As we have presented the gospel of Jesus Christ over the years we have tried to be very honest about the fact that there are good times and hard times in the Christian life. And some of the hardest times comes from surprising places; from the people we love.
- a spouse tells you they don’t love you any more and they want a divorce
- a sibling turns against you over money
- a student says to a teacher “you don’t care”
- a child says they never want to speak to you again
- a patient sues you
- a client tells everyone you cheated them
- a former boyfriend or girlfriend spreads false rumors or tells your secrets to others
- a long time friend suddenly turns on you
Each of these situations has a common element: the wound is inflicted by someone we loved and care for. And the deeper your love for the person, the greater is the hurt when they turn against you. The more of yourself you have invested in that person, the more it will hurt if they turn against you. In fact this pain is so intense that for most of you this morning you are “stinging” just thinking about it.
This morning we look at an account that tells of a time when Moses felt this same kind of attack. We have seen Moses criticized before. When he first confronted Pharaoh, the Hebrews accused him of doing more harm than good (that hurt); When the children of Israel were out in the dessert they accused Moses of trying to kill them (that hurt too); and in this chapter his brother and his sister publicly criticize Him and challenge his leadership. And I believe this hurt is greater than all the others because it comes from Miriam and Aaron.
In verse 3 we read these words, “Now Moses was a very humble man, more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth.” When we remember that this verse was written by Moses, it makes us a little suspicious. Whenever someone brags about how humble they are we are prone to raise an eyebrow. In this case it is a good thing to take a deeper look at the words.
The basic meaning of the Hebrew root for humble is “to be bowed down.” One could be bowed down by force (i.e., subdued) or with submissiveness (i.e., humble) or with care and trouble (i.e., miserable or afflicted). (Expos Bible Commentary)
One commentator said that the text would be better translated, “Now this man Moses was more depressed or afflicted than any man of the land.” (Adam Clarke Vol. 1 p.1269) In other words, this criticism was so devastating to Moses that he couldn’t respond. He was broken by these words from his brother and sister.
Before we can try to draw some lessons from the text we have to make sure we know what was going on in the text. We are told,
<BLOCKQUOTE1Miriam and Aaron began to talk against Moses because of his Cushite wife, for he had married a Cushite. “Has the LORD spoken only through Moses?” they asked. “Hasn’t he also spoken through us?” And the LORD heard this. (vv. 1,2)We are told that Miriam and Aaron began to “talk against” Moses because he married a Cushite. The words “talk against” indicate that Aaron and Miriam were quite public in their criticisms. The professed reason for this negative talk is that Moses married a woman from Ethiopia. It is very likely that Zipporah Moses’ first wife had died. Perhaps in his loneliness Moses sought the companionship of another. I think it is reasonable to think that Moses talked things over with the Lord before He ever got married. It is also reasonable to think that this new wife, though a Cushite, may very well have been traveling with the Hebrews in the wilderness. (How else would Moses meet her?)
God gave strict instructions to the Israelites that they should not marry anyone from the land of Canaan. He did not forbid marriage from outside of Israel entirely.
But we get the feeling that the “concern” over the wife of Moses is really a smokescreen. It’s not the real issue. Miriam (who appears to be doing all the talking) says, “Has the LORD spoken only through Moses?” they asked. “Hasn’t he also spoken through us?” What does this have to do with Moses marriage?
- was Miriam jealous of this new wife because it diminished her influence on her brother?
- was she really a racist . . . was it the fact that he she was a Cushite?
- or was she “steamed” over the appointment of the 70 elders?
I suggest it was the last option. I suggest that Miriam didn’t care at all who Moses married, but she did care about her “power base”. Up until this time Miriam and Aaron had a great deal of power in the land. With 70 additional leaders appointed by Moses, Miriam was feeling edged out. Why wasn’t she in that group of 70? She saw her influence diminish and she didn’t like it. She feels she has been cheated and is angry.
It appears that the real problem may be jealousy.
Jealousy rears it’s ugly head often. It’s ugly because
- it makes us selfish. We see start being protective about “our ministry” or “our area” rather than seeking simply to serve the Lord in whatever way He sees fit to use us.
- it makes us difficult to teach. In order to be instructed we must be soft. We must be able to listen without feeling threatened by those who speak. (a lot easier said than done)
- it makes us overly sensitive. A jealous and insecure person will overeact to things that seem to threaten their area.
According to an ancient Greek legend, a certain athlete ran well but placed second in the race. The winner was encompassed with praise, and eventually a statue was erected in his honor. Envy ate away at the man who had placed second. He resented the winner, and he could think of little else. Eventually he decided to destroy the statue of the winner.
Night after night, he went to the statue under cover of darkness, chiseling away at the base to weaken the foundation. But one night as he chiseled in violent anger, he went too far. The heavy marble statue teetered on its base and crashed down on the disgruntled athlete. He died beneath the weight of the marble replica of the man he had grown to hate.
His own envy had destroyed him. [Robert J. Morgan, Nelson’s Complete Book of Stories, Illustrations & Quotes, (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers) 2000].
Jealousy eats us alive and also hurts the people around us. Moses was devastated by this treachery from within his own family.
HOW TO HANDLE THE BITTER HURT
Notice What Moses Doesn’t Do
Moses doesn’t respond in kind. When we are hurt deeply, our first response is often to strike back. When we strike back during these times we often inflict wounds that can never be repaired. Moses doesn’t do this. He refuses to stir the fire.
Many of us would never dream of striking back openly. We would be more subtle about our response. Maybe we would start rumors at the restaurant or beauty parlor. Perhaps every time the person’s name came up in conversation we would be quick to point out their flaws. We might work to edge these people out of positions of influence. We might find a sensitive area of their life and grind and grind and grind in that area. But this is not the Biblical response. Nothing is solved by becoming as petty as those who attack us.
Moses Doesn’t try to defend Himself Moses doesn’t list all the things he’s done. He doesn’t parade his accomplishments. He simply remains silent. It kind of reminds you of the way Jesus responded when he was tried before the Chief Priest and teachers of the law. He said nothing. He knew they these men were not interested in finding the truth, they were only interested in getting there way. Any argument was pointless.
You and I must also make this kind of distinction when attacked by others. Sometimes the more you talk the worse the situation gets. I have been in situations where people slandered me, like they did Moses. And at first I tried to explain. After a few futile attempts to squash the conflict I took Titus 3:10,11 to heart,
Warn a divisive man once, then warn them a second time. After that, having nothing more to do with them. You can be sure that such a man is warped and sinful, he is self-condemned.
In Proverbs 18:19 we read, “An offended brother is more unyielding that a walled fortress and disputes are like the walled gates of a citadel. Sometimes we need to realize when we cannot make progress and stop pushing. Sometimes it is better to say nothing.
Notice What Moses Does Do
He Let’s God Handle Things
God summons the three siblings to the tent of meeting (this is the tent where Moses went to talk with the Lord). Don’t you wonder what Aaron and Miriam were thinking at this point? Did they anticipate that God was going to place his spirit on the two of them just like He did the 70? Did they think they were going to be given some special and exalted position in God’s government of Israel? Or did they come to the tent of meeting like school children who had been summoned to the Principals office?
We don’t know, what we do know is that Aaron and Miriam are told to step forward (I think I’d be a little afraid of being struck by lightening at this point). God speaks to the two of them,
- “When a prophet of the LORD is among you,
- I reveal myself to him in visions,
- I speak to him in dreams.
- But this is not true of my servant Moses;
- he is faithful in all my house.
- With him I speak face to face,
- clearly and not in riddles;
- he sees the form of the LORD.
- Why then were you not afraid
- to speak against my servant Moses?”
Rather than bestow some special honor on Miriam and Aaron, God affirms Moses’ position and rebukes the brother and sister. Moses does not have to defend himself. God does it for him. How often we wish that God would call out our antagonists and vindicate us in their presence. But often that doesn’t happen. But God’s instructions are clear: leave the matter to him. In the book of Deuteronomy God says,
- It is mine to avenge; I will repay.
In due time their foot will slip;their day of disaster is nearand their doom rushes upon them.”The LORD will judge his people and have compassion on his servantswhen he sees their strength is goneand no one is left, slave or free. (Dt. 32:35-36)
Paul picks up this same thought in Romans 12:17-21
Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes
of everybody. 18If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with
everyone. 19Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for
it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. 20On the
- “If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
- if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
- In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
These are certainly some of the toughest words of Scripture, “Let God handle it”. And while we wait for the Lord to vindicate us He instructs us to do several things:
Do not repay evil for evil (resist the tendency to strike back)
Do what is right in the eyes of others. We have a responsibility to continue to act with Christian love and kindness. Others are watching to see how deep our faith really runs.
Do your best to maintain the peace. Notice, Paul tells us that we should continue to seek reconciliation, we must do what we can to restore peace.
Never seek revenge . . . that’s God’s job because only God sees the situation clearly. He alone knows all the mitigating circumstances. He knows what is really behind all the criticism and hostility.
Respond to evil with Good.
In other words rather than respond “in kind” to our critics, we must respond with love. It’s a tall order, a difficult assignment, and one that we can only obey with the help of God’s Spirit.
He continues to pray for those who hurt him
During this encounter with the Lord, God strikes Miriam with leprosy. Rather than become the powerful leader she desired, she became an outcast. She had to be set outside of the camp. (No, I don’t know why there wasn’t some punishment against Aaron. The best guess is that Miriam was the “ringleader”.) Immediately Aaron asks Moses to pray for his sister.
Imagine how you might have responded,
- “Oh, I see. Now I’m your friend, your brother, the one you turn to for help.”
- “Look she got herself into this mess, let her figure a way out of it.”
- “She deserves what she gets”
But this isn’t the response that Moses gives. Instead, Moses prays. In the midst of all the conflict, he still loves his big sister. Moses intercedes for Miriam and is told that God will heal her, but not until a week has passed. Miriam (and the people) need to see that attacking God’s leader is serious business.
Admittedly, there are some questions I would love to have the answers to.
- Did Moses, Aaron and Miriam ever have the same relationship again?
- Did Miriam ever apologize to her brother?
- What role did Miriam play in the community from this point on?
When faced with the bitter pain of attack from those we love we should entrust our case to the Lord. But before we shrug our shoulders and walk away we do need to ask some important questions.
- Is the criticism justified? Do I need to hear what is being said? Is there a sin I am involved in? Is there a problem I have not admitted?
- Am I misunderstanding what is being said? Is the other person saying something out of concern and love that I am taking as an attack? Did they mean something different than what was meant. You know that two different people can say, “You look nice today” and you will respond in two different ways. In the one case you are flattered. In another you assume that the other person meant, “you look nice today . . . . for a change! Is it possible that we are reading more into the comments than what was meant?
- Am I being misunderstood? Do I need to clarify what I am doing? Is this “issue” really a communication problem. Is it that people don’t understand the “why?” “How?” and “When?”
- Is there some other issue involved? Is it possible that more is going on than meets the eye? For example a spouse may be distant because of physical changes in their body or feelings of inadequacy in their job. They may be critical of the way you handled something because they feel guilty for not doing their part. They may be “putting you down” as a way of feeling better about their own inadequacy.
Sometimes when hurtful words come from someone we love, they are not meant to hurt us . . . . they are meant as a cry for help. We need to work at really listening to the heart of the one who is upset. We must ask, What is the real problem?
When we are licking our wounds and desire to simply write off those we once loved, we need to remember the example of Jesus. We hurt Him again and again. Yet, He continues to pursue us. He continues to love us. He continues to seek the best for us. Our Lord asks us to follow His example.
Sin runs deep in all of us. When we are hurt by someone we love, the fact that we love that person makes the pain that much deeper. But it is also the reason why we work that much harder to resolve the problems and restore the relationship.