Numbers 12:1-16 (Part 2) – From B.M.O.C. to Teenage Boy Under Arrest and A Dad’s Mercy

Posted: August 30, 2016 in 04-Numbers
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Numbers 12:1-16 (Part 2 of 2)

The Complaints of Miriam and Aaron Against Moses

I have used this illustration before but it seems so appropriate here that I must use it again. Back when I was about to turn 14 years old, in the Summer of 1976, I was a happy camper just living the life of a popular kid at Lakeside Middle School in Anderson, SC. I had just finished my 8th grade year at the school and was about to move up to the 9th grade at Westside High School. In my 8th grade year at the middle school in this town that we had lived in since the summer of 1974, I was really coming into my own. I was a big man on campus. I was in the “in-crowd”. I had some really close friends and a ton of acquaintances. The girls there thought I was one of the cutest boys in school and at age thirteen I was really discovering girls and found out that kissing them and making out with them gave me this wonderful feeling that was about the coolest thing ever! We were going to be moving that June. It was to be the middle of the month after when had finished the school year in early June.


Previously, in all our moves as a Methodist preacher’s family, I was too young to care or object to any of the moves. But now in the summer of ’76, I was 13 years old, a teenager, and would turn 14 just two months away in late August. This time, the move was traumatizing. I was going to be cut out of social circle that I dearly loved. I hated the fact that we moved. I didn’t want it all. If there was any way that I could stay in Anderson, I would have. There was just no way. In Anderson, I had everything. I had a best friend in Donnie Garrison. We did everything together. We were inseparable. At school, I had a lot of really good friends that I used to hang out with at the malls and at sporting events. I had a lot of female friends that I flirted with and would go steady with (as much as 13 year olds can go steady) for weeks (at 13, going steady with a girl for more than a couple of weeks was a big deal). I was popular at the school and was involved in the drama club, was on the middle school football team, and was a key player on my church league basketball team. I was connected. Even when I got in trouble at school, the principal was a friend of the family from church so going to the principal’s office was meeting a friend not a death sentence. It was just a fun time in my life. Everything was going great.


Then, it happened. We moved to a city that even its name was an irritation to me. Who names their town “Travelers Rest”? It sounded like a rest stop on the highway. But, yes, there is a town in South Carolina named Travelers Rest just north of Greenville, SC. I will live it to you to google and find the history of the town. It was there, to me, that I was being sentenced to the wilderness. In 2016, this little town of Travelers Rest is the next chic suburb of Greenville. Everybody wants to live there now as sits nestled just below the beginning of the Blue Ridge Mountains. It certainly has natural beauty galore in this unique setting. However, in 1976, it was just a small town. It was town where everybody knew everybody and they distrusted anyone who did not grow up there. It was my Patmos Island. I hated it that summer. I was heartbroken. Anderson was only an hour away but to a thirteen year old boy, it might as well been a million miles away. I did not want to be there. My anger at the move took on grave proportions.


One of those summer weeks before school started in the fall, I had my friend Donnie, from Anderson, up for a week to hang out with me. We were a mischievous set. Back in Anderson, since he lived out at the lake, we would hang out at his place which was a four acre small farm right on Lake Hartwell. We had fun exploring the woods all the time. We would enjoy finding stuff and figuring out ways to blow it up or burn it. We were the quintessential mischievous boys. So, of course, in Travelers Rest, I lived right in town, near the business district of this small town. And we were mischievous. Business districts and mischievous 13 year olds are not a good combination. We spent the first few days stealing bubble gum from convenience stores. Exploring the woods behind dad’s church. Shooting bee bee guns at birds. Throwing rocks at whatever we could throw rocks at. Then, that day came. We got the idea that it would be cool to vandalize Travelers Rest Elementary School. We decided that pulling the incoming phone wires out of the junction box at the main office of the school would be cool. We got caught. We got arrested. Worse than that, yeah, worse than that, I got in trouble with my dad. He was the brand new preacher in town and what does his youngest son do within the first month of his arrival in town. He gets arrested for vandalizing the local elementary school.


Fast forward to our trial date, which because we were juveniles in Greenville County, SC at the time, meant a private meeting with the judge. Little known to me and Donnie, my dad and his dad had paid to have the phone system at the school repaired. However, they did not tell us that. They had worked out a deal with the school district that if they would pay for the repairs the district would not press the vandalism charges against us. But our dads let us think that we were facing being sent to teenager prison in South Carolina, the John G. Richards School for Boys in Columbia (or JGR as it was known by every boy in the state). I am certain it does not exist anymore in the coddled child world in which we live now but it was a reality then. I had heard rumors about how rough that place was and we were looking at a sentence of at least 6 months there. And, by all rights, we knew that we deserved that punishment that would going to be the toughest thing we ever did to that point in our lives. However, at the trial the judge tells us that we needed to thank our dad for paying the price for our crime. He told us that the charges against had been dropped because of the kindness of my dad and Donnie’s dad. We were free (at least from the law, maybe not from our dads). We were not going to go the hellhole of JGR, the fear of all teenage boys in South Carolina. We did not have to pay for our crime by going to hell, the hell that was JGR.


Our dads had shown us loving mercy. Although they could have easily let us, in their anger at us (and yes they were angry and they did make the rest of our summer just whole loads of fun), let us be sentenced to a place that would have made us into God knows what. They paid the price for our crime so that we would not have to suffer the likes of JGR. They showed us mercy that we did not deserve. My dad, Donnie’s dad, could have just washed their angry hands of us and let us go to teen prison. We did suffer the consequences of our sins at the hands of our fathers at home but they did not let us pay for our sins permanently (a criminal record and a visit to JGR would follow you the rest of your life).


It reminds me of the mercy shown to Miriam in this passage that we read today for the second and final time, Numbers 12:1-16:


12 Miriam and Aaron began to talk against Moses because of his Cushite wife, for he had married a Cushite. 2 “Has the Lord spoken only through Moses?” they asked. “Hasn’t he also spoken through us?” And the Lord heard this.


3 (Now Moses was a very humble man, more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth.)


4 At once the Lord said to Moses, Aaron and Miriam, “Come out to the tent of meeting, all three of you.” So the three of them went out. 5 Then the Lord came down in a pillar of cloud; he stood at the entrance to the tent and summoned Aaron and Miriam. When the two of them stepped forward, 6 he said, “Listen to my words:


“When there is a prophet among you,

    I, the Lord, reveal myself to them in visions,

    I speak to them in dreams.


But this is not true of my servant Moses;

    he is faithful in all my house.


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?”


9 The anger of the Lord burned against them, and he left them.


10 When the cloud lifted from above the tent, Miriam’s skin was leprous[a]—it became as white as snow. Aaron turned toward her and saw that she had a defiling skin disease, 11 and he said to Moses, “Please, my lord, I ask you not to hold against us the sin we have so foolishly committed. 12 Do not let her be like a stillborn infant coming from its mother’s womb with its flesh half eaten away.”


13 So Moses cried out to the Lord, “Please, God, heal her!”


14 The Lord replied to Moses, “If her father had spit in her face, would she not have been in disgrace for seven days? Confine her outside the camp for seven days; after that she can be brought back.” 15 So Miriam was confined outside the camp for seven days, and the people did not move on till she was brought back.


16 After that, the people left Hazeroth and encamped in the Desert of Paran.


Spitting in someone’s face was considered the ultimate insult in this society (and it certainly is still insulting today but the insult was of a higher offense than even today back in the ancient Middle East). It was a sign of shame imposed on wrongdoers. Remember, in Matthew 26:67, the religious leaders at Jesus’ so-called trial spat in His face to degrade and insult Him in the highest possible way. It was the Jewish way of saying that you are lower and less worthy than the dirt on the ground on which I normally spit. It was a deep insult according to ancient Middle Eastern customs. God punished Miriam for smug attitude not only toward Moses but toward God Himself. He struck her with leprosy. Since she bucked the authority of God, it would seem that this punishment was quite lenient. A week was the length of time she would be excluded from camp if someone had spit in your face. How much more did she deserve for standing against the authority of God. But yet, God was merciful to her. He could have struck her down where she stood and she would have been no more and she would have suffered the ravages of hell for thumbing her nose at God. But no, God was merciful.


What we see here is that Miriam did suffer the consequences of her sin by being struck with a skin rash and being excluded from the fellowship of the nation of Israel for a time, but God restored her fully after that time. She did not get the punishment she deserved from a just and righteous God. She was granted new life by a loving and merciful God. We do often have to live with the consequences of our sins in life but, through Christ’s mercy on the cross (taking the punishment we deserve), we do not have to pay the eternal price of condemnation to eternity in hell. We are redeemed from the hell we deserve and we are restored to good standing in the presence of the Father through Jesus Christ.


Just as Donnie and I were shown mercy by our earthly fathers, just as Miriam was shown mercy by God, we too are shown mercy eternally through our acceptance of Jesus Christ as our Savior and Lord.


Do you think your crimes against God are too great to be forgiven? Do you think that you are too far gone? Do you think that you do not deserve God’s love? Think again. No matter what you have done, if you repent of your sins and call on the name of Jesus as your Savior and Lord and believe that He paid the price for your sins on the cross, then you will be shown mercy. You will be restored to God’s family. No longer will you be outside the camp. Call on Jesus’ name. Receive your mercy!


Amen and Amen.

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