Bible Study Lesson for Numbers 12: Moses’ Sister Miriam is Rebuked

She is known as the sister of one of the most famous men of the Bible, Moses, and credited with helping to save him from death as a baby. (Read Exodus 2:1-10)

She is later honored as a prophetess (Read Exodus 15:20-21) and a leader of the Israelites (Read Micah 6:4) in her own right.

Yet the most significant event in Miriam’s life that we have recorded in the Bible is when God metaphorically “spits in her face” and rebukes her before the entire camp. Read Numbers 12. This event is later referred to in Deuteronomy 24:8-9, permanently recorded in the second telling of the law! I have a lot of questions about this passage:

What was Miriam’s sin? (Read Numbers 12:1-2)

Why did God speak rebuke to both Aaron and Miriam, but only “spit” (strike with leprosy) on Miriam alone?

Why is it Aaron, and not Miriam, that apologizes?

Why didn’t God make the leprosy permanent? (There are two other incidents in the Bible in which people are stuck with leprosy at God’s hand and He does NOT heal them. We will look at these later if we have time today. Uzziah & Gerhazi)

Why did Miriam’s rebuke have to be public? The entire camp had to wait seven days for her! Can you imagine what was going through her mind as she was out there, exiled, knowing everyone was talking about her and her sin?

Do you think this experience changed Aaron and Miriam? We don’t hear anything more about Miriam until she dies. Read Numbers 20:1 . I don’t know if this is significant or not; it could mean she lost her position of authority over this. At least we don’t hear anything more negative about her.

Aaron is mentioned numerous times after this incident, often linked with Moses as a leader, which showed they had patched up their differences and were leading together. Read Numbers 14:1-5. So it was clear they were united in common purpose.

Did the people of Israel learn from this experience? Look at what happens only a few chapters later. Read Numbers 16:1-35. Yet more people, just like Miriam and Aaron are dissatisfied with being “second” and “lower” than Moses and now Aaron, and are envious and ungrateful. This group of men did not learn from seeing Miriam publicly rebuked for the same sin and as a result they and all their families died!

I think it is very telling that God speaks of a father spitting in a daughter’s face. It doesn’t sound very loving, does it? But doesn’t that seem to indicate the kind of relationship God wanted to have with her?

I don’t think any of us would relish the thought of God spitting in our face (openly rebuking us), but what is the alternative? Can you think of any modern day examples of this kind of rebuke? How do you think most Christians would respond?


Women’s Devotional Bible. New International Version

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