Miriam has some sober lessons to teach us. Miriam knew what it was to experience hope and despair, terror and deliverance, slavery and freedom, unimportance and prominence. She was a good example and she was a bad example; in fact, she was just like we are! We are simply not perfect every day of every month of every year! God is so gracious with us, and so patient, and so forgiving—but there are times when a loving Heavenly Father must act in decisive discipline, lest the course we have chosen destroy us and all of those who look to us for leadership and guidance.
Miriam’s problem is one that I think is very easy for women to fall into, and it’s one we have to be alert to guard against. We must be content with the influential role that God has given us within the framework he has instituted. Do you hear that? That’s really important! When we make a play for power we can often lose influence.
The first we see of Miriam is in her role as a protective sister. Miriam’s childhood in the slave quarters of Egypt was one of fear and uncertainty. She and her three-year-old brother, Aaron, had godly parents who trusted the God of Israel—but the king of Egypt hated her people. He had ordered that all boy babies be drowned in the Nile, and her mother was pregnant! The baby was due anytime. Suppose it were a boy! How could they kill it?
The incident that we are going to read about in Exodus 2, and I wish you would turn there, doesn’t give us her name and doesn’t give us her age. We know her name is Miriam—she is Moses’ sister and Aaron’s sister—and we can assume that her age is anywhere between seven and twelve.
I’m going to read and will you follow? For those of you who are interested, I am reading from the New International Version. Exodus 2:1-10:
Now a man of the house of Levi married a Levite woman, and she became pregnant and gave birth to a son. When she saw that he was a fine [the word has the idea of a special, beautiful, extraordinary] child, she hid him for three months. But when she could hide him no longer, she got a papyrus basket for him and coated it with tar and pitch [to make it waterproof]. Then she placed the child in it and put it among the reeds along the bank of the Nile. His sister stood at a distance to see what would happen to him.
Then Pharaoh's daughter went down to the Nile to bathe, and her attendants were walking along the river bank. She saw the basket among the reeds and sent her slave girl to get it. She opened it and saw the baby. He was crying, and she felt sorry for him. "This is one of the Hebrew babies," she said.
Then his sister asked Pharaoh's daughter, "Shall I go and get one of the Hebrew women to nurse the baby for you?" [You see, there was no Similac in those days! They had to have someone!]
"Yes, go," she answered. And the girl went and got the baby's mother. Pharaoh's daughter said to her, "Take this baby and nurse him for me, and I will pay you." So the woman took the baby and nursed him. When the child grew older, she took him to Pharaoh's daughter and he became her son. She named him Moses, saying, "I drew him out of the water." [The word “Moses” has the sense of “draw out” in the Hebrew language.]
Now, this is about Moses, but we are concentrating on Miriam. What do we deduce about her characteristics, just from this little incident? What do we see about her? She’s protective, capable, brave—it would take a lot of courage—enterprising, quick-witted, and clever. What else? Obedient, because I’m sure her mother coached her. What else? Sensitive? I think she was mature for her age, don’t you? I think she was unselfish. These are all wonderful qualities, and she displays these at a very early age.
It must have been very wonderful for Miriam to know that she was involved in saving her baby brother’s life. It doesn’t take much imagination to figure out that she had a proprietary interest in Moses all the rest of his life—even when he left home to live in the palace. You see, this family had high hopes for this little baby! He was very special when he was born. God saved his life in a miraculous way. Maybe he would be the one to deliver Israel from Egypt! Moses had this idea about himself when he was forty. In fact, if you turn to Acts 7, you’ll see exactly that! Stephen is giving a history of Israel just before they stoned him, and in verse 25 he says Moses thought that his own people would realize that God was using him to rescue them, but they did not.
I believe that within the consciousness of Moses’ family was, “Well, this is such a special child! He is going to have all this special training and contact in the palace—maybe God is going to use him!” I wonder how Miriam felt when he moved to the luxury of the palace and the rest of the family stayed in the slave quarters! I don’t think it mattered how different her life was from his, Miriam always thought of Moses as her little brother whom she had helped save.
The day came when all Miriam’s hopes for Moses were dashed to the ground. Moses, who had become a powerful man (a military leader) in Egypt, attempted to rescue an Israelite from harsh treatment by an Egyptian, and he killed the Egyptian. Consequently, he had to flee for his life at the age of forty to get away from Pharaoh. Moses was forty. Miriam was about fifty. It would be forty years before they met again. People in those days lived a lot longer, so don’t get worried about this! I wonder how she felt during those years when he was gone. Disappointed? Bitter? Frustrated? Helpless? For one thing, certainly, their hope for a deliverer had ended in despair.
Look at Exodus 2:23-24.
During that long period [that Moses was gone—that forty years], the king of Egypt died. The Israelites groaned in their slavery and cried out, and their cry for help because of their slavery went up to God. God heard their groaning and he remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac and with Jacob. [God had told Abraham that his descendants would suffer in slavery for four hundred years. The time was now.] So God looked on the Israelites and was concerned about them.
It was God’s time to deliver Israel, and he had just the man! Moses, the fugitive, the failure, had made a whole new life for himself in the land of Midian. He’d gotten a wife, he had two sons, and he spent all his days taking care of sheep—not even his own, but his father-in-law’s! That’s quite a come-down for a prince of Egypt, isn’t it? But that’s where Moses was when God called him out of the burning bush. After his encounter with God, Moses obeyed God. He went back to Egypt, and told his people that God had sent him to deliver them from Egypt. Their years of slavery were over, and God would deliver them with a mighty hand and destroy the nation that had enslaved them for four hundred years.
Now try to put yourself in Miriam’s place, as she sees the fearlessness of her brother, Moses, and Aaron, his spokesman, as they thunder God’s commands to Pharaoh! She sees God confirm their message by the great miracles that he did. She sees one plague after another devastate and humiliate the Egyptians. These were her brothers, and God was using them to totally defeat Pharaoh! I wonder what she was doing in the six-month period that this whole contest was going on! This didn’t happen in just a week. It went on for at least six months. I think she was a support to her brothers.
I think Miriam rallied the women—put starch in their spines—encouraged them. She did for the women what Moses and Aaron had to constantly be doing for the men, which was to remind them of God’s promises and to prepare them for departure. These must have been heady days! Miriam was thrust into a place of prominence because her brothers were who they were, but also because God had given her abilities that made her and equipped her to be a leader of women.
Finally, the unforgettable night came when Israel left Egypt with the mourning cries of the Egyptians echoing in their ears. Every home was mourning the death of a firstborn. And Israel left. It had been impossible, but here they were, going out of Egypt on their way to their own land—three million strong. God had kept all of his promises to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob—and to them! He had delivered them from Egypt!
Miriam was there when this vast number of people came to the impassable barrier of the Red Sea. Miriam was there when they looked behind them and saw the chariots of Pharaoh bearing down on them, to either take them back to Egypt or to kill them. Miriam was there when God opened a path to the sea, and that whole army of people walked over on dry ground. Miriam was there when Pharaoh’s chariots and horses stepped in to go into the same path, and the walls of water that had stood so firm for the Israelites crumbled and fell and filled in that whole dry bed, and drowned the mightiest army of that civilization.
The Israelites were free! Free forever from Egypt and all of its cruelty and bondage! It was a time for joy, a time for singing, and that’s exactly what they did in Exodus 15. Will you turn to that? This is the first song recorded in the Bible, and it is not without significance that it is only after a people was redeemed. You see, only a redeemed people have a song to sing, and in Revelation it tells us that one day we, the redeemed, will sing a new song before the throne!
Moses taught them this song. Exodus 15:1-2:
"I will sing to the LORD,
for he is highly exalted.
The horse and its rider
he has hurled into the sea.
[You know, this is something for us to learn from. When you thank the Lord for things, do you just say, “Oh, Lord, thank you for all my blessings;” or do you say, “Thank you, Lord, for the fact that in this family we have had three meals today”? “Thank you for the health of my children! Thank you that I have a kind and loving and supportive husband! Thank you that I have a church that I can go to to hear your Word! Thank you for a country that is free!” Or, do we just say, “Thank you”? You see, we need to be specific. Moses said, “The horse and its rider he has hurled into the sea.”]
The LORD is my strength and my song;
he has become my salvation.
He is my God, and I will praise him,
my father's God, and I will exalt him.
I won’t read the rest. I think you need to read it, though, to see the way their praise totally magnified the Lord. Look—I love this section in verse 11, though--"Who among the gods is like you, O LORD?” They had just left a country that worshipped three hundred thousand gods! They worshipped the fly, they worshipped the beetle, they worshipped the sun, they worshipped the bulls, and everything! And he says, “Who among the gods is like you? Who is like you—majestic in holiness, awesome in glory, working wonders?” You see, what God did revealed his character, and that’s exactly what the song brings out.
But, in that day, the way they would sing in praise was that one side would sing, and then the other would answer in response. That’s antiphonal singing. Look what happened in verses 20-21.
Then Miriam the prophetess, Aaron's sister, took a tambourine in her hand, and all the women followed her, with tambourines and dancing. Miriam sang to them [and she sings the same verse as verse 1 there, with a little bit of change in the pronoun]:
"Sing to the LORD,
for he is highly exalted.
The horse and its rider
he has hurled into the sea."
We see hear that she is a leader of the women. They followed her. She has musical ability. She takes her place of leadership, but her leadership directed them to the Lord--in praise to the Lord. She has a godly influence.
I want you to notice the word that is used to describe her. What was it? Prophetess! What’s a prophetess? A “she-prophet”? Right! It’s a female prophet! What’s a prophet? A prophet is one to whom and through whom God speaks, revealing himself and his will.
We need to make a little distinction. In the Old Testament, especially at this time not one word was written of the Word of God. Moses was the one who wrote the Word of God, and that’s a lot later. He wrote the first five books. They have no written Word, so God has to use men to speak his Word. He gave them very clear guidance in Deuteronomy 13. He said that if a person says he’s a prophet and he says something’s going to happen, and it happens, then you can say he is a prophet of the Lord. If it doesn’t happen, he is not a prophet of the Lord, and the Lord didn’t send him. The test of a true prophet was that what he said came to pass; but the emphasis must not be on foretelling the future, although the prophets did that—the emphasis has to be on forth-telling the Word of God. These people spoke God’s Word that he revealed to them, clearly to the people. That’s what a prophet did.
In the New Testament, before the whole New Testament text was written, the prophets spoke. God gave the church prophets. It was one of the foundational gifts, because the Word was not completely written. They not only foretold, but they gave forth new revelation. Now that does not happen anymore. When the Scripture was complete, there was no need for further revelation. But, we do see today that there is a gift of prophecy. In 1 Corinthians 12, for instance, it’s listed as one of the gifts of the Spirit, one of the enabling gifts. This is 1 Corinthians 12, New Testament, verses 27-31:
Now you are the body of Christ [he is saying this to all the Corinthians], and each one of you is a part of it. And in the church God has appointed first of all apostles [they were the ones who came and gave the message with authority and built the church], second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, also those having gifts of healing, those able to help others, those with gifts of administration, and those speaking in different kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? [The answer in the Greek demands a “no” because it is preceded by a negative. It’s a question that must be answered with a “no.”] Are all prophets? [No.] Are all teachers? [No.] Do all work miracles? [No.] Do all have gifts of healing? [No.] Do all speak in tongues? [No.] Do all interpret? [No.] But eagerly desire the greater gifts.
The gift of prophecy today is the ability to proclaim God’s Word with authority and power, and the gift is given to women, as well as men. There were other people in the Bible, women, that were called prophets. There were Deborah, Huldah, Anna in the New Testament, and Philip’s four daughters.
I want you to understand that Miriam was God’s gift to the people of Israel. In fact, he says that in Micah 6:4. He says, “I brought you up out of Egypt and redeemed you from the land of slavery. I sent Moses to lead you, also Aaron and Miriam.” She was God’s gift. It was a very important thing for you to see how privileged she was, and how influential she was.
Try to imagine for yourself what it was like as Israel began her journey to the Promised Land. Miriam was involved in everything that happened. She heard the complaining when water ran out, and she saw God’s provision. She heard the complaining when food ran out, and she saw God send the manna every single day for forty years, except Saturday. She picked her share of manna for her family. Now, the Bible does not tell us that she was married, but Jewish tradition says that she married a man named Hur. Do you remember that he was one of those that held Moses’ arms up when he was praying over the battle with the Amalekites? There was Aaron on one side and Hur on the other. She heard the awesome voice of God as he thundered from Mount Sinai and gave them his Law.
Then came the exciting days when the tabernacle was being built—God’s dwelling place in the camp! The women were very important in the finishing of that project. Women brought their gold and silver jewelry; their earrings and nose rings and bracelets and rings; their expensive fabrics and their fine yarns, to offer them before the Lord. Willing women, skilled in weaving and sewing and embroidery worked on all the coverings and the curtains. It tells us that in Exodus 35. Miriam had to be at the head of the line. She was the leader of the women, and she was a pacesetter. She encouraged them.
But, something happened to change Miriam--the protective sister, the prophetess who led the women and supported her brother—into his rival. What happened in that two years that it took them to travel from Egypt to the border of the Promised Land? Did her position go to her head? Did the fact that the women looked up to her fill her with pride?
Miriam had not usurped leadership! I want you to understand this. She was given leadership by God; but with leadership comes great responsibility. I wonder if she resented the way Moses handled some things. Moses was a humble man. He waited for God’s guidance. I get the feeling—maybe I’m putting myself too much into this—that Miriam was more aggressive, more active. You know how hard it is when you think, “Why doesn’t he do something?” You know? And then you prod a little bit, and you prod, and it doesn’t do anything, and then you just get irritated and you begin to question their leadership, and so on?
I think Moses was Miriam’s little brother, whose life she had saved, and I think there was always that kind of feeling. That’s hard to get rid of, isn’t it? And so, something began to erode her wholehearted support for Moses. I don’t know what it was—but I think it was probably a compilation of a lot of things, but ambition began to burn within her. Why should Moses have the final word? Aaron was the high priest. She was a prophetess. Why shouldn’t Israel be run by a committee of three, instead of Moses’ having the final say? They really ought to be equal! You see, instead of being thankful for the influence that God had given her, she wanted more power, more authority, and sometimes when that happens, we lose our influence.
Now something occurred to give them the opportunity they needed to cover their real motives. Turn to Numbers 12:1. “Miriam and Aaron began to talk against Moses because of his Cushite wife, for he had married a Cushite.” Moses is eighty-two by this time. Apparently his first wife, Zipporah, whom he had married forty-two years before, was dead. He has taken another wife, which I find is usually the pattern! I’m always interested to know how long it takes a widower to marry! It’s anywhere from about two months to you-name-it! But, anyway, he took another wife.
Moses’ new wife is a Cushite. What’s a Cushite? She came from the land of Cush, which was around Ethiopia. Cush was a descendant of Ham, who settled down in that area of Africa, and in southern Arabia. The woman probably was darker skinned. This has overtones of racial prejudice. At the very least, it indicated contempt for Moses’ choice of a wife. There was nothing in the Law to forbid his marrying this woman. There were some they were not to marry. They were not to marry any of the Canaanites, or any of the Moabites, but there was nothing forbidding them to marry Cushites. It was strictly a personal thing.
Maybe Miriam didn’t like another woman’s having an influence in Moses’ life. That might have been it. Miriam had been very important all those years. In any case, this became a platform that Miriam and Aaron used to advance their own authority to equality with Moses. They began to talk about Moses. What’s another name for that? Gossip! Everybody knew that! Isn’t that interesting? To whom did they talk? To each other first, and then it began to spread—and I’m sure they didn’t talk to Moses!
You see, this started as they talked to each other about what they didn’t like about their secondary position of leadership, and then it spread subtly. It spread among the women as they picked the manna and as they worked together and they ground it, and as they cooked. Don’t forget that Aaron did his share! You know how it’s done: hints of dissatisfaction, questioning judgment, disappointment in Moses, promoting themselves. Look what they say; now their real motive comes out! See, the smoke screen is talking about this woman from another race that he had married, but now it really comes out!
Numbers 12:2: “’Has the LORD spoken only through Moses?’ they asked. ‘Hasn't he also spoken through us?’" The pitch is for equality. We all know how it’s done. Most of us have done this, motivated by pride, jealousy, and envy, we tear down other people or we rebel against the leadership that God has placed over us. This can happen in the home, in the church, in our families, or at work, and it’s the most destructive thing that we can do!
James 3:5-6 says this:
The tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.
I’m sure all of us have experienced this! Has your tongue been a destructive influence in your life, or has it brought blessing and healing? It is such a critical area that it’s one we all have to watch. James 3:9-10 goes on to say:
With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men [“Curse” means “to speak evil of.” It doesn’t mean just “to say swear words to.” It means “to speak evil of.”], who have been made in God's likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be.
I can remember when we were raising our first son, who was the most difficult child to raise. I didn’t handle it very well! He would just tick me off, and I would scream and say all kinds of things. I can’t even remember what I said! I had a friend who took her courage in her hands, and she said to me one day that she didn’t think I handled him very well, and that I shouldn’t say the things I did. I was not very grateful for her interference, I have to tell you! That week, I was reading Scripture and in Proverbs the Lord just gave me a verse that pierced my heart. It said, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue (Proverbs 18:21).” I had to make up my mind whether it was going to be death or life for me as a mother and for him as a son, in the way I spoke to him. God really used that. That doesn’t mean I’ve been perfect—but almost! It’s a very important area, girls, in our homes, and with our friends, and with our children. You see, Moses’ credibility as a leader was at stake if this rebellion spread, and Moses wasn’t going to do anything about it.
Look at Numbers 12:3. “Now Moses was a very humble man, more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth.” He wasn’t going to defend himself, but there was someone who would defend him. Look at that phrase at the end of verse 2: “And the LORD heard this.” Now verse 4: “At once the LORD said to Moses, Aaron and Miriam, "‘Come out to the Tent of Meeting, all three of you.’" So the three of them came out.” You’ve got to get the picture here! All three of them were in the tent, God has summoned them, and God’s presence was there in the cloud that was fire by night and cloud by day. The cloud comes down, see? Numbers 12:5-8:
Then the LORD came down in a pillar of cloud; he stood at the entrance to the Tent [He’s not resting over it. He’s right at the entrance.] and summoned Aaron and Miriam. When both of them stepped forward, he said, "Listen to my words:
"When a prophet of the LORD is among you,
I reveal myself to him in visions,
I speak to him in dreams. [He says, “This is the usual way that I reveal myself to a prophet.”]
But this is not true of my servant Moses;
he is faithful in all my house.
With him I speak face to face, [Moses never saw God’s face. This is an anthropomorphism. It’s a way of talking about God as if he were a man, but, he says, “I speak to Moses with nothing between. There’s no mediator. There’s no vision or riddle, or anything to confuse it. I speak to Moses as clearly as possible, because Moses is my servant--my faithful servant.”]
clearly and not in riddles;
he sees the form of the LORD. [We don’t know what Moses saw. Remember when Moses said, “Show me thy glory”? God said, “I cannot show you my glory, lest you die, but I will cover you and then my backside will pass by.” This is another one of those theophanies, where Christ appeared before his incarnation in visible form. Whenever there is anything that the senses can perceive in the Old Testament, it is always the Son who reveals the Father. See? So, in this way, he says to them, “Moses and I have a special relationship, because Moses is a very special person, different from prophets. I deal with him differently. Look at the end of verse 8:]
Why then were you not afraid
to speak against my servant Moses?"
Now turn to Romans 13:1-2. I would like for us to have a little bit of present-day application of this. Romans 13 is the definitive New Testament passage on authorities.
Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities [now here’s what I want you to hear], for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.
This is pretty scary, but you see, everyone lives under some kind of authority. Women who are married live under the headship of their husbands--not inferior--equal in personhood, but willingly taking a place of submission to the one God has given the responsibility to lead them. In the church we have leaders—our elders, pastor, deacons (whatever you call them)—they are our church leaders. As long as they are consistent in obedience to the Word of God, we are to support them and to follow their leading.
Every authority is established by God. Therefore, rebellion is against God. In your heart are you resentful of your husband’s role as your head? Rebellion is against God! Do you resent the fact that you have someone supervising you at work? You just really are not into that very much. You like to be on your own. Rebellion is against God. Do you discount or dishonor the leaders of your church? Rebellion is against God, and this brings judgment! It brought judgment to Miriam. Now God’s swift and terrible discipline falls.
Look at Numbers 12:9-10. “The anger of the LORD burned against them, and he left them. When the cloud lifted from above the Tent, there stood Miriam — leprous, like snow.” Why Miriam only? Is she the instigator? Now you girls know that I will always take the woman’s side, won’t I? If there is any question I will lean that way! In this case, I think we have to really face it that Miriam was the instigator. She was the one who started this. I think the leprosy on Miriam was God’s confirmation of this.
Why leprosy? What was so terrible about leprosy? It was something you could see! What else happened? In Numbers 5:1-3, if you just turn quickly back, this is just one of the places:
The LORD said to Moses, "Command the Israelites to send away from the camp anyone who has an infectious skin disease or a discharge of any kind, or who is ceremonially unclean because of a dead body. Send away male and female alike; send them outside the camp so they will not defile their camp, where I dwell among them."
So, anyone with leprosy had to go outside the camp and stay there until the leprosy left them. Now what was it that Miriam wanted? She wanted more power, more influence, and more prominence. What has happened? She will not even have contact with human beings. No association! No influence! In fact, she would be just a figure of pity and revulsion as she would have to cover her mouth and call out, “Unclean! Unclean!” when anyone got even within hearing distance. That is an unbelievable judgment!
Isn’t God interesting, the way he brings discipline? I also think it’s a very good example of the terrible irony of God. If this is based on racial prejudice, it’s as if God were saying, “If you prefer white, how would you like to be really white?” I think this is something we need to think about. A lot of us have this within our hearts, and I think this works both ways! I don’t think all the prejudice is from whites to blacks, I think it’s reverse, as well. I think we have to recognize that whatever covering God has given us, inside we are all alike. God has fashioned all of our hearts alike, and he has made all men of one blood. We may have personal preferences in whom we marry and whom we want our children to marry. That’s OK. Just don’t make those preferences biblical! Don’t try saying, “God forbids marrying another race,” or, “One race is better than another.” There is no biblical support for that, and I think this is an excellent example to sort of scare us a little bit!
Now look at Numbers 12:10b-12.
Aaron turned toward her and saw that she had leprosy; and he said to Moses, "Please, my lord, do not hold against us the sin we have so foolishly committed. Do not let her be like a stillborn infant coming from its mother's womb with its flesh half eaten away."
Aaron sees with shock his sister’s condition. Aaron is the high priest. He’s the one to intercede with God, but what does he do here? He appeals to Moses to intercede with God for Miriam, and he calls Moses “my lord.” He is acknowledging Moses’ leadership and he confesses his own complicity in their sin. He pleads in touching words for Miriam, and Moses’ response is moving, also. Notice what he says in verse 13: “So Moses cried out to the LORD, "’O God, please heal her!’"
I think the emotion underlying the passage lets us see how much these two brothers really loved their older sister. Now look at v. 14-15:
The LORD replied to Moses, "If her father had spit in her face, would she not have been in disgrace for seven days? Confine her outside the camp for seven days; after that she can be brought back." So Miriam was confined outside the camp for seven days, and the people did not move on till she was brought back.
The Lord says, “Listen—even an earthly father, if he had, because of rebellion or very great disobedience, spit in the face of his child, she would be disgraced and humiliated publicly. I have rebuked and punished her. Even though I will heal her, there needs to be some public humiliation.” He said, “Put her outside the camp, and in seven days bring her back in.”
Why was this necessary? I think the more prominence we have, the more responsibility we have. Because of sin, we can take so many people with us! God has to let there be public humiliation as a deterrent for anyone else to do it-- in this case, a deterrent to anyone else to challenge Moses’ leadership in the future.
This is why it doesn’t upset me too much when people like the Bakers are exposed publicly. The sin had been a public violation of trust, all in the name of the Lord. I hate seeing all of this happen on TV and in the papers, and the papers really camp on it, you know! There is a sense in which this is right, because it’s an exposure that I think God allows. It is a discipline from the Lord. Don’t waste a lot of sympathy. I see these letters in the paper saying, “These people are good people, and it’s terrible the way you keep on.” I don’t think they were good people. If they were good people, the sin is so bad that it needs to be exposed.
We must not protect what is wrong. We can forgive, and we can “not be judgmental” because we can all do the same type of thing. But we must be honest and forthright, and when someone says something, I don’t defend them. I say right out that what they did is totally wrong; it is unbiblical; it is ungodly; it is unchristlike, it is a lust for money; it is all the rest of it, and don’t defend it.
When it says in the Scripture, “Judge not that you be not judged,” it is not saying that we must never say that something that God says is sin, is sin. What he’s talking about is the person who is always looking at somebody to find little flaws. He said, “You see a little mote in your brother’s eye and you say, ‘See, you’re not really what you ought to be, because there’s that little speck I see there.’” He says, “What are you doing? You’ve got a great big log in your eye! How can you judge anybody?” Do you see? That is what it’s talking about! It’s not saying that when someone commits adultery, or somebody does something like this that you are to just close your eyes and just say, “We’re not supposed to judge!” That’s foolishness!
The Bible tells us we are to judge that! That’s the only way that sometimes someone will break off something like that--because they realize they’re going to lose everything if they don’t do it. They are going to lose your friendship. They are going to lose your support. They are going to lose your companionship. Sometimes that is what God uses. Do you understand the difference there, girls?
In this case, Miriam, the leader of women, the prophetess who wanted to be equal with the leader God had appointed, was outside the camp alone for seven days. What do you think she thought of when she was there? What do you think she was like when she came back in? Embarrassed? Humbled? Not quite so sure of herself! Maybe now she was content to be what God had called her to be—a leader of women, under Moses’ leadership.
Do you think there was a loss of influence? I think so! Certainly, she was no longer on a pedestal! She had thirty-eight more years to live under Moses’ leadership, and she never challenged it again. In fact, we never hear her mentioned again, until chapter 20, verse 1, when she’s about 130 years old. They are on the border of the Promised Land for the second time. It’s the first month of the fortieth year, and she dies. She is still a woman of influence, because they record her death, but I am sure that there was a definite diminishing of the influence that she had.
Galatians 5:20 tells us that discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissension, factions, envy, and conceit are acts of the sinful nature—not of those under the control of the Spirit of God. Now, when I talked about the tongue and how difficult it was to control the tongue, I’m sure some of you were saying, “Man, that is my problem!” It will comfort you to know that the Scripture also says in James 3, “No person can control the tongue.” Now why does it say that the person who controls the tongue is a perfect person, and in the next breath say that no person can control the tongue? It’s because none of us can control the tongue apart from the power of the Spirit of God, who does it for us.
You are saying, “Well, that’s great. That’s what I’m going to do.” But, you, see, you can’t have the Spirit of God unless you have trusted Jesus Christ as your Savior. And you can’t be freed from bondage to sin apart from him. Now let me make the analogy for you! The Israelites were born in Egypt into slavery. No one signed up to be a slave. They were born into it and they could never get out of it by their own effort. Nothing could get them out of it, and for four hundred years they were born slaves in Egypt. The only way they could get out of Egypt was to believe on the leader God sent to deliver them, and to follow him out—and that was Moses! And he delivered them. God did it; he used Moses.
Now you and I are born slaves to sin. The Scripture says that. That sweet little baby that some of you brought here today and you hold in your arms, has a sin nature and is a slave to sin by birth! He’ll prove it to you when about the second word he ever learns is, “No!” See? Now, there is nothing we can do to rescue ourselves from our sinful nature. We can’t be good to make up for the bad. We can’t go to church, be baptized, or do any of those things. The only thing we can do is to trust the deliverer God sent to rescue us.
The Bible says that the Father sent the Son to be the Savior of the world. When Jesus Christ came to earth, he didn’t come just to teach and to be a wonderful example, he came to give his life as a ransom for many! He came to give his life for you, and for you, and for you, and for me—so that our sins could be forgiven! So that we could have the Holy Spirit indwelling us. We could have a divine nature. We could be ready for heaven. We can have access to God. Jesus Christ did that. He did it all. There is not anything we can add to it, but there is one thing we have to do.
God gave Jesus Christ as his gift, and no gift is yours until you take it. You can take the Lord Jesus as your Savior right where you are sitting, by saying, “Lord, I really understand that when you came, you died for me. I need you, because I am a sinner, and I can’t control that. I need you to control me, so I trust you as the one who died in my place and rose from the dead. I trust you as my Savior, my God.” Then you will have a new nature. You will have the Holy Spirit indwelling you forever. You will have the ability, then, to learn how to control the sin, whatever it is–whether it’s lust, temper, tongue, you name it! That’s why Jesus came! But you must do what the Israelites did. They had to believe on the leader God sent them, and they had to follow him out, and he will do the very same thing for you.
I want you to turn to Philippians for a minute. Let’s look at the kind of attitude we must have if we are going to get on in our relationships. Starting right at verse 1, the word “if” in verse 1 really should be “since.” It’s that idea. It’s not “if” in doubt, it’s the “if” of certainty. Phil 2:1-4:
If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ [and you do], if any comfort from his love [and you do], if any fellowship with the Spirit [and you have that], if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.
Now can you imagine what would happen if everybody in this room, in the area where they ministered, in their church or in their home, had this attitude? Not, “I want to be first!” Or, “I want everybody to know how good I am.” But, “That person is better than I am! I’m interested in their interests. I want to work together with everyone so that corporately we accomplish what God wants, and it doesn’t matter who gets the credit!” Can you imagine what would happen in the church? You see, that’s what we’re called to do! We are called, not to come here every Wednesday morning to sit and say, “Oh gee, I enjoyed that lesson!” We are called to get out there and use our gifts in the body that we belong to, for each other and for the glory of God.
Now what is it that keeps us from doing that? What are the things that keep you from actively serving God in some area specifically? Busy-ness! Busy-ness in things that are not as important! Right? What else? Laziness? That’s a biggie! What else? Self! Selfishness! “I’ve gotta find myself! I really have to do things to make me feel better! I just take care of people all day, and I’ve gotta do something for me!” The great “me” generation! You know, that is not at all biblical! I don’t want you to think that is all biblical, even if it’s showing up in Christian books!
The most productive, fruitful, exciting life you can live is one in which you know God is working through you to reach other people for himself, no matter what channel he uses. Whether he uses you to help someone who needs food or clothes, or help someone understand God’s Word, or help someone come to Christ, it doesn’t matter. The only thing that matters is advancing the kingdom of God. Anything you do that is for God’s glory and to advance his kingdom, to advance the gospel, is the only thing that is going to last.
Now, tell me why else you do not serve him. Satan deceives us? That is true. You feel inferior; but if God says you have a gift, and you were given it the moment you trusted Christ, then what do you have to do to get over that? Just believe God and go on out and do it! What else? Fear of ridicule! What other kind of fear? Fear of failure. What other kind? Fear of rejection. Fear that people are going to notice that all of a sudden you are making a stand for God, and they are going to make fun of you. That’s true! What else? What else keeps us from doing the most wonderful thing in the world? Pride? It’s mainly self-centeredness. It’s unbelief! It’s telling yourself that it doesn’t matter what God’s Word says, that you are going to do your own thing. And then when you get old and all of these interesting things that you are doing now don’t matter anymore, then maybe you’ll give God the dregs—you know, whatever’s left! See, such foolishness!
The only things you can do that will ever matter are the things that you do that bring God glory and advance his kingdom. For some of you, that right now is raising your children to know Jesus Christ, and to live for him. I’m not saying to you, “Forget this!” But, one of the things that you can say is, “Lord, send to me, while I’m confined at home, send to me people I can minister to.”
It is also true that none of us is guaranteed tomorrow. There is a woman in my church who came to me about two years ago, and she said, “I have multiple sclerosis.” She seemed to deteriorate quite rapidly! Then they re-diagnosed it, and it’s Lou Gehrig’s disease. The minister of music and the minister to adults went to her house this morning to plan her funeral. She can no longer talk. She can communicate, but no longer talk, and she’s about 28! That’s it! Twenty-eight! You see, none of us is guaranteed tomorrow. It’s really true!
We need to begin to really see the responsibilities we have. Can you imagine, if this were our attitude as is lined up for us in Philippians, what a difference it would make in our home, in our church, in our community organizations? Think of all the gossip and the hurt feelings that would be avoided. Think of the freedom we would have just to be ourselves, and to let that other person be himself or herself without being afraid of being “shot down.” Think of how far forward we could go if we didn’t have to keep looking backward to see who was getting ready to “stab us in the back.”
You see, we women have to be particularly careful of our tongues—not because we gossip and men don’t. That’s not true. But, we do talk so much more, and that’s why the danger is more! In fact, it says in Proverbs 10:19, and listen carefully to this; this is kind of an awesome verse. “When words are many, sin is not absent, but he [or she] who holds his tongue is wise.”
The influence of women is so critical that Paul had to make a special appeal to two women who are on the outs in Philippi, to reconcile their differences because it was hurting the whole church. Phil 4:2-3:
I plead with Euodia [a woman] and I plead with Syntyche [another woman] to agree with each other in the Lord. Yes, and I ask you, loyal yokefellow [he’s asking one of the leaders of the church there], help these women who have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel, along with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life.
He said that these women were critical workers for the gospel. They were influential. They were effective, and they are on the outs. It’s hurting them and it’s hurting the church. He said that the leadership needs to move in and help them! If you know women in your church that have a “thing” between them, and they are just going on, help them! Do what you can to bring them back. Pray for them! Talk to them! Confront them and bring them back together. Our influence is terribly important.
I am very grateful that in this church and in the church that I go to, that the women’s ministry is not just a fringe program that is just barely tolerated by the leadership. It is an integral part of the church program. Our attitude as women must always be one of freedom to be all that God wants us to be, with care not to be resentful about restrictions that are placed upon us—now listen carefully—that are biblical! Be very careful about that! That’s a goal that I want to keep as the women’s representative at Northwest, and certainly as an example to you here. I don’t want to lose influence by making a play for power, and I think we have to be very careful about that as women.
Miriam was a unique woman. This is our theme. She was very influential, and she was held accountable by God for that influence. She lost influence by making a play for power. You are unique! You are responsible to God! You have an influence! You have it already! It’s either good or bad, or in between! Are you satisfied with what God has given you to be and to do? Are you serving him wholeheartedly, just where you are, whatever your calling? Are you envious and looking at someone else and wishing that you could do that—waiting to get out of the “prison” where the kids are?
I know that there is every season of life represented here. There are some with no children, some with first children, some with more than one, some whose children are grown, some whose children have left. We are at every stage of life, and I can tell you, because I’m in the last stage now—that every single stage of life can be rich and satisfying, if we are determined that we are primarily responsible to God, to love him, to serve him, to obey him, whatever stage of life we are in. If you have that commitment, you won’t be able to handle the joy and the significance that he’s going to bring into your life.
God’s woman is a unique creation, responsible to God, to love him, to serve him, to obey him, and influential in her sphere. There are three words I want you to keep remembering: unique, responsible, and influential. Miriam was a woman of influence, and she lost a lot of that because she was not satisfied with the limitations placed on her, and she made a play for power. We need to be careful about that!
1. Read Exodus 2:1-10. Describe what we can deduce about Miriam, Moses’ sister, from this incident.
2. Ex. 15:20-21 is 80 years later. What is she called? What do we learn about her and her abilities? Why was she an important support for Moses?
3. Numbers 12:1-16. What do you think was really the motivation behind Miriam and Aaron’s challenge to Moses’ leadership? What occasion did they use as a smoke screen? Who were the Cushites? What might be the subtle undercurrent here? What did Miriam and Aaron want to change?
4. How did Moses defend himself or his authority? How did the Lord defend Him? Summarize what God says in verses 6-8 about His special relationship with Moses. Compare Mark 14:3-9 and note the similarities in Jesus’ defense of Mary.
5. Have you ever been accused falsely? How did you defend yourself? Have you ever had to just let the Lord defend you or vindicate you? What can you learn from Psalm 25 about this?
6. What is implied by the fact that the Lord punished only Miriam? Why was leprosy such an awful disease? What would happen to Miriam? Numbers 5:1-5.
7. What is the significance of the way Aaron addresses Moses in vs. 11? How does he fulfill his function as High Priest here?
8. What feeling for Miriam do her brothers reveal in vs. 11-13? What do you think was the effect of Miriam’s banishment from the camp on her? On the people? Deut. 24:9
9. How does this incident illustrate Romans 13:1-2? See also Colossians 3:18-4:1 and Hebrews 13:7, 17 and name the human authorities God has instituted. What attitude are we to have towards these authorities?
10. Was Miriam influential? Did God consider her important? Micah 6:4. Where did she go astray? What does Numbers 20:1 (38 years later) indicate about her?
11. Galatians 5:20, 26; Philippians 2:3-4; 4:2-3; Romans 12:10; Ephesians 5:21; 1 Peter 5:1-4 tell us how we should relate to each other in God’s family. What attitudes should we have as leaders and as those under the leadership of others?
12. Do you see some wrong attitude you should forsake, some godly attitude you should develop? Is there someone in leadership you resent or are jealous of? Do you undermine their leadership by gossip or slander? What ACTION OF YOUR WILL based on God’s Word will you take to correct this? Then depend on Galatians 2:20!