Nancy: I want to wrap up this series on Miriam today with some further thoughts and making it a little bit more personal in our lives.
For those of you who have not been with us, we’ve been in Numbers 12, and we saw this very sobering incident where Miriam, accompanied by her brother Aaron, spoke against Moses. They didn’t like the wife he had chosen; and deeper than that, it bothered them that he was the one speaking for God.
There was jealousy. There was envy that resulted in a critical spirit—really an insurrection, a rebellion against Moses’ authority—and God took this very seriously. Miriam was struck with leprosy and had to stay outside the camp for seven days. It was very serious.
I think all of us who have been listening to the series are glad God doesn’t generally deal with us in quite such a direct manner of chastening as He did in that instance, but it’s a caution, a warning, that God takes sin seriously.
But throughout this passage we also see the incredible mercy of God. It’s a sober passage. It’s a passage that shows God’s holiness and His judgment against sin, but thank God for His mercy.
First of all, we see God’s mercy in the fact that Miriam did not die. She recovered. “The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23), and every sinner—that would be all of us—deserves to die.
In fact, if you remember the context in which this story took place, remember that Numbers 12 follows Numbers 11, where the anger of the Lord had been kindled against the people who had murmured and whined, and God had struck down the people. Many of them had died from a very great plague.
So, in just the previous location where the children of Israel had been, a lot of people had lost their lives for their sin, but God in His mercy spared Miriam’s life. The fact that you and I are alive today is an evidence of God’s mercy. Don’t take it for granted. Don’t take it lightly.
Then we see the mercy in the fact that Moses interceded for Miriam. In verse 13, after she got leprosy, Moses cried to the Lord, “O God, please heal her—please.” Thank God for those who intercede on our behalf and who cry out for mercy on our lives!
Then we see God’s mercy in the fact that she was healed—not only the fact that she didn’t die, but the fact that she didn’t spend the rest of her life as a leper. The only way for Miriam to be healed from this terminal illness was a supernatural act of God.
That healing was God’s mercy. She could not heal herself. Moses could not heal her.
By the way, those who sin against us and experience the consequence, as Miriam did for sinning against Moses, cannot be healed by our efforts. They can only be healed by God. That’s why we are right to do what Moses did, to pray and plead with God that He will heal and restore repentant sinners.
It was God’s mercy that Miriam did not have to stay outside the camp more than the seven days that she did; that she was forgiven; that she was restored to fellowship with God and with God’s people.
She was able to return to the covenant community, and that is the goal—that’s alwaysthe goal in God’s chastening and His discipline—that we can be restored to a right relationship with Him and a right relationship with others of God’s people.
It’s interesting to me, as I have been studying the life of Miriam. We saw the first chapter of her life when she was a little girl, in Exodus 2; we saw her as a caretaker, looking over her little brother Moses in that reed ark in the Nile River. She was a caretaker.
We saw her in Exodus 15, as they came out on the other side of the Red Sea. She was a celebrator, leading the women in praising the Lord for what He had done.
Then we’ve seen her over these last few days in Numbers 12 as a critic, a complainer, one who attacked Moses—a sinful chapter of her life. Those are the only three accounts we have in the Scripture of Miriam’s life, apart from her death which is mentioned in Numbers 20, with virtually no detail.
So after this incident in Numbers 12, Miriam is never mentioned again until she dies. Numbers 20:1,
The people of Israel, the whole congregation, came into the wilderness of Zin in the first month, and the people stayed in Kadesh. And Miriam died there and was buried there.
That’s the next reference we have to Miriam. She was, at this point, about 126, give or take. She died one year to the day before the Israelites crossed over Jordan into the Promised Land. She never got to see it herself.
So the last words we ever hear from Miriam’s mouth that are recorded in Scripture are the ones we’ve been studying about in this series, from Numbers 12:2, where she said, “Has the Lord indeed spoken only through Moses? Has He not spoken through us also?”
They were words of criticism, words of jealousy, envy, pride, selfish ambition, and rebellion. That’s the last recorded speech we have for Miriam.
As I thought about that, I thought, “What if the words that I had spoken most recently to my family, to our staff, to those that I have disagreements with, what if they were my last words ever, or the ones that stuck, the ones that were remembered?”
What if the words you spoke last to your husband, to your boss, to your parents, what if they were the last words you ever spoke? The tongue is an expression of our heart, and that’s why we need to be so careful about what words come out of our mouths.
Why is Miriam never mentioned again? I’d like to think that she served humbly and quietly in the role God had for her as a prophetess, a woman of God, leading the women in supporting God’s ordained leadership of Moses; that she did this by serving humbly and quietly for the rest of her life, in a spirit of meekness and submission, content to fulfill God’s role for her life and to serve without the limelight.
We don’t know, and one of the reasons perhaps the Scripture doesn’t tell us is that we realize sometimes God does put us on a shelf and our usefulness is over. There is a place we can go where we sin against the grace of God to an extent that we become disqualified for ministry, and that’s a dreadful thought to contemplate. But we also have the hope that as we repent, we can be restored, and God can continue to use us.
There’s a verse in the book of Deuteronomy, and as many times as I’ve read through the Scripture over the years—many, many times—when I came across this verse in this study, I did not remember ever having seen it before. But it’s there—Deuteronomy 24:9.
This is after Miriam’s death. As the children of Israel are getting ready to go into the Promised Land, Moses says, “Remember what the Lord your God did to Miriam on the way as you came out of Egypt.”
Remember what the Lord your God did to Miriam. That’s a great challenge, and I want to leave you with that. Remember what God did to Miriam.
One Jewish writer said that this verse is one of six remembrances which Jews recite daily after morning prayer—remember what God did to Miriam.
It reminds me of another verse: “Remember Lot’s wife.” We read that in Luke 17:32. Both of these women experienced the chastening hand of God. Lot’s wife, to death; Miriam was restored. Remember. Don’t forget what God did to Miriam.
What are we supposed to remember? Well, the seriousness of speaking out against, or tearing down, or opposing God’s servants. Don’t let those thoughts become words.
To speak out against a man of God, to speak out against your husband, to speak out against your pastor, to speak out against a Christian leader, to oppose them, to tear them down out of a heart of pride or envy or jealousy or a critical spirit, to have a rebellious heart—it’s serious. It’s a great evil.
As I said earlier in the series, that does not mean that those leaders never sin, and it does not mean that you can never be a part of the process of bringing that sin to light.There are other parts of Scripture that talk about appropriate ways to bring sin to light.
What we are talking about here is the seriousness of having a critical, judgmental spirit that tears down those that God has put in leadership. “Remember what the Lord your God did to Miriam.”
Here’s another danger that I see as we look at the story of Miriam. She had a position of prominence, of respectability, and so do many of us. Others look up to us, and thedanger is that we can begin to think of ourselves too highly.
We can begin to think that we are the exception to God’s rule. Others cannot sin and get away with it, but we can, so we can justify our wrongdoing because of our position.
We realize as we look at the life of Miriam that even great, spiritual people, people that you respect, people that you look up to, are flawed. They are human. They are vulnerable. What’s the implication? Don’t put your trust in people.
Psalm 118:7-8 happen to be the very two middle verses of the whole Bible, and they tell us (I’m quoting it from memory here, so this won’t be exact, but the essential thought is): Don’t put your trust in men. Don’t put your trust in princes. Don’t put your trust in people. Put your trust in God.
Let me say, by the way, don’t put your trust in Nancy Leigh DeMoss. I’m so thankful for the listeners to this program and how many of you express gratitude for how God is using His teaching ministry in your lives. But I want to tell you, like Miriam, I am flawed.
I am sinful. I am weak. I am vulnerable. My prayer is that God will guard my heart, and I will never ever sin in such a way as to discredit or dishonor the Word of God. But if I ever do, make sure your trust wasn’t in me, that it was in the Lord.
I know the wrestlings of my own heart. I know the temptations and the tendencies of my own flesh. So when God uses someone in your life, thank God for them, but don’t put your hope and your trust in that person.
Age, tenure in ministry, tenure in influence or position, long-term faithfulness—these things are no guarantee against failure. Miriam walked with God until she was something like 90 years of age.
In fact, that long-term tenure of faithfulness can set you up for a fall, because you start to think you can coast. You can take it easy.
I can never take it easy. You can never take it easy. We always need the protecting, preserving, sustaining grace and power of God in our lives, no matter how gray our hair gets, no matter how long we have been faithful to the truth.Remember what the Lord your God did to Miriam.
Then there’s the reminder that tenure and position in ministry do not make you an exception to God’s rules. You and I who are being used of God in different ways cannot justify our sin because God is using us, or because we are Bible teachers or we counsel other people or other people look up to us. Remember what the Lord your God did to the prophetess Miriam.
Miriam was sent by God, along with Moses and Aaron, in a special way to provide leadership to God’s people. In fact, 700 years later, we read this verse in Micah 6:4. God says, “I brought you up from the land of Egypt and redeemed you from the house of slavery, and I sent before you Moses, Aaron, and Miriam.”
So she had a significant role. She was sent by God, under Moses’ leadership and under God’s authority, to be a leader of these women, to be a prophetess. She was a woman who knew God and spoke God’s word to the women, but that did not make her immune to a fall, and it didn’t make her an exception to God’s rules. Remember what the Lord your God did to Miriam.
I want to challenge you to remember. I hope I don’t forget the example of Miriam’s life.God takes sin seriously, and so must we.
I believe that God is calling many of us as women to repent of ways that, with our spirit, our tongue, our attitudes, our behavior, we have dishonored the Lord by speaking critically or negatively of His servants. Remember what the Lord your God did to Miriam.
And don’t just remember how she got leprosy for her sin. Also, remember how God restored her to fellowship as a result of her repentance and as a result of His mercy and grace.
I want to take just a few more moments at the end of this series to make another practical application from this particular instance in the life of Miriam that we’ve been studying about in Numbers 12, and that is this question: How are we to respond when we are the one who is being attacked?
Sometimes, in whatever roles or situations we may find ourselves in life, we may be attacked in ways that are unwarranted and unprovoked. Those attacks can come from unexpected sources.
Miriam was a prophetess. Aaron was the high priest, and they were Moses’ brother and sister, his closest family members—not where you would expect the attack to come from. So what do you do?
I think in the little that is said of Moses in this chapter, we learn some important lessons. First of all, we need to respond in a spirit of meekness and humility.
We’re told in Numbers 12:3 that “Moses was very meek.” He was a humble man, and as we’ve said earlier, the evidence of his humility is that he did not speak a word in his own defense.
One commentator says, “Because Moses was the meekest of all men, he could calmly leave the attack upon himself to the all-wise and righteous Judge who had both called and qualified him for his office.”
When you know God has put you where you are—some of your teenage kids may be saying, “You don’t have the right to tell me what to do”—when you know that God has made you the mother, and you may not be the best mother in the world but you are seeking to please the Lord, then you don’t have to go into a tirade or a rage when your authority is challenged.
You can apply that to other situations as well. Let God fight your battles. Give God time to act, as He did in Moses’ and Miriam’s case. Let God handle your situation in the way that He deems best.
Proverbs 26:4 reminds us, “Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest you be like him yourself.” Don’t answer in kind.
It would have been so easy, so natural for Moses to do what most of us would have done. “Don’t you realize God called me?? I was at that burning bush!” He could have rolled out this whole series of defenses, but he didn’t do it.
Don’t answer a fool according to his folly, or you will become just like that person. Keep your mouth from sinning, even when others sin against you with their mouth.
Listen, what matters is not your reputation. You’ve got to be willing to die to that. What matters is the glory of God.
Vengeance belongs to God. Let God do what needs to be done in that person’s life, and plead for God’s mercy on the one who has sinned against you rather than His judgment.
I know what we’re thinking at that time is, “They deserve judgment.” And that’s right. So do we. But aren’t you glad God has dealt with you in mercy instead of in judgment?
So plead, as Moses did. He prayed; he interceded. He said, “Lord, please don’t let her die. Please heal her—please.”
He earnestly interceded on her behalf. He was pleading for mercy. Now, I imagine that Moses could have felt secretly vindicated, maybe even glad to see Miriam suffer; but there’s no evidence that he had any of that kind of response.
James 2 tells us that “judgment [will be] without mercy to the one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.” Aren’t you glad? Make sure that mercy is triumphing over judgment in your response to those who sin against you.
Let me just remind us, as we’ve seen illustrated in the story of Miriam in Numbers 12, that by enduring wrongdoing with a spirit of meekness and humility, you may actually be becoming an instrument of grace and healing in the life of the wrongdoer. That’s the power of the cross.
That’s what happened when Moses endured quietly. God came to his rescue, his defense. God dealt with Miriam, but ultimately, as a result of Moses’ willingness to pray for his sister, who had sinned so greatly, he became an instrument of God’s mercy and grace in her life and of her ultimate healing.
I don’t know any greater picture of that kind of impact than what we read about in 1 Peter 2:19-25.
For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps.
In this sense, Moses is really just a type of Christ.
[Christ] committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, He did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. [Jesus Christ] himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.
By Moses’ willingness to take those wounds, ultimately Miriam was healed. By Christ’s willingness to take our wounds, ultimately we were healed.
For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.
That’s the power of the Just One suffering for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, bring us to repentance. And as God has redeemed us by His willingness to bear our sins, so when we are willing to take the wounds that others inflict on us with their tongues or their attitudes or their disloyalty—when we take it with a spirit of humility and meekness—we manifest the Spirit of Christ; and we may ultimately see the power of the cross brought to bear in that situation, as the wrongdoer, the sinner, is brought to repentance and healing.
Used with Permission. Revive Our Hearts.