Criticism - Numbers 12 - 9/25/16
Turn with me this morning to Numbers 12. Today we want to look at one of the great leaders of the bible and learn some lessons about criticism. In the OT we have records of the lives of many men and women - and many had wonderful strengths. Abraham was a friend of God, David was a man after God’s own heart, Samson was the strongest man, but there is one man who rises to the surface in regards to leadership, and that man is Moses.
Moses is one of the greatest leaders who ever lived. But what is so unusual about this is that Numbers 12:3 tells us that Moses was more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth. Often we think of leaders who love to tell you how great they are, but not Moses. He is a leader who really was quite comfortable being in the background, but God put him in the forefront.
And that is often how God works. Often God comes to us when we are quite comfortable, and God pushes us out of our comfort zones and into an area that we really would not have chosen for ourselves. And God gives us the strength by His Holy Spirit to do things that we never envisioned ourselves doing.
If you remember the story of Moses, he was the baby in the bullrushes, raised in Pharaoh’s house for 40 years, then fleeing to the desert and tending sheep for 40 years, then coming back to Egypt and leading a couple million Jews through that same desert for 40 years. But Moses was not alone. He had a sister Miriam - she was the one who watched over that little ark of bullrushes and ran to Pharaoh’s daughter to bring her mother in to nurse Moses. And Moses had a brother, Aaron, who was the spokesman. He was the outgoing, talkative one in the family, the one who could always carry the conversation. Moses was the shy one in the back corner of the room, while Aaron was the life of the party in the center of the crowd.
But God had uniquely prepared this family - Moses, Aaron, and Miriam - to be used greatly in leading and delivering the Jews. Moses had the role of the leader. God would speak with Moses and tell him what to say and what to do. Aaron was the spokesman - as Moses came to Pharaoh, Aaron is always involved in the conversations. He is the figurehead who is involved in all the negotiations. And then there is Miriam, also honored by God. Miriam is a prophetess, the first one mentioned in the bible. Miriam is the great worship leader for the nation of Israel. As they pass through the Red Sea, Miriam is there leading the people in worshiping their great God who had brought them out of Egypt with a “high hand” - a hand raised in victory.
So here are three great leaders - each with a ministry given to them by God - each very productive in how they serve the Lord. And that’s the way God has designed the body of Christ to function. God has given each one of us unique gifts to use for the common good. No one of us has all the gifts. And we never need to be envious of the gifts of others. We don’t need to try to be like someone else. We simply need to be the best “ME” that I can be. That was the problem at Corinth - the people all wanted to have the gifts that gave them public recognition. They wanted to most visible gifts. God’s call to them is to seek the best gift - love! No matter what “gift” we may have, everything we do is to be done in love.
So here is this picture of the interworking of the church - Moses, Miriam, and Aaron all with gifts to use, all having succesful ministry. But a problem arises, and controversy comes to the surface. Let’s read about it in Numbers 12:1-16. Read text - pray
The setting here in Numbers 12 follows Numbers 11, where the people cried out wanting meat. But there is something else we see in that chapter - God placing His Spirit on the 70 elders and they begin prophesying. This may possibly be the “burr under the saddle” or the “thorn in the side” that is irritating Miriam and Aaron. After all, they have been leaders of the people, but THEY are not included in this group of 70! Why not? Don’t they DESERVE to be? And we see all kinds of personal jealous starts coming out. Look at what we see here. First we see the
• Criticism - Miriam and Aaron began to talk against Moses. Why does the criticism come? Yes, first it comes because of SIN. Notice what they are doing. They are not coming to Moses and sharing a concern. They are not talking TO Moses about an issue. They are talking AGAINST Moses. They are publicly or private criticizing Moses and his leadership. And this is where the problem starts. They are not concerned about resolving any problem - they are rather seeking to elevate themselves by attacking their brother.
Problems of unity in the church, problems of getting along with one another, are resolved by making right, godly choices and acting as we ought. The problem is that often we act the way we FEEL instead of acting the way we know we ought to act. We often know what we should do, but we act foolishly and out of emotion.
What does Jesus say - if there is an issue between you and a brother or sister, go to them one on one and resolve it. What do we normally do? It’s called triangulation - A has a problem with B, but instead of going to B, he goes to C and D and everyone else BUT B. The old fashioned word for it is gossip. God calls it sin. God says if you have an issue go to the brother and resolve the problem. When we resolve the problems, we will be able to love one another more! When we go to our brother and work out the issues, we will find that we are closer to one another than ever before. But instead, we often attack the person we have an issue with and tear them down. Galatians 5 warns us, The entire law is summed up in a single command: “Love your neighbour as yourself.” If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other. So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. The Spirit teaches us to love one another - but the sinful desires that we so often give in to lead us to attack others. And that is the sin that Miriam and Aaron fell prey to. The begin attacking their brother.
This morning, I would encourage you to examine your relationships. Don’t allow Satan to lead you down the wrong road of attacking your brothers and sisters. If you have an issue, go to them, one on one, deal with the issue, and work together to resolve the issue - if you can’t resolve things just the two of you, bring another mutually-agreeable third party to help - but don’t allow yourself to attack one another.
Why does the criticism come? Yes, first it comes because of SIN. But also
• The Status Quo has changed. Moses, Aaron, and Miriam - everything had been going smoothly with this threesome working together. But now there is a fourth person involved. And this is where the conflicts start. Often we go through life with things all being “business as usual” and no conflict - but when a CHANGE occurs, suddenly the individuals each need to be able to process the change. And if they don’t like how the change is taking place, it is easy to become critical. For example, we have had the same carpet in the church for the last 30 years - and there hasn’t been much criticism taking place - but now the trustees are considering updating some of the carpet in the church - and if that happens, be prepared that some people will suddenly become critical of whatever decisions are made. I don’t know why we need new carpet - I can’t believe we still have the same old carpet - I want red carpet - I want shag carpet - that carpet costs too much money. And on and on and on. When Ronda & I were in Fort Wayne, the church looked at upgrading the carpet, and the way one of the ladies on the decorating committee presented HER choice for carpet was to show the couple “finalists” but then to say THIS one is the one that GOD led us to! Well who’s going to argue with God!? I voted for a different choice that was just as nice and half the money - we could have saved thousands-- but everyone else voted for GOD!
Be careful that when confronted with change you don’t let yourself become critical. But seek God’s help in embracing change. Change is not good nor bad - but it is inevitable. Sooner or later change will come, and we need to be prepared to handle it wisely. A third reason for the criticism:
• Unmet expectations - in this case it is Moses who has not met their “expectations” for what type of wife Miriam and Aaron think he should have chosen. They are speaking against Moses because of his wife. They may be referring to Zipporah or they may be talking about a different wife. It really doesn’t matter either way. She is called a Cushite - which may refer to being from Ethiopia or it could also be used to refer to a wider area including Saudi Arabia and the Midianites which Zipporah was. If Ethiopia is in view, it may be that the wife was black skinned. And we see that racial prejucide is not something new, but it goes back thousands of years.
But Moses, being the leader, comes under great scrutiny for his wife. And every pastor at one time or another faces unjust scrutiny over the role his wife plays. The pastor’s wife is supposed to always look nice - be dressed in very fine clothes, but not fancy or designer clothes, she must be frugal with money but have gret style. She must smile, sit down in the front row of church, and agree with her husband. Her kids need to be model Christians. She needs to be ready to open her home to people in the church at any time and serve them. She should play the piano, sing in the choir, help in the children’s ministry, and teach women’s Bible study. If there is a baby, he must be cute, never noisy and, naturally, breast fed. But no one must ever actually see this event. She must love crafts and sewing; be a gourmet cook, be creative, never-complaining, selfless and always willing to eat everything at the church potluck dinner. She must clip coupons, be outgoing, always happy .... and, oh, make it all look easy.
What is going on with Moses? His wife doesn’t meet the expectations of OTHERS! Whose expectations should she meet? God’s and Moses’. Apparently Moses didn’t give a rip what Miriam and Aaron thought about his choice for a wife - but they let it get under their skin and be a source of constant irritation - so much so that they started a gossip campaign of speaking against him.
In Romans 14 God gives this warning: Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. And we need to ask that same question today: Who do I think I am to judge someone else because of the NON-SINFUL choices another makes. Yes, if someone is doing something sinful, Galatians tells us that the spiritual should come alongside in a spirit of meekness to encourage godly behavior - but there is NOTHING in scripture that gives us the right to look down on others because they do things differently than we do!
Let’s look at a fourth reason for the criticism:
• Root Issues - as we look at verse 2, we see that the issues regarding Moses’ wife really aren’t at the root of the contention. Yes, they are unhappy with the wife, and they are unhappy with change, but there is something much bigger going on. And that’s one of the key truths we need to learn in life. Often the problem a person voices is NOT the real issue - it’s merely the issue that they feel comfortable voicing. And we need to learn to listen carefully and ask discerning questions to find out the real issues of conflict.
We see here Miriam and Aaron want to be on the same level as Moses. After all, aren’t they his older brother and sister? They wanted the same affirmation that their little brother was receiving. And we can see that often selfishness is at the root of many issues of conflict. If you look closely at most church conflict, you’ll discover that no matter what people tell you it’s over—even if it’s allegedly doctrinal issues or spiritual practices—it’s probably about individual egos and selfishness.
The attack on Moses was simply a smokescreen to draw attention away from the real reason his siblings were upset with him. They were upset that all of the attention and all of the speaking opportunities were going to Moses. Our motive is always central when we talk to or about others. Put plainly, Miriam and Aaron suffered from envy and jealousy. Think about this - Aaron was the only man on the planet who could enter the Most Holy Place on the Day of Atonement. What a position of great magnitude and honor! Moses could have been jealous of Aaron but he wasn’t. Miriam had been the one who had cleverly saved Moses’ life as a baby. Hers was a place of great honor in the camp of the Israelites. She prophesied and led the Israelites in worship and praise to God at the Red Sea at a time when female prophets were rare. But Moses’ wasn’t critical of her. He was not jealous. The key for us is not to focus on the doors of opportunity God has opened for others. The key is to concentrate on the openings God brings to us. Whenever we are longing for what ANOTHER has, we show that we are not truly content with what GOD has chosen for us in life. The conflict comes because of the deeper heart issues.
The next thing to notice in our chapter is the
* Calmness - Moses displays great calmness when he is attacked. What would WE do if we were in Moses’ situation. We would start talking against Miriam and Aaron. We would try to get more people on OUR side that they had on THEIR side. And pretty soon everyone is forced to take sides. But Moses is content to let God handle his reputation.
Moses is able to respond with gentleness because he is secure in who he is. God had given him position and God has taken care of him. Often when we get upset, it is because of insecurity. We may be proud of position but inside we feel fragile. We take comments and attacks as threats and fail to look at reasons why people are upset with us. Moses didn’t find his self-worth from the “affirmation” of others. Far too often we judge ourselves and our worth by how others feel about us. But what was truly important? It was Moses’ closeness to God that counted, not the eloquence of his sermons, the high-sounding wisdom of his speeches, or the mysterious nature of his dreams and visions. We often judge our leaders with regard to the wrong criteria. We need to consider whether they are close to God and spend time in the presence of God, not the other aspects. Moses knew he was doing that which God had called him to do, and so he was able to stay calm even when he was personally attacked.
God intervenes and stands up for Moses. After hearing God state his opinion, Moses could have responded with pride, censuring them for their remarks, or with seeking vengeance. Yet he doesn’t do that. There is no need to prove yourself to others; it is enough to know that God knows the truth about you. Many people spend their lives trying to prove to someone else, a husband, wife, mother or dad, sometimes even to a memory - that they will amount to something, that they can be successful, that they can measure up to someone else’s standards. Our value and worth is not found in what others think of us, but in what God knows us to be.
Let God rise to your defense. Often we respond so quickly to things that we don’t allow God time to work. There have been various issues I have faced in the past, and I’ve been asked, What are you going to do about it? And I’ve responded that I was going to WAIT and give God time to work.
When Moses is attacked, in this case even by his own brother and sister, he does not retaliate, but rather let’s God bring justice and vengeance. Our human nature often causes us to seek revenge, payback, getting even. But revenge is not a godly response. Revenge is the exercise of our strength to seek to do OUR will.
-Romans 12:19-21 says “Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: "It is mine to avenge; I will repay," says the Lord. On the contrary: "If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” Now here’s a completely foreign way of dealing with conflict for many of us. When someone wrongs us - DO GOOD to them! Instead of attack and retaliation, seek blessing! And WE will be the one who reaps the benefit. We see God’s
* Correction - verse 8 - With him I speak face to face, clearly and not in riddles; he sees the form of the LORD. Why then were you not afraid to speak against my servant Moses?” God affirms Moses’ role as the leader - and God even states that Moses is far above anyone else in the camp. He had a unique relationship with God. Now the truth is that Miriam and Aaron ALREADY KNEW this! But they just didn’t care. Their selfishness had blinded them to making wise choices. They even respond in verse 11 that they had acted foolishly. Then on to the
* Consequences - verse 10 - When the cloud lifted from above the Tent, there stood Miriam--leprous, like snow. It’s almost like God is saying OK, Miriam, you don’t like black skin - if you like white - I’ll give you white." And Miriam was afflicted with Leprosy - a disease that would make her skin white. But she also knew that leprosy was basically a “death sentence.” God has given a very serious penalty for her criticism of her brother.
Sometimes we think slander, gossip, criticism isn’t that big of a deal. After all, it’s just words - no one’s being hurt. But God HATES it! Proverbs 6 - There are six things the LORD hates, seven that are detestable to him: a proud look, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked schemes, feet that are quick to rush into evil, a false witness who pours out lies and a man who stirs up dissension among brothers. Miriam and Aaron are guilty of SEVERAL of the things in that list. How about you? Let’s make sure that our speech honors God!
But why doesn’t Aaron get stricken with leprosy too? A couple different thoughts. First, as high priest, Aaron is the one who has to put his sister outside the camp - knowing HE should be there with her, because he is just as guilty. His conscience probably bothered him just as much as Miriam’s.
But also Aaron has a role to play in leading the people - and because God is not taking Aaron away permanently, he allows Miriam to face the leprosy so Aaron can continue to minister to the people. Next, see the
* Compassion - verse 13 - So Moses cried out to the LORD, “O God, please heal her!” What a tender heart! Here are the two who have been spreading the gossip about him, attacking him, impugning his character, but when God brings judgment, Moses asks for God’s mercy. Let’s realize that God uses us to help bring about healing and restoration of others. James 5:16 tells us, Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.
Today, think about who is the biggest thorn in your side? Who is spreading rumours about you? Who talks out against you? Instead of seeking to “get them back” start praying for them. Start praying that God will change their heart. In the sermon on the Mount, Jesus says, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who ill-treat you. That can be very hard to do, but it is the right thing to do.
So, in closing, let me offer a couple steps for dealing with criticism:
1. Learn to be patient - How do we keep our patience? *We consider the consequences of choosing not to be patient. Proverbs 14:29 says A patient man has great understanding, but a quick-tempered man displays folly.” We act very foolishly when we act impulsively and are not patient.
2. Learn to put up with others - Many people struggle with being patient in circumstances. But as we learn this skill, we go the next step to learn to be patient with people. We put up with the weakness and failures of others. We need to realize that others are not perfect and they will let us down. Ephesians 4:2 - Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.
Proverbs 15:18 say A hot-tempered man stirs up dissension, but a patient man calms a quarrel.
Let’s also realize that we all have areas of weakness. A person who struggles with pride can’t boast of not using profanity. A person who swears constantly can’t boast that he is not proud. We each have areas of strength and areas of weakness. Let’s pray for one another and life one another up. 1 Peter 4:8 says Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.
3. Learn to get along with others -
Ephesians 4:3 - Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.
What God desires to build in his church is a spirit of unity. He desires for us to all get along together. To be able to do that, we need patience with one another and putting up with one another. We are all members of one another in the body of Christ.
We need to serve in the place where God has put us, with the abilities he has given us. Instead of worrying about others, we need to "worry" about our OWN faithfulness. When we regularly thank God for the gifts He has given us, we find that we don’t have the time to be envious of others--not even our siblings! Let’s pray.