we even imagine anymore a church body that actually has a tangible holiness that is above that of what goes on among unbelievers? That is what we are supposed to be. We are supposed to be salt and light, but many times our churches look to our communities like nothing more than dirt and darkness. We would rather not offend anybody, want to keep them coming. We need the offerings with the economy down and all. You know that woman’s family is important in our church. Best just turn our heads and look the other way. And all the time you’re doing it, we’re giving place to nest of vipers in our churches. Be sure of this, brothers and sisters, you don’t coddle sin without it affecting you, and you don’t nurse vipers that don’t bite you.
Then we wonder why our churches are empty. Can’t figure out why our young people don’t think our religion is authentic. Don’t know why we can’t get more people to serve. Can’t see what happened to the sweet spirit the congregation used to have. We are just like Laodecia. We think we’re rich and have acquired wealth and have need of nothing, but we don’t realize that we are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind, and naked (Rev 3:17).
h. Dreams: Notice that God says he speaks in dreams (halom) including ordinary ones (Job 7:14; Eccl 5:3). In some he spoke directly (Gen 20:3-7; Matt 2:12-23), and in some symbolically (Gen 40-41; Dan 2). Hebrews 1:1-3 tells us that God spoke in dreams before but now He has spoken to us by His Son. In Jesus we have a full and complete revelation of God’s love and person and will.
3. MOSES’ INTERCESSION: MOSES PREFIGURES CHRIST (NUMBERS 12:10-16)
a. Moses’ Intercession: Aaron is horrified (lit. “lay not sin upon us” Zech 14:19) and asks Moses to intercede for them both (12:11-12), acknowledging the special position God had just said Moses held (12:13). God agreed to lift the punishment, but she must stay outside the camp seven days, the initial period of exclusion for one suspected of an infectious skin disease (Lev 13:4). The congregation did not move until she came back in, signifying her important leadership (12:15).
b. Sin’s consequences: Miriam was healed of the leprosy, but was forced to stay outside the camp for seven days. Based on the date of Passover, this event happened in early June 1461 BC, just before the Feast of Shavuot, (Weeks, Pentecost), (Lev 23:15-19; Num 28:27-29) the feast of harvest (Exod 23:16; 34:22) or firstfruits (Num 28:26). At this feast people were invited to bring free-will offerings (Deut 16:9-11) of two loaves of bread and two lambs. Miriam was shut out of this celebration, a foreshadowing of the Rebellion of Israel at Kadesh in Num 14 in which they would be shut out of the Promised Land. But then there's another foreshadowing here. Pentecost is the birthdate of the Christian church when the Spirit descended on the 120 in the Upper Room. As such, Miriam’s separation foreshadows also the rebellion and unbelief of Israel in rejecting Jesus as their Messiah and Israel being scattered in AD 70. One day, though, the nation of Israel will come to Yeshua as their own and be grafted back into the olive tree (Romans 11).
c. V. 14: Spitting was an expression of disapproval and disgust (Deut 25:9; Job 30:10; Isa 50:6).
d. APPLICATION: This passage centers on a power struggle among leadership. We forget too easily that leadership is God-given for the benefit of the Body and is not sought for personal or selfish reasons. Those who try to assume leadership through manipulation are in the flesh and outside God’s model of leadership. Leaders must instead be servants to one another, appreciating, affirming, and encouraging the use of other people’s gifts.
e. APPLICATION: Moses prefigures Christ here as well. It is Christ Jesus’ intercession that frees you and me from sin, from ourselves. Hebrews 7:25 says that Christ is “able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.” Romans 8:34 tells us that Christ Jesus, who died – more than that who was raised to life – is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. The Apostle John tells us in 1 John 2:1-2 that he writes so that we will not sin, “But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense – Jesus Christ the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for our but also for the sins of the whole world.” This Jesus whom the Father set apart to reveal Himself fully to us in these days, the full revelation, what Colossians 1:15 calls the “image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.”
Brothers and Sisters, Christ the Righteous One has arisen with healing in his wings for you and for me. That leprosy of sin he removes, and he brings us back into the camp as righteous.
Sister, have you grasped hold of that Righteous One? Have you given your life to him? Have you asked forgiveness for your gossip and backbiting and jealousy? Brother, have you been pricked today about your out-of-control mouth? Have you been convicted about your way of living while you call yourself a Christian? Have you ever given your heart to the Lord Jesus Christ? Maybe you got baptized once because you were old enough and it was time, but you have no relationship with Jesus Christ, and the whole thing was a sham to you.
Today is the day to set things right. Today is the day to receive Christ. Today is the day to put your tongue in park. Today is the day to honor your leadership. Today is the day to ask forgiveness of somebody in this room for what you said several years ago. Today is the day to turn away from your sin. Today is the day some of you leaders need to quit being boys and step up as men and straighten some things out in this church. Today is the day God is calling you to be cleansed and walk free and full of liberty.
Won’t you respond to Christ right now?
Preached: Sunday, September 14, 2008 at Dexter Baptist Church, Oxford, NC.
 A.B. Simpson, Christ in the Bible Commentary, (1:250-1.)
 Charles Spurgeon, Morning and Evening, October 6.
 Lawrence Richards, Bible Readers Companion, 99; T. Carson, “Numbers,” F.F. Bruce, gen. ed. International Bible Commentary, 230.
 Anastasia Boniface-Malle, Numbers, Africa Bible Commentary, 184-5.