By Michael Smith
Reading from Numbers, 12:1-16
1 While they were at Hazeroth, Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses because of the Cushite woman whom he had married (for he had indeed married a Cushite woman); 2and they said, “Has the Lord spoken only through Moses? Has he not spoken through us also?” And the Lord heard it. 3Now the man Moses was very humble, more so than anyone else on the face of the earth.
4 Suddenly the Lord said to Moses, Aaron, and Miriam, “Come out, you three, to the tent of meeting.” So the three of them came out. 5Then the Lord came down in a pillar of cloud, and stood at the entrance of the tent, and called Aaron and Miriam; and they both came forward. 6And he said, “Hear my words: When there are prophets among you, I the Lord make myself known to them in visions; I speak to them in dreams. 7Not so with my servant Moses; he is entrusted with all my house. 8With him I speak face to face — clearly, not in riddles; and he beholds the form of the Lord. Why then were you not afraid to speak against my servant Moses?” 9And the anger of the Lord was kindled against them, and he departed.
10 When the cloud went away from over the tent, Miriam had become leprous, as white as snow. And Aaron turned towards Miriam and saw that she was leprous. 11Then Aaron said to Moses, “Oh, my lord, do not punish us for a sin that we have so foolishly committed. 12Do not let her be like one stillborn, whose flesh is half consumed when it comes out of its mother’s womb.” 13And Moses cried to the Lord, “O God, please heal her.” 14But the Lord said to Moses, “If her father had but spit in her face, would she not bear her shame for seven days? Let her be shut out of the camp for seven days, and after that she may be brought in again.” 15So Miriam was shut out of the camp for seven days; and the people did not set out on the march until Miriam had been brought in again. 16After that the people set out from Hazeroth, and camped in the wilderness of Paran.
Talk about your sibling rivalry! Miriam and Aaron were Moses’ elder sister and brother who assisted him in his God-given task of liberating the people of Israel. Those of us blessed with siblings know how complicated these relationships can be. On one hand, they are your closest relatives and companions; on the other, they know you perhaps too well and can push buttons like no one else. Since the time of Cain and Abel, these relationships have the potential to be problematic!
In today’s reading from Numbers, Miriam and Aaron appear to have had enough of little brother Moses. After all, he had married outside the tribe, and God used them, too — not just Moses, right? The Lord overhears their gossip and grumbling and calls the three siblings out to the tent of meeting for a timeout. There God clarifies Moses’ unique role in the divine project and puts Aaron and Miriam in their places.
All human beings are sisters and brothers by virtue of being born into the family of creation. Furthermore, Christians are brothers and sisters because of their adoption into the family of new creation with Jesus as our elder brother. The opportunities for sibling rivalry and jealousy appear to be endless. So too, the occasions for forgiveness, reconciliation, and simply giving someone a break. Choose wisely, God is listening.
The Rt. Rev. Michael G. Smith served as Bishop of North Dakota for fifteen years and is currently the Assistant Bishop of Dallas. He is an enrolled member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation of Oklahoma. He and his wife, the Rev. Lisa White Smith, are the parents of three grown children and grandparents of nine.
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