OH MY WORDS!
By LESLIE STRADER
From Marie Curie to Julia Childs, Rosa Parks to Princess Di, women have made their
mark on the world with intelligence, creativity, generosity and grace. Whether it’s
winning a Nobel prize, standing against injustice, or making gourmet grilled cheese, there is much food for thought in the lives of inspiring women – and none greater than the women our Father selected for inclusion in His inerrant, living Word.
As a woman, I’m encouraged by the biblical record of my sisters in Christ who strived to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord. While imperfect, the lives of Hannah, Ruth, and Jesus’ mother Mary are among the high-water marks for females in Scripture. But we must study with equal fervor and appreciation the record of women falling short because that is where we truly live. We know high-water marks are few and far between. That’s why Numbers 12 is a treasure of equal value for us. Here we see the character of God on display through an episode in the life of a strong, influential woman who succumbs to a rebellious heart and critical tongue. And it’s instructive for all of us.
Miriam was the sister of Moses and made a noteworthy entrance in Exodus 2 when she
helped save her little brother from Pharaoh’s abominable decree to drown all Hebrew
baby boys in the Nile. We see her later in Exodus 15 after the crossing of the Red Sea,
leading the women in worship of the Lord who rescued them from the Egyptians.
She is called a prophetess in Exodus 15:20, which is quite a distinction. There was no
written Word of God then so she was one of the few – and the only woman at the time –
equipped to give God’s Word to the people, the women most likely. Miriam was a
woman who was called, gifted, and esteemed. But like us, she was also susceptible to sin.
In Numbers 12:1, the courageous and loyal Miriam made the heart-breaking choice to give voice to the critical spirit stirred up inside
her: “Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses because of the Cushite woman whom he had married, for he had married a Cushite woman. And they said, “Has theLord indeed
spoken only through Moses? Has he not spoken through us also?’”
Spoke against here means “hostile speech,” the same word used for the murmurings of
the Israelites throughout their wilderness wanderings. Here, however, it’s in the feminine form – meaning, it was Miriam doing the talking.
Maybe Miriam was ambitious and jealous of the authority the Lord in Chapter 11 had just given to the elders. Maybe she succumbed to the ugly sins of entitlement and pride.
Maybe she wasn’t content with what she had; she had influence, but wanted more.
Whatever it was, it displeased the Lord greatly. And the bottom line is found in Romans
13:1-2 – her rebellion was not simply against Moses, but against God: “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.”
Numbers 12:2 contain some pretty scary words: “And the LORD heard it.” Just as He heard her praise on the other side of the Red Sea, He heard her complaint at
the border of the Promised Land. So the great I AM called a meeting with Miriam and her
brothers to remind Miriam of His and her place in the sovereign hierarchy of heaven and earth. (vv. 5-9) We can imagine the pit in her stomach, the regret in her heart. Yet this was a gracious thing the Lord did. He disciplines those He loves (Hebrews 12:6), and does not allow His children to languish long in their sin.
The Lord afflicted Miriam with leprosy for her offense, a very public discipline. But the
grace we see in verse 13 is so precious. Her brother Moses – the one she attacked and
betrayed – is the one who pleaded to God for her pardon, pointing us straight to Christ,
our Mediator: “And Moses cried to the Lord, “O God, please heal her—please.’” Miriam had to spend seven days outside the camp, where after such time, she was healed
and clean. Note that her sin not only hurt her and her brother, but was on display for the
entire nation of Israel to see. Can you imagine a couple million people witnessing one of
lowest moments of your life? Verse 15 shows us that sin splatters, as the children of
Israel were compelled to sit and wait for her discipline to end.
As a woman, I can testify: we have a particular struggle with our words. And we all could
stand a check in our spirit about how we respond to the authority God has sovereignly
placed in our lives. While this story of Miriam is our warning, God knows we also need
direction when the temptation to complain becomes too much to bear and a critical spirit threatens our contentment. Psalm 142:1 tells us we can still use our words; we just need to take care where they land: “With my voice I cry out to the Lord; I pour out my complaint before him; I tell my trouble before him.”
That’s where we go first. Why? Isaiah 30:19 promises, “He will surely be gracious to you
at the sound of your cry. As soon as he hears it, he answers you.” Praise the Lord that, by His Spirit, He can set a guard over our mouths, and keep our tongues from evil and our lips from speaking deceit. When we submit to Jesus, we can die to our pride and any other self-gratifying root sin we battle, and leave our “need” to criticize or complain at the foot of the cross. It is there that, by His grace, He puts a new song in our mouths, a hymn of praise to our God. Psalms and Proverbs provide wisdom about our words and how they can break or bless those around us. Chose one of the verses below to memorize and wield in prayer for the next battle against the temptation to grumble:
“There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise
brings healing.” Proverbs 12:18
“Whoever guards his mouth preserves his life; he who opens wide his lips comes
to ruin.” Proverbs 13:3
“The mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life, but the mouth of the wicked
conceals violence.” Proverbs 10:11
Whoever restrains his words has knowledge, and he who has a cool spirit is a
man of understanding.” Proverbs 17:2
“A gentle tongue is a tree of life, but perverseness in it breaks the spirit.”
“The hearts of the wise make their mouths prudent and their lips promote
instruction” Proverbs 16:23
“Whoever keeps his mouth and his tongue keeps himself out of trouble.” Proverbs
“Gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the
body.” Proverbs 16:24
“Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in Your
sight, O LORD, my rock and my Redeemer.” Psalm 19:14
Former Abilenian Leslie Strader is a freelance writer in Tyler.
(Editor’s Note: The following article first appeared on the Womenary blog site in July 2018. Womenary is Tyler-based program that offers seminar-style classes for women seeking a theological education. The author, Leslie Strader, is a freelance writer who lives in Tyler but grew up in Abilene, the daughter of Rob and Linda Carleton. She graduated from Baylor University and then earned a graduate degree at Hardin-Simmons University. She covered the education beat at the Abilene Reporter-News from 1994 to 1997. Leslie is married to Abilenian Ross Strader, pastor of Bethel Bible Church in Tyler.)