Then Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses because of the Ethiopian woman whom he had married; for he had married an Ethiopian woman. So they said, “Has the Lord indeed spoken only through Moses? Has He not spoken through us also?” And the Lord heard it. (Now the man Moses was very humble, more than all men who were on the face of the earth.) Suddenly the Lord said to Moses, Aaron, and Miriam, “Come out, you three, to the tabernacle of meeting!” So the three came out. Then the Lord came down in the pillar of cloud and stood in the door of the tabernacle, and called Aaron and Miriam. And they both went forward. Then He said, “Hear now My words: If there is a prophet among you, I, the Lord, make Myself known to him in a vision; I speak to him in a dream. Not so with My servant Moses; He is faithful in all My house. I speak with him face to face, even plainly, and not in dark sayings; and he sees the form of the Lord. Why then were you not afraid to speak against My servant Moses?” So the anger of the Lord was aroused against them, and He departed. And when the cloud departed from above the tabernacle, suddenly Miriam became leprous, as white as snow. Then Aaron turned toward Miriam, and there she was, a leper. So Aaron said to Moses, “Oh, my lord! Please do not lay this sin on us, in which we have done foolishly and in which we have sinned. Please do not let her be as one dead, whose flesh is half consumed when he comes out of his mother’s womb!” So Moses cried out to the Lord, saying, “Please heal her, O God, I pray!” Then the Lord said to Moses, “If her father had but spit in her face, would she not be shamed seven days? Let her be shut out of the camp seven days and afterward she may be received again.” So Miriam was shut out of the camp seven days, and the people did not journey till Miriam was brought in again. And afterward, the people moved from Hazeroth and camped in the Wilderness of Paran. (Numbers 12:1-16)
Egypt was still fresh in the minds of the Hebrews as they approached the Promised Land having only left their homes across the Red Sea just a few months earlier. The bondage of the Egyptian taskmasters had finally come to an end and the new nation of Israel look with great anticipation to a country they would call their own. It had been a struggle for the people to find their footing in this new world. The time at Sinai had been fraught with danger as more than three thousand of the men had been killed by their brethren for rebellion and many more plagued by the hand of a wrathful God. A spirit of murmuring and complaining arose within the ranks of the tribes as they feared they would starve to death and die in the wilderness. God sent them manna and quail and provided all the water they needed to quench their thirst. The Lord had Moses select seventy men who would serve as leaders for the people along with Moses, Aaron and Miriam. As the people came close to the borders of Canaan, a dissension arose in the hearts of Miriam and Aaron about the role of Moses and his leadership. It seems the quarrel began with Miriam who challenged the authority of her youngest brother as leader of the people. Moses had married an Egyptian (Cushite) woman and Miriam and Aaron used this against their brother. When the Lord first called Moses at the burning bush Moses had complained about how he was ineffective as a leader. Aaron had come to meet Moses and the Lord said that he would be a spokesman to the people on behalf of Moses. Going before Pharaoh, Moses and Aaron pleaded the case of Israel and led them out of the land when God delivered them. At Mount Sinai, while Moses was in the mountain communing with God, Aaron was swayed by the restlessness of the people to make a golden calf and the people began to dance and worship a calf. God was filled with wrath against the people and punished the rebellious men who were unrestrained. Now Aaron is again influenced by the feelings of his sister that Moses was taking too much authority upon himself and they deserved a greater role in the leadership of the nation. Miriam had forgotten her place in the roles given to her by the word of God. It seems Moses was unaffected by the complaint of Miriam and Aaron but not the eyes of the Lord. Suddenly the voice of the Lord called for the three siblings to come to the tabernacle of meeting and they obeyed.
Calling forth Aaron and Miriam, the Lord derided the challenge against Moses as an affront to His own character. God had established the order of authority and Moses was the prophet to whom the Lord spoke directly His will and His word. Moses and God spoke face to face because the Lord granted this privilege to His great servant even allowing this mortal man to see the form of the Lord. Miriam and Aaron should have respected the role of Moses as ordained by God and when they challenged Moses, they challenged the Lord. Using the marriage of Moses to the Egyptian woman, Miriam sought to gain more control in the leadership of the people. It is possible she realized how close the nation was coming to the place where Israel would become a nation inheriting the land and she wanted more authority in the national leadership. Appointing seventy men as leaders and then Moses marrying the Egyptian woman seemed to erode her role in the matters of Israel. Garnering the support of her brother, Miriam tried to usurp the authority of the leadership ordained by God. The anger of Lord was aroused against them and the cloud departed from above the tabernacle. This would have been a clear sign of God’s disapproval and wrath by removing His presence above the place where He communed with the people. In a final act of wrath against her rebellion, the Lord struck Miriam with leprosy. Aaron realized the dreadful mistake they had made and pleaded with Moses to save their sister. Only by the intervention of Moses did Miriam receive mercy from the Lord as she was expelled from camp for seven days before returning to her family cleansed of her leprosy. She would never again challenge the authority of God through the servant Moses. Near the end of the forty-year wanderings, Miriam died at Kadesh Barnea.
Miriam’s folly was to challenge the plan of God. She was older than Moses and the Lord had allowed her to have a restricted role in the leadership of Israel but she was limited in her place of authority. Challenging the role of Moses and using his marriage to an Egyptian woman was one of pride and arrogance. God spoke through Miriam but that was according to the manner chosen by the Lord. When she spoke against Moses she spoke against the will of God because the leadership of Moses was established through the will of God’s design without the intervention of human wisdom. Why should Miriam advocate discrediting the mind of the Lord and His design and purpose? God’s anger and subsequent punishment illustrate the futility of men to try and change the divine pattern of His word. In the New Testament church, the Lord has ordained men to serve as leaders of the church whether as shepherds of the flock or preachers of the word. The apostle Paul clearly defines the role of the woman in the leadership of the church as a restricted yet honorable role. They are not permitted to serve as shepherds or elders of the church and God forbids women from being preachers. This is in contrast to many in the religious world who, like Miriam, defy the word of God. Women are never denigrated by their place in the church as there is much work for them to do. Like Miriam, they have a role to fulfill within the confines of God’s authority. Leaving that role to pursue the course of human reasoning is the folly of Miriam. Sadly, it will not be leprosy that afflicts the rebellious spirit but the eternal wrath of God.