Nancy: Well, after this series on Miriam, a lot of us are feeling like we don’t really want to say much because we’re being more careful and more measured with our words, realizing how God evaluates those. But we’ve had some time following the session to have some of the women share how God has spoken to them about this particular part of the series—the Numbers 12 part where I call it Miriam’s rebellion, which is really what it was.
We’ve taken some time with my friends Holly Elliff and Kim Wagner to just reflect on what we’ve been talking about in this portion of Miriam’s life and how it has spoken to us. Kim, I know when we sat down here for what we call table talk, you said, “Miriam was so convicting.” What in particular made you respond that way?
Kim Wagner: Well, as you were teaching through Miriam, the Lord just reminded me of an incident several years ago. I experienced I guess what I would call Kim’s rebellion. It really mirrors what Miriam went through. My husband is a pastor. He is a godly pastor, and I feel like he exhibits servanthood leadership probably more than any leader I’ve ever watched. Of course, I’ve been able to see it up close.
We were in a church at that time that was growing quickly and we needed to expand either to build on to our sanctuary or to have two services. The ministry team, the men in leadership, were praying about it and seeking God about which direction we should go. They came away from a weekend alone meeting with God and seeking the Lord feeling very strongly that we should divide into two worship services. As my husband shared that with me . . .
Nancy: Did you have an opinion?
Kim: I had an opinion.
Nancy: Did you share it with him?
Kim: I shared my opinion very strongly. Now, I shared my opinion with him, I think initially I was doing it biblically. I was just sharing with him my heart and my thoughts on this. The leadership started laying out their vision for going to two services and as more people started hearing about that, they started voicing concerns: “We can’t divide the church this way.”
They would come to me and ask me where I was on this. I taught ladies’ Bible study and ladies looked to me as a leader. They would ask me and I would share, “Well, this is the way the leadership believes we should go, but now I personally . . .” I am so convicted that that was so wrong at the time, but I did not even realize how much I was undermining my husband’s leadership abilities.
The leadership team allowed for several weeks for the church to pray and seek the Lord over this. Reflecting back now I think my husband would have taken a different approach because they allowed so much time to pass after they really believed that this was the decision God would have them make. I don’t know what the right decision was, whether it was to go to two services or meet in the gym or what.
Nancy: Sometimes that really doesn’t matter. That isn’t the issue as much as how we deal with the differences.
Kim: Right. How we respond to what we see as, “Well, this is not the direction I think we should go.” Because what I am still learning is that when we respond biblically and we can go to the authority in a humble, kind way, a respectful manner, express our concerns or share our insights, give our thoughts; then we leave that with God and we trust that God can turn the king’s heart whichever way He will.
Nancy: Miriam really could have done that with Moses if she had what she considered a legitimate concern about his wife. She could have gone to him. But it starts out in that passage by saying, “Now she and Aaron spoke against Moses” (Numbers 12:1, paraphrased). I think that’s where you see that from the outset this was ill-conceived.
It wasn’t that she had a genuine concern that she went and humbly and meekly presented to him and then waited for God to change his heart if he was wrong. She just set herself up as a battering ram against him, and that’s where her heart was so wrong and the outcome was disastrous.
Kim: I did not see myself as a battering ram against my husband or the leadership of the church. But in actuality, I was undermining respect for their authority because there were a lot of people that held me in high regard and respect and looked at my walk with the Lord or doesn’t the Lord speak to me through Kim also? I didn’t realize that’s what was happening at the time.
God, just as He did with Miriam, He set me aside physically. Through that period of time I had an accident where I fell and herniated disks in my neck, lost feeling in my arms and my fingers, was really put to bed for a period of time and I was not even there in the last few church services before the vote was held. I thank the Lord that I physically was unable to go because I didn’t want to sit through that meeting.
I’m now, today even, reflecting on that and thinking that really was the hand of God dealing with me—not just protecting me from being there in what I might say or what attitude I might have there, which I surely hope I would have not in any way spoken out publicly against my husband, but who knows what any person will do?
Nancy: When you look at Miriam a year before this incident and she’s leading the praise service coming out of the Red Sea and supporting Moses, who would have thought that a year from that point or less she would be Moses’ chief antagonist?
Holly Elliff: Nancy, I think that’s what struck me the most was wondering during that year that took place between those two events, what happened to Miriam’s heart to take her from the tambourine to the . . .
Nancy: . . . to being a noisy gong.
Holly: . . . to a conversation in some tent where she was undermining Moses or questioning his authority. As I was thinking about that, I kind of walked back through Scripture to just see if there was anything else there that would give a clue to that and there’s really not anything recorded in Scripture. So it’s kind of an argument from silence.
But you just have to wonder if, although we don’t have a catastrophic event recorded, if there were not just a string of small events. So unlike you, Kim, looking back at this one big event now that the Lord has brought to your mind, I have to wonder if it wasn’t just a series in Miriam’s life of small moments when the Lord came to her with conviction or instruction or reproof and she said no over and over and over again in tiny moments. Over the course of that year a bunch of small, tiny no’s to the Lord ended up in a catastrophic moment in her life.
Nancy: That’s often the way that it is. It’s a slow leak rather than a blowout.
Holly: Not a big intentional step on her part. I think you have to wonder if even in that conversation with Aaron she did not realize how far she had fallen from where God wanted her to be because her heart in all those tiny moments of rebellion or insisting on her rights or wanting something that God didn’t come through on, if she didn’t start just making choices that turned her heart from God’s will.
Kim: I think she thought what she was doing was right. I think always in these instances, most always people think what they’re doing, “Well, I’m standing up for the right thing. I’m voicing the right thing.” I think that’s where we get into trouble.
- Maybe it is even the right thing, but are we doing it in the right way?
- Are we following the guidelines of Scripture?
- Are we honoring God?
- Are we taking off our own control?
Holly: Miriam may have been a real high justice woman. It felt very . . .
Nancy: Do you know anybody like that, Holly?
Holly: I know a few people like that.
Nancy: I’ve heard your husband say that about you.
Holly: Oh yes, that’s his word for me. So I have no doubt in my mind that she felt justified probably in what she was saying. There may have been some legitimate things about what she was saying. But it didn’t change the fact that over the course of that year her heart had traveled far enough from God’s will that she did not have the discernment to know the difference. So when it came out of her mouth even if there were some legitimate roots, the way in which it was spoken, or the heart with which it was spoken brought dishonor to the Lord and to the Lord’s leader.
Nancy: I think two factors that are almost always present in a situation like this are bitterness and pride. Hurt that turns to bitterness and maybe because this new wife, maybe Moses had looked to her more than to Miriam. We don’t know, but often as we look at our own progression to where we’re becoming shrill, antagonistic voices.
By the time this came out, this was intense action. She’s become a shrieker. Well, she didn’t start out that way. But it’s often hurt that turns to bitterness and then pride that causes me to be blind to what I’m doing, to the impact of my actions, to the disloyalty.
If you’d asked her, “Do you think you are undermining God’s authority and the authority of Moses?” she probably, like most of us, would have said, ‘No. You’ve got to understand, he’s wrong. Somebody needs to deal with him.’”
Kim: I’m helping him.
Nancy: I’m helping him. Pride causes us to be blind to how far out of line we have gotten and to the fact that we’re not dealing with what may be a legitimate issue, but we’re not dealing with it in a legitimate way.
Kim: I think, too, Miriam had been confronted with so many huge moments where God was leading. She knew God had called Moses as a leader.
I was looking at Deuteronomy 1. It says,
You have seen how the LORD your God carried you, as a man carries his son, all the way that you went until you came to this place. Yet in spite of this word you did not believe the LORD your God, who went before you in the way to seek out a place where to pitch your tents, in fire by night and in the cloud by day, to show you by what way you should go (verses 31-33).
She had been led by the Lord, and she knew she had been led by the Lord.
Nancy: She had seen that even longer than most Israelites had because she was there when Moses was a baby and saw God send Pharaoh’s daughter. So she had for decades seen God’s hand.
Holly: She didn’t have any doubt about the fact that God had been leading. But the enemy is so insidious in the way he comes to us as women. I think with Miriam, she just became blinded to the fact that God had been leading and was still leading.
There are moments in our life where, if we’re not careful, the enemy will come to us just like he did in the garden and say, “Are you sure that what God is doing is good? Are you sure He’s still leading?” If we’re not careful, we can get so drawn away by that thought that we forget what God has done, where He’s been, the fact that He has been leading us, and we become convinced that either God is making a mistake or the people He’s put around us to lead us are making mistakes.
Nancy: I think that’s a huge insight there because it’s the sovereignty of God. It’s trust in God’s sovereignty. At some point she did have to lose confidence, not only in Moses, but in God. Isn’t that what happens to us? There are circumstances, and we’re not saying we’ve lost confidence in God, but in fact we have because we’re not sure that He’s really causing things to work in the way that they should. So then we feel we’ve got to take matters into our own hands and do something about it.
Kim: Take control. I think the thing you mentioned before about pride plays along with that. That is such a danger of any of those of us that are used in ministry at any level—whether a Sunday school teacher, whether you’re in the nursery as a nursery worker, all the way up to the pastor, to itinerant ministers, whoever. You gain a turf mentality, like you were talking about. If someone gets too close to your turf or has another idea, another suggestion, or begins leading in a different way, you feel like your area is being infringed on or violated, you’re going to lash out.
Nancy: I’m not old yet, but as I’m getting older I’m realizing that I’m more resistant to changes that God or others may want to make. I’m thinking about a conversation . . .
Holly: We had a conversation about that the other day.
Nancy: We did have a conversation about this recently, Holly, and it just came to mind because I’m thinking about Miriam at 90 years of age thereabouts. By that time she had walked with the Lord a long time. She had seen God do a lot. She had seen a lot of things that a lot of people who were around her had not seen.
I’m thinking about our ministry as I get older and how easily I can begin to think that the way it’s always been done is the way that it needs to continue to be done in churches. I’m pretty much of a traditionalist, and if anything challenges what I’m comfortable with and what’s traditional for me on a multitude of fronts, I get bent out of shape pretty easily.
Now there are some things that ought never to change. We ought to hold fast to truth and the Word of God. But there are some things that need to change. There’s some things we’ve been doing for a long time, as long as any of us have been alive in church life that really need to change if we’re going to have revival.
We can actually set ourselves in the way of what God may be wanting to do with the new generation. I love talking with Vonette Bright, the widow of Bill Bright from Campus Crusade. She is in her 80s, and there is a spark of life and joy and freedom in her as an older woman that is so embracing of what God is doing through younger people, about what God is doing in other ministries. There’s an eagerness to receive anything that God is doing through His people.
I look at her sometimes and I think, “Man, I am such a stick-in-the-mud and here much younger than she. I tend to be much more controlling, more fearful, more wanting everything to be exactly the way I’ve always thought that it should be.” Here’s a woman who in her 80s now is really enjoying God’s blessing in ministries around her because of the willingness to embrace things that may be different.
I wonder if Miriam didn’t—we don’t know. I’m just surmising, but you just say is there a particular thing about being older that can make us more vulnerable to being stuck in a pattern or in pride or thinking, if nothing else, I have the right to express my opinion about this because I have seniority.
We see in Miriam that there is no age that can give us the right to be defiant, to be resistant against authority, to violate Scripture, to be disloyal, to sow seeds of dissension. God hates it when we sow seeds of dissension at any age.
Kim: Right, and it doesn’t have to be old because I’m thinking of Sunday school teachers that are young in age, but if you ask them to move their room, they don’t want to release their room to change for growth.
Holly: Not just in church. I have found myself in the last couple of years in some real challenging circumstances that the Lord has allowed into my life and my family just in changes with my role with my parents and my dad who went on to be with the Lord. There was a season in there where I really thought God must have made a mistake because it was so dark and so hard and I could not believe that the Lord would put me in that position when I had other plans.
Nancy: It wasn’t how you would have scripted that season of your life.
Holly: No, it wouldn’t at all have been how I would have written that story. There was a moment with the Lord where I was complaining about that. I remember I was sitting at a park on a picnic table by a lake and kind of telling the Lord about that. The Lord said, “This is where you are. Just as surely as I asked the disciples to get in the boat and took them into a storm, I have put you here. So you have two choices. You either change or you die.”
A couple weeks later I talked about that with some of the gals that I teach at church. We talked about the fact that when God brings things into your life that you cannot change, you have a choice. You either die to yourself or you die to what you think is the perfect will for you and accept what God has put in your life.
I couldn’t help but think about my dad who at 50 was told to change some things so that he could stay healthy. I watched him for 20 years choose not to change. He went home to be with the Lord at 76, and I think he would have lived a lot longer if in his 50s he had not become determined to seek his own will.
So even in thinking about Miriam, I have to ask the question, What was it that God came to her and said, “I want this little thing maybe, but I want this to change or I want this to change or I want this to stop or I want this to start”? How many times did she say to the Lord, “I will not”?
It’s a current application to my life. At any moment am I saying to the Lord, “I will not do that, or I will not change that, or I will not listen when given instruction”? I think it’s very costly, as it was for Miriam, to say to the Lord I will not change.
Nancy: Yet I think it’s also really sweet that though she was about 90 years of age and had this major fall, this major blot on her story, that God in His mercy and grace was willing to deal with her at the age of 90 and didn’t just cast her aside. God’s chastening is an expression of His love and His grace.
Still, at her age, God didn’t say, “You’re 90. You’re going to die the way that you started.” He sends the leprosy as an expression of His desire to restore her, bring her to repentance. How kind is that of God to say at whatever age you are, “I’m going to deal with you if you sin, but I’m also going to deal with you in grace”?
Holly: I love too that you see Moses interceding for Miriam, saying, “God, don’t take her life.” God says, “Well, I’m going to spare her life, but she’s going to have a time period here to really think about these things.” I imagine sitting in a tent outside the camp covered with leprosy . . .
Nancy: That was probably a very long week in Miriam’s life.
Holly: Miriam really had time to wrestle through with the Lord about where she had been and what needed to change.
Kim: If she had been in pride as far as being a leader of the women, once she re-entered back into the camp, her head was shaved, her eyebrows were shaved off. She was in utter physical humiliation before them and shame. So it was longer than just seven days, although she was only outside the camp for seven days. But the consequences of that discipline went on for a while.
Nancy: How kind is it of God to even do that—I mean the humiliation—because it’s the medicine for the pride. The medicine is painful but it’s not nearly as painful or deadly as the sickness that it’s trying to cure.
Holly: You have to wonder if after that time period, Miriam wasn’t much more approachable after being totally unapproachable, perhaps first from her pride and then from the leprosy. Now Miriam really is approachable because of her humble heart. Of course a lot of this is supposition because it’s not recorded for us in Scripture. I don’t think you could be in those circumstances and allow the Lord to restore you without maybe being a woman who walks differently in terms of humility.
Used with Permission. Revive Our Hearts.