And they gathered themselves together against Moses and against Aaron, and said unto them, Ye take too much upon you, seeing all the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the LORD is among them: wherefore then lift ye up yourselves above the congregation of the LORD?
Korah and 250 leaders in Israel grew impatient with Moses and Aaron calling all the shots and not living up to the expectations they had when the journey began when they all left Egypt. The Hebrews left a land of slavery believing they were going to go to a land of their own, instead they were stuck wandering around as nomads in the desert. Realizing their dreams were disappearing, they thought Moses and Aaron were like lying politicians holding all the power while leading the people nowhere.
Korah was a leader seeking for more of a democracy where the people ruled rather than a dictatorship under God’s hand. He and his followers saw no reason why Moses and Aaron should place themselves so far above the rest.
Within a generation, after Moses died, Israel went beyond democracy and set up an Anarchist form of government under God. That form of government lasted 200 years and during that 200 years, without a king, dictator or a ruler, everyone did what was right in their own sight (Judges 21:25).
Korah Demonizes Moses
Moreover thou hast not brought us into a land that floweth with milk and honey, or given us inheritance of fields and vineyards: wilt thou put out the eyes of these men? we will not come up.
Like so many today, Korah and the people who followed him read the worst into their real leaders. They convinced themselves that Moses and Aaron were protective of their self centered power and were in fact dangerous people. Like so many today, they demonized power to the extent that they believed Moses and Aaron would resort to violence in order to keep people from challenging their authority. And because they believed Moses and Aaron would act with such extreme evil, they would not agree to Moses’ request to meet with him and let God resolve the issue.
In the end, Korah and his group were killed by God, while Moses and Aaron did all they could to protect the rebels from God’s wrath.
Miriam and Aaron began to talk against Moses because of his Cushite wife, for he had married a Cushite.
The Land of Cush
The land of Cush is now called Ethiopia. Cushites were Black.
There are some clues that suggest that people in the ancient world called anyone from a group darker in skin a Cushite.
Moses and His Wife
- Moses married a desert priest’s daughter. Because she was from the desert, she may have been darker than Hebrew women.
- It is also possible that Moses’ first wife died and he married an Ethiopian woman.
- Moses may have had two wives and one of them was Ethiopian.
Either way, her skin color was an issue with Moses’ sister and brother (Miriam and Aaron).
and they said, “Has the LORD indeed spoken only through Moses? Has he not spoken through us also?” And the LORD heard it.
Many leaders today find that dissatisfaction and complaints from the congregation or following can surface in areas unrelated to the biggest and possibly to the only real issue. When people are unhappy with leaders or see problems that upset them, their complaints and murmuring cover many areas as they look for ways to justify their dissatisfaction. People may feel something is wrong, but don’t always know what is most important or how to best express their feelings. As a result, they will complain about things that do not always address the real problem. In verse one we find that Moses’ siblings did not like his wife because she was a Cushite, but in verse two we are told that they are competitive with and jealous about their brother.
There is another possibility here as well. Most people do not care to become leaders of large congregations and could not relate to Miriam and Aaron’s need for equality with Moses – neither did Miriam and Moses want to share the power with everyone. So instead of complaining about Moses and his authoritative ways, they talked about what they knew would be the most common gripe to which most could relate. They pointed to the wife of Moses knowing that the people would bond with them over common prejudice.
Ultimately, their complaint was not so much about a darker woman as it was a maneuver to dethrone Moses’ absolute authority.
Those Who Heard
Complaints that spread among a group of listeners are not always presented to the leader. The language in verses one and two suggest that the Miriam and Aaron were complaining to other people about Moses and not to Moses himself. No doubt, their rumors were receiving welcoming ears.
Every culture and every tribe of people have their own stories, legends, common beliefs and myths that are particular to them. I don’t know many of the stories Hebrews passed on about people with darker skin. I also don’t know the stories the Cushites passed on about themselves and people outside of their own groups. Most of those stories are lost in time. Even though most ancient stories are lost, there are stories that persist in almost every culture, group or tribe.
Some common nationalistic stories emphasize one nation’s superiority over other groups. We can assume that the Ancient Hebrews told each other stories that supported superiority over outsiders. The fact that Moses gave the law to the Hebrews that they must protect and help foreigners in their midst (reminding them that they too were foreigners in another country – Leviticus 19:34) suggests that receiving, protecting, and welcoming foreigners did not come naturally, for if it came naturally, no law would be needed.
When the older sister of the infant Moses watched him float in a basket down a river in Egypt, it was probably Miriam who watched over him and helped Pharaoh’s daughter find someone to breast feed the infant. As slaves in Egypt, Israelites were forced to kill all boys who were born. Rather than slaughter her child, the mother of Moses decided to build a basket and send him downstream with his sister following. His mother was hoping that someone would see him, take him and protect him from Pharaoh’s command. Miriam followed the basket as it floated down the river and watched as Pharaoh’s daughter saw the basket, retrieved it, and took Moses as her own. Seeing this, Miriam approached Pharaoh’s daughter and told her she could find someone to breast feed the child, so Moses was returned to his mother under Pharaoh’s protection.
We don’t hear any more of Miriam until many years later when Moses rose up as the leader of a major exodus of the Hebrew people from slavery in Egypt. Once their journey out of Egypt began, Miriam wrote a song about Israel’s deliverance and the song went viral in its day.
Israel traveled for forty years in the desert before they reached their destiny. During those years Miriam and Aaron started to complain about Moses. Their complaints were very much like the complaints that came from the group of Korah.
In the Bible, names are usually placed in the order of importance. Miriam’s name comes before Aaron in Numbers 12, which implies that she was the leader of this particular rebellion.
Aaron was introduced to us while Moses stood before God on a mountain tending sheep, trying to convince God to leave him alone in the desert. God wanted Moses to go back to Egypt and convince Pharaoh to let the slaves go. Thinking it was a bad idea, Moses told God that he was a poor speaker and would not be a good representative. So, God gave Moses his brother Aaron to speak for him. It just so happened that Aaron was on his way to see Moses at that moment. Where he came from is left unsaid. Moses was to talk to Aaron and Aaron would pass each message on to the Hebrew leaders or to Pharaoh himself. Even the miracles Moses was told to perform before Pharaoh were done through the hands of Aaron. The Bible says that Aaron was a prophet to Moses in that he was the mouth piece, hands and feet for Moses. The two shared ministry from that day on.
Moses and Aaron did everything together in Egypt and in the desert. When God spoke to Moses, He often spoke to Aaron as well. When Pharaoh called Moses, he called for Aaron as well. When they talked to the Hebrews, they were together – they were inseparable.
There were rare moments when Aaron acted on his own which did not end well. When Moses spent too much time in the mountain of God, the people came to Aaron for leadership. They convinced Aaron to lead them back to Egypt and to create an idol for support and protection on their return journey. Aaron made the idol and called the Hebrews to a meal in order to honor God before they started on their journey back. That night Aaron created a porn party and celebration for the entire nation and everyone got naked.
When Moses returned from the mountain, he saw the mayhem and asked his brother what happened. Aaron told him he put gold into a fire and an idol rose up out of it. For his sin, God slew 3,000 people.
Aaron did well when Moses was with him, but when Moses was away, he got himself in trouble – usually by following others. When he made an idol, he followed and blamed the people who wanted to go back to slavery, and when he was with his sister, he entered into the beginnings of a rebellion, murmuring against Moses.
So far, Miriam and Aaron gossiped about Moses in the only way people would connect with them. They spoke bad about a dark skinned woman Moses was married to. We don’t know if there were complaints about the wife beyond the color of her skin, but the passage seems to suggest skin color was either the dominant complaint or the only complaint. Any gripes of her personality are not mentioned.
Miriam and Aaron also complained that Moses was just too powerful. They wanted equality with Moses.
As the story goes, a cloud descended upon the tabernacle and God called Moses, Aaron, and Miriam. Notice that Aaron’s name is returned to first place before Miriam’s. Micah 6:4 also places Aaron’s name first, implying order of importance. Miriam’s name was only first during the time of rebellion and gossip. Miriam was also the only one punished for this mini rebellion.
With a rebuke from God which all three heard, the cloud lifted and Miriam was left with leprosy which left her skin turning very white. It appears that God was not happy about her role in leading her brother in prejudice.
IS THERE A LESSON FOR US?
There are several lessons from Miriam’s leprosy.
- Criticizing people because of the color of their skin is wrong in God’s sight.
- Actions done out of jealousy of another’s position is wrong in God’s sight.
- Some diseases can be the result of God’s anger.
The Ancient Hebrews lived in a very superstitious time and probably went way too far in assigning and connecting just about every disaster to sin or demons. But are we going too far in the opposite direction by claiming everything is natural? What does Miriam’s leprosy teach us?