Numbers 12:1
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 (Psalm 37:5, 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.







Miriam and Aaron spake against Moses.
1. The noblest disinterestedness will not preserve us from the shafts of envy. The poet has said, in regard to another virtue, "Be thou as chaste as ice, as pure as snow, thou shalt not escape calumny"; and no matter how unselfish we are, we may lay our account with some envenomed attacks which shall plausibly accuse us of seeking our own things and not the things that are Jesus Christ's. Nay, the more conspicuous we are for devotion to the public good, we may be only thereby more distinctly marked as a target for the world's scorn. "I am weary of hearing always of Aristides as the Just," was the expression of one who plotted for that patriot's banishment; and if a man's character be in itself a protest against abounding corruption, he will soon be assailed by some one in the very things in which he is most eminent.

2. This envy of disinterested greatness may show itself in the most unexpected quarters. If Aaron and Miriam were capable of such envy, we may not think that we are immaculate. It asks the minister to examine himself and see whether he has not been guilty of depreciating a brother's gifts, because he looked upon him as a rival rather than as a fellow-labourer; it bids the merchant search through the recesses of his heart, if haply the terms in which he refers to a neighbour, or the tales he tells of him, be not due to the fact that, either in business or in society, he has been somehow preferred before him; it beseeches the lady, who is engaged in whispering the most ill-natured gossip against another in her circle, to inquire and see whether the animus of her deed be not the avenging of some fancied slight, or the desire to protest against an honour which has been done to the object of what Thackeray has called "her due Christian animosity." Ah! .are we not all in danger here? How well it would be if we repelled all temptations to envy as John silenced those who tried to set him against Jesus; for, as Bishop Hall has said, "That man hath true light who can be content to be a candle before the sun of others."

3. The utter meanness of the weapons which envy is content to employ. A man's house is his castle. No personal malice should enter into it with its attack; and no mean report should be received from the eavesdroppers who have first misunderstood and then misrepresented. If a man's public life has been blamable, then let him be arraigned; but let no Paul Pry interviewer cross his threshold to get hold of family secrets, or descend into the area to hear some hirelings' moralisings. Even the bees, when put into a glass hive, go to work at the very first to make the glass opaque, for they will not have their secrets made common property; and surely we busy human beings may sometimes be allowed to be by ourselves.

4. The assaults of envy are always best met by a silent appeal to Heaven. Let the victims of unjust assault take comfort, for God will be their defence. But let the envious ones take heed, for God hears their words, and He will one day confront them with His judgment. He may do that long before the day of final assize. He may meet them in His providence, and give them to understand that they who touch His faithful servants are touching the apple of His eye; nay, He may bring such trouble upon them that they will be glad to accept of the intercession of those whom they have maligned.

(W. M. Taylor, D. D.)

I. THE SIN OF MIRIAM AND AARON.

1. Its root: jealousy and vaulting ambition.

2. Its occasion.

3. Its expression.

II. THE DIVINE COGNISANCE OF THEIR SIN. "And the Lord heard." No one utterance of all the myriads of voices in His universe ever escapes His ear. There is a Divine hearer of every human speech. This is clear from —

1. His omnipresence (Psalm 139:7-12).

2. His infinite intelligence.

3. His interest in His servants.

III. THE COMMENDABLE CONDUCT OF MOSES UNDER THE PROVOCATION OF THEIR SIN.

1. He was sorely tried (cf. Psalm 55:12-15).

2. He bore his sore trial most nobly.Conclusion:

1. In the conduct of Miriam and Aaron we have a beacon. Let us shun their sin, &c.

2. In the conduct of Moses we have a pattern. Let us imitate his meekness.

(W. Jones.)

I. THE POSSESSION OF THE GREATEST GIFTS DOES NOT EXEMPT MEN FROM THE LIABILITY TO MEANNESS AND SIN.

II. THE MOST EXCELLENT AND EMINENT SERVANTS OF GOD ARE NOT EXEMPT FROM THE REPROACHES OF MEN.

III. OUR GREATEST TRIALS SOMETIMES ARISE FROM THE MOST UNLIKELY QUARTERS.

IV. THE LORD TAKES COGNISANCE OF THE REPROACHES WHICH ARE CAST UPON HIS SERVANTS.

V. THE SERVANTS OF THE LORD DO WELL IN BEARING PATIENTLY THE REPROACHES WHICH ARE CAST UPON THEM.

(W. Jones.)

I. MIRIAM'S SIN.

1. Jealousy.

2. Envy.

3. Evil-speaking. Privately sought to undermine the power of Moses among the people.

4. Folly. Could she have succeeded in destroying the power of Moses, she would have failed in getting them to recognise her as their leader. She did not see that she shone in the borrowed light of her great brother.

5. Rebellion against God. Moses was the servant of God: to resist him was to resist the Master.

6. Vain excuses. "Because," and because... Sinners are often prolific in excuses; called by them reasons.

II. MIRIAM'S DETECTION. "And the Lord heard it." Moses may have heard of it. This seems to be implied By the allusion to his meekness (ver. 3). If the Lord hear, then no sin passes undetected. Moses gave himself no concern about it. Could Miriam meet her brother without shame? The Lord spake suddenly. God pronounced Moses "faithful." What must Miriam have thought of her faithfulness?

III. MIRIAM'S PUNISHMENT. She was smitten with leprosy, and under circumstances that much heightened the effect of the punishment.

1. It was in the presence of the person she had injured.

2. In the presence of her fellow-conspirators.

3. By the great God, against whose authority she had rebelled.

4. Was excluded from the camp publicly.

5. Humbled, by being cleansed in answer to the prayer of him she had wronged.Learn —

1. The great sin of evil-speaking. Especially against ministers of religion, whose influence for good ought to be preserved not only by themselves but by all about them. The character of public men is their strength. Destroy their character, their power is gone. By this loss the public itself is impoverished and injured. Hence such slander is suicidal.

2. God the defender of His servants. The severe punishment — and upon no other than Miriam — shows the Divine abhorrence of the sin.

3. Moses, leaving the exposure and punishment with God, and interceding for Miriam, teaches us how to regard attacks upon our character, and act under them, and towards such unhappy offenders.

(J. C. Gray.)

I. "WHAT SINFUL PRINCIPLES WILL PROMPT A MAN TO DO. Here we see the ties of nature disregarded; the bonds of professed fellowship burst asunder; God's interest disregarded. Pride and envy had entered the heart, and all consequences were unheeded, even though Moses should be brought into contempt before the whole congregation. Let us fear lest such principles should ever get possession of our minds; the first feeling must be mourned over and prayed against.

II. WHAT DIVINE GRACE WILL ENABLE US TO BEAR. If we imbibe the spirit of our Lord and Master we shall offer prayer for those who use us ill. If the approbation of God be ours, though all the world be against us it will do us no harm. It was said of one of the martyrs that he was so like Christ that he could not be roused by injuries to say one word that was revengeful. Oh, if this spirit were universal, what a happy world would this be! See how the grace of God can enable us to return good for evil, and thus feel an indescribable peace and happiness in our own spirit, walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Ghost. The power of man can never impart this meek and quiet spirit; it can alone come from the blessed influence of the Holy Spirit.

(George Breay, B. A.)

The true cause of this their murmuring was pride and ambition, self-love, ostentation, and vainglory. Hereby we learn that there cometh no greater plague to the Church of God than by ambition and desire of pre-eminence. The ambition and pride of Amaziah, the priest of Beth-el, would not suffer the prophet Amos in the land of Israel, but he commanded him to fly away into the land of Judah and prophesy there (Amos 7:10, 12). We see this apparently afterward (Numbers 16.) in Korah, Dathan, and Abiram. Neither is this evil dead with these; for this is a great plague of the Church to this day, and very pernicious. Nothing hath more ruined the Church of God, overthrown piety, corrupted religion, hindered the gospel, discouraged the pastors and professors of it, nothing hath more erected the kingdom of anti-Christ than these petty popes, the true successors of Diotrephes, such as desire to be universal bishops and to reign alone. The mischief hereof appeareth by sundry reasons.

1. It causeth a great rent and division in the Church, and disturbeth the peace of it (Numbers 16:1).

2. It setteth up men and putteth down the Lord and His ordinances, urging, compelling, and commanding against the truth (Acts 4:18, 19).

3. It proceedeth from very evil roots, and bringeth forth very evil effects, as an evil tree bringeth forth evil fruits. The causes from whence it floweth are Satan, pride, disdain of others, self-love, no love of the truth, no zeal of God's glory, no desire of the good of the Church.The effects thereof are trouble, disquietness, fear, flattery, envy, and subtilty. Let us come to the uses.

1. It reproveth those who bear themselves as lords over the flock of Christ.

2. Acknowledge this ambition to be a general corruption, the remainders whereof are in all the servants of God, yea, in all the children of Adam; we have drawn it from him, and thereby it hath leavened and corrupted all mankind. If any man ask what it is, I answer, It is an immoderate desire after dignity, and of dignity upon dignity; it is a thirst that never can be quenched; for as the covetous person hath never enough money, so the ambitious hath never enough honour. It is a secret poison, a hidden plague, the mother of hypocrisy, the father of envy, the fountain of vices, the moth of piety, a blind guide and leader of the hearts of men. The farther we think ourselves from it the nearer commonly it cometh unto us; and therefore let nothing be done through strife and vainglory, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves (Philippians 2:3).

3. Lastly, let all learn to beware of this evil.

(W. Attersoll.)

If the Lord did speak by Miriam and Aaron, what then? The Lord Himself acknowledges that He speaks in different ways to different men. To some — perhaps to most — He comes in vision and in dream; things are heard as if they were spoken beyond the great mountain; they are echoes, wanting in shape and directness, yet capable of interpretations that touch the very centres and springs of life, that make men wonder, that draw men up from flippancy, and write upon vacant faces tokens of reverence and proofs that the inner vision is at the moment entranced by some immeasurable revelation. To other men God speaks "apparently" — that is, in broad and visible figure. He is quite near; it is as if friend were accosting friend, as if two interlocutors were mutually visible and speaking within hand-range of one another. There is nothing superstitious about this; it is the fact of to-day. Take a book of science — what do you find in that rational and philosophical bible? You find certain names put uppermost. Why should not every boy that has caught his first fly, or cut in two his first worm, say, "Hath not the Lord spoken unto me as well as unto Darwin, or Cuvier, or Buffon? — who are they?" But it does so happen that outside the Bible we have the Moses of science — the chief man of letters, the prince of song. Take the history of music, and we find names set by themselves like insulated stars-great planetary names. What would be thought of a person who has just learned the notes of music, saying, "Hath not the Lord spoken unto me as well as unto Beethoven?" He has; but He has not told you so much. There is a difference in kind; there is a difference in quality. We find this same law operating in all directions. There are books that say, "Are not we inspired as well as the Bible?" The answer is, "Certainly you are." The Lord had spoken to Miriam and to Aaron as certainly as He had spoken to Moses, but with a difference; and it is never for Moses to argue with Miriam. Moses takes no part in this petty controversy. He would have disproved his superior inspiration if he had stooped to this fray of words. So some books seem to say, "Are not we also inspired?" The frank and true answer is, "Yes." Is not many a sentence in the greatest of dramatists an inspired sentence? The frank, Christian, just answer is, "Yes." Is not many a discovery in the natural world quite an instance of inspiration? Why hesitate to say, "Yes; but always with a difference"? The Bible takes no part in the controversy about its own inspiration. The Bible lives — comes into the house when it is wanted, goes upstairs to the sick-chamber, follows the lonely sufferer into solitude, and communes with him about the mystery of disappointment, discipline, pain of heart; goes to the grave-side, and speaks about the old soldier just laid to rest, the little child just exhaled like a dewdrop by the morning sun. It lives because no hand can slay it; it stands back, or comes forward, according to the necessity of the case, because of a dignity that can wait, because of an energy that is ready to advance. Some books claim to be as inspired as the Bible. Then they become leprous, and all history has shown that they are put out of the camp. Many books have arisen to put down the Bible; they have had their day: they have ceased to be. We must judge by facts and realities. When a man who has no claim to the dignity asserts that he is upon an equality with the great musician, the great musician takes no part in the fray; when the competitor has played his little trick, one touch of the fingers regulated by the hand Divine will settle the controversy. By this token we stand or fall with our Christianity, with our great gospel.

(J. Parker, D. D.)

What were Aaron and Miriam to Moses? Even his own brother and sister. And cannot such agree? Will there be jars and grudgings in such? Would God it were not too true. Nay, such is our corruption, if the Lord lead us not with His loving Spirit, that not only we disagree being brothers and sisters, but with a far more bitter and implacable wrath than others that are farther off. What a venom was in Cain to his brother Abel when nothing but blood would appease it? What was in Esau's heart towards his brother Jacob? Oh, what venom is this that lurketh in our nature if God leaves us to ourselves! May we not justly marvel at some men, otherwise of great wisdom and judgment, that dare break out unto the praise of these perturbations as virtues and badges of noble minds? For what is this but as if a man would praise the diseases of the body and the nettles and weeds and hurtful plants of the earth. Should not he be accounted mad that would set his own house on fire? And I pray you what be that will cast fire into his own heart to set it on a flame? Saint was wont to say, "Look how vinegar put into a vessel thereby is made sour and corrupted"; so is the malicious person by his own anger made filthy and most distasteful to all good men. And if thus among strangers, oh, what among brothers and sisters! Wherefore what council is given to refrain all anger, venom, and hatred, let it in particular be applied to bridle all rage or dislike among such near ones as now we speak of.

(Bp. Babington.)

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