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Sunday School Lesson - May 28, 2023 

"Avoiding A Critical Spirit"

Numbers 12:1-15
The Point:
"Guard your heart against criticizing others."
There is a place for honestly confronting others when done in a loving and gracious way.  Yet maturity means learning to guard our hearts from an unhelpful critical spirit as we'll learn in this story of Miriam and Aaron's criticism of Moses. 
Number 12:1-3
1  And Miriam and Aaron spake against Moses because of the Ethiopian woman whom he had married; for he had married an Ethiopian woman. 
2  And they said, Hath the Lord indeed spoken only by Moses? hath he not spoken also by us? And the Lord heard it. 
3  (Now the man Moses was very meek, above all the men which were upon the face of the earth). 
Key Words: Ethiopian (v.1) - The word refers to a native of the country of Cush, which was south of Egypt.
A grumbling and critical spirit was an all too familiar mark of the Israelites throughout their journey in the desert.  The people had an uncanny ability to find something to complain about - and their griping was often aimed at their leader, Moses. In Numbers 12, we discover that this attitude toward Moses was also shared by two of their leaders, Miriam and Aaron.  Miriam is listed first, indicating she was likely the one leading out in this criticism. 
Moses' older siblings were critical of their brother because of his marriage to a Cushite woman. It is not clear whether this was referring to Zipporah, the daughter of Jethro (Ex. 2:21) or someone Moses married after Zipporah died. Being a Cushite could mean she was from the land of modern-day Ethiopia, but Cush was sometimes associated with Midian (Hab. 3:7), the land where Zipporah was from. Whoever she was, we know for certain that Miriam and Aaron looked down on Moses because of this marriage. Her ethnic difference - she was not an Israelite, surely played into Miriam's and Aaron's criticism. 
Moses' marriage was only a smokescreen. Numbers 12:2 reveals that their scorn was driven by a deeper motivation. "Hath the Lord indeed spoken only by Moses? hath he not spoken also by us?" Perhaps Miriam and Aaron were envious of Moses' stature as Israel's recognized leader. Maybe they felt slighted and not given enough credit for their own accomplishments. Whatever the reason, their critical spirit toward Moses was fueled by comparing themselves to their younger brother. 
Ironically, from what we know of Moses' humility, he would have been more than eager to share the platform with his siblings. In the previous chapter, Moses expressed his desire that all God's people would have the Holy Spirit in their lives even as he did.  "Would God that all the Lord's people were prophets, and that the Lord would put his spirit upon them!" (Num. 11:29). However, all Miriam and Aaron could see was God's apparent favor of Moses at their expense. 
In comparing themselves to Moses, they lost sight of the ways the Lord had also powerfully used them. For example, many knew Miriam as the prophetess who sang a powerful son exalting the Lord who rescued them from their pursuers. (Ex. 15:20-21). Aaron was the mouthpiece for Moses before Pharaoh and was installed as the first High Priest of the Lord. Yet sadly, because they were so fixated on how God was speaking through Moses, they forgot the important ways God also spoke through them to lead Israel. Their eyes could only see through the lens of what they lacked instead of all they had Comparison stole their joy and birthed a critical spirit. 
One of the tragic fruits of comparison and criticism is the breaking of the fellowship we were intended to share. Comparison leads to the shattering of our designed communion with others. The resulting critical spirit damages us as it also hurts others. It also impacts our relationship with the Lord. God also heard their criticism of Moses - and He had something to say. 
Numbers 12:4-9
4  And the Lord spake suddenly unto Moses, and unto Aaron, and unto Miriam, Come out ye three unto the tabernacle of the congregation. And they three came out. 
5  And the Lord came down in the pillar of the cloud, and stood in the door of the tabernacle, and called Aaron and Miriam; and they both came forth. 
6  And he said, Hear now my words: If there be a prophet among you, I the Lord will make myself known unto him in a vision, and will speak unto him in a dream. 
7  My servant Moses is not so, who is faithful in all mine house. 
8  With him will I speak mouth to mouth, even apparently, and not in dark speeches; and the similitude of the Lord shall he behold; wherefore then were ye not afraid to speak to speak against my servant Moses? 
9  And the anger of the Lord was kindled against them; and he departed. 
Key Words: The tabernacle of the congregation (v.4) -- The place where the presence of God dwelt amid the camp of the Israelites. There the people came to meet with God, and God gave instructions to Moses. 
Miriam and Aaron's comparison to Moses had clouded their vision, so significantly that they saw life through a critical lens. Their criticism impacted their communion with God. The Lord was so angered by their criticism that He called them both out, along with Moses, to the tent of meeting. 
The Lord began by distinguishing Moses from all other prophets. He described the close nature of their relationship. Moses had been granted an experiential knowledge of God's presence uncommon to other. "The Lord spake unto Moses face to face, as a man speaketh unto his friend". (Ex. 33:11). Moses was a prophet, but he was more than just a prophet. This point was probably not lost on Miriam and Aaron, two leaders who had spoken prophetically for the Lord. Even as prophets, they didn't know God like Moses knew God. So, when Miriam and Aaron criticized Moses by attacking his credibility, they were questioning God Himself. 
Not all criticism is unwarranted. At the same time, we need discernment to recognize when criticism is not confronting sin but actually opposing the very work of God. In Numbers 12, Miriam and Aaron weren't just speaking poorly of Moses. They were also criticizing God. Their critical attitude toward Moses was also criticizing God in establishing the person He wanted to lead His people. How shocking must it have been for Miriam and Aaron to realize their attitude was causing them to sand against the Lord! And their shock should cause us to evaluate our hearts before God. 
Criticism can't merely be rooted in our preferences or discontent, especially when the one being criticized may in fact be honoring the Lord and His Will.  Instead of criticizing, we may need to thank God that He is at work, even if it looks very different from how we would like Him to work. 
Number 12:10-15
10  And the cloud departed from off the tabernacle; and, behold, Miriam became leprous, white as snow; and Aaron looked upon Miriam, and behold, she was leprous. 
11  And Aaron said unto Moses, Alas, my Lord, I beseech thee, lay not the sin upon us, wherein we have done foolishly, and wherein we have sinned. 
12  Let her not be as one dead, of whom the flesh is half consumed when he cometh out of his mother's womb. 
13  And Moses cried unto the Lord, saying, Heal her now, O God, I beseech thee. 
14  And the Lord said unto Moses, If her father had but spit in her face, should she not be ashamed seven days? let her be shut out from the camp seven days, and after that let her be received in again. 
15  And Miriam was shut out from the camp seven days: and the people journeyed not till Miriam was brought in again. 
Miriam became leprous. Her skin turned white as snow. Moses prayed for her healing. The Lord instructed Moses to let her be shut out of the camp for seven days. Miriam was given time to reflect. This was time for her to reflect on her own repentance and the mercy of God. The people did not move on until she was brought back in the camp. 
Miriam sinned, but she experienced a God of mercy who welcomed her home. More than just the significant physical healing of her flesh, Miriam also experienced the reconciliation of her relationships that could have been torn apart by her criticism. 
Miriam's story gives us great hope. When we confess our sin there is always good news that welcomes us back home. The good news is that we have a Savior who suffered and died on the cross that we could be made whole. 
For more information on this lesson attend Sunday School at our church on May 28, 2023. We will be glad to have you.  

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