Exodus 15:19–21; Numbers 12:1–3, 8–13, 15comment (0)
October 18, 2012
By David Hogg
Related Scripture: Exodus 15:19–21
Bible Studies for Life
Academic Dean at Beeson Divinity School, Samford University
From Failure to Correction
Exodus 15:19–21; Numbers 12:1–3, 8–13, 15
Acknowledge God’s Leadership (Ex. 15:19–21)
Why do good things happen to sinful people? This is not a common question, is it? The more common question is why do bad things happen to good people? The general premise of such questions is either that people are inherently good or that despite a sinful nature, we still deserve good. In light of this, how can God let bad things happen?
The point here is not to delve into the question of God’s justice or the extent of human sinfulness but to highlight what we see in this passage. Israel had just been freed from the bondage of the Egyptian people, led through the desert by a pillar of cloud by day and of fire by night, and rescued from an army far better trained and more powerful than they could ever hope to be. They responded in precisely the right way: praise and worship. God had just done a wonderful thing for a sinful people. When God’s people respond to His grace and mercy with praise and worship, we are expressing gratitude. Worship and praise are, in part, a tacit acknowledgement that sinful people have received something good that they do not deserve. Yet what happened just prior to this act of praise, and what immediately follows it? Grumbling, complaining and criticism. It is not just difficult to complain while you praise God, it is impossible. We must appreciate that He is worthy of praise, for He is constantly demonstrating His goodness to us and to those around us.
Avoid a Critical Spirit (Num. 12:1–3)
Sadly, Miriam and Aaron did not maintain their gratitude and over time began to develop what the writer of Hebrews called a “root of bitterness.” Initially it appears that these two siblings had an issue with Moses’ wife being a Cushite. What part of being a Cushite bothered them, we are not told. In verse 2, however, we discover the real issue: they resent that Moses is the leader and the spokesman for God. What is most disturbing about this development is that there is no account of Moses having done anything to provoke such an outburst. In fact, in verse 3 we are told that Moses was more meek or humble than anyone on the face of the earth.
This highlights the fact that we cannot blame others for our sin. Sometimes it can be so easy to hold someone else responsible for our faults and reactions, but we must remember that our reactions are our reactions. No one can make us sin; we choose to sin or sin out of habit. In this instance the sin was clearly a choice. Aaron and Miriam chose to become self-important and self-righteous through criticism and jealousy. How could this have happened? While we do not know the specific reasons, one thing had to be true: they had ceased to offer praise and thanksgiving to God in worship for His undeserved goodness to them. The best way to avoid a critical spirit is not just to try to avoid it but to do the opposite — be thankful for others and what God is doing through them.
Accept God’s Correction (Num. 12:8–13, 15)
In Numbers 12:2 we read, “And the Lord heard it,” referring to the complaining. There are few moments more awkward, embarrassing and shameful than speaking ill of someone behind their back only to have your conversation overheard by that person or someone close to them. This is what happened to Miriam. What do you do when that happens? Too many people try to justify themselves, which only digs a deeper hole. Wisely, neither Miriam nor Aaron offered any excuses or justification for their sin. Aaron admitted their guilt and in so doing returned to what he should never have stopped doing — praying. If Miriam and Aaron had only continued in prayer and praise and worship out of a heart of thanksgiving they would never have ended up where they did. They would never have left where they belonged.