Nancy: For those of you who’ve not been with us over the last couple of sessions, we’re in Numbers chapter 12, and let me just reset. This is Miriam at age about 90. We saw her early in her life as a caretaker as a young girl, then at the Red Sea as she helped lead the women in worshiping and praising the Lord.
We saw her as a celebrator, and now we’re seeing her late in her life. The last recorded chapter on her life in the Scripture, we see her as a critic and really experiencing serious consequences as a result of daring to challenge God’s choice of leader for the nation and to speak out against him.
Numbers 12, verse 1:
Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses because of the Cushite woman whom he had married, for he had married a Cushite woman. And they said, “Has the LORD indeed spoken only through Moses? Has he not spoken through us also?” And the LORD heard it (verses 1-2).
Then we read in those next verses, in the last session, about how God called Moses and Aaron and Miriam, the three siblings, out to the tent of meeting and confronted Miriam and Aaron, defended Moses, but confronted Miriam and Aaron for this rebellion and said, “You should have been terrified to speak out against My servant, Moses.”
Then verse nine:
The anger of the LORD was kindled against them, and he departed. When the cloud [that is the presence of God’s glory, the symbol of His presence] removed from over the tent, behold, Miriam was leprous, like snow. And Aaron turned toward Miriam, and behold, she was leprous (through verses 9-10).
Now, in the last session, we talked about how leprosy is a picture of sin and how sin contaminates and separates and isolates and how there were consequences of Miriam’s sin that were pictured by this physical issue of leprosy, but I want to take a little parenthesis here in this series on Miriam today to talk about this whole issue of sickness and how it relates to sin.
We can’t get a full understanding of that subject by looking at just this passage, but this passage does give us some insight. Sickness sometimes—and I’m talking here about physical sickness, everything from sore throats to tumors, cancer, little things, big things, coughs, colds, whatever—sometimes physical sickness is simply the result of living in a fallen world, and that’s part of the curse. That’s part of the Fall is that our bodies, from the time we’re conceived, they start to deteriorate, and we experience that in physical weakness and sickness.
Sometimes sickness is for the purpose of God glorifying Himself through supernatural healing, and we have instances of that in the Scripture. Sometimes physical sickness is the natural result or consequences of unwise or sinful choices that we have made in relation to our lifestyle.
You drink too much, you’re going to have physical issues. You smoke too much, there’s a good chance of having lung cancer. You don’t exercise and eat properly, there are other physical issues that you’re likely to have. So sometimes physical deterioration in our bodies can be just the natural result of unwise or foolish or sinful choices.
Then sometimes—and this is where we want to focus today—sometimes physical sickness or disease is the result of divine judgment, God’s chastening hand, His rebuke for sin. Now, the operative word here is sometimes, not always. It’s a mistake to assume that if somebody is sick, they’re sick because God is judging them, or somebody has a terrible accident.
I know Joni Eareckson Tada had to deal with this after her diving accident left her as a quadriplegic. She had those then and maybe still who have said to her over the years, “The reason you have not been healed is because you don’t have faith or because you have sinned.” Those are horrible things to say to a person, but not always is that the case.
However, sometimes it is the case that physical sickness is the direct result of God’s chastening hand for our sin, and such is clearly the case with Miriam in Numbers chapter 12 and her leprosy. God struck her with leprosy as a result, a consequence, of her sin.
Now, I want us to look at several passages of Scripture to just give us an overview of the fact that this is not an isolated instance, that God can use and sometimes does use physical illness for the sake of chastening. For example, in Deuteronomy chapter 28, verse 15, the Scripture says,
If you will not obey the voice of the LORD your God or be careful to do all his commandments and his statutes that I command you today, then all these curses shall come upon you and overtake you.
The LORD will strike you with wasting disease and with fever, inflammation and fiery heat, and with drought and with blight and with mildew. They shall pursue you until you perish.
The LORD will strike you with the boils of Egypt, and with tumors and scabs and itch, of which you cannot be healed.
So Deuteronomy chapter 28, speaking to the Children of Israel—clearly a case where if they refused to obey God, they would experience physical disease as a consequence of their disobedience.
Psalm 32 gives us this in another setting after David committed adultery with Bathsheba. He says,
When I kept silent [that is, when I refused to acknowledge or confess my sin, when I covered it up], my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer (verses 3-4).
Now, I won’t go into all the medical descriptions of what’s involved here, but sin in the body, guilt in the conscience, often does have an effect on our physical condition. There are some physical conditions, dryness of the joints, certain kinds of inflammation, that can be the consequence of our sin.
Let me ask you to turn in your Bibles to the book of 2 Chronicles, and I’ll give you two instances that stand out clearly in 2 Chronicles. The first one in is 2 Chronicles chapter 21 beginning in verse 5, “Jehoram,” Jehoram was a king of Judah, son of Jehoshaphat.
Jehoram was thirty-two years old when he became king, and he reigned eight years in Jerusalem. And he walked in the way of the kings of Israel, as the house of Ahab had done, for the daughter of Ahab was his wife. And he did what was evil in the sight of the LORD (through verse 6).
Now skip down to verse 12,
And a letter came to him from Elijah the prophet, saying, “Thus says the LORD, the God of David your father. . . . Behold, the LORD will bring a great plague on your people, your children, your wives, and all your possessions, and you yourself will have a severe sickness with a disease of your bowels, until your bowels come out because of the disease, day by day (verses 12-14).
Verse 18 we see that this is, in fact, exactly what happened.
And after all this the LORD struck him in his bowels with an incurable disease. In the course of time, at the end of two years, his bowels came out because of the disease, and he died in great agony” (verses 18-19, KJV).
Now, that is not to say that every gastrointestinal disorder is a result of doing evil in the sight of God. But it’s clear in this case that he would not have had this disease had it not been for his sin. Now, you may think, “What kind of God would strike people sick because of their doing something that He wasn’t pleased with?”
I’ll tell you what kind of God would do that.
- a holy God who hates sin
- a wise and loving God who desires to bring us to repentance, who wants to restore us
Turn over a few pages to 2 Chronicles chapter 26, and you’ll see another illustration of how sin resulted in physical sickness. Verse 16, this is speaking of King Uzziah.
When he was strong, he grew proud, to his destruction. For he was unfaithful to the LORD his God and entered the temple of the LORD to burn incense on the altar of incense.
But Azariah the priest went in after him, with eighty priests of the LORD who were men of valor, and they withstood King Uzziah and said to him, “It is not for you, Uzziah, to burn incense to the LORD, but for the priests, the sons of Aaron, who are consecrated to burn incense. Go out of the sanctuary, for you have done wrong, and it will bring you no honor from the LORD God” (verses 16-18).
Uzziah sins. He oversteps his bounds as the king. God mercifully sends him a prophet to give him the opportunity to repent, but instead of repenting, Uzziah digs his heals in. Look at verse 19.
Then Uzziah was angry. Now he had a censor in his hand to burn incense, and when he became angry with the priests, leprosy broke out on his forehead in the presence of the priests in the house of the LORD by the altar of incense.
And they rushed him out quickly, and he himself hurried to go out, because the LORD had struck him. And King Uzziah was a leper to the day of his death, and being a leper lived in a separate house, for he was excluded from the house of the LORD (verse 19-21).
Now you say, “Well, that’s all Old Testament.” Let me point you to James chapter five. You don’t need to turn there, but let me just read to you in the context of James chapter 5, verse 14. The writer says, “Is anyone sick among you?” (KJV). It’s talking about physical sickness. It may be they’re talking about depression as well, emotional sickness.
Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins [the implication is, if his sickness is the result of his sinful choices, when he comes and asks for prayer, and they pray the prayer of faith], he will be forgiven (verses 14-15).
What does he need to do in order to get that kind of prayer of faith? Verse 16, “Confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, [so] that you may be healed.” Again, he’s not saying that all sickness is the result of sin, but sometimes it is.
When it is, what we’re to do is go and put ourselves before those who’ve been charged with the spiritual responsibility for our souls. As wise elders, they will ask, “Is there anything on your conscience that you need to tell us or that you need to tell the Lord or that you need to tell someone else? If there is, before we pray for you, you need to confess that, and then once you confess it, once you’re confessing it with the intent of forsaking it, then we can pray for you in faith and believe that God will heal you if your sickness is the result of your sin.”
Another verse, Revelation chapter 2, verse 20, and again I’m jumping into a bigger context here. God says,
I have this against you, that you tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess and is teaching and seducing my servants to practice sexual immorality and to eat food sacrificed to idols.
I gave her time to repent, but she refuses to repent of her sexual immorality. Behold, I will throw her onto a sickbed [I will inflict her with physical illness because she refuses to repent of her immorality], and those who commit adultery with her I will throw into great tribulation, unless they repent of her works (verses 20-22).
Now, even when you come to the end of time, the final judgment, the last days, those who worship the beast God will strike with physical illness. Let me just read you a couple of verses here. Revelation chapter 16,
So the first angel went and poured out his bowl on the earth. [This is a bowl of God’s judgment, God’s wrath.] And harmful and painful sores came upon the people who bore the mark of the beast and worshiped its image (verse 2).
The fifth angel poured out his bowl on the throne of the beast, and its kingdom was plunged into darkness. People gnawed their tongues in anguish and cursed the God of heaven for their pain and sores. They did not repent of their deeds (verses 10-11).
Here God, even toward the end of time, as He’s pouring out His final judgments on the earth, God’s desire is that people should repent. When they refuse to repent, at times, He inflicts them with physical disease and sores. This is not something like in a science fiction movie. This is something that is actually going to happen to millions of people on this earth.
You say, “Wow, well that’s the end of time! I’m sure glad we’re not living right then.” But let me point you to 1 Corinthians chapter 11. For those who aren’t in the Old Testament and aren’t experiencing the final judgments and wrath of God, this applies to the era in which all of us live.
Again, the context here is when the people of God come together to partake of the Lord’s Supper, communion, the Lord’s table, and verse 29, the apostle Paul says,
Anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body [that is the body of Christ], eats and drinks judgment on himself.
That is, if you have not examined yourself and your heart and your conscience before God before you partake of the Lord’s Supper, then God will be forced to discipline and chasten you.
Paul goes on to say, “Because some of you have partaken of the Lord’s supper with an unclear conscience,” (paraphrase) verse 30, “that is why many of you,” not a few of you, but, “many of you are weak and ill, and some have died.” Shwewh! That’s a serious thing, but it says to us that God sometimes inflicts physical consequences, as He did on Miriam, when we do not take holiness seriously. God’s goal is to bring us to repentance.
So what’s the solution if you are experiencing physical consequences that you believe are the result of chastening for sin? Now, I’m not suggesting you go on a wild goose chase, and you’re having coughs or colds or arthritis or back pain or whatever—you say, “Oh, I know I must have sinned.”
If you have sinned, God will make it clear to you what it is. What do you do if you find yourself in this situation? Well, you search your ways. You examine your heart. You say, “Is there a cause for this physical illness?”
If God convicts you that it is the result of sin, then you repent. You confess it with the intent to forsake it. This is an evidence of whether you truly are or are not a child of God. Do you repent when God convicts you of sin? If you do, then there’s evidence, there’s reason to believe, there’s confidence, assurance you can have in your heart that you are a child of God.
Now, let me go back for just a few moments as we close here, to Miriam in Numbers chapter 12. Miriam was struck with leprosy as a result of her sin. She was sentenced to seven days outside the camp. We don’t know exactly at what point she was physically restored or healed, but we do know that she likely had to submit to the laws that God had already established of the restoration and the cleansing of lepers who were healed.
You find it in Leviticus chapter 14, and I want to read to you a fairly lengthy portion here because I want you to see that there is a principle here in relation to our spiritual cleansing and healing. Leviticus 14, verse 1,
The LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “This shall be the law of the leprous person for the day of his cleansing. He shall be brought to the priest, and the priest shall go out of the camp, and the priest shall look.
“Then, if the case of leprous disease is healed in the leprous person, the priest shall command them to take for him who is to be cleansed two live clean birds and cedarwood and scarlet yarn and hyssop. And the priest shall command them to kill one of the birds in an earthenware vessel over fresh water.
“He shall take the live bird with the cedarwood and the scarlet yarn and the hyssop, and dip them and the live bird in the blood of the bird that was killed over the fresh water. And he shall sprinkle it [What’s it? The blood.] seven times on him who is to be cleansed of the leprous disease. Then he shall pronounce him clean and shall let the living bird go into the open field” (verse 1-7).
Now, if nobody ever got healed except for Miriam from leprosy in the Old Testament, why did God take all those verses and most of the rest of this chapter, which we don’t have time to read all of that, to talk about what to do when somebody got healed from leprosy? Here’s why: Because it gives us a picture of the cross, a picture of the Gospel, a picture of Christ, whose blood cleanses us from all sin.
What happened in this blood sacrifice with the two birds, one killed and the live one dipped in his blood and then set free to be cleansed? That’s a picture of Christ. It’s a picture of the cross. He was the bird who was killed.
Now, He’s not a bird, but He’s symbolized in that word picture. We are cleansed by being washed in His blood, and we are set free. The living bird is set free to go. What a picture we have here!
Then the rest of Leviticus chapter 14, as the priest takes blood of other sacrifices and takes water and takes oil and anoints the person who’s being healed from top to bottom—his right ear, his right thumb, his right big toe—a picture of being covered from head to toe in the blood of Christ, in the oil of the Holy Spirit, washed from head to toe. This is a very thorough cleansing process, and what’s the object lesson here? It’s a picture of holiness.
It tells us that sin separates and contaminates, that God takes sin seriously, that it’s not to be treated lightly. It tells us that when we sin, as was required of Miriam, there is a need for a blood sacrifice which Jesus, the Lamb of God, has made, thank God—and thorough washing, washing in the Word, washing in the Spirit of God, washing to be restored to fellowship with God and with His people.
You can’t just sin and dance back into the limelight, dance back into the fellowship, dance back into fellowship with God and say, “I want back here. I repented. I confessed.” No, there’s a process of cleansing and restoration.
Oh, that we would take sin as seriously as God takes it! The sacrifices required, the death of innocent substitutes—they took the sinner’s place as Christ took our place there on the cross, so there’s a thorough process of sacrifice and washing, cleansing required.
Here’s the thing I love about this passage with Miriam and the one in Leviticus 14 that tells us this whole, big, long cleansing process. What’s the end of the story? “Thus the priest shall make atonement for him, and he shall be clean” (verse 20). Clean!—the leprous person, the sin-infected, sin-infested man or woman can be clean, forgiven, forgiven, forgiven!
Thank God that though our sin has consequences—and sometimes those consequences can even be physical illness and disease or other kinds of consequences—thank God for His mercy. Thank God for Jesus. Thank God for the blood of the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world.
As we’ve been talking about Miriam, you may have been greatly convicted. “I have sinned!” When God convicts you, repent. Confess it with the intent to forsake that sin, but then know, through the blood of Jesus Christ, you can be clean. You can be forgiven. You can be restored to fellowship—fellowship with God and fellowship with God’s people, even as Miriam was brought back into that camp.
Used With Permission. Revive Our Hearts.