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THE SEDITION AND PUNISHMENT OF MIRIAM (Numbers 12:1-16.).
And Miriam and Aaron spake against Moses. While the people were encamped at Hazeroth (see Numbers 12:16), and therefore probably very soon after the events of the last chapter. That Miriam's was the moving spirit in the matter is sufficiently evident,
(1) because her name stands first;
(2) because the verb "spake" is in the feminine (יַתְּדַבֵּר, "and she said");
(3) because the ground of annoyance was a peculiarly feminine one, a mésalliance;
(4) because Miriam alone was punished;
(5) because Aaron never seems to have taken the lead in anything.
He appears uniformly as a man of weak and pliable character, who was singularly open to influence from others, for good or for evil. Superior to his brother in certain gifts, he was as inferior to him in force of character as could well be. On the present occasion there can be little question that Aaron simply allowed himself to be drawn by his sister into an opposition with which he had little personal sympathy; a general discontent at the manifest inferiority of his position inclined him to take up her quarrel, and to echo her complaints. Because of the Ethiopian woman whom he had married: for he had married an Ethiopian woman. Hebrew, a Cushite woman. The descendants of Cush were distributed both in Africa (the Ethiopians proper) and in Asia (the southern Arabians, Babylonians, Ninevites, &c.). See Genesis 10:1-32. Some have thought that this Ethiopian woman was none other than the Midianite Zipporah, who might have been called a Cushite in some loose sense by Miriam. The historian, however, would not have repeated in his own name a statement so inaccurate; nor is it at all likely that that marriage would have become a matter of contention after so many years. The natural supposition undoubtedly is that Moses (whether after the death of Zipporah, or during her lifetime, we cannot tell) had taken to himself a second wife of Hamite origin. Where he found her it is useless to conjecture; she may possibly have been one of the "mixed multitude" that went up out of Egypt. It is equally useless to attribute any moral or religious character to this marriage, of which Holy Scripture takes no direct notice, and which was evidently regarded by Moses as a matter of purely private concern to himself. In general we may say that the rulers of Israel attached neither political, social, nor religious significance to their marriages; and that neither law nor custom imposed any restraint upon their choice, so long as they did not ally themselves with the daughters of Canaan (see Exodus 34:16). It would be altogether beside the mark to suppose that Moses deliberately married a Cushite woman in order to set forth the essential fellowship between Jew and Gentile. It is true that such marriages as those of Joseph, of Salmon, of Solomon, and others undeniably became invested with spiritual importance and evangelical significance, in view of the growing narrowness of Jewish feeling, and of the coming in of a wider dispensation; but such significance was wholly latent at the time. If, however, the choice of Moses is inexplicable, the opposition of Miriam is intelligible enough. She was a prophetess (Exodus 15:20), and strongly imbued with those national and patriotic feelings which are never far removed from exclusiveness and pride of race. She had—to use modern words—led the Te Deum of the nation after the stupendous overthrow of the Egyptians. And now her brother, who stood at the head of the nation, had brought into his tent a Cushite woman, one of the dark-skinned race which seemed oven lower in the religious scale than the Egyptians themselves. Such an alliance might easily seem to Miriam nothing better than an act of apostasy which would justify any possible opposition.
And they said, Hath the Lord indeed spoken only by Moses? hath he not spoken also by us? This is evidently not the "speaking against Moses" mentioned in the previous verse, for that is distinctly said to have been on the score of Moses' marriage. This is their justification of themselves for daring to dispute his judgment and arraign his proceedings; a thing which clearly required justification. Moses himself, or more likely others for him, had remonstrated with them on the language they were using. They retorted that Moses had no monopoly of Divine communications; Aaron also received the revelation of God by Urim and Thummim, and Miriam was a prophetess. They were acknowledged in a general sense as sharing with him the leadership of Israel (see Micah 6:4); upon this they meant to found a claim to coordinate authority. They would have had perhaps all matters settled in a family council in which they should have had an equal voice. It was hard for them both to forget that Moses was only their younger brother: for Miriam that she had saved his life as an infant; for Aaron that he had been as prominent as Moses in the original commission from God to the people. And the Lord heard it. In one sense he hears everything; in another sense there are many things which he does not choose to hear, because he does not wish to take judicial notice of them. Thus he had not "heard" the passionate complaints of Moses himself a short time before, because his will was then to pardon, not to punish (cf. Isaiah 42:19; Malachi 3:16).
Now the man Moses was very meek, above all the men which were upon the face of the earth. For the Hebrew עָנָו the Septuagint has πραὺς here; the Vulgate, mitis. The Targum Palestine has "bowed down in his mind," i.e; overwhelmed ("plagued," Luther). The ordinary version is undoubtedly' right; the object of the parenthesis was either to explain that there was no real ground for the hostility of Miriam and Aaron, or to show that the direct interference of the Lord himself was necessary for the protection of his servant. The verse bears a difficulty on its very face, because it speaks of Moses in terms which could hardly have been used by Moses of himself. Nor is this difficulty in the least degree diminished by the explanations which are offered by those who are determined to maintain at any cost the Mosaic authorship of every word in the Pentateuch. It is no doubt true to some extent that when a great and good man is writing of himself (and especially when he writes under the influence of the Holy Spirit), he can speak of himself with the same calm and simple truthfulness with which he would speak of any other. It is sufficient, however, to refer to the example of St. Paul to show that neither any height of spiritual privilege and authority, nor any intensity of Divine inspiration, obliterates the natural virtue of modesty, or allows a really humble man to praise himself without pain and shrinking. It is also to be observed that while St. Paul forces himself to speak of his privileges, distinctions, and sufferings, all of which were outward to himself, Moses would here be claiming for himself the possession of an inward virtue in greater measure than any other living soul. Surely it is not too much to say that if he did possess it in such measure, he could not possibly have been conscious that he did; only One was thus conscious of his own ineffable superiority, and this very consciousness is one of the strongest arguments for believing that he was infinitely more than a mere man, howsoever good and exalted. There is but one theory that will make it morally possible for Moses to have written this verse, viz; that in writing he was a mere instrument, and not morally responsible for what he did write. Such a theory will find few upholders. But, further, it is necessary to prove not only that Moses might have made this statement, but also that he might have made it in this form. Granted that it was necessary to the narrative to point out that he was very meek; it was not necessary to assert that he was absolutely the meekest man living. And if it was unnecessary, it was also unnatural. No good man would go out of his way to compare himself to his own advantage with all men upon the face of the earth. The whole form of the sentence, indeed, as well as its position, proclaim it so clearly to be an addition by some later hand, that the question may be left to the common sense and knowledge of human nature of every reader; for the broad outlines of human character, morality, and virtue are the same in every age, and are not displaced by any accident of position, or even of inspiration. A slight examination of passages from other sacred writers, which are sometimes adduced as analogous, will serve to show how profound is the difference between what holy men could say of themselves and what they could not (cf. Daniel 1:19, Daniel 1:20; Daniel 5:11, Daniel 5:12; Daniel 9:23; Daniel 10:11). On the question of the inspiration of this verse, supposing it to be an interpolation, and as to the probable author of it, see the Preface. As to the fact of Moses' meekness, we have no reason to doubt it, but we may legitimately look upon the form in which it is stated as one of those conventional hyperboles which are not uncommon even in the sacred writings (cf. Genesis 7:19; John 21:25). And we cannot avoid perceiving that Moses' meekness was far from being perfect, and was marred by sinful impatience and passion on more than one recorded occasion.
The Lord spake suddenly. How he spoke we cannot tell, but the word "suddenly" points to something unexpected and unusual. The voice seems to have come to the three in their tents before there was any thought in their minds of such an intervention. Come out ye three, i.e; out of the camp—probably the camp of Moses and Aaron, on the east of the tabernacle court (see Numbers 3:38).
The Lord came down in the pillar of the cloud. The cloud which had been soaring above the tabernacle descended upon it (see Numbers 11:25 and Numbers 12:10). And stood in the door of the tabernacle. It would seem most natural to understand by these words the entrance to the holy place itself, and this would manifestly accord best with the movements of the cloud, as here described; for the cloud seems to have sunk down upon the sacred tent in token that the Lord was in some special sense present within it. On the other hand, the phrase must certainly be understood to mean the entrance of the court, or sacred enclosure, in Le Numbers 8:3, 31, 33, and probably in other places. As it is hardly possible that the phrase can have had both meanings, the latter must be preferred. And they both came forth. Not out of the sanctuary, into which Miriam could not have entered, but out of the enclosure. The wrath which lay upon them both, and the punishment which was about to be inflicted upon one, were sufficient reasons for calling them out of the holy ground.
If there boa prophet among you I the Lord will make myself known. More probably "the Lord" belongs to the first clause: "If there be to you a prophet of the Lord, I will make myself known." So the Septuagint, ἐὰν γένηται προφήτης ὑμῶν Κυρίῳ… . γνωσθήσομαι. In a vision. Ἐν ὀράματι. An internal vision, in which the eyes (even if open) saw nothing, but the effects of vision' were produced upon the sensorium by other and supernatural means (see, e.g; Amos 7:7, Amos 7:8; Acts 10:11). Speak unto him in a dream. Rather, speak "in him"—בּוֹ. The voice that spake to the prophet was an internal voice, causing no vibration of the outer air, but affecting only the inner and hidden seat of consciousness. It is not necessary to restrict the prophetic dream to the time of sleep; a waking state, resembling what we call day-dream, in which the external senses arc quiescent, and the imagination is freed from its usual restraints, was perhaps the more usual mental condition at the time. Indeed the Divine communications made to Joseph (Matthew 1:20; Matthew 2:13) and to the Magi (ibid. Numbers 2:12) are almost the only ones we read of as made during actual sleep, unless we include the ease of Pilate's wife (ibid. Numbers 27:19); and none of these were prophets in the ordinary sense. Compare, however, Acts 2:17 b.
My servant Moses is not so. No words could more clearly and sharply draw the distinction between Moses and the whole laudabilis numerus of the prophets. It is strange that, in the face of a statement so general and so emphatic, it should have been doubted whether it applied to such prophets as Isaiah or Daniel. It was exactly in "visions" and in "dreams," i.e; under the peculiar psychological conditions so-called, that these greatest of prophets received their revelations from heaven. The exceeding richness and wonder of some of these revelations did not alter the mode in which they were received, nor raise them out of the ordinary conditions of the gradus propheticus. As prophets of future things they were much greater than Moses, and their writings may be to us far more precious; but that does not concern the present question, which turns exclusively upon the relation between the Divine Giver and the human receiver of the revelation. If words mean anything, the assertion here is that Moses stood on an altogether different footing from the "prophet of the Lord" in respect of the communications which he received from the Lord. It is this essential superiority of position on the part of Moses which alone gives force and meaning to the important declarations of Deuteronomy 18:15; John 1:21 b.; John 6:14; John 7:40, &c. Moses had no successor in his relations with God until that Son of man came, who was "in heaven" all the time he walked and spake on earth. Who is faithful in all mine house, נֶאֶמָן with בּ means to be proved, or attested, and so established (cf. 1 Samuel 3:20; 1 Samuel 22:14). The Septuagint gives the true sense, ἐν ὅλῳ τῷ οἴκῳ μου πιστός, and so it is quoted in the Epistle to the Hebrews (John 3:2). The "house" of God, as the adjective "whole" shows, is not the tabernacle, but the house of Israel; the' word "house" standing for household, family, nation, as so often in the sacred writings (see Genesis 46:27; Le Genesis 10:6; Hebrews 3:6).
Mouth to mouth. Equivalent to face to face in Exodus 33:11. What the exact facts of the case were it is not possible to know, scarcely to imagine; but the words seem to imply a familiar speaking with an audible voice on the part of God, as distinguished from the internal voice, inaudible to the ear, with which he spake "in" the prophets. To assert that the revelations accorded to Moses were only subjective modifications of his own consciousness is to evacuate these strong words of any meaning whatever. Apparently. מַרְאֶה is an accusative in apposition to what goes before by way (apparently) of further definition. It is the same word translated "vision" in Exodus 33:6; but its meaning here must be determined by the expression "in riddles," which stands in antithesis to it. It was confessed]y the case with most prophetic utterances that the language in which they were couched was quite as much intended to conceal as to express their full meaning; but to Moses God spake without any such concealments. The similitude of the Lord shall he behold. מַרְאֶה. Not the essential nature of God, which no man can see, but a form (wholly unknown and unimaginable to us) in which it pleased him to veil his glory. The Septuagint has τὴν δόξαν Κυρίου εἷδε, referring, apparently, to the vision promised in Exodus 33:22; and the Targum Palestine speaks here of the vision of the burning bush. The motive for this alteration is no doubt to be sought in a profound jealousy for the great truth declared in such texts as Deuteronomy 4:15; Isaiah 40:18, and afterwards in John 1:18; 1 Timothy 6:16. But the statement in the text is a general one, and can only mean that Moses habitually in his intercourse with God had before his eyes some visible manifestation of the invisible God, which helped to make that intercourse at once more awfully real and more intensely blessed. Such manifestation to the sense of sight must be distinguished both from the visionary (or subjective) sight of God in human figure accorded to Ezekiel (Ezekiel 1:26), to Isaiah (Isaiah 6:1), to St. John (Revelation 4:2, Revelation 4:8), and perhaps to others, and also from such theophanies in angel guise as are recorded in Genesis 32:30; Judges 13:9,Judges 13:2, and elsewhere. On the other hand, the seventy elders seem to have seen the "Temunah" of the Lord upon that one occasion when they were called up into Mount Sinai (Exodus 24:10, Exodus 24:11). Wherefore then were ye not afraid to speak against my servant Moses! No doubt it was the double fact of their relationship to Moses after the flesh, and of their sharing with him in certain spiritual gifts and prerogatives, which made them oblivious of the great distinction which lifted him above their rivalry, and should have lifted him above their contradiction. That contradiction, however, served to bring out in the clearest way the singular and unapproached position of the mediator of Israel; and it serves still to enable us to estimate aright the peculiar dignity of his legislation and his writings. The substance of prophetic teaching may be of deeper interest and of wider import titan "the law," but this latter will still rank higher in the scale of inspiration, as having been more directly communicated front on high. Thus "the law" (as the Jews rightly taught) remained the body of Divine revelation until "that Prophet" came who was "like unto" Moses in the fact that he enjoyed constant, open, and direct communication with the Godhead.
And he departed. As a judge departs from his judgment-seat after trying and convicting evil-doers.
The cloud departed from off the tabernacle. During this awful interview the cloud of the Presence had rested on the tabernacle, as if it were the Divine chariot waiting for the King of Israel while he tarried within (of. Psalms 104:3; Isaiah 19:1; Revelation 11:12). Now that his work is done he ascends his chariot again, and soars aloft above the host. Miriam became leprous. The Hebrews had become familiar with this terrible disease in Egypt. The Levitical legislation had made it more terrible by affixing to it the penalty of religious and social excommunication, and the stigma, as it were, of the Divine displeasure. Before this legislation Moses himself had been made partially and temporarily leprous, and that solely for a sign, and without any sense of punishment (Exodus 4:6). In Miriam's ease, however, as in all subsequent cases, the plague of leprosy was endued with moral as well as physical horror (cf. 2 Kings 5:27). As snow. This expression points to the perfect development of the disease, as contrasted with its earlier and less conspicuous stages. Aaron looked upon Miriam. If we ask why Aaron himself was not punished, the answer appears to be the same here as in the case of the golden calf.
1. He was not the leader in mischief, but only led into it through weakness.
2. He was, like many weak men, of an affectionate disposition (cf. Le Numbers 10:19), and suffered his own punishment in witnessing that of others.
3. He was God's high priest, and the office would have shared in the disgrace of the man.
Aaron said unto Moses, Alas, my lord, I beseech thee. Septuagint, δέομαι, Κύριε. In thus addressing his brother Aaron acknowledged his superior position, and tacitly abandoned all pretension to equality. Lay not the sin upon us. Aaron speaks to Moses almost as if he were praying to God, so completely does. he recognize in his brother the representative of God (in a far higher sense than himself), who had power to bind and loose in the name and power of God. What Aaron really prays for is that the sin, which he frankly confesses, may not be imputed to them. The Levitical law had taught them to look upon sin as a burden, which in the nature of things the sinner must carry, but which by the goodness of God might be got rid of, or transferred to some one else (cf. Le Numbers 4:4; Numbers 16:21; John 1:29).
As one dead. Rather, "as the dead thing," i.e. the still-born child, in which death and decay have anticipated life. Such was the frightful effect of leprosy in its last stages.
Moses cried unto the Lord. A much harder and prouder man than Moses was must needs have been melted into pity at the sight of his sister, and the terrible suggestion of Aaron. Heal her now, O God, I beseech thee. The "now" has no place here, unless it be merely to add force to the exclamation. Moses, although directly appealed to himself, can only appeal to God.
The Lord said unto Moses. Presumably in the tabernacle, whither Moses would have returned to supplicate God. If her father had but spit in her face. The "but" is superfluous, and obscures the sense; the act mentioned is referred to not as something trifling, but as something in its way very serious. The Septuagint renders it correctly εἰ ὁ πατὴρ … πτύων ἐνέπτυσεν. The Targums have, "if her father had corrected her." Probably they used this euphemism from a sense of a certain want of dignity and propriety in the original expression, considered as coming from the mouth of God. The act in question was, however, not uncommon in itself, and in significance clearly marked (see Deuteronomy 25:9). It was the distinctive note of public disgrace inflicted by one who had a right to inflict it. In the case of a father, it meant that he was thoroughly ashamed of his child, and judged it best (which would be only in extreme cases) to put his child to shame before all the world. So public a disgrace would certainly be felt in patriarchal times as a most severe calamity, and entailed by ordinary custom (as we learn here) retirement and mourning for seven days at least. How much more, when her heavenly Father had been driven to inflict a public disgrace upon her for perverse behavior, should the shame and the sorrow not be lightly put away,, but patiently endured for a decent period! (cf. Hebrews 12:9).
Miriam was shut out from the camp seven days. It does not say that Miriam was healed forthwith of her leprosy, but the presumption is to that effect. Not the punishment itself, but the shame of it, was to last according to the answer of God. Her ease, therefore, would not fall under the law of Numbers 5:2, or of Leviticus 13:46, but would be analogous to that treated of in Leviticus 14:1-57. No doubt size had to submit to all the rites there prescribed, humiliating as they must have been to the prophetess and the sister of the law-giver; and these rites involved exclusion from her tent for a period of seven days (Le Leviticus 14:8). By God's command exclusion from her tent was made exclusion from the camp.
In the wilderness of Paran. It is somewhat strange that this note of place should be used a second time without explanation (see Numbers 10:12, Numbers 10:33). Probably it is intended to mark the fact that they were still within the limits of Paran, although on the very verge of their promised laud. In the list of stations given in Numbers 33:1-56, it is said (Numbers 33:18), "They departed from Hazeroth, and pitched in Rithmah." This is with some probability identified with the Wady Redemat, which opens front the mountain mass of the Azazimat into the singular plain of Kudes, or Kadesh, the scene of the decisive events which followed.
THE CONTRADICTION OF SINNERS
We have in this chapter, spiritually, the contradiction of the Jews against their brother after the flesh; morally, the sin and punishment of jealousy and envy in high places. Consider, therefore—
I. THAT AS MOSES IS THE TYPE OF HIM WHO WAS THE MEDIATOR OF A BETTER COVENANT, WHO WAS MEEK AND LOWLY IN HEART; SO AARON AND MIRIAM, WHEN ARRAYED AGAINST MOSES, REPRESENT THE LEVITICAL PRIESTHOOD AT THE TIME OF OUR LORD, AND THE JEWISH SYNAGOGUE, IN THEIR CARNAL PRIDE AND EXCLUSIVENESS. Nor is this typical character arbitrary or unreal, for we may clearly see in them the same tendencies which afterwards ripened into utter blasphemy and Deicide.
II. THAT THE OFFENCE OF MOSES IN THE EYES OF MIRIAM WAS HIS HAVING ALLIED HIMSELF WITH A GENTILE WIFE OF A DESPISED RACE. Even so the crime of our Lord, in the sight of a narrow and bigoted Judaism, was that he went about to present unto himself a Gentile Church, of the dregs of the nations, to be his spouse (cf. So Numbers 1:4-6; Luke 15:28; Acts 22:21, Acts 22:22; Ephesians 5:25-32).
III. THAT MIRIAM AND AARON JUSTIFIED THEIR OPPOSITION TO MOSES BY DWELLING UPON THEIR OWN SPIRITUAL AUTHORITY. Even so the synagogue and priesthood of the Jews magnified themselves against the Lord's Christ and their own Messiah, on the ground that they themselves were commissioned of God (cf. John 7:48; John 8:33; John 9:28, John 9:29).
IV. THAT THEY WERE ABLE TO BE OBLIVIOUS OF HIS TRUE GREATNESS, BECAUSE HE WAS THEIR BROTHER, AND THEIR YOUNGER BROTHER. Even so Christ was despised by the Jews because he was (as it were) one of themselves, and because they seemed to be familiar with his antecedents and training (cf. Matthew 13:55-57; Luke 4:22, Luke 4:28; John 6:42).
V. THAT MOSES DISPLAYED A MEEKNESS WHICH SEEMED MORE THAN HUMAN. Even so our Lord endured the contradiction of sinners with a meekness which was more than human (cf. Isaiah 42:19; Isaiah 53:7; Matthew 11:29; Hebrews 12:3; James 5:6; 1 Peter 2:23).
VI. THAT GOD INTERVENED TO ADVANCE HIS FAITHFUL SERVANT TO BE ABOVE ALL PROPHETS, AND TO BE MUCH NEARER TO HIMSELF THAN MIRIAM AND AARON. Even so did God vindicate his holy servant Jesus against all the blasphemy of the Jews, and give him a name which is above every name (cf. Acts 2:22-24, Acts 2:32; Acts 4:10, Acts 4:27, Acts 4:30; Romans 1:4; Philippians 2:9; Hebrews 3:1-3).
VII. THAT GOD INTERFERED TO PUNISH MIRIAM WITH LEPROSY FOR HER PRIDE AND RANCOUR. Even so the synagogue of the Jews became the synagogue of Satan, and they themselves are in exile, political and religious, until they shall cry for mercy to their Brother, the one Mediator (Romans 11:25; 1Th 2:15, 1 Thessalonians 2:16; Revelation 2:9; Revelation 3:9).
I. THAT THE SECRET CAUSE OF ALL THIS DISTURBANCE WAS PROBABLY MIRIAM'S JEALOUSY OF HER BROTHER'S WIFE. It is likely she hoped to have exercised a growing influence over him herself. Even so history and experience testify that personal jealousies and envies are at the root of very many of the disorders in churches and congregations (cf. 2 Corinthians 12:20; 1 Peter 2:1 b).
II. THAT A COINCIDENT CAUSE WAS A SECRET DISSATISFACTION ON THE PART OF AARON AT THE INFERIORITY OF HIS OWN POSITION AND INFLUENCE AS COMPARED WITH HIS BROTHER'S. Even so ambition and lust of power have betrayed many a highly-gifted and perhaps really religious soul into making claims, and taking up a position derogatory to Christ, and inconsistent with his sole pre-eminence (cf. Colossians 2:19).
III. THAT THEY EXCUSED THEIR SEDITION UNDER THE PLEA (WHICH WAS TRUE IN ITSELF) THAT THEY TOO ENJOYED DIVINE FAVOURS AND PRIVILEGES. How often do men speak and act as if the fact of being spiritual (Galatians 6:1), or of being called to some ministry, authorized them to ignore all distinctions, refuse all control, and give the rein to their own enmities and evil feelings.
IV. THAT MOSES TURNED A DEAF EAR TO THEIR INVECTIVES, BUT ALL THE MORE GOD TURNED A LISTENING EAR. MOSES WOULD NOT TAKE UP HIS OWN QUARREL, THEREFORE GOD TOOK IT UP FOR HIM, AND GREATLY MAGNIFIED HIM. Even so they that will avenge themselves must be content with the results of their own efforts, and they that will fight their own battles must take their chance of victory; but they that will not avenge themselves, God will vindicate, and that gloriously. The meek shall inherit the earth, because at the present they are dispossessed of the earth (cf. Psalms 76:9; Isaiah 11:4; Matthew 5:5; Romans 12:19; Hebrews 10:30).
V. THAT THE PUNISHMENT OF MIRIAM WAS THE MOST TERRIBLE OF DISEASES—A LIVING DEATH. A jealous spirit, stirring up dissensions, reckless of the souls for which Christ died, incurs awful guilt, and is in danger of hell-fire (cf. Matthew 18:7-9; 1 Timothy 6:4; James 4:5).
VI. THAT AARON CRIED HUMBLY TO THE BROTHER WHOM HE HAD SPOKEN AGAINST; AND THAT BROTHER INTERCEDED FOR THEM, AND THUS AARON'S FAITH SAVED HIMSELF AND HIS SISTER. Even so the Lord Jesus is ever ready to intercede for his enemies; much more for those whom he loves as brethren, when they cry to him, even if they have treated him ill (cf. Luke 23:34; Romans 5:8, Romans 5:9; Hebrews 2:11, Hebrews 2:12, and of the synagogue itself (Romans 11:26, Romans 11:28; 2 Corinthians 3:16).
VII. THAT MIRIAM'S FAULT, ALTHOUGH FORGIVEN, WAS NOT TO BE LIGHTLY FORGOTTEN BY HERSELF OR THE PEOPLE; SHE WAS TO BE ASHAMED FOR SEVEN DAYS. Even so it is not according to the will of God, nor for the edification of the Church, nor for the good of the sinner, that a sin which is also a scandal should be straightway smoothed over and forgotten, because it is acknowledged and forgiven. There is a natural impatience to be rid of tile disagreeable consequences of sin in this life, which is purely selfish on the part of every one concerned, and is dishonouring to God. Shame is a holy discipline for those who have done wrong, and they should not be hastily removed from its sanctifying influences (cf. Ezekiel 39:26; 2 Corinthians 2:6; 2 Corinthians 7:9-11).
VIII. THAT MIRIAM, PROPHETESS AS SHE WAS, AND SISTER OF THE LAWGIVER, HAD TO PASS THROUGH THE ORDINARY CEREMONIAL FOR THE CLEANSING OF LEPERS—A CEREMONIAL DESIGNED TO SET FORTH THE ATONEMENT OF CHRIST. Even SO there is one only way to restoration for all sinners, however highly placed or gifted, and that through the sprinkling of the precious blood (cf. Leviticus 14:2; Acts 4:12; Romans 3:22, Romans 3:23).
IX. THAT GOD WOULD NOT GIVE THE SIGNAL FOR DEPARTURE UNTIL MIRIAM WAS RESTORED. Even so God, who will have all men to be saved, waiteth long and delayeth the entry of the Church into her rest, lest any who will come in should be shut out (cf. Luk 18:7 b.; 2 Peter 3:9, 2 Peter 3:15; Revelation 7:3).
Consider also—THAT THE OPPOSITION OF HIS OWN ONLY LED TO THE SUPREME AND SOLITARY GREATNESS OF MOSES BEING MADE FAR MORE CLEAR THAN EVER, AND BEING PLACED BEYOND CAVIL OR MISTAKE. Even so the persecution of our Lord by the Jews only led to his being declared the Son of God with power; and still more, the efforts of heretics to deny or to explain away his Divine glory, have only led to that glory being much more clearly defined, and much more devoutly believed than ever.
HOMILIES BY W. BINNIE
THE SEDITION OF MIRIAM AND AARON
Here is another sedition in Israel. What is worse, the sedition does not, at this time, originate among the mixed multitude, the pariahs of the camp. The authors of it are the two leading personages in the congregation, after Moses himself. Nor are they strangers to him, such as might be deemed his natural rivals; they are his own kindred, his sister and brother.
I. THE STORY OF THE SEDITION was, in brief, this:—Moses was not the only member of the family of Amram whom the Lord had endowed with eminent gifts. Aaron, his elder brother, was a leading man among the Israelites before Moses received his call at Horeb. Miriam also was a woman of high and various gifts, both natural and gracious. She was a prophetess—the earliest recorded example of a woman endowed with the gift of prophecy—and she excelled also in song (Exodus 15:20; Micah 6:4). The eminent gifts of these two were not passed over. They found such recognition and scope, that next to Moses, Aaron and Miriam were the two most honoured and influential individuals in the camp. But they were not content with this. Moses was set in yet higher place, and this roused their jealousy. They could not bear to see another, one brought up in the same family, a younger brother too, elevated above them. Miriam could not brook the thought of being subject to the younger brother whose infancy she had tended, and whose ark of bulrushes she had been set to watch when their mother committed him to the unfeeling bosom of the Nile. "Hath the Lord indeed spoken only by Moses? hath he not spoken also by us?" Envy is a root tenacious of life in the human heart. When some one whom you have known familiarly as your junior or inferior is raised above you in office or wealth, in gifts or grace, watch and pray, else you will be very apt to fall into Miriam's sin. I say Miriam's sin, for it is plain that the sedition originated with her. Not only is her name put first, but in the Hebrew the beginning of the narrative runs thus: "Then she spake, even Miriam and Aaron, against Moses." When there is envy in the heart, it will soon find occasion to break out. Very characteristically, the occasion in this instance was some misunderstanding about Moses' wife. She was not of the daughters of Israel. Miriam affected to despise her as an unclean person, and persuaded Aaron to do the same. It was an instance of a thing not rare in history, a family quarrel, a fit of ill-feeling between two sisters-in-law, stirring up envy and strife between persons in high office, and troubling the community. There was something very petty in the conduct of Miriam and Aaron, but it was not, therefore, a trifling offence. When they were giving vent to their envy "the Lord heard."
II. THE PUNISHMENT OF THE SEDITION. It does not appear that Moses made any complaint; he was the meekest of men, humble and patient. All the rather does the Highest take the defense of his servant in hand. "Suddenly," i.e; in sharp displeasure, Miriam and the two brothers were commanded to present themselves before the Lord, at the entrance of the tabernacle. Whereupon,—
1. The Lord pronounced a warm eulogy upon, Moses. Observe the terms in which he is described, for there is much more in them than is perceived at first. "My servant Moses,"—"servant in all mine house,"—"faithful in all mine house."
(1) Moses was "the servant of the Lord," "the man of God," in a sense more ample than any other individual who ever lived excepting only Christ himself; and one can perceive a tone of singular love in the way in which the title is here used: "my servant Moses."
(2) The commission of Moses extended to every part of the Lord's house, and in every department of his service he showed fidelity. As a prophet, he was more extensively employed and more faithful than Miriam; as a priest, he was more honourable and faithful than Aaron; and he was, moreover, king in Jeshurun, the valiant and faithful leader and commander of the people. These were facts, and Moses might well have appealed to them in vindication of himself against the complainers. But he did better to leave the matter in the Lord's own hand (Psalms 37:5, Psalms 37:6).
2. Besides vindicating Moses and rebuking his detract ors, the Lord put a mark of his displeasure on Miriam. The ringleader in the sedition, she bears the brunt of the punishment. She has affected to abhor her sister-in-law as unclean; she is herself smitten with leprosy, a disease loathsome in itself, and which entailed ceremonial defilement in the highest degree. This done, the cloud of the Divine presence rose as suddenly as it had come down. Miriam and Aaron stood before the tabernacle utterly confounded, till Aaron was fain to humble himself before his brother, saying:—We have done foolishly, we have sinned; forgive us, and do not let the sad affair go further; have pity on poor Miriam especially; see how pitiable a sight she is. "Like the dead thing of which the flesh is half consumed when it cometh out of its mother's womb." Moses was not the man to resist so touching an appeal. Miriam was healed; but she was shut out from the camp as an unclean person for the space of a week, as the law prescribed. The lesson lies on the surface. Do not give harbour to envy because of the welfare or honour of your neighbour, rather "rejoice with them that do rejoice." It is not always easy to rejoice when some one younger, or of humbler birth than ourselves, is exalted above us. Nor is the difficulty lessened when the person exalted is of our own kindred. Nevertheless envy must be cast forth. The author of all gifts and honours is God. To envy the receivers is to rebel against him and provoke his displeasure. And God's ordinary method in punishing envious pride is to inflict some peculiarly ignominious stroke. When Miriam swells with pride she is smitten with leprosy.—B.
THE SINGULAR HONOUR OF MOSES
The best commentary on these verses is supplied by the comparison instituted between Moses and our blessed Lord in the Epistle to the Hebrews (Hebrews 3:1-6). The Hebrews are reminded that of all the servants whom the Lord raised up to minister in the ancient Church, there was not one who approached Moses, in respect either to the greatness and variety of the services performed by him, or the greatness of the honours bestowed upon him. Moses was set over all God's house, and in this eminent station he was conspicuously faithful. In these respects Moses was the most perfect figure of Christ. Christ's priesthood was foreshadowed by Melchisedec, his royalty by David and Solomon, his prophetical office by Samuel and the goodly company of prophets who followed him. But in Moses all the three offices were foreshadowed at once. Of these two men, Moses and Christ, and of no other since the world began, could it be affirmed that they were "faithful in all the Lord's house." No doubt there was disparity as well as a resemblance. Both were servants. But Moses was a servant in a house which belonged to another, in a household of which he was only a member, whereas Christ is such a servant as is also a son, and serves in a household of which he is the Maker and Heir. This is true. Nevertheless it is profitable to forget occasionally the disparity of the two great mediators, and to fix attention on the resemblance between them, the points in which the honour of Christ the Great Prophet was prefigured by the singular honour of Moses. Hence the interest and value of this text in Numbers.
I. AS A FOIL TO BRING OUT THE SINGULAR HONOUR OF MOSES, THE LORD PUTS ALONGSIDE OF IT THE HONOUR BESTOWED ON OTHER PROPHETS. a Consider the prophets that have been or yet are among you. How has my will been made known to them?" Two ways are specified.
1. "In a vision." There was a memorable example of this in the case of Abraham (Genesis 15:1-21). Visions continued to be the vehicles of revelation during the whole course of the Old Testament history. Isaiah (6, 13, &c.), Jeremiah (50, &e.), Ezekiel and Daniel (everywhere). Peter's vision at Joppa is a familiar example of the same kind under the New Testament.
2. "In a dream." This was a lower way of revelation. The stories of Pharaoh and Nebuchadnezzar remind us that the dreams (I do not say the interpretations of them) were not seldom vouchsafed to men who were strangers to God. We shall see immediately that these ways of making himself known to men through the prophets, were inferior to the ways in which the Lord was wont to reveal himself through Moses. But let us not so fix our attention on the points of difference as to lose sight of or forget the bright and glorious feature which they have in common. "I, the Lord, do make myself known in a vision, and do speak in a dream." For reasons we can only guess at, the Lord was pleased to suffer the nations to walk in their own ways. But in Israel he revealed himself. At sundry times and in divers manners he was pleased to speak to the fathers by the prophets. The Scriptures of the Old Testament are oracular. In them we inherit the most precious part of the patrimony of the ancient Church. For this was the chief advantage which the Jews had above the Gentiles, that "unto them were committed the oracles of God." It is our own fault if, in reading the Old Testament, we fail to hear everywhere the voice of God.
II. OVER AGAINST THE HONOUR VOUCHSAFED TO ALL THE PROPHETS, THE LORD SETS FORTH THE SINGULAR HONOUR OF MOSES. It is denoted by the loving title by which the Lord here and elsewhere names him: "My servant Moses." "Were ye not afraid to speak against my servant Moses? "(verses 7, 8; cf. Joshua 1:2; also Deuteronomy 34:5). The word here translated "servant" is a word of honourable import; and in the singular and emphatic way in which it is applied by the Lord to Moses, it is applied by him to no other till we come to Christ himself (see Isaiah 52:13; Isaiah 53:11, &c.). The singular honour of Moses is indicated, moreover, by this, that he was called and enabled to do faithful service "in all God's house." Aaron served as a priest, Miriam as a prophetess, Joshua as a commander, each being intrusted with one department of service; Moses was employed in all. More particularly, Moses was singularly honoured in regard to the manner of the Divine communications granted to him. With him the Lord spoke "mouth to mouth," even apparently, i.e; visibly, and not in dark speeches, and he beheld the similitude of the Lord.
1. When prophets received communications in dreams and visions they were very much in a passive state, simply beholding and hearing, often unable to make out the meaning of what they saw and heard. Moses, on the contrary, was admitted as it were into the audience chamber, and the Lord spoke to him as a man speaks with his friend (cf. Numbers 7:89).
2. A few of the prophets, specially honoured, had visions of the Divine glory (Isaiah 6:1-13, &c. ). But in this respect Moses was honoured above all the rest (Exodus 33:1-23, Exodus 34:1-35). In these respects he prefigured the great Prophet, the only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, knows the Father even as the Father knows him, and has fully declared him. It has seemed to some learned men a thing unlikely, a thing incredible, that the vast body of doctrine and law and divinely-inspired history contained in the last four books of the Pentateuch should have been delivered to the Church within one age, and chiefly by one man. But the thing will not seem strange to one who believes and duly considers the singular honour of Moses as described in this text, especially if it is read in connection with the similar testimony borne elsewhere to Christ. Moses, and the Prophet like unto Moses, stand by themselves in the history of Divine revelation in this respect, that each served "in all God's house;" each was commissioned to introduce the Church into a new dispensation, to deliver to the Church a system of doctrine and institutions. In harmony with this is the patent fact that, as at the bringing in of the gospel dispensation the stream of Holy Scripture expands into the four gospels, even so at the bringing in of the ancient dispensation the stream of Holy Scripture originated in the Books of the Law.—B.
HOMILIES BY E.S. PROUT
GOD THE VINDICATOR OF HIS CALUMNIATED SERVANTS
The serpent's trail was found in Eden, and "a devil" among the apostles. No wonder then at this narrative of strife in a godly family. We notice—
I. AN UNJUST INSINUATION. Neither Moses' marriage nor his conduct to his relatives (Numbers 12:3) had given fair cause of provocation. If his wife had done so, the charge Aaron and Miriam brought against the man who chose her was utterly irrelevant (Numbers 12:2). "The wife of Moses is mentioned, his superiority is shot at" (Bp. Hall). No wonder if the most conscientious and cautious are calumniated since false charges were brought against Moses, Job, Jeremiah, and Jesus Christ. The assault was aggravated because—
1. It came from his nearest kindred (Ps 65:12-14; Jeremiah 12:6). Miriam apparently began it, perhaps through a misunderstanding between the sisters-in-law, and drew Aaron into the plot (1 Timothy 2:14).
2. Because it was in the form of an unjust insinuation that Moses claimed exclusive prophetic gifts (verse 2; cf. Exodus 15:20; Micah 6:4).
II. A TRIUMPHANT VINDICATION. Moses apparently had taken no notice of the charge; perhaps acting on Agricola's rule, "omnia scire, non omnia exsequi" (cf. Psalms 38:12-15; John 8:50). But the Lord heard it and interposed.
1. The three are summoned before an impartial judge, but with what different feelings.
2. The calumniated servant of God is distinguished by special honours (verses 6-8).
3. The murmurers are rebuked, and a humiliating punishment is inflicted on the chief offender. The punishment of Aaron, the accomplice, only less severe (through sympathy with his sister) than that of Miriam (Job 12:16).
4. They are indebted for deliverance to the intercession of the man they have wronged. Illustration) Jeroboam (1 Kings 13:6; Job's friends, Job 42:7-10). Thus God will vindicate all his calumniated servants (Psalms 37:5, Psalms 37:6). Protection (Psalms 31:20); peace (Proverbs 16:7); honour (Isaiah 60:14; Revelation 3:9); and final reward (Psalms 91:14-16; and Romans 8:31). Such are the privileges of the faithful but maligned servants of God.—P.
THE LORD LISTENING
"And the Lord heard it." Compare with this the words," And the Lord hearkened and heard" (Malachi 3:16). We are thus reminded that God listens not only to take note of our sinful words, but to record every loving, faithful word, spoken of him or for him. What a proof of the omnipotence of God! Wonderful that he should attend to every prayer addressed to him. Still more so that he should listen to every word spoken not to him but to others. But at the same moment he can hear the brooks murmuring over their rocky beds, the trees clapping their hands, the floods lifting up their voice, the birds singing in the branches, the young lions roaring for their prey, and every sound of joy or cry of pain, every hymn of praise or word of falsehood issuing from human lips (Psalms 139:3, Psalms 139:4, Psalms 139:6). Without speaking of direct prayers we may seek illustrations of the truth that God listens to everything we say to one another, records it, passes his judgment on it, and lays it up in store as one of the materials of his future verdict on our lives. We may regard this truth—
I. AS AN ENCOURAGEMENT. As illustrations—
1. Turn to the scene described in Malachi 3:16. A few godly persons are trying to keep alive the flame of piety in a godless age (Malachi 3:13-15). Apply to social means of grace for mutual edification.
2. See that Christian man on a lonely walk, courteously conversing with a stranger, and seeking to recommend Christ to him. The stranger may go away to pray or to scoff, but that is not all. God hears and records the words as one of the good deeds done in the body (2 Corinthians 5:10).
3. A godly mother in the midst of daily duties, not only praying but soliloquizing, as in Psalms 62:1, Psalms 62:2, Psalms 62:5-7. Whether or not she may say Psalms 5:1, God does "give ear," and the words are "acceptable" (Psalms 19:14).
4. Sufferers lamenting; e. g. Hagar (Genesis 16:11); Ishmael (Genesis 21:17); Israel in Egypt (Exodus 2:24); mourners in Zion (Isaiah 30:19).
II. AS A WARNING. The truth has its shady as well as its sunny side. We may apply to—
1. The swearer's prayer, not intended for the ear of God, but reaching it.
2. Calumnies and backbitings, e.g; against Moses (Psalms 5:1, Psalms 5:2), or other servants of God (cf. Zephaniah 2:8); perhaps disliked because their lives are a rebuke to others (cf. Psalms 94:4, Psalms 94:7, Psalms 94:8, Psalms 94:9; John 15:18).
3. Impure words. The youth would be ashamed all day if his mother accidentally heard. But God heard.
4. Solitary words of repining or rebellion. Spoken in haste, they are soon regretted, and you say, "Well, at any rate nobody heard them." Stop and think again (Numbers 11:1; Psalms 139:7). The ear of God, like his eye, is in every place." Therefore Matthew 12:37. This truth leads us by a single step to the heart of the gospel (Acts 20:21). And if we say Psalms 17:3, God will hear that too, and give us strength to serve him with "righteous lips" and "joyful lips" (Psalms 19:14).—P.
HOMILIES BY D. YOUNG
Numbers 12:1, Numbers 12:2
A HIDEOUS MANIFESTATION OF PRIDE
Amid much obscurity we discern that family jealousies were the occasion of this outbreak. Some occasion certainly would have arisen, so we need not trouble ourselves whether this Cushite wife was Zipporah or a wife lately taken. There is room for much conjecture, and real need for none. Out of the heart cometh pride. Pride was in Miriam's heart; it must come out sooner or later. We specify Miriam, as she was evidently the principal transgressor. Aaron simply and easily followed where she led. Let us fix our attention on the hideous revelation of her pride.
I. It was A PRIDE THAT OVERWHELMED NATURAL AFFECTION. To whom in all Israel might Moses have more confidently looked for sympathy than his own sister? Especially if it were she who stood afar off, and watched the ark of bulrushes (Exodus 2:4). It was an unworthy thing of a sister to hinder one on whom God had laid such great and anxious duties. But when self-esteem is once hurt, the wound soon inflames beyond all control; and even those on whom we are most dependent, and to whom we owe the most, are made to feel the grievous irritation of our spirits.
II. It was A PRIDE THAT MADE MIRIAM FORGET THE OBLIGATIONS OF HER OWN HONOURABLE OFFICE. She was a prophetess, even as Moses was a prophet. She does, indeed, in one sense recollect her office. "Hath the Lord not spoken also by us?" True; and this was the very reason why she should have been specially careful of what she said, even when the Lord was not speaking by her. A prophet's tongue should be doubly guarded at all times. Those who speak for God ought never to say anything out of their own thoughts incongruous with the Divine message. If Miriam and Aaron had ever been obliged to deal with Moses as once Paul had to deal with Peter, and withstand him to the face because he was to be blamed, then the prophet element in them would have been more glorious than ever. But here Miriam stoops from her high rank to give effect to a mean personal grudge.
III. It was PRIDE THAT PUT ON A PRETENCE OF BEING BADLY TREATED. It is very easy for the proud to persuade themselves that they have been badly treated. They are so much in their own thoughts that it becomes easy for them to believe that they are much in the thoughts of other people; and from this they can soon advance to the suspicion that there may be elaborate designs against them. Men will go step by step to great villainies, justifying themselves all the way. The scribes who sat in Moses' seat no doubt made their conspiracy against Jesus look very laudable to their own eyes. Miriam does not speak here with the arrogance of a straightforward, brutal, "I wish it, and it must be so." The iniquity of her heart sought to veil itself in a plausible plea for justice.
IV. It was the WORST OF ALL PRIDE, SPIRITUAL PRIDE. Pride of birth, of beauty, of wealth, of learning, all these are bad, often ridiculous; but spiritual pride is such a contradiction, such an amazing example of blindness, that we may well give it a pre-eminence among the evil fruits of the corrupt heart. It is the chief of all pride, most dangerous to the subject of it, and most insulting to God. Contrast Miriam with Mary, the mother of Jesus: the one all chafed and swelling within, who thinks the people should attend her as much as her brother; the other having the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, humbly submissive to Gabriel's word, nothing doubting, yet prostrate in amazement that she should have been chosen as the mother of Messiah, sending forth her Magnificat like a lark soaring from its humble bed, singing its song, and straightway returning to the earth again. Or contrast her with Paul, saying, because he truly felt, that he was less than the least of all saints an earthen vessel, the chief of sinners. Amid our greatest privileges we are still in the greatest danger if without a sense, habitually cherished, of our natural unworthiness. The more God sees fit to make of us, the more we should wonder that he is able to make so much out of so little.—Y.
A DISTINGUISHED EXAMPLE OF MEEKNESS
This quality of meekness, for which Moses is here so much praised, is not without its signs earlier in the narrative of his connection with the Israelites; and as we look back in the light of this express declaration, the quality is very easily seen. Such a declaration was evidently needed here, and we may trace its insertion by some hand soon after as much to the control of inspiration as we trace the original narrative. The meekness of Moses is not only a foil to the pride of Miriam, but evidently had something to do with exciting her pride. She would not have gone so far with a different sort of man. She knew intuitively how far she could go with him, and that it was a very long way indeed. Therefore, to bring out all the significance of the occasion, it was needful to make special mention of the meekness of Moses. Notice the emphatic way in which it is set forth. "Meek above all the men which were upon the face of the earth." We talk of Moses as the meekest of men and Solomon as the wisest of men to indicate that the one was very meek indeed and the other very wise. Let us look then in the life and character of Moses to see how that eminent virtue was shown which ought also to be in all of us.
I. The meekness included A CONSCIOUSNESS OF NATURAL UNFITNESS FOR THE WORK TO WHICH GOD HAD CALLED HIM. A consciousness we may well believe to have been profound, abiding, and oftentimes oppressive. God meant it to be so. We know not what Moses was physically. He was a goodly child (Exodus 2:2), but a mother's partiality may have had something to do with this judgment. In after years that may have been true of Moses which Paul pathetically observes was the opinion of some concerning himself—that in bodily presence he was weak and in speech contemptible. It may have been a wonder to many, as well as to himself, that God had chosen him. In that memorable interview with God at Horeb (Exodus 3:1-22), the first word of Moses is, "Here am I;" but the second, "Who am I, that I should bring forth the children of Israel out of Egypt?" There was no jumping at eminence, no vainglorious grasping at the chance of fame. He had to be constrained along the path of God's appointment, not because of a disobedient spirit, but because of a low estimate of himself. He abounded in patriotism and sympathy for his oppressed brethren, but the work of deliverance seemed one for stronger hands than his. Perhaps there is nothing in the natural man more precious in the sight of God for the possibilities that come out of it than this consciousness of weakness. The work to be done is so great, and the man who is called to do it, even when he has stretched himself to his fullest extent, looks so small.
II. THIS SENSE OF WEAKNESS WOULD APPEAR IN ALL HIS INTERCOURSE WITH MEN. He was exposed continually to the risk of insult and reproach. The people vented their spleen arid carnal irritation upon him, yet he did not make their words a matter of personal insult, as some leaders would undoubtedly have done. He felt only too keenly his own insufficiency, and how far short he fell of the high requirements of God. Although the particular hard things which men said about him might not be just, yet he felt that many hard things might justly be said, and so there was no inclination to fume and fret and stand upon his dignity when fault-finders began to speak. Even when Miriam joins the traducing herd he seems to bear it in silence. The dying Caesar said, "Et tu, Brute;" but Moses, in this hour of his loneliness, when even his kindred forsake him, does not say, "And thou, Miriam." Each succeeding revelation of God made him humbler in his own spirit, and seemed to increase the distance between his created and corrupted life and the glory of the great I AM. If God were so gracious, forgiving, and bountiful to him (Numbers 11:1-35), why should not he be long-suffering and meekly tolerant with Miriam? (Matthew 18:23-35). We shall not blow ourselves out and strut before men if we only constantly recollect how defiled we are in the sight of God.
III. This meekness is especially to be noticed because of ITS CONNECTION WITH CERTAIN OTHER QUALITIES WHICH GOD LOVES. The more conscious Moses became of his natural weakness, the more God esteemed him. If meekness springs from the sense of weakness, yet it grows and becomes useful in association with the strength of God. Though Moses was meek, he was not a pliable man. Though meek, he none the less went right onward in the way of God's appointment. This meekness of his went along with obedience to God. He quietly listened to all his enemies said in the way of invective and slander, and still went on his way, with eye and ear and heart open to the will of God. He was like a tree, which, though it may bend and yield a little to the howling blast, yet keeps its hold firm on the soil. There was also a never-failing sense of right. Moses was one of those men—would that there were more of them in the world!—who had a deep feeling of sympathy with the weak and the oppressed. Meek as he was by nature, he slew the Egyptian who smote his Hebrew brother. There was also courage along with the meekness—courage of the highest sort, moral courage, daring to be laughed at, and to stand alone. These are the brave men who can do this, planting alone, if need be, the standard of some great cause; meek and humble, but dauntless in their meekness, confiding in him whose righteousness is like the great mountains. Look at the bravery of meek women for Christ. Then there was persistency. Is not this great part of the secret of the fulfilling of that beatitude, "Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth?" The violent, the unjust, the greedy, may grasp the earth for a time, but it is the meek, the gentle, never irritating, yet never withdrawing, persistent, generation after generation, in the practice and application of spiritual truth, it is they who in the fullness of time will truly inherit the earth.—Y.
THE HUMBLING OF THE PROUD AND THE EXALTATION OF THE MEEK. THE HUMBLING WAS EVIDENTLY BY THE ACTION OF GOD HIMSELF
The Lord heard Miriam and Aaron in the words of their pride, and even though Moses might bear these words in the silent composure of his magnanimity and meekness, it nevertheless became God to justify his servant, as God alone could effectually and signally justify. God notes all unjust and slanderous doings with respect to his people. He hears, even though the reviled ones themselves be ignorant. God then proceeds by one course of action to produce a double result—to humble Miriam and Aaron, Miriam in particular, and to exalt Moses. In what he did, notice that with all his anger and severity he yet mingled much consideration for the transgressors. We need not suppose that their words had been spoken to any considerable audience. More likely they were confined to the limits of the domestic circle. And so the Lord spake suddenly to the three persons concerned. Probably none but themselves knew why they were summoned. There was no reason for exposing a family quarrel to the gossip of the whole camp. The sin of Miriam need not be published abroad, though it was necessary, in order to teach her a lesson, that it should be condignly punished. So they were called to the door of the tabernacle, and there God addressed them from the pillar of cloud, with all its solemn associations. This word suddenly also suggests that when God does not visit immediately the iniquity of the transgressor upon him, it is from considerations of what we may call Divine expediency. He can come at once or later, but, at whatever time, he certainly will come. Consider now—
I. THE HUMBLING OF THE PROUD. This was done in two ways.
1. By the plain distinction which God made between them and Moses. It was perfectly true that, as they claimed, God had spoken by them, but he calls attention to the fact that it was his custom to speak to prophets by vision and by dream. There was no mouth to mouth conversation, no beholding of the similitude of the Lord. God can use all sorts of agencies for his communications to men. It needs not even a Miriam; i.e; can speak warning from the mouth of an ass. But Moses was more than a prophet; prophet was only the part of which steward and general, visible representative of God, was the whole. What a humbling hour for this proud woman to find that Jehovah himself had taken up the cause of her despised brother! It is probable that Moses himself had mentioned little of the details of his experiences of God; they were not things to talk much about; perhaps he could not have found the fit audience, even though few. Upon Miriam it would come like a thunderbolt to know how God esteemed the man whom she had allowed herself to scorn. So God will ever abase the proud by glorifying his own pious children whom they despise. Satan despises Job, says he is a mere lip worshipper, a man whose professions will not bear trial; he gets him down into the dust of bereavement, poverty, and disease; but in the end he has to see him a holier man, a more trustful and prosperous one than before. Miriam meant the downfall of Moses; she only helped to establish him more firmly on the rock.
2. By the personal visitation, on Miriam. She became a leper. As her pride was hideous in the manifestation of it, so her punishment was hideous—a leprosy, loathsome and frightful beyond the common. We might expect this. A malignant outbreak in her bodily life corresponded with the malignity of the defilement in her spirit. As to Aaron, we may presume that his sacred office, and to some extent the fact that he was a tool, secured him from leprosy, but the visitation on his sister was punishment in itself. He felt the wind of the blow which struck her down. Proud souls, take warning by Miriam; you will at last become abhorrent to yourselves. Remember Herod (Acts 12:21-23).
II. THE EXALTATION OF THE MEEK. This is a more inward and spiritual thing, and therefore not conspicuous in the same way as the humbling. It is something to be appreciated by spiritual discernment rather than natural. Besides, the full exaltation of the meek is not yet come. The resurrection and ascension of the Lord Jesus himself were arranged very quietly. But we cannot help noticing that from this sharp and trying scene Moses emerges with his character shining more beautifully than ever. He does nothing to forfeit the reputation with which he was credited, and everything to increase it. He acted like a man who had beheld the similitude of the Lord. Notice particularly the way in which he joins in with Aaron, interceding for his afflicted sister. This is the true exaltation: to be better and better in oneself, shining more because there is more light within to cast its mild radiance, as God would have it cast, alike upon the evil and the good, the just and the unjust (Psalms 25:9; Psalms 59:12; Proverbs 13:10; Proverbs 16:18; Proverbs 29:23; Daniel 4:37; Matthew 23:12; Galatians 6:1-5; 2 Timothy 2:24-26; 1 Peter 3:4; 1 Peter 5:6).—Y.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Numbers 12". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 22 / Ordinary 27