The book of Numbers begins and ends with an official count of God’s covenant people. In between these two numberings are the wanderings of these same people in the wilderness. Twelve spies were sent to check out the Land God promised. Ten of these twelve spies came back with a very negative report. They said the people living in the Land were so numerous, and had such a strong military, that there was no way the Israelites could take possession of this territory. So despite God’s assurances of victory, His people rebelled by refusing to take possession of the Land promised to them. As a result nearly forty years were spent wandering in a desert wilderness.
Much of what we see in Numbers is a vivid contrast between the faithfulness of God and the unfaithfulness of His people. God judged Israel’s disobedience, and, He also faithfully led them through the agonizing detour they had created for themselves. So despite Israel’s initial failure to enter and possess the Promised Land, which resulted in the death of the first post-Exodus generation in the wilderness, Yahweh demonstrated His commitment to the Abrahamic covenant by preserving and preparing a second post-Exodus generation to enter and possess the Land of promise.
Now in Numbers 8 through 10 there’s clear examples of obedience. Moses obeys Yahweh in commissioning the Levites to the service of the Tabernacle. The lampstands are arranged in the Tabernacle. The Levites are cleansed and dedicated. Israel obeys Yahweh in observing the Passover. Israel obeys Yahweh in departing from Mt. Sinai. But in chapters 11 and 12 there’s clear examples of disobedience. Yet Israel still experiences the LORD’s provision and guidance! Israel’s complaining results in fire from Yahweh, but it’s quenched by Moses’ intercession. Israel’s craving for meat instead of manna provokes Yahweh’s anger, but it also causes a display of God’s gracious provision. And the jealousy of Miriam and Aaron toward Moses is answered by an affirmation of the genuine humility Moses displayed.
Which brings us to today’s taste of Torah in Numbers 12:1-3. It reads: Then Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses because of the Cushite woman whom he had married (for he had married a Cushite woman); 2 and they said, “Has the LORD indeed spoken only through Moses? Has He not spoken through us as well?” And the LORD heard it. 3 (Now the man Moses was very humble, more than any man who was on the face of the earth.)
What’s going on here? In short, God’s exaltation of Moses in chapter 11 caused Miriam and Aaron to be jealous. God gave the 70 elders assisting Moses the gift of prophecy. And God gave the Spirit to the 70 elders who assisted Moses. And so in chapter 12 we see how these 70 elders caused Miriam and Aaron to be envious of Moses because of his exalted role as the Lord’s special mediator. Most likely Miriam and Aaron felt marginalized. Miriam was a prophetess. And as a prophetess she had led all the women in a song when they crossed the Red Sea (cf. Ex. 15:20-21). Aaron was a high priest. But now God gave the 70 elders the privilege of mediating His word. And no doubt that was a bitter pill to swallow.
What does this have to do with us? Well, like Miriam and Aaron, jealousy can cause us to rationalize. It can make us distort the truth. It can even cause us to engage in acts of violence. It destroys relationships. It leads to sin. Jealousy is not just a rebellious unbeliever thing; it’s a deeply embedded human thing! It’s woven into the fabric of our Adamic DNA. It basically says two things: “I want what they have, and I don’t want them to have it!” It’s selfishness on steroids. And this is why we must not allow jealousy to cause us to sin against God and our fellow human beings.
In 1 Corinthians 3 some of the Corinthians allowed envy to divide their congregation. How did Paul respond to this? He responded the same way he responded to all the sinful practices in Corinth; he said to the Corinthians, “Pursue love!” In other words practice other-centered love, sacrificial love, Messiah like love. This is the only way to counteract the spiritual poison of jealousy. The fact of the matter is, the only Person who has the right to be jealous and carry out vengeance is God, because only God deserves our undivided devotion.
When we have feelings of jealousy we need to ask God to help us pursue love. We need to ask God to not allow our feelings of jealousy to cause us to sin against Him and fellow human beings. In short, we need to disciple up already! This requires a commitment of the Spirit-empowered will to release our emotional grip on jealousy, resentment, and volatility. When we do that, we’re able to demonstrate in real time/real life that it’s actually possible to live in the moment with genuine contentment. In light of all that God is, and in light of all that He has done on our behalf; that’s what it looks like to trade insecurity for maturity.