In Numbers 12 we have more complaining! This time it was Miriam's turn! She complained about Moses being married to a Cushite (a person from Ethiopia). This could not have been Zipporah because she was a Midianite (Exodus 2:21). Intermarrying with the people of the Promised Land was forbidden, but intermarrying with other foreigners was not.
How hard to have your own sister and brother complaining about you! The complaint about the wife is just a smokescreen though. The real issue is revealed in their question to Moses:
"Has the LORD spoken only through Moses?"
"Hasn't he also spoken through us?"
The real issue was ENVY! I am sure it was difficult to have their kid brother as the leader over them!
Moses (who wrote Numbers, inspired by God, of course) added a parenthetical comment in this book by saying that he was the most humble man on the face of the earth. This indicates that Moses was not doing this out of arrogance or a power trip but because God had called him to it.
It did not take long for God to confirm whose side He was on in this argument. Here was Miriam, who represented the prophets (see Exodus 15), and Aaron who represented the priests. They had important roles in this journey in the wilderness, but Moses was in charge. God confirmed that though He spoke to prophets through dreams and visions, He spoke with Moses face to face, clearly and with no riddles! God was Moses' man whether others liked it or not.
Ultimately, Miriam was challenging God's authority, not just Moses', and God's punishment was swift as she was stricken with leprosy. Moses immediately asked for healing, but God's answer was interesting: "If her father had spit in her face, would she not have been in disgrace for seven days?"
In this culture, spitting in one's face expressed contempt (Deuteronomy 25:9). God was expressing contempt toward Miriam for her offense, and she would have to remain outside the camp for seven days because that was the length of time she would have been excluded if her own father had spat in her face.
It is hard to be the youngest child! I know because I am one. I cannot help but wonder if Miriam and Aaron sometimes struggled with the fact that their kid brother was in charge.
I remember when my father died in 1985. Here I was this young 25 year old, and I was asked by my mother to give the eulogy for my dad, not my brothers. There was all out rebellion in the ranks when my brothers (27 and 39 at the time) were relegated to cleaning the house before the memorial service while I was given time and space to prepare my talk.
They complained, "Why are we doing all the work while Carol isn't doing anything!"
Thankfully, my mom and sister-in-law came quickly to my defense in telling them that I had to prepare my talk. It was hard (and humbling) for my brothers to take a more behind-the-scenes role to their kid sister.
The day got more interesting when "we" sat down to rest from our preparations for a deep conversation. My brother who believes in God (but had done nothing beyond that intellectual acknowledgement) and my agnostic brother were debating the existence of God. I could not get a word in edgewise even though I probably had some worthwhile things to contribute to the conversation since I was actively seeking God and had been for quite a few years. I did get an occasional "Isn't that right, Carol?" from my believing brother, but I wasn't able to respond with more than a nod now and then.
It is tough being the kid sister. We don't really know anything in our older siblings' eyes. SIGH.
I have been put in positions of leadership with older people, sometimes they were under me and sometimes they were working alongside me. In more than one case, they were threatened by me. In my experience, jealousy and competition are rampant in ministries, but it remains an unspoken issue because most do not get down to this bottom line issue. It is mostly smokescreens, just like Miriam.
In one case, a woman, after treating me coldly and harshly for many months (one time even refusing to pray with a group of people who was praying for me before I spoke), finally confessed to me that she felt competitive with me because she was afraid I would take all her women away from her because I was such a good leader. She admitted she was jealous about my position and influence with the women.
Although there had been many smokescreens with her that left me confused and dazed (and crying often), thankfully, God spoke to her about confessing this all to me. What a woman of integrity to listen to God about this and bravely admit it! We have been great friends ever since (I just talked to her in church this morning, in fact). This was a mature woman, but most people do not admit the real issue. They just continue to daze and destroy with their smokescreens. Sometimes, they do not realize what the core issue really is behind their smokescreens.
Are you putting up any smokescreens in your life? When you are in a position where there is disagreement and strife, stop and ask God to reveal to you what the real issue is and if you are putting up smokescreens by attacking the other person's character (many times this is the real reason behind why we talk behind people's backs).
On the other end, if you are unjustly criticized or feel there is an unseen and unnamed tension, realize that sometimes people that are criticizing you are probably not ready to face the real issue. It is probably hard for you to not take the criticism personally, but ask God to give you wisdom to deal with it with grace and love and know that He is working (Exodus 14:14).
Also, if you are around people who are older than you and seem to be threatened by you as you lead, let Paul's words to young Timothy encourage you:
"Let no one look down on your youthfulness, but rather in speech, conduct, love, faith and purity, show yourself an example of those who believe."
1 Timothy 4:12
Lord, sometimes You call us to lead and we will be criticized. Help us to listen to Your voice and follow Your calling and let You do the fighting for us while we keep silent (Exodus 14:14). Other times, we are called to follow, and it is not always easy to not be critical of those who lead us. Help us to be supportive servants who do not put up smokescreen that inhibit Your work. Help us to work together in unity for the sake of Your glory and name being proclaimed throughout the whole earth. In Jesus' name we pray. Amen.