Even as a young girl, Moses’ sister Miriam possessed a wisdom far beyond her years. When Pharoah’s daughter found baby Moses floating down the river in a basket, it was Miriam who suggested a Hebrew nursemaid, reuniting mother and son. Then, when God parted the Red Sea and destroyed their enemies, it was Miriam who led the people in singing and dances of praise.
Miriam was recognized as a prophetic leader, but in Numbers 12, we see a glimpse of Miriam unplugged. The scene opens with Miriam ranting to Aaron about her brother’s choice of bride, but as we read a little further, it becomes increasingly obvious what’s really bothering her. The text clearly states that Moses is meek, he’s humble and he’s faithful in the things of God. As a leader, his hands are clean. So then what’s up with Miriam’s attitude toward her brother?
In Verse 2 of Numbers 23, Miriam raises the question of Moses’ authority — not over the camp — but over her and her brother, in particular. After all, Moses is the baby of the family and as such, he’s not the only one who can speak God’s words. Joseph, also the youngest of his family, had a similar problem when his brothers questioned his authority — again, not over the nation, but over them. Jesus’ brothers, although they were younger, still questioned His authority over them as well. We’re beginning to see a pattern.
It’s not that Miriam doesn’t recognize Moses’ leadership — she does. What she’s having trouble with is separating the natural order from the spiritual order God has ordained. She and Aaron took turns changing Moses’ diapers, and now they just can’t seem to get over the fact that their baby brother is in authority over them, making it almost impossible for them to submit.
The more you know someone in leadership, the more you see their faults and weaknesses and the harder it is to come under their authority. So what do Miriam and Aaron do? Trash-talk their brother. If he had done something wrong, there might have been something to talk about, but this is clearly a case of ‘familiarity breeds contempt.’
Like three kids getting hauled off the school yard and into the Principal’s Office, God gets on the intercom and calls Miriam, Aaron and Moses onto the carpet. God is not happy and He makes it crystal clear that Moses is not the problem in this equation. One plus one equals two and Miriam and Aaron are indisputably confronted with their crime. It brings back memories of the furrowed brow on my Grade 1 teacher’s face as she raised the strap over my reluctantly outstretched palm.
After vindicating Moses, God walks out of the room, leaving them standing there staring into the sky. At the moment the cloud departs from the tabernacle, Miriam turns white. Aaron gasps in horror to find his sister stricken with leprosy. He cries out and repents for the two of them and Moses in turn, calls out to God on his sister’s behalf.
God responds immediately and indicates to Moses that this is not a permanent judgment but a temporary affliction. The traditional Hebrew custom for a father to rebuke his child was to spit in their face, followed by a period of shame. Instead of time-out or taking away the play station, the need for correction called for punishment. If the offense was public, it called for public punishment and the humiliation that went with it. While this may seem harsh to us, it was commonplace and fully expected in their culture.
Because of the laws concerning leprosy, Miriam is shut out of the camp for seven days while the people wait for her return. And God’s mercy prevails. He corrects Miriam and everyone is able to moves forward, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, as a father the son he delights in (Proverbs 3:12).
Hebrews 12:8 in the Amplified Version reaffirms this truth: Now if you are exempt from correction and left without discipline in which all [of God’s children] share, then you are illegitimate offspring and not true sons [at all]. It’s not when God disciplines you, but when God stops disciplining you that you should be worried.
Back to the issue of submitting to authority. It’s okay to have questions and to ask those questions, but make sure you ask the right person. If the leader is open and honest, they won’t mind giving you an answer, but if they’re defensive and accuse you of disloyalty or gossip, these might be signs of a cover-up. The only counsel I have is to take it to prayer and make sure it’s not something in you that’s rising to the surface.
Every one of us has been hurt by a person in authority at one time or another, but if you don’t deal with that issue, bitterness can cause you to question every word and decision that comes from a place or person of authority in your life. Speaking against government, church leaders and other forms of authority is mainstream today and if not corrected, it can hinder and even destroy your relationships, family, career and spiritual life.
Holding leadership accountable is appropriate and Biblical. Attacking them is not. If you’ve been hurt or abused by someone in authority, talk to someone you can trust and get the help and resources (ie. books, courses, support groups) you need to get past it.
Recognize that people in authority are just that: people. Like you and like me, they are prone to making mistakes. When they do, pray for them, confront them if needed, forgive them and give them opportunity to learn and grow. If they don’t, then you may need to make a change. That could mean leaving your job or your church, not in anger or bitterness, but as a resolve to build healthier relationships with authority figures in the future.
Before you make a move, pray about it. There are seasons when you are called to sit under less than stellar leadership in order to prepare you for greater things. You can learn valuable lessons by observing and even submitting for a season to poor leadership. How you respond, even to abusive leaders, will shape and mold you as a leader. The bottom line is knowing where God has called you, when to stay and when to leave, regardless of the circumstances. Choosing to submit to authority until God releases you and calls you out is essential to your leadership development.