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Bible Commentaries

Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae
Numbers 12

 

 

Verse 8-9

DISCOURSE: 153

AARON AND MIRIAM REPROVED

Numbers 12:8-9. Wherefore were ye not afraid to speak against my servant Moses? And the anger of the Lord was kindled against them: and he departed.

WHEN men are angry, we may often, and with reason, doubt, whether there be any just occasion for their displeasure: but when we see Almighty God expressing indignation, we may always ask with confidence, “Is there not a cause?” It is no slight degree of anger which God manifests in the passage before us. And what could be the reason? We are told that “Aaron and Miriam spake against Moses because of the Ethiopian woman whom he had married [Note: ver. 1.].” But this seems only to have been, if not a fictitious, at least a secondary, reason. (It must be strange indeed if they now began to be displeased with a thing which they knew to have been done many years, and which had never, in that instance, been disapproved by God.) The true reason, I apprehend, was, that they were offended at his not having consulted them about the seventy persons whom he had selected to bear a part of his burthen with him: and it is possible enough that they might ascribe this to his wife’s influence. They thought, that, as God had spoken by them as well as by Moses himself [Note: Compare ver. 2 with Micah 6:4.], Moses should have treated them with more respect. (This is precisely the way in which many, yea and good people too, are prone to act. If overlooked in any instance wherein they think they had a right to be consulted, they forget all the distinguishing honours which they already enjoy, and become querulous on account of the supposed slight which is cast upon them — — —) Of this complaint Moses took no notice; but meekly passed it over in silence. (Herein he shews how unreasonable murmurers and complainers should be treated. Would to God we were more like him in this particular! If querulous objections be met by passionate answers, contentions soon arise [Note: The common history of quarrels is, that they begin like those of the ambitious disciples, and proceed like those of the jealous tribes. Matthew 20:21; Matthew 20:24; 2 Samuel 19:43.]; whereas silence, or “a soft answer, would turn away wrath.”) But the less anxious we are to vindicate our own character, the more readily and effectually will God interpose for us. “He heard,” though Moses was as one that heard not; and he immediately summoned the offenders before him, in their presence vindicated the character of his servant Moses, and smote Miriam with a leprosy: and though, at the request of Moses, he restored her to health, yet he ordered her to be put out of the camp for seven days; and thus exposed to shame the persons, who, through the pride of their hearts, had arrogated to themselves an honour which belonged not to them.

On account of the importance of these subordinate circumstances, we have dwelt upon them somewhat longer than usual. But it is not our intention to enlarge any more on them: we wish rather to turn your attention to the great and leading points contained in the words of our text. In them, God expostulates with Aaron and Miriam for presuming to speak against Moses. Now Moses sustained a variety of characters; in reference to which the words before us may be differently understood. As he was a civil magistrate, they shew God’s anger against those who resist the magistracy. As he was a teacher of God’s word, they shew how God is offended with a neglect of his faithful ministers. And, as he was a representative of our great Lawgiver and Redeemer, the Lord Jesus Christ, they shew what indignation God will exercise against those who either openly reject, or secretly despise, his only dear Son.

First then we shall consider them as expressing God’s displeasure against those,

I. Who oppose the civil magistrate—

[Magistrates are appointed of God to bear a portion of his authority; and they are invested with it, that they may be a terror to evil-doers, and a protection to the good. To these we are to be subject, not reluctantly through fear of their displeasure, but willingly, and for conscience sake: and “if we will resist them, we shall receive to ourselves damnation [Note: Romans 13:1-5.].” Both temporal and eternal judgments must be expected by us if we rebel against the constituted authorities. Nor is it of open and avowed rebellion only that we speak, but of murmuring and complaining against them without just and great occasion. This was the fault of Aaron and Miriam; “they were not afraid to speak against” the person, whom God had ordained to be “king in Jeshurun.” Persons of this class are invariably represented by God himself as enemies to him. “Presumptuous are they, says he, and self-willed, and are not afraid to speak evil of dignities [Note: 2 Peter 2:10.].” They take liberties with earthly potentates, which the first archangel dared not to take with Satan himself [Note: Jude, ver. 8, 9.]. It would be well if religious people were sufficiently on their guard respecting this. We have seen, during the French Revolution, great multitudes even of them drawn after Satan; and the supporters of civil government traduced by every opprobrious epithet: and though the generality of these deluded people have seen their error, yet the necessity for cautioning you on this head has not ceased. That the rights of people are very different in different countries, is certain; and that rulers may so conduct themselves, as totally to destroy the compact between them and their subjects, is also certain: but it is no less certain, that religious people, above all, should be “the quiet in the land,” and should ever conform to that solemn injunction, “Thou shalt not speak evil of the ruler of thy people [Note: Acts 23:5.].”]

II. Who disregard the ministers of the Gospel—

[Those who minister in holy things are ambassadors from God, and speak to the people “in Christ’s stead [Note: 2 Corinthians 5:20.].” Their word, as far as it accords with the inspired volume, is “to be received, not as the word of men, but as the word of God himself [Note: 1 These. 2:13.]:” and whatever, in the name and by the authority of God, they bid you to observe, that you are bound to observe and do [Note: Matthew 23:2-3.]. It is true, that ministers are “not lords over God’s heritage [Note: 1 Peter 5:3.],” neither have they any “dominion over your faith [Note: 2 Corinthians 1:24.]:” yet it is also true, that in things pertaining to God they are invested with a divine authority: they “are over you in the Lord [Note: 1 Thessalonians 5:12.]:” they “have the rule over you, and you are to obey them, and submit yourselves [Note: Hebrews 13:17.]:” and if, while “they labour in the word and doctrine, they rule well, they are to be counted worthy of double honour [Note: 1 Timothy 5:17.]” What shall we say then to those who despise the ministers of God, and that too in proportion to their fidelity? This we must say, that “in despising us, they despise both Christ, and the Father who sent him [Note: Luke 10:16.]:” and their opposition to such ministers is felt by God as opposition to himself [Note: Zechariah 2:8.]; such opposition too as will meet with a dreadful recompence in the day of judgment [Note: Matthew 18:6.]. What Moses had said and done, was by the direction and authority of God: and it was at the peril of the greatest people of the land to contradict and oppose him.]

III. Who neglect the Lord Jesus Christ—

[Moses, as the head of the Church and people of God, certainly prefigured the Lord Jesus Christ. The very encomiums here passed on Moses by God himself, are such as of necessity lead our minds to Christ. Was Moses a prophet far superior to all others [Note: ver. 6, 7.]? Christ is that Prophet of whom Moses was only a shadow, and whom all are commanded to hear at the peril of their souls [Note: Acts 3:22-23.]. Was Moses faithful in all God’s house as a servant [Note: ver. 7.]? Christ is that Son who presides over his own house [Note: Hebrews 3:2-6.]. Was Moses the meekest of all men upon the face of the earth [Note: ver. 3.]? Christ is he whose unparalleled meekness is our great encouragement to learn of him [Note: Matthew 11:29.]. In reference to Christ therefore, the expostulation in our text has tenfold weight. O, who must not be afraid to speak against him, or to entertain so much as a thought contrary to his honour?

Here then we have not to address the unbelievers; for they may well be classed under the former head: those who openly reject Christ, cannot even in profession obey his ministers. But many who are partial to faithful ministers, are yet far from being conformed to the mind of Christ. Many who are in high repute in the Church of Christ, have yet their unsubdued lusts, which rise in allowed hostility against their Lord and Saviour. The murmurs of Aaron and Miriam were not public; but “The Lord heard them.” And so these vile affections may not be known; but God sees them: and he will, if we continue to harbour them, be “a swift witness against us” — — —

With what awful authority did he summon Aaron and Miriam before him [Note: ver. 4, 5.]! But with a more awful voice will he call us forth to judgment. With what indignation did he, after reproving their iniquity, “depart [Note: ver. 9.]!” and will he not depart from such professors here; yea, and bid them to depart from him for ever? Did he expose their sin to all? Did he inflict a most disgraceful punishment? Did he order Miriam to be excluded from the camp of Israel [Note: ver. 10, 14.]? Who reads not here the shame and misery of those, who, under a cloak of religion, have harboured any secret lusts? Were the most distinguished characters in the whole kingdom dealt with thus? Who then has not reason to fear and tremble? “Be wise now therefore, O ye kings, be instructed, ye judges of the earth. O kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and ye perish from the way [Note: Psalms 2:10-12.].” Behold, the sin of these two professors delayed the progress of all the hosts of Israel for seven days [Note: Numbers 22:15.]! Armed hosts, or intervening seas, could not retard them: but sin, that evil and accursed thing, did what all the powers of earth and hell could not have done. O professor, think how many may be retarded in their progress towards heaven by one sin of thine; yea perhaps may be turned out of the way, and ruined for ever! Remember what our Lord has said, “Woe unto the world because of offences! but woe, most of all, unto him, by whom the offence cometh.” It is on this account that God enjoined all his people to “bear in mind what he had done to Miriam by the way, after that they were come forth out of Egypt [Note: Deuteronomy 24:9.].” The Lord grant that none of us may ever lose sight of it! May we remember what an evil and bitter thing it is to lose in any degree the fear and love of God [Note: Jeremiah 2:19.]!]

Address—

[To those who have sinned in any of the foregoing particulars, we would particularly recommend, that, like Aaron, they confess their sin humbly, and without delay [Note: ver. 11.]. Yea, entreat that very Saviour whose authority you have despised, to intercede for you. Seek an interest in him: implore forgiveness for his sake: so will God “pardon your offences, though he may take vengeance of your inventions [Note: ver. 13, 14.].” “Turn with unfeigned sorrow from your transgressions; so your iniquity shall not be your ruin.” Leprous as ye are, ye shall yet be healed: and, deserving as ye are to be expelled from the camp of Israel, ye shall yet be received into it, and, through the tender mercy of your God, shall proceed in comfort to the promised land.]

 


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Bibliography Information
Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on Numbers 12:4". Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/shh/numbers-12.html. 1832.

Lectionary Calendar
Friday, December 13th, 2019
the Second Week of Advent
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