Were I Miriam, and able to write the ending to my story, I’d make it a good one; one that would leave people smiling. However, this is not the way Miriam’s story ends. In Numbers 12:1-15, we’re told that Miriam and Aaron began to talk against Moses because of his Cushite wife, for he had remarried. While this is the excuse they used to grumble against their brother, the real reason went deeper. “Has the Lord spoken only through Moses?” they asked. “Hasn’t he also spoken through us?” And the Lord heard this (12:2). Uh, oh!
Envy put them in a bad temper. Their jealousy set them “talking against” Moses. God heard. He calls the three of them to the Tent of Meeting (something akin to being called to the principal’s office). Then the Lord came down in a pillar of cloud. Of the many things the Lord says to them, this stands out, “Why...were you not afraid to speak against my servant Moses?” God’s anger burned against Aaron and Miriam. When the cloud lifted, well, there stood Miriam her skin looking like a stillborn baby, and covered with leprosy.
Now, God can do what He wants. He is God. I have to wonder why Aaron wasn’t struck, as well...perhaps it had something to do with Aaron’s priestly duties. However, Aaron was first to plead Miriam’s case to Moses. Moses went directly to the Lord; and God, in His mercy, confined Miriam outside the camp for seven days. Seven disgraceful days. Seven long days and nights of a “time out.” Time out to remember the past. Time out to reflect on the present. Time out to repent from her sin. Time out to return to the Lord.
Doesn’t this seem a bit severe? I thought so... At least until I remembered that Jesus final prayer in the Garden before his crucifixion focused on love for one another and unity. When someone is about to die, their heart is exposed. What is most important is laid bare. For Jesus it boiled down to love and unity. Jesus, we know, reflected the Father’s heart. So, the same must hold high significance to God the Father, as well.
May those who will believe in me be one... May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me (John 17:20, 23).
The tongue is a dangerous instrument. In this particular instance, it had the potential to set a people ablaze in disunity. As God the Father led His children to the Promised Land, He needed a people united as one - children who would represent their Father, harmoniously standing in one accord.
So, while God forgave Aaron and Miriam, there were consequences. These consequences were a reminder that the tongue reflects the heart, and a leprous heart has the potential to infect an entire community. Because God so loved His children, like a good dad, he disciplined – He disciplines the sin and always extends grace to the sinner. Don’t you know at the end of seven days, Miriam felt that grace extended as she was embraced again within the camp?
May her story be a word of caution to all of us to guard our tongues, look out for one another’s interests, encourage and edify our community, speak truth in love, and strive to live in symphony with each other! When we do, the world knows that our Jesus loves them!