Moses’ Authority Challenged and Vindicated

In Numbers 12, Aaron (Moses’ brother) and Miriam (Moses’ sister) challenge his authority on the basis of some apparent racial issues over Moses’ choice of a wife. The text makes it clear that, although they cited Moses’ wife as the reason for their opposition, they were really questioning Moses’ God-given authority to speak for God.

We learn two important things in this moment of family drama. First, we learn some things about Moses and his relationship to God. Notice the description of Moses in verse 3“Now the man Moses was very meek, more than all people who were on the face of the earth.” Meek just means “humble”, so Moses had not let his close relationship to the Lord make him arrogant or prideful. This even highlights the pride and arrogance of Miriam and Aaron in challenging his authority. So, God Himself vindicated Moses before his brother and sister. Read God’s own description of his unique relationship to Moses.

And he said, “Hear my words: If there is a prophet among you, I the LORD make myself known to him in a vision; I speak with him in a dream. Not so with my servant Moses. He is faithful in all my house. With him I speak mouth to mouth, clearly, and not in riddles, and he beholds the form of the LORD. Why then were you not afraid to speak against my servant Moses?” (Numbers 12:6-8)

God spoke directly to Moses, face to face as a man speaks to his friend (Exodus 33:11). Keep in mind that there were no Scriptures at this point, so God spoke more directly through men to His people. There were prophets as well – and verse 6 tells us that God spoke to them through dreams and visions. Challenging the authority of a prophet of God was bad enough – and there are plenty of examples in Scripture of God vindicating his prophets in front of those who challenged their authority. But this was even worse, because Moses was clearly more than a prophet. He was God’s primary revelation of Himself during this period in Israel’s history.

Second, we learn that it is a dangerous thing to challenge God’s means of revealing Himself, whether that be Moses here, or Jesus or the Scriptures later. The fact that God’s punishment is directed towards Miriam indicates that she likely persuaded Aaron to join her in challenging Moses. We know from other places in Scripture that Aaron was really kind of a wimp and pretty easily influenced to do what others wanted him to do. (See Exodus 32 for a particularly obvious example of this flaw in Aaron’s character.) In any event, God’s response should make it pretty clear that God does not take lightly challenges His means of revelation.

And the anger of the LORD was kindled against them, and he departed.

When the cloud removed from over the tent, behold, Miriam was leprous, like snow. And Aaron turned toward Miriam, and behold, she was leprous. And Aaron said to Moses, “Oh, my lord, do not punish us because we have done foolishly and have sinned. Let her not be as one dead, whose flesh is half eaten away when he comes out of his mother’s womb.” And Moses cried to the LORD, “O God, please heal her—please.” But the LORD said to Moses, “If her father had but spit in her face, should she not be shamed seven days? Let her be shut outside the camp seven days, and after that she may be brought in again.” So Miriam was shut outside the camp seven days, and the people did not set out on the march till Miriam was brought in again. (Numbers 12:9-15)

As further proof of the Lord’s unique relationship with Moses’, Moses’ prayer for Miriam’s healing was immediately answered. But like all healed lepers, Miriam would have to stay outside the camp for 7 days before being considered clean enough to re-enter the camp. (See Leviticus 14:1-9)

You will meet up with a lot of challenges to God’s authority – to God’s authority in Christ, to God’s authority in the Sciptures, and maybe even to God’s authority through a pastor or church leader. Of course, it is important to be discerning. Just because someone cites Scripture and tells you they are right doesn’t mean that you should believe them. The Bible also warns us against false prophets and false teachers – many times. But we have a greater revelation of God than Aaron and Miriam had. We have the Scriptures, which 2 Timothy 3:16-17 tells us are authoritative, and we also have Jesus – God’s ultimate revelation of Himself (Hebrews 1:1-2). We can trust God’s means of revealing Himself to us – and it is a dangerous thing to speak against it. Just ask Miriam. ;-)

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