Nancy: I have a friend who recently discovered a small lump on her face to the center of her ear on a lymph gland. She went in and had some tests done. The doctor felt around, and he finally said, “We need to do a PET scan.” I don’t know what all that stands for, but the object of that scan was to see if there are any cancer cells inside that little lump.
Thankfully, it appears that everything is clear. But as I walked with my friend through that time when she was going through that scan process, I thought about that PET scan—and all that sophisticated equipment we have today that can show all kinds of things going on in our bodies that you can’t see on the outside. It was a reminder to me that God knows. He has the ultimate scan capability and eyes, and He knows what is in our hearts.
There are things that we can’t readily see on the outside, things that we don’t know are going on within our hearts. God uses the circumstances of life to expose and to bring to the surface what is going on in our hearts.
Sometimes God’s scanning device is just taking us through tough times in life, and who and what we are comes out to the surface. We look at ourselves, and we say, “I didn’t know I was that kind of person. I didn’t know I was so angry. I didn’t know I was so impatient. I didn’t know I was so critical until I got squeezed, and what was inside me came out.”
We’ve been looking at the life of Miriam over the last few weeks. When God took Miriam—the sister of Moses and Aaron in the Old Testament—when God took Miriam through a heart scan, it turned out that all was not clear; the report was not a good one.
There were three main incidents recorded in the Old Testament in relation to Miriam’s life. We’ve looked at the first two. The first one was in Exodus chapter 2, when she was a young girl, probably six-to-ten years of age. This is when her mother put Miriam’s little brother Moses in a basket in the Nile River to protect him from the king’s edict that all the little boys should be killed. You know that story.
Miriam’s role in that instance was what we might call that of a caretaker. As a little girl, she proved herself to be trustworthy. She was courageous, confident, conscientious, compassionate and concerned. How’s that for a bunch of “C’s”? We saw those things about her when she was a caretaker even as a young girl.
The second incident took place 80 years later, when Miriam was approximately 90 years of age, give or take. In Exodus chapter 15, we see the incident after the Red Sea crossing, when Miriam is a celebrator—to keep to my “C’s” there.
She’s the one who is leading the women in worshiping and praising the Lord for the victory He has given, for how He has taken His people through the Red Sea. The Egyptians have been overcome, and she joins the women, leads the women in joining the hymn of praise that Moses is singing. Miriam is a part of that celebration.
First she’s a caretaker, then a celebrator. If the story of Miriam’s life had ended there, it would have ended on a really happy, “up” note. It would have been a great story, a flawless record. But one of the things we know about Scripture is that Scripture doesn’t cover up the warts, the failures, the faults and the flaws of even godly people.
I’m so glad for that because when my warts and failures and flaws come out—when the heart scan comes out on my heart and shows things in there that are really ugly—I’m really glad to have the illustrations of people in Scripture who’ve been there, who’ve had some similar heart issues. It helps me deal with my own issues.
The next chapter in Miriam’s life is a sad one; it’s a tragic one. It’s the final account that we have in the Scripture of this woman, apart from her death, which is recorded in just one verse in Numbers chapter 20. We come today, and for the next few days, to this third incident in the life of Miriam. You find it in Numbers chapter 12.
Let me encourage you to turn in your Bible—if you have your Bible with you and can do that—to Numbers chapter 12. We’re going to be looking at this chapter over the next several days.
This is a low point in Miriam’s story that took place just about a year after the previous incident, where she was a celebrator. How fast we can go from being worshipers to being whiners! Am I right? It doesn’t take a year. It doesn’t take a month. It doesn’t take a day. I can do it in a matter of minutes—going from worshiping to whining, from celebrating to criticizing. In this case, there was about a year that elapsed between these two accounts.
Now, the context for Numbers chapter 12 . . . you can learn so much about Scripture if you read it in the context of where it appears. You remember that the children of Israel had been in Egypt as slaves for 400 years. God sent Moses to deliver them. The ten plagues came on Egypt. There was the Passover, where the sacrificial lamb was killed. On that night, God sent the Israelites out of Egypt with a great and mighty hand, and they were free.
Then they came to the Red Sea, where they thought they were in serious trouble. Theywere in serious trouble, because Pharaoh and his army were pursuing them. But God gave this great deliverance that we just talked about.
They came to the other side of the Red Sea, and then they came to Mount Sinai, which is where the Law was given. A lot of the book of Exodus takes place at Mount Sinai. They are at Mount Sinai for about a year, and then they move on to what become their wilderness journey on their way to the Promised Land.
In Numbers chapter 11—we won’t read this passage, or much of it—they come to a place where the people grumble, murmur, whine, and complain. We’re not told exactly what it was they complained about this time, but whatever it was, God took it very seriously. We read in Numbers 11 that “the anger of the LORD was kindled against the people, and the LORD struck down the people with a very great plague. Therefore the name of that place was called Kibroth-hattaavah, because there they buried the people who had the craving” (verses 33-34).
The people were discontented, and God buried many of them there because of their craving and their discontent. Then verse 35 tells us, “From Kibroth-hattaavah the people journeyed to Hazeroth, and they remained at Hazeroth.” That’s where the children of Israel are when we come to chapter 12 of the book of Numbers. Hazeroth is about 40 miles east of Mount Sinai.
In the context of the whole story, this incident falls right before Numbers chapter 13—a passage we’ve also talked about before on Revive Our Hearts—where the children of Israel came to Kadesh-barnea. That’s where they sent the spies into the Promised Land, but they didn’t believe God. They doubted God, and as a result, God said, “You’re going to spend 40 years in this wilderness.”
Numbers chapter 12 is inserted right in this context. It’s a story of Miriam and a rebellion against Moses.
Numbers chapter 12, verse 1, says, “Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses.” Let me just stop there. According to commentaries on this verse, based on the grammatical construction of the verb here—the word “spoke”—it’s clear that Miriam was the instigator. It’s a feminine singular verb. It’s Miriam who was speaking against Moses.Aaron—who, as we know from other accounts in his life, was easily influenced in negative directions—was merely along for the ride.
Now, that doesn’t make Aaron guiltless, but Miriam was the one who stirred this up. That’s why, when it comes to the punishment for the crime—when Miriam gets struck with leprosy and is disciplined, chastened—Aaron is not included in that punishment. This may be one of the reasons, at least. It was really Miriam’s heart that was behind this revolt.
In verses 1 and 2, there were two complaints that were leveled against Moses. In verse 1, we read about the apparent reason for the opposition to Moses: “Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses because of the Cushite woman whom he had married, for he had married a Cushite woman.”
Now, I’ve read a lot of commentaries on this, and they really don’t know who this woman was. There are two basic points of view. One is that this was Moses’ original wife, Zipporah, who may have had dark skin or been of a foreign origin. The other is that Zipporah had died, and this was a second wife that Moses had married later. The answer is, we don’t know. It could have been one or the other.
We do know that this was a marriage that was not forbidden by God. He said, for example, in Exodus chapter 34, that certain marriages were forbidden to the Israelites; they were forbidden from marrying Canaanite women (see verses 12-16). But this was not one of those forbidden marriages, so Miriam and Aaron did not have a biblical basis for saying Moses should not have married this woman.
We don’t know why it is that they had a gripe with this woman. It’s possible that Miriam felt threatened. To this point, Miriam had been the major female figure in Israel. She was respected. She was looked up to, and she may have felt threatened. Maybe she was afraid of being overshadowed by this wife. But the Cushite woman, as I’ve meditated on this passage, was apparently not the real issue.
We have another clue to what may have been going on here. Back in Numbers chapter 11, seventy elders were appointed to assist Moses in leading the people (see verses 16-17). This is an idea that was first suggested by—do you remember who suggested this?—Moses’ father-in-law. Maybe when those elders were appointed, Miriam thought, “This is Moses’ wife’s father’s idea; it’s a bad idea.”
Maybe she felt that her and Aaron’s rights had been trampled and their positions were threatened. Now there would be other people giving counsel to Moses. So maybe she and Aaron were defending their turf against this new leadership structure. We don’t know, but it’s apparent as we get to verse 2 that there’s a deeper issue than Moses’ wife.
And they said, “Has the LORD indeed spoken only through Moses? Has he not spoken through us also?” And the LORD heard it. Now the man Moses was very meek, more than all people who were on the face of the earth. And suddenly the LORD said to Moses and to Aaron and Miriam, “Come out, you three, to the tent of meeting.” And the three of them came out. And the LORD came down in a pillar of cloud and stood at the entrance of the tent and called Aaron and Miriam, and they both came forward.
Verse 2: “And they said, ‘Has the LORD indeed spoken only through Moses? Has He not spoken through us also?’” Now, this appears to be the crux of the issue—the real issue. And this is the issue that God addresses when He steps into the scene.
As we look at these issues that Miriam raised—about Moses’ wife and “Has God only spoken through Moses?”—the questions we want to ask are, “What is going on in her heart? What causes her to speak against Moses and to lead this insurrection?” You don’t want to look at just the outward behavior. We will look at what the heart produced, but first we want to say about her and about us, “What is going on in the heart? What are the heart issues?”
It appears that, first of all, there’s an issue of envy and jealousy. There’s this comparison going on: “You’re not the only one God speaks to.” You see, Miriam knew Moses when he was in diapers, and she was a prophet too. We’re told in Exodus chapter 15 that she was a prophetess. She could hear from God too.
Sometimes it can be difficult to watch others succeed, and especially to celebrate the successes of younger siblings. I’m thinking of Joseph’s older brothers. They got jealous when God spoke to Joseph, and as a result, they attacked him.
Moses had had a privileged upbringing in the palace of Pharaoh’s daughter, as you remember, and he had been spared the hardships of slavery. “He always got the spotlight,” maybe Miriam is reasoning; “I’m always in the shadows.” There’s this envy, this jealousy about Moses’ position, about his privileges. She’s thinking, “Why should he have the greater privilege of speaking for God? God speaks to me too.”
Jealousy is a matter of wanting what someone else has. Envy is a matter of wishing they didn’t have it. I think we see both in play here. Moses had some leadership that Miriam apparently coveted. Not only did she want it for herself, but she was wishing that he didn’t have it. So what do you do when you see somebody who has something that you don’t have, and you wish you did have it, and you wish that they didn’t have it? Well, it’s easy to start to pull them down, to attack them, to rejoice in their downfall.
The youth pastor in my home church preached a message on this very passage, Numbers chapter 12, and he made a comment that I thought was helpful.
When personal envy puts us on the offensive, we no longer see the other person as being made in the image and likeness of God. We lose respect for them as an individual, and now that person becomes an obstacle to our personal happiness. Instead of enjoying them, you begin to despise them. Instead of valuing them, you degrade them. Instead of lifting them up, you boast about yourself. Instead of rejoicing over their giftedness, you downplay their contribution to the Kingdom.
That’s exactly what we see happening here, as there’s envy and jealousy going on in Miriam’s heart.
There’s also resentment. Moses apparently has greater access to God, and she resents that. There’s selfish ambition in her heart. She wants greater power. She is striving for position, for authority, for influence. There’s rivalry going on in her heart, and, of course, at the heart of the issue is pride: a striving to be exalted, striving for the first place, for the preeminent place.
After all, she was a prophetess. She was respected. She’d been a truth-speaker for years. When you’ve had that kind of position and influence, you tend to expect that people will agree with everything that you say, and what you say ought to have as much influence as what anybody else says. So there’s this pride in her heart.
Miriam finds herself in the very dangerous position of resisting the place and the role that God has for her—and insisting on having the place and the role that God has for someone else. Any time we do that, ladies, we have overstepped God’s role in our lives, and we have become rebels.
This is a story about a rebellious woman, but her story is our story. How often do we say, “I’m not content with the role God’s put me in, to have the responsibility He’s given me; instead, I want to have a role, a job, a calling, a task that is given to someone else”?
It may be that you want the role God has given to your husband. It may be that you want the role God has given to your pastor, or the authority at your workplace—the boss. You say, “I want that.” Now, you may not say, “I want that title,” but you start to scheme, to manipulate and to strive because, out of pride, you want to be first. The result, often, is that we become resistant against authority.
This is so much in contrast to the picture we saw of Miriam in the previous incident, in Exodus chapter 15, where she was responsive to Moses’ leadership. Moses led the children of Israel in a hymn of praise after they crossed the Red Sea, and Miriam took her place and was a responder. She led the women in supporting and lifting up Moses as they joined in singing the hymn of praise.
That was a good place for Miriam to be. Now, here, about a year later, as a woman about 90 years of age, she finds herself in the place of resisting God-ordained authority. When we do that, by the way, we resist not only the human authority, but we resist God Himself.
Miriam is discontent with her God-given role, her God-given calling. She chafes against the position, the prestige and the prominence that is given to Moses. She wants that place, and she begins to speak out about that. We’ll see in the next session how these heart issues, what was going on in Miriam’s heart . . . we’ll see how her heart actually expressed itself.
Before we move on to how her heart expressed itself, as I was meditating on this passage, a story came to mind of a woman who’s been a heroine of mine for many years. Her name is Helen Roseveare. I’ve talked about her many times on Revive Our Hearts.
In the 1950s to 1970s, or thereabouts, she was a missionary, a surgeon, a medical doctor, in what was then called Congo. She was a woman who was greatly used of God. Her book Living Sacrifice is a book I’ve read numerous times over the years. I don’t know if it’s still in print, but if you can get a copy, it’s a great book. I went back and pulled out of that book some passages I remembered where Helen Roseveare, as a single woman on the mission field, had some similar challenges to what Miriam experienced.
Let me read to you some of what Dr. Roseveare says. She says,
When the committee of senior missionaries, responsible for the overall planning of church ministries in our area of Congo, decided to ask me to go to Nebobongo to set up the medical center there, I was furious. There was no medical worker on the committee, and I felt at least I should have had the right to explain why, to me, this was a very bad decision.
Then she goes on to say in a later instance:
When the committee decided that I should go on furlough after only five years of service, I was indignant. Why couldn’t I do seven years—or more—as everyone else did? At least I had the right to be consulted. Would it be convenient to my mother and family for me to go then?
My right to be considered, to have my opinion listened to, to give my advice, to make choices and decisions, certainly insofar as these related to my own life and the outworking of the vision God had given me, all seemed so essentially right and reasonable.
I wonder if Miriam didn’t think the same thing. I don’t think she thought, “I’m writing a chapter in a book on the rebellious woman.” To her, this probably seemed right and reasonable.
Helen Roseveare talks about, in another instance.
Three others joined the team. There were those more qualified than I was in particular areas. I slowly found that I was not really needed in the team in the way that I had been previously. This was hard to take. I had always been needed: I suppose my ego thrived on it. Now I was needed chiefly as a glorified office boy [she was a surgeon, remember?] and I was discontented. As usual, the grumble reached the ears of the school committee, including two or three church elders.
We will see, as Miriam’s story unfolds for us in the next session, that Miriam’s gripes started in her heart, and then they reached Aaron’s ears, and then they reached the people’s ears, and then they reached Moses’ ears. And from the outset, they reached God’s ears. We’ll read next in Numbers 12:2, as we step back into the passage in the next session, “and the LORD heard it.”
God heard what she said; God hears what you say; God hears what I say. The discontent in our hearts—He hears it before we even put words to it. The striving, the disloyalty, the pride, the selfish ambition, the resentment, the rebellion . . . God hears the grumblings and the gripes of our hearts.
As we look at this woman, Miriam, God’s calling many of us to repentance, to say, “Lord, I’ve got a heart issue.” Aren’t you thankful God’s not writing more of the Scripture so our chapters could end up in there? Miriam’s story is right there for all of us to read, in Numbers chapter 12.
But I want to say, God can write a new story for each of us—a story of grace, a story of forgiveness. We’ll see that He does that for Miriam, but it only happens as we are willing to repent, to be honest about where God has found us, and to cry out for God’s grace.
Lord, today, we are women who are desperately in need of Your grace. And I pray that as You have been pointing Your finger at issues not only in Miriam’s heart, but in our hearts, we would be quick to say, “Yes, Lord, there is that striving, there is that self-seeking, there is that envy, there is that jealousy.”
Lord, You’ve painted in our minds a picture of where these things exist and the relationships where we are pushing and striving and manipulating for preeminence. I pray that we would respond to the conviction of Your Spirit, not just drown it out by moving on to another radio program, a new session, or a new thing in our day.
We will respond by stopping now and saying, “Lord, I repent. Wash me. Cleanse me. Forgive me. Purify my heart.” I pray it in Jesus’ name, amen.
Used with Permission. Revive Our Hearts.