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Numbers 12:1-15 

 “Miriam and Aaron criticized Moses because of the Cushite woman he married (for he had married a Cushite woman). [2] They said, ‘Does the Lord speak only through Moses? Does He not also speak through us?’ And the Lord heard [it]. [3] Moses was a very humble man, more so than any man on the face of the earth. [4] Suddenly the Lord said to Moses, Aaron, and Miriam, ‘You three come out to the tent of meeting.’ So the three of them went out. [5] Then the Lord descended in a pillar of cloud, stood at the entrance to the tent, and summoned Aaron and Miriam. When the two of them came forward, [6] He said: ‘Listen to what I say: If there is a prophet among you from the Lord, I make Myself known to him in a vision; I speak with him in a dream. [7] Not so with My servant Moses; he is faithful in all My household. [8] I speak with him directly, openly, and not in riddles; he sees the form of the Lord. So why were you not afraid to speak against My servant Moses?’ [9] The Lord’s anger burned against them, and He left. [10] As the cloud moved away from the tent, Miriam’s [skin] suddenly became diseased, as [white] as snow. When Aaron turned toward her, he saw that she was diseased [11] and said to Moses, ‘My lord, please don’t hold against us this sin we have so foolishly committed. [12] Please don’t let her be like a dead [baby] whose flesh is half eaten away when he comes out of his mother’s womb.’ [13] Then Moses cried out to the Lord, ‘God, please heal her!’ [14] The Lord answered Moses, ‘If her father had merely spit in her face, wouldn’t she remain in disgrace for seven days? Let her be confined outside the camp for seven days; after that she may be brought back in.’ [15] So Miriam was confined outside the camp for seven days, and the people did not move on until Miriam was brought back in.” (HCSB)

 Miriam was an important member of Moses’ ministry team.  Her ministry to Moses began when he was a small child.  Moses was born into difficult times.  Not only was his family in Egyptian captivity, but Pharaoh had issued an extermination decree against all male babies.  Moses’ mother hid him as long as she could, then placed him in a papyrus basket and set him afloat in the portion of the Nile River where Pharaoh’s daughter bathed.  When she discovered the child, Pharaoh’s daughter had pity on him. Miriam, Moses’ sister immediately walked up to her and asked if she’d like for her to find one of the Hebrew women to nurse Moses for her.  Mesopotamian adoptions of abandoned children often included a paid wet nurse who cared for them until they were weaned.  (Bible Background Commentary)  Miriam assumed that Pharaoh’s daughter was willing to adopt Moses, or perhaps she was using subtle persuasion with her question.  Regardless, Pharaoh’s daughter agreed and Miriam took Moses to his own home where his mother cared for him during his formative years.

 In Micah 6:4, her name is mentioned right along with Moses and Aaron as people God sent to deliver His people.  It says, “Indeed, I brought you up from the land of Egypt and redeemed you from that place of slavery. I sent Moses, Aaron, and Miriam ahead of you.” (Micah 6:4 HCSB)

 Miriam was a leader among the women.  After God rescued the children of Israel by opening the Red Sea, allowing them to safely reach the Eastern Shore out of the reach of Pharaoh’s armies, Moses and the people sang a song of praise unto the Lord.  After God closed the Red Sea upon their pursuers; Miriam led the women in a celebratory dance before the Lord.  Exodus 15:20-21 says, “Then Miriam the prophetess, Aaron’s sister, took a tambourine in her hand, and all the women followed her with tambourines and dancing. [21] Miriam sang to them: Sing to the Lord, for He is highly exalted; He has thrown the horse and its rider into the sea.”

. Undoubtedly, she was an important member of the team, but something went horribly wrong in this text.

 Aaron was Moses' right hand man; Miriam was his sister. With Moses out of earshot, they began trashing him because they didn't approve of his wife-she was a Cushite, and they didn't like her. I suppose it is a sister's prerogative not to like her sister-in-law, I mean Miriam wouldn't be the first person to disapprove of a brother's choice in a bride. But Miriam and Aaron went too far; they asked a couple of questions they shouldn't have asked, "Has the Lord indeed spoken only through Moses? Has He not spoken through us as well?" (Numbers 12:2 NASB) As they spoke, they thought they were alone, but they weren't, God was listening. And God wasn't happy about them trashing His leader. 

 He appeared to them in a cloud and told them to come to Him. In no uncertain terms, God lectured them about the special place Moses had in His kingdom’s work and then asked them why they weren't afraid to speak against him? God didn't wait for their answer, when the cloud departed, Miriam was as white as a ghost. Not because of her fear, but because God struck her with leprosy. Aaron appealed to Moses, asking him to intervene on her behalf with God, and Moses did as Aaron asked, pleading with God to heal her. 

Sometimes criticism is valid. But sometimes it is not. 

  “Children’s Books” called Alice in Wonderland “stiff,” and “overwrought.” “Century Magazine” said A Tale of Two Cities was “a sheer dead pull from start to finish.” And the “Saturday Review of Literature” said the author of The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald, “deserves a good shaking.” (

 Critics can be wrong, but forgiving them when they are is always the right thing to do.

 Like other great men, Moses was merciful.  Abraham was merciful to his nephew Lot and worked toward his deliverance (Gen 14:1-6). Joseph showed mercy to his brothers who’d harmed him by helping to sustain their lives (Gen 50:15-21).   David was merciful to King Saul and spared his life when God delivered Saul into his hands (I Sam 24:1-22; 26:1- 25).   And Moses showed mercy toward Miriam after her rebellion.  He cried to the Lord, “Heal her now, O God, I beseech Thee" (Num 12:13).

 Miriam is a name with an uncertain meaning.  Some suggestions are “bitter,” “God’s gift,” “beloved,” or “defiant.”  (Holman Bible Dictionary)  I would suggest they are all reflective of who Miriam was.  At times, I’m sure Moses thought she was God’s gift to him and that she was his beloved sister.  But she also had a dark side.  She could be bitter and defiant.  Moses loved her as she was.  He entered into her pain and extended mercy.

 In his book Reimagining Spiritual Formation, Doug Pagitt writes, "But when a friend tells you about a deep struggle, and the natural response is to enter in to that person's life, whatever the risk--then we find ourselves being transformed into the people of grace and mercy opened for us in the Kingdom of God.  At its core, hospitality is an act of faith.  It is faith in God and faith in people.  It is an open posture that views others not as threats, but as participants in the process of one another's redemption."  (

 Moses was merciful because God gave him the strength to be.  I know there are people in your lives that are undeserving of your forgiveness.  That’s precisely why you need God’s grace to flow through you, so you can be gracious and merciful.

 Like Moses was. 

 God did, but for seven days the Children of Israel stopped their journey toward the Promised Land while Miriam lived in shame for asking two questions.  For an entire week the children of Israel stood still. They made no progress in their journey. They didn't break down their tents and they didn't set them up. Nobody moved. It wasn't that they had arrived where they wanted it be, it was they couldn't move because of the disobedience of a couple of its people.

 After the week was over they sent spies into the land to bring a report back to Moses about the land God had promised them, but for an entire week they stood still. Nobody moved. 

 I wonder if Miriam had any more questions she wanted to ask? 

*For more information on Reimagining Spiritual Formation, go to

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