Numbers 12: Lessons From Miriam and Aaron’s Sins About Gossiping About or Coveting the Authority of God’s Leaders

Introduction: Here, Miriam and Aaron gossiped about and slandered Moses. Possibly because she played a greater part in this sin, God struck Miriam with leprosy. God healed her only after Moses forgave her and prayed for her. It is sadly common for believers to gossip about their leaders. From Miriam and Aaron’s sins, God warns about the dangers of gossiping about your leaders and coveting their authority. From Moses’ example, God also reveals how believers should respond to those who gossip. He commands you to forgive them and pray for them.

1. Don’t Gossip About God’s Appointed Leaders. Nu. 12:1.

  • Miriam and Aaron’s racial prejudice. Miriam and Aaron, the sister and brother of Moses, complained because Moses married a “Cushite” from Ethiopia. “Then Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses because of the Cushite woman whom he had married (for he had married a Cushite woman);” (Nu. 12:1). In other words, they complained because she was black. The Bible does not reveal what happened to Moses’ first wife Zipporah. Many imagine that God somehow condoned racism because people have misused the Bible to enslave others based upon their race. Not so. That is one of the many lies of the devil that he has used to defame God. From Moses’ example, we also know that interracial marriage amongst believers is allowed. When was the last time you heard someone cite this verse and God’s punishment that followed to show that He is against mankind’s racism? If people knew the Word, Satan would not have the opportunity to defame God. The Bible says that we are to be prepared to explain the hope that lies within us (1 Pet. 3:15). The Bible also warns against those who call evil good and good evil (Is. 5:20). Now, more than ever before, the Bible is under attack both by the world and sadly even within the Church. There are those who call some parts of God’s Word evil. Are you prepared to defend the Word from the devil’s lies?

Moses married a black Cushite women from Ethiopia1

Miriam and Aaron gossiped against Moses and displayed racial prejudice2

  • Valid criticisms should be brought directly to the leader’s attention. Moses was not without sin. He had just complained about the burdens of leadership, and he showed a lack of faith in God’s ability to provide only one or two days into their journey (Nu. 11:10-15, 21-22). God also gives us an example of how He expected valid criticisms to be brought to the attention of Moses. Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, complained to him that it was not right for him to assume responsibility for mediating every dispute amongst the people. He advised Moses to teach God’s Law to men who feared God. They could mediate the disputes (Ex. 18:17-27). According to Christ, when you have a valid criticism against a leader or anyone else, you are to speak confidentially and directly to the person who is engaged in sin (Matt. 18:15-20). When you have a dispute, are you bringing it up directly with that person? Or, do you spread gossip and complain to others?

  • The accuser of the brethren is the Devil. God called Satan “the accuser of the brethren.” (Rev. 12:10). Satan seeks to condemn each and every one of us before God (Job 1:6, 9-11; Zech 3:1). Like Satan, a person who spreads slander is called “a fool” in the Bible (Prov. 10:18). Slander is one of the signs of a “depraved mind” (Rom. 1:28-30). Thus, you should not speak ill about a person to other people (Ps. 15:3; 50:19-20; Prov. 6:16-19; Jam. 4:11). If you slander others, you cannot abide with God (Ps. 15:3; Prov. 10:31). When you gossip about others and slander them, the devil becomes your father: “You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth because there is no truth in him. Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” (Jo. 8:44). Have you repented of your gossip and slander of others?

  • A prophet is without honor in his own family or town. Because Miriam helped raise Moses, she knew him as the Egyptian he was, not the man of God he became after 40 years in the wilderness. Aaron also knew Moses as a young man. Both Miriam and Aaron also lived in slavery while Moses was raised within Pharaoh’s court and later while Moses lived as a free man in Midian (Ex. 4:19). The people of Nazareth, Jesus’ hometown, heard Him preach the Word. Yet, they refused to believe Him because they knew him as a child (Matt. 13:53-58). If you have a family member who is hardened to Jesus, don’t be discouraged if they refuse to accept your testimony. Are you praying for God to bring different persons to explain the truth to them?

2. Don’t Covet the Authority Given to God’s Appointed Leaders. Nu. 12:2-3.

  • Pride can cause covetousness. Miriam’s racist complaint was really a pretext to justify her prideful lust for power. “2 and they said, ‘Is it a fact that the Lord has spoken only through Moses? Has He not spoken through us as well?’ And the Lord heard this. 3 (Now the man Moses was very humble, more than any person who was on the face of the earth.)” (Nu. 12:2-3). Both felt entitled to power because God had spoken through them in the past. After Moses complained about his speaking skills, God spoke through Aaron to confront Pharaoh (Ex. 4:10, 30). God also spoke directly to Aaron on several occasions (Ex. 4:27-28; 12:1; Lev. 10:8; 11:1; 13:1; 14:33; 15:1). After God crushed Pharaoh’s army at the Red Sea, He called Miriam a “prophetess” as she sang words of praise to Him (Ex. 15:20). Their pride after having spoken with God fueled their lust for Moses’ power. They coveted what Moses had, even though the sin of coveting violated the Tenth Commandment (Ex. 20:17). Satan was likewise blessed with great beauty as one of God’s angels. His pride also caused him to covet God’s power (Is. 14:12-15). But those who “covet” are disqualified from inheriting the kingdom of God (1 Cor. 6:10; Eph. 5:3-6). Pride can also lead to your downfall (Prov. 16:18). Are you content with what you have? Or, do you covet what others have?

Miriam and Aaron questioned Moses’ authority3

  • Coveting cannot be satisfied by giving in to temptation. If Moses had agreed to share power with Aaron and Miriam, that would not have satisfied their desire for power. The coveting that the devil offers can only be satisfied through more coveting (Heb. 11:25; Lk. 12:19-20). “And the dogs are greedy, they are not satisfied. And they are shepherds who have no understanding; they have all turned to their own way, each one to his unjust gain, to the last one.” (Is. 56:11; Hab. 2:5). “Sheol, and the barren womb, earth that is never satisfied with water, and fire that never says, ‘Enough’.” (Prov. 30:16). Are you giving in to your temptations?

  • Coveting is a sin of the heart that leads to more serious sins when left unchecked. Coveting, like the other Ten Commandment, are sins of the heart that defile us. Jesus warned: “For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, deeds of coveting and wickedness, as well as deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride and foolishness. All these evil things proceed from within and defile the man.” (Mk. 7:21-23). God prohibits coveting because it leads to other more serious sins. Moreover, these lusts put you in communion with the father of the world, not your Father in heaven: “For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world.” (1 Jo. 2:16). Every believer is at times guilty of this sin (Rom. 3:20). Jesus and Paul analogized sin to yeast, the fastest growing microorganism (Mk. 8:15; 1 Cor. 5:7-8). If you are entertaining small sins of the flesh, will they stay small for long?

  • Coveting co-governance with God’s leaders is also contrary to God’s plan. Like Miriam, Aaron, and Satan, you are susceptible to pride when you think that you can do something better than your church leaders. Democracy is the best form of civil government. Many therefore assume that it must also be the best form of religious governance. But we are to be imitators of Christ’s leadership (1 Thess. 1:6; 1 Cor. 11:1). We are not to follow the doctrines of men (Col. 2:8). God shows that He leads through one leader at a time. Christ had 12 apostles. But Christ never allowed any of them to dictate what He did. For example, when Peter tried to correct Christ in his claim that He needed to die, Christ called him “Satan” (Matt. 16:21-23; Mk. 8:33). Likewise, Moses was given 70 elders to delegate governing duties (Nu. 11:16). But he did not depend upon them in deciding where to go or what to do. The Holy Spirit led him by the pillar of light. In addressing this subject, Charles Spurgeon once famously remarked: “Every now and then we hear some simpleton or other talking against a ‘one-man ministry,’ when it has been a one-man ministry from the commencement of the world to the present day; and whenever you try to have any other form of ministry, and doing it thoroughly and heartily and independently and bravely in the sight of God, you very soon run upon quicksands.” (Spurgeon, A Cheery Word In Troublous Times). Have you complained that your church leader fails to share authority with others? Do you think you could do better? If so, those complaints are not from God.

  • To fight pride and covetousness, fear God. The moment Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses, God heard it (Nu. 12:2). He is all knowing. Miriam and Aaron did not fear God. Both had witnessed Him destroy Pharaoh’s armies. They both witnessed 3,000 people die after Aaron succumbed to peer pressure and built the golden calf (Ex. 32:26-28). Aaron was the high priest who knew the Ten Commandments. This shows that head knowledge of the Bible is not alone enough to ward off pride. Aaron’s example shows us that head knowledge can sometimes make the pride harder to see. Even Solomon, the wisest man alive and the author of most of the proverbs, gave in to his covetousness and lusts when he had 700 wives and 300 concubines (1 Kgs. 11:1-8). The best way to protect against pride is to be humble and fear God (Prov. 1:7; Rom 7:7). The fear of God is defined in the Bible as “hating” evil (Prov. 8:12). Do you hate it when you desire something that is not of God?

  • To fight covetousness, deny yourself physical pleasures and covet the things of God. Jesus reveals that to follow Him you should deny yourself certain worldly pleasures: “Then Jesus said to His disciples, ‘If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?”’ (Matt. 16:24-26). The one thing in life that you should covet is a deeper relationship with God: “As the deer pants for the water brooks, so my soul pants for You, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God; when shall I come and appear before God?” (Ps. 42:1-2; Matt. 6:6; 19-24; 13:44-46; 1 Cor. 12:31; Phil. 3:7-14). The Bible reveals that “godliness with contentment” is “great gain” (1 Tim. 6:6; Heb. 13:5). Are you content seeking to draw closer to God?

  • To stay humble, praise God for your underserved gifts. Joshua is believed to have added to the Bible that Moses was the most humble man on the planet (Nu. 12:3). Moses did not covet his authority (Nu. 11:11). Although Miriam and Aaron raised false charges, Moses knew that he was guilty under the Law of more serious charges. Among other things, Moses was guilty of murder and therefore had no reason to feel self-righteous (Ex. 2:11-12). To keep yourself humble like Moses, give praise for all your gifts and your accomplishments to God (1 Cor. 9:15; Col. 3:17, 23). Every good and perfect gift in your life comes from above (Jam. 1:17). Are you taking credit for your accomplishments? Or, are you giving the praise over to God?

3. Don’t Defend Yourself When You Are Falsely Accused. Nu. 12:4-9.

  • Moses remained silent when he learned that Miriam and Aaron had slandered him. Moses did not retaliate after God revealed that Miriam and Aaron had slandered him. “4 And the Lord suddenly said to Moses and to Aaron and Miriam, ‘You three go out to the tent of meeting.’ So the three of them went out. 5 Then the Lord came down in a pillar of cloud and stood at the entrance of the tent; and He called Aaron and Miriam. When they had both come forward, 6 He said, ‘Now hear My words: If there is a prophet among you, I, the Lord, will make Myself known to him in a vision. I will speak with him in a dream. 7 It is not this way for My servant Moses; He is faithful in all My household; 8 with him I speak mouth to mouth, that is, openly, and not using mysterious language, and he beholds the form of the Lord. So why were you not afraid to speak against My servant, against Moses?’ 9 And the anger of the Lord burned against them and He departed.” (Nu. 12:4-9). Like Moses, Jesus remained silent when others slandered Him.

  • Let the Holy Spirit be your voice through silence. God warns that the gentiles will slander you, even when you do good (1 Pet. 2:12). Moses never complained when the charges of Miriam and Aaron were made known to him (Nu. 12:5-8). Jesus was also silent when the false charges were leveled against Him (Matt. 26:62-63; Mk. 14:60-61; Lk. 23:8-10; Is. 53:7). Vengeance belongs to Him alone (Dt. 32:35; Ro. 12:19). When you try to defend yourself, the ugly sin of pride is likely to emerge. When you “keep a good conscience” in the face of slander, God promises to put to shame those who slander you: “and keep a good conscience so that in the thing in which you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ will be put to shame.” (1 Pet. 3:16). Do you fight back when you are defamed? Are you given your battles over to God?

4. God Exposes Our Sins to Bring Us to Repentance. Nu. 12:10.

  • Our hearts are wicked. Miriam was given leprosy because she instigated a rebellion against Moses’ leadership: “10 But when the cloud had withdrawn from above the tent, behold, Miriam was leprous, as white as snow. As Aaron turned toward Miriam, behold, she was leprous.” (Nu. 12:10). In Hebrew, the verb for “spoke” in verse 12:1 is the third person female. Thus, the Bible reveals that she started the complaints against Moses. God also used leprosy to punish others for their sin. For example, when King Uzziah tried to take on the roles of both king and high priest (which God had separated), his punishment was leprosy (2 Chr. 26:19-21). Sin, like leprosy, also causes the victim to become numb to their pain (Eph. 4:10; 1 Tim. 4:2). A victim of leprosy will eventually die if untreated. Sin, like leprosy, will lead to death (Ro. 6:23). Jesus says that “slander” is one of the evils that come from “the heart of men.” (Mk. 7:21-22). When God turned Miriam white as snow, a stage of advanced leprosy, He was showing her that her heart was deeply wicked (Jer. 17:9). Are you asking God to search out your heart and reveal your wickedness? When He does reveal sin, do you repent of it?

God disciplined Miriam with leprosy4

  • Only Jesus can cure our sin. The priests could only quarantine. By contrast, Jesus’ first recorded miracle in the book of Matthew was healing a leper (Matt. 8:2-3). By this miracle, He demonstrated that He has the power to heal sin. When you repent, He is faithful to forgive (1 Jo. 1:9). Are you turning to Him to be cleansed of your sin.

5. Repent of Your Sins. Nu. 12:11-12.

  • Aaron pleaded for mercy. Instead of seeking to defend himself, Aaron fell before Moses and asked that he intercede for them and ask God to remove Miriam’s leprosy: “11 Then Aaron said to Moses, ‘Oh, my lord, I beg you, do not hold us responsible for this sin by which we have turned out to be foolish, and by which we have sinned. 12 Oh, do not let her be like a dead person, whose flesh is half eaten away when he comes out of his mother’s womb!”’ (Nu. 12:11-12). Like Aaron, Miriam should have also repented.

  • The penalty of coveting is death. The penalty under the law for both Miriam and Aaron for coveting power was death (Jam. 1:14-15; Heb. 10:28). God could have struck both down for their sins. Instead, out of mercy and grace, He gave them both a chance to repent (Matt. 3:2). But those who fail to repent will one day face judgment (Lk. 13:3-5). Are you giving thanks for what Jesus has spared you from?

  • True repentance causes us to change our behavior. Paul tells us to put away “all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander . . .” (Eph. 4:31; same, Col. 3:8; 1 Pet. 2:1, 12). If you continue to slander and covet, your repentance is not sincere.

  • If Aaron was qualified to be a priest, so are you. Like all of us, Aaron was a flawed person. He built the golden calf (Ex. 32:1-6, 35). When Moses confronted him, he blamed the people for his own actions instead of repenting (Ex. 32:22-24). The Bible tells us that God would have destroyed Aaron if Moses had not intervened on his behalf (Dt. 9:20). After Aaron’s sons died for their disobedience, he violated God’s direction that a sacrifice be eaten in the sanctuary. He also violated God’s direction that Aaron not mourn the death of his sons (Lev. 10:16-20). Out of pride and coveting power, he criticized Moses. Moreover, he repented only after seeing Miriam punished, a punishment he knew that he deserved (Nu. 12:11-12). We are all part of God’s holy priesthood (1 Pet. 2:5, 9; Rev. 1:6). If God could use Aaron as a high priest, do you have any valid excuse for refusing to serve?

6. Forgive and Pray For Those Who Persecute You. Nu. 12:13-16.

  • Moses forgave and prayed as an intercessor. As our example, Moses forgave Miriam and prayed for God to heal her: “13 So Moses cried out to the Lord, saying, ‘God, heal her, please!’ 14 But the Lord said to Moses, ‘If her father had only spit in her face, would she not be put to shame for seven days? Have her shut outside the camp for seven days, and afterward she may be received again.”’ (Nu. 12:13-14). Like Moses, Jesus tells believers to: “Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you.” (Matt. 5:44). Are you praying for forgiveness for others who have hurt you?

  • Plead as an intercessor for God to help others. The Bible is filled with great examples of intercessory prayers for believers to follow. For example, Job prayed for his wayward friends (Job 42:10). Abraham pleaded with God as an intercessor to spare the innocent in Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen. 18:23). God later spared the Jewish nation in response to Moses’ intercessory prayers after they made the golden calf (Ex. 32:11-14). Here, he prayed for Miriam (Nu. 12:11). He again spared the Jews in response to Moses’ prayers after they rebelled at the edge of the Promised Land (Nu. 14:18-22). God again spared the Jews in response to the prayers of Moses and Aaron after Korah, 250 men of renown, and then 14,700 others rebelled (Nu. 16:21-24). As an intercessor, Samuel promised to continue to pray for the people’s sins (1 Sam. 12:23). David also prayed as an intercessor for God to spare the Jews after 70,000 men across all of Israel died in a plague that came about because of David’s sins (2 Sam. 24:17). Elijah also cried out to God in faith for God to raise a widow’s son from the dead (1 Kgs. 17:21-22.) Jonah also made a plea as an intercessor when his disobedience caused the men in his boat to suffer (Jo. 1:12). The apostles also continually prayed for others (2 Tim. 1:3; Col. 1:9; Eph. 1:16; 1 Thess. 3:10). You are part of Jesus’ holy priesthood (1 Pet. 2:5, 9; Rev. 1:6). As His appointed priest, you too have the power of intercessory prayer. But it doesn’t work if you lack faith (Jam. 1:6). Are you praying as an intercessor for those whose faith has failed them?

  • All things are possible with God when you have faith. There is no request that is beyond God’s power: “Is anything too difficult for the LORD?” (Gen. 18:14(a)). “Behold, I am the LORD, the God of all flesh; is anything too difficult for Me?” (Jer. 32:27). “I know that You can do all things, and that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted.” (Job 42:2). “‘With people this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”’ (Matt. 19:26(b); Mk. 10:27(b); Lk. 1:37; Ro. 8:31). With faith, God can deliver you from any evil.

  • Comfort those under punishment. The entire nation knew of Miriam’s shame. Even though forgiven, there were consequences for her actions. The same is true with us when we sin. God, however, showed compassion upon Miriam. The entire nation waited at God’s direction to continue on until Miriam was healed: “15 So Miriam was shut outside the camp for seven days, and the people did not move on until Miriam was received again. 16 Afterward, however, the people moved on from Hazeroth and camped in the wilderness of Paran.” (Nu. 12:15-16). We are also to treat those under rebuke with tenderness and not as enemies (2 Thess. 3:15). God expects you to pay back the comfort you receive from Him by comforting others (2 Cor. 2:7; Eph. 4:32). Are you comforting those who are being punished for their sins? For example, have you ever gone to a jail to pray for a prisoner?

7. Those Who Deny Jesus Must Also Repent. Nu. 12:8; Heb. 10:28-29

  • Moses foreshadows Jesus. God promised: “I will raise them up a Prophet from among their brethren, like unto thee, and will put my words in his mouth . . .” (Dt. 18:18). Here, Moses foreshadowed Jesus. God struck Miriam with leprosy for her unfounded gossip and criticism of Moses. In a similar way, the Jews rejected Jesus. They were also jealous of His following. Non Believers who reject God’s Law will face punishment (Heb. 10:28). A nonbeliever who rejects Christ will face an even greater punishment: “How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has trampled underfoot the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace?” (Heb. 10:29). Are you praying for the nonbelievers around you to accept Christ as their Lord and Savior?

  • You will one day enjoy the same access Moses did to God. A human cannot see God in his or her sinful form and live (Ex. 33:20). Thus, God speaks to some through dreams or visions (Job 4:16; Jdgs. 14:12; 1 K. 10:1). By contrast, God spoke “mouth to mouth” with Moses (Nu. 12:8; Ex. 4:12; 33:11; Dt. 34:10). You also will one day be able to see God face to face just as Moses did (1 Cor. 13:12; Rev. 22:4). Are you giving thanks for the unearned joy that awaits you in heaven?