The story wraps up with two examples of intercession. First, Aaron looks at Miriam and he is aghast at what he sees. He turns to Moses and pleads with him to do something. While he’s interceding with Moses, he confesses his own sin and links himself with Miriam, saying, “Please, my lord, do not hold against us the sin we have so foolishly committed” (v. 11). Maybe he is afraid something is going to happen to him. But he intercedes on behalf of his sister with Moses. Second, Moses intercedes with God, and God answers that He will be gracious and heal her.
But this was a serious thing. God asked Moses that if Miriam’s father was offended at something that she had done and had shown his disapproval by spitting on her, wouldn’t she have to be outside the camp for seven days in disgrace? It’s not less that she has acted this way with God. And so Miriam had to stay outside the camp for seven days. She was a greatly chastened woman, and a greatly humbled woman, who came back into the camp a week later.
Moses is quite often presented as a typology of Jesus Christ. We see in Moses the character of Christ, and because we are supposed to imitate Jesus Christ, we can learn from Moses and try to imitate him. Gordon Wenham writes, “Jesus is the prophet like Moses (Acts 7:37). Like Moses, Jesus is meek and lowly in heart (Mt. 11:29), and kept silent before his accusers (1 Pet. 2:23ff). But whereas Moses was but a servant in God’s house, our Lord was the son of the house (Heb. 3:1-6); Moses saw God’s form and heard his word, but Jesus was the Word and in the form of God (Jn. 1:14-18; Phil. 2:6).”1
Now we ought to learn from Moses’ example. In his commentary, William Taylor gives us three ways we can learn from Moses.2
- “The noblest disinterestedness will not preserve us from the shafts of envy.” Moses’ conduct in these chapters was utterly above reproach. He complained to God, but he did not misbehave in any way. If there was ever a model leader, it was Moses. And yet, here are the people rising up against him, even his own brother and sister. This is going to happen if you take leadership in any way in the church of Jesus Christ. You can be utterly disinterested, not be pursuing your glory in any way. You can be serving in an utterly selfless and even costly manner, and there will be criticism. There will always be people who are envious about what God is doing through you. So let’s not be surprised when attacks come. Let’s be ready for them and handle them humbly.
- “Envy of disinterested greatness may show itself in the most unexpected quarters.” Sometimes we can handle attacks when they come from without. But we can’t handle it so well when suddenly somebody right next to us is part of the complaint. Jesus warned us about this when he said that a man’s enemies will be those of his own household (see Matt. 10:36). How do we handle that? We should be ready for such things, not unduly crushed by them when they come. In addition, we should be sure that we do not do the same thing ourselves. Do you find yourself being envious of the success of those in your family, of a brother who’s done better than you have, or a sister who seems to be closer to the Lord? Do you become critical of them? Are you poking away at their faults because you are envious that they are doing better than you are? You mustn’t do that. Moses was not that way. And when Aaron and Miriam got in trouble, he did what a Christian should do. He interceded for them before God.
- “The assaults of envy are always best met by a silent appeal to Heaven.” There are many fine moments in the life of Moses. Back in Exodus 32, when God is ready to destroy the people on the occasion of their making the golden calf, Moses intercedes for them. God had said to Moses that He was going to destroy the people and start again with him. Moses says, “No! Destroy me and save them” (v. 32). I’d call that the finest hour in the life of Moses, but Moses’ intercession in our passage is certainly a fine moment too. Moses doesn’t defend himself; rather, he leaves defense of himself to God. God has said, “It is mine to avenge, I will repay” (Deut. 32:35). God will be just. Our task is to live in a humble way before God and serve Him and intercede for other people. What Paul says in Romans 12:21 is exactly to the point: “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
1Gordon J. Wenham, Numbers, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 1981), 113-14.
2See William M. Taylor, Moses the Law-Giver (New York, NY: Harper & Brothers, 1879), 316-21.