The patience of Moses was tried in his own family, as well as by the people of Israel. His siblings, Miriam and Aaron, now spoke against him. They claimed that it was because of his choice of a wife; but the real reason for their conduct towards him was probably that their pride was hurt, and their envy was stirred up, by his superior authority over them. Opposition from our close relatives and even from believing friends is painful indeed, but it is good in such circumstances to imitate the gentleness and meekness of Moses.
It seems that Miriam began this quarrel; and Aaron, for the present time, seems to have been somewhat disgusted – possibly over not having been consulted in the choice of the 70 elders that were selected in the last chapter. As mentioned above, it seems that Miriam and Aaron said something about Moses’ marriage to Zipporah – whom, on this occasion, they scornfully called “an Ethiopian woman.” But they also quarreled with him (verse 2) about his government of the people – not the mismanagement of it, but the monopolizing of it. “Hath the Lord indeed spoken only by Moses?” they asked. Miriam and Aaron could not deny that the Lord had truly spoken by Moses, but it was also plain that He had sometimes spoken by them as well. And so what they intended to do here was to make themselves equal with him – although God had distinguished him in so many ways. Striving to be the greatest is a sin which easily beset even Christ’s disciples themselves, and it is exceedingly sinful. Even those who enjoy honored positions are seldom pleased if others are honored more than they.
The Lord not only cleared Moses’ name of any wrong, but He also praised him. He said that Moses was “faithful in all mine house.” God did put a great deal of honor upon His prophets, but the honor which He put upon Moses was far greater; for He spoke with him “mouth to mouth” – that is, face to face – and not through dreams or visions, as He did with the prophets. However, although Moses had the spirit of prophecy in a way which set him far above all others, our Lord Jesus infinitely excels him! (Heb. 3:1-6)
Miriam and Aaron were made to consider whom it was that they had insulted. We ought to be afraid of saying or doing anything against the servants of the Lord. After He had spoken to Miriam and Aaron, the cloudy pillar “departed from off the tabernacle,” and Miriam became leprous. The removal of God’s presence is the surest and saddest token of His displeasure.
Aaron, as the priest, was the one who was to pronounce Miriam as leprous. And he could not do this without trembling, for he himself knew that he was equally guilty of the same crime. If Miriam was thus punished for speaking against Moses, what will become of those who despise the Lord Jesus?
Aaron had joined his sister in speaking against Moses, but now he was forced – both for himself and also on behalf of Miriam – to beg his pardon. It is good when rebukes for sin produce confession and repentance, for such persons – although corrected and disgraced – shall be pardoned.
Moses interceded to God on Miriam’s behalf, thereby showing that he forgave the injury done to him. To this pattern of Moses – and also to that of our Savior, who prayed, “Father, forgive them” – we must pray for grace to conform. Miriam’s punishment of leprosy was indeed removed. However, although she was forgiven, she was put out of the camp for seven days in order to humble herself.
As we conclude our study of this chapter, let us meditate for a moment on the fact that Moses’ wife was “an Ethiopian woman.” This may seem to be a strange choice on the part of Moses, but how much more strange is the choice of Him Who is greater than Moses! It is the wonder of angels that the love of Jesus was set upon poor, lost, guilty human beings. And when each individual believer is filled with a sense of his Savior’s love, he will likewise be overwhelmed with astonishment that such love should be lavished on an object so utterly unworthy! We are painfully conscious of our secret guiltiness and unfaithfulness, and so we are dissolved in grateful admiration of the matchless freeness and sovereignty of grace. Jesus must have found the cause of His love in His own heart; He certainly could not have found it in us, for it is not there! His grace alone makes us beautiful and lovely to behold in His eyes. O tender and faithful Husband of our souls! Continue Your gracious work of conforming us to Your image, until You shall present even us poor Ethiopians unto Yourself, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing.
We may also consider how Moses met with opposition because of his marriage; both he and his wife were the subjects of evil eyes and evil tongues. Can we wonder, therefore, if this vain world opposes Jesus and His Bride – especially when great sinners are converted by His grace? For this is always the Pharisee’s ground of objection: “This man receiveth sinners!”
O Lord! Despite our ingratitude toward You, Your unequalled loveliness and mercy is manifested in the Person of our Lord Jesus. O holy Redeemer! You unceasingly intercede at the right hand of the Father for all Your unworthy people, who are grieving You with our sins in the very same moment that Your blood and righteousness are pleading for our salvation. Son of God! Have compassion on the leprosy of our souls, and shut us not out from Your presence! Amen.
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