We’re not sure exactly why Miriam is singled out for discipline by God in Numbers, and not her husband (10). But we can guess.
Numbers 12 begins with Miriam and Aaron speaking against Moses. The fact that Miriam is mentioned first (1) could be a subtle indicator that she was instigating it. At least on the surface, her stated reason was that Moses had married outside the family – a Cushite woman – a slimy, but easy charge to make.
But then the more likely reason springs to the surface: “Has the LORD indeed spoken only through Moses? Has he not spoken through us also?” (2b) Note the “us” there – not just Aaron, but her too. Perhaps Miriam wanted more – more prestige, more authority? – for her husband, and for herself. Perhaps she didn’t like that her husband, the better public speaker than Moses – sat in the number two chair.
“And the LORD heard it.” It must have made His ear tingle. After all, Miriam and Aaron’s question sounded a lot like the serpent’s question to Eve:
“Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden?’” (Gen. 3:1).
Eve’s daughter, still listening to that old dragon, followed her appetite, and refused to be fathered. And in the process, she lost her fear of God (8), and sowed the seeds of rebellion among the people.
Is it any coincidence that more widespread rebellion follows, in the next two chapters? The spies sent into Canaan rebel, and go beyond their job of reporting what they see. Instead they shape the people’s opinions toward cowardice (chapter 13). And that’s exactly what they do, rebelling against – if it can be put this way – God’s generous gift to them of the Promised Land (chapter 14).
Evidently God’s singling out of Miriam, and His discipline upon her, was not too much, but not enough, to serve as a warning to the people. While the seed of rebellion is in the heart of every man, woman and child, it seems that Miriam’s rebellion, from her “public” place as the wife of Aaron, was the spark that started a fire, that would leave painful burns (14:39-45).
It’s said that behind every great man is a great woman. And that is usually true. And that’s usually true because that woman helps her man not only climb the ladder, but also to stay put in his place on the ladder, until it’s time for more movement. She helps both his ambition and his contentment. Such women are gifts, not only to their men, but to the churches and companies and parties and schools and teams to which they belong.
Such women are so helpful this way because they possess the secret of Moses: bold, but self-giving humility. It’s in this chapter that we learn that Moses was the most meek man alive (12:3). And yet throughout these chapters, he is so bold as to self-forgetfully, repeatedly go before the LORD on behalf of these rebellious people, interceding for them before God, that God would be merciful and bless them, and not bring His wrath. Real humility is not turned inwardly, but outwardly, in self-forgetful love to God and man.
In the end, let us be grateful that we have an Intercessor, One who has gone before us and interposed himself in our place on the cross, and who is interceding for us even this moment, before the Father. And let us come to Him for mercy and help, in our time of need (Heb. 4:16). When we do, we will find that not only are we cleansed, of all our rebellion to God (1 John 1:8-10), but we are also freed, to serve Him without fear – humble and meek under His wise fathering (Heb. 9:14).