In this week’s Torah reading—Parashat Beha’alotcha—Moses’ leadership was challenged. It was not because Moses was doing a poor job that people complained, but often because they did not like the direction that he was taking them, which was where God wanted them to be. Just because one is a believer does not mean automatically that he or she wants to submit to everything that God wills. It is unfortunate that so often there is a rebellious spirit among God’s people. I know this to be true because I also struggle with a rebellious spirit. It is the part of our carnal nature that each believer has to bring into submissiveness.
At the end of the parasha one reads that even Moses’ family challenged him as the Lord’s appointed leader among the children of Israel. Miriam and Aaron, Moses’ sister and brother, spoke against their brother and said that there was really no difference between them and Moses,
“They said, ‘Was it only with Moses the Lord spoke, surely also with us He spoke and the Lord heard.” Numbers 12:2
Miriam and Aaron found it hard to accept that their brother was selected by God instead of them to be the leader. At the root of their contention was jealousy. It is most interesting that as Miriam and Aaron began to challenge Moses that they first criticized him for marrying the Cushite (Ethiopian) woman. Most scholars believe this to be Tzipporah, who Moses married in Midian, who was the daughter of Yitro (see Exodus 2:16-22). It is interesting that it is only now that Miriam and Aaron raised their contention of Tzipporah. This shows that they either had bitterness in their hearts all along for this woman or that they are using prejudice as a means of gathering support for their desire to dethrone Moses. Please notice that two times in the first verse of chapter 12 the fact that she was Ethiopian was raised.
Today in Israel there are many new immigrants from Ethiopia. Sadly, there are some Israelis who are not happy they are here. There have been schools who do not want to receive Ethiopian children as new students. Thankfully this attitude does not describe the vast majority of Israelis. We should actually rejoice that there are Ethiopians immigrating to Israel. Why? Because Scripture prophesies that Ethiopians would in fact immigrate to Israel,
“From the other side of the rivers of Cush (Ethiopia) My intercessors, daughter of the scattered ones will bring My offering.” Zephaniah 3:10
Returning to the issue at hand, Miriam and Aaron thought that there was no difference between themselves and Moses. It is significant that when the Lord set them apart that the aspect of Moses that He mentioned was Moses’ humility,
“Now the man Moses was very humble, more so than every other man on the earth.” Num. 12:3
Humility is the one quality that every one that wants to serve God must have. When the Lord begins to speak about the uniqueness of Moses and why He speak with Moses face to face and not by dreams or visions the Lord calls Moses “My servant Moses” (see verse 7). So often people think to be used by God that they must be some super talented or gifted individual when, if one approaches God in faith and sincerity, desiring to do His will, the Lord will supply all that is needed to accomplish His will.
A common question is why was only Miriam struck by God with leprosy and not Aaron as well? Although no one can be for sure, because the Scripture does not expressly give a reason, there are some hints to a possible reason. First of all Miriam is mentioned before Aaron in verse 1. Perhaps this is because it was her idea to challenge Moses. Also the verb that appears in verse 1 (“Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses….”) is in the feminine singular which modifies Miriam and not Aaron. However, in verse 2 the verb is in the plural modifying both Miriam and Aaron. This has led some to conclude that Miriam led Aaron into this much like the people led him to make the gold calf in Exodus chapter 32.
Although one cannot be sure about many of the issues in this passage, one thing we can be sure about is that one ought to submit to the Lord’s leaders and rejoice for the way God uses others.