In chapter 12, the story becomes one of opposition, hard hearts, and divisions within the camp. The opposition that Moses is now facing comes from within his own family circle, from his brother Aaron and his sister, Miriam, who seems to be the ringleader. The ground for this attack was the fact that Moses had taken a Cushite wife. Moses’ first wife, Zipporah, was from Midian, and so it seems that she had died and that Moses had taken a second wife who was Ethiopian. If this is correct, then Miriam was saying, “I don’t like this black woman in my family.” So it’s not only sibling rivalry, it’s the worst kind of racial prejudice.
Miriam is upset with Moses’ wife, but she attacks Moses’ authority, saying that Moses has taken too much authority. Aaron and Miriam ask, “Has the LORD spoken only through Moses? Hasn’t he also spoken through us?” (v. 2). Now what’s Moses going to do, as Aaron and Miriam are attacking him and his wife? Does he lash back the way you and I might? No, he says nothing. He’s quiet. Verse 3 says something revealing about Moses: “Now Moses was a very humble man, more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth.” Moses remained silent when he was accused.
Moses was not always silent. When God was attacked, Moses spoke up. And when the people did wrong, Moses interceded. But when Moses himself was attacked, he was absolutely silent. That’s the way to respond to personal attacks. You and I do the opposite, don’t we? When the honor of God is attacked, we’re silent. When people attack us personally, we get very defensive. Moses had it the right way around.
Seldom in history has God’s vindication of one of His servants been more rapid and more just than was Moses’ vindication by God on this occasion. Aaron and Miriam were voicing their complaint and the impression of the story is that while they were still voicing it, God called the two brothers and their sister to come forward before the Tent of Meeting, where God would speak to Moses. When the three of them came forward, God called for Aaron and Miriam to come forward, and He spoke these words, “When a prophet of the LORD is among you, I reveal myself to him in visions, I speak to him in dreams. But this is not true of my servant Moses; he is faithful in all my house. With him I speak face to face, clearly and not in riddles; he sees the form of the LORD. Why then were you not afraid to speak against my servant Moses?” (vv. 6-8).
“Why then were you not afraid to speak against my servant Moses?” Let me suggest that this is a word that evangelicals need to take very, very seriously. I am well aware that there is nothing today in church life that quite corresponds to Moses. These verses show that Moses was above even the prophets of his own day. Yet, there is a principle here. When God has chosen somebody to speak and teach in His name, as He does for those who are ordained to the Gospel ministry, it is with fear and trepidation that one should dare to say a word against such a messenger. Those who speak in the name of God are sinners. All of us are. Many of them err greatly. Some of them fall into grievous heresy. But we should be very, very careful before we accuse them, and when we do so we ought to do it carefully and judiciously, praying that they might be restored and blessed even more.
I know stories of those who have gotten rid of a church’s minister because they don’t like this about him or they don’t like that about him. God does not take that lightly. Let’s pray for pastors and other church leaders rather than belittling them or demeaning their efforts to serve God.
When God gives judgments, he gives significant judgments. They’re not just arbitrary. What it says is that Miriam was judged with leprosy, so that when the cloud was removed her skin was as white as snow. (The Hebrew word used here can refer to leprosy, but can also refer generally to a skin disease.) Referring to Moses’ Cushite wife, Miriam was saying that she didn’t want a black person in her family. And God in His judgment against Miriam said, “Do you think you’re better than the woman Moses married because you have lighter skin? Do you want to be white? I’ll give you white.”
God doesn’t take racial prejudice lightly. We are all made in His image. We are all sinners in need of His grace, and God does not discriminate. And He will use those who give their lives to Him and serve Him, regardless of what color their skin is, and He will reject those who do not—no matter how high or privileged they may be.