Numbers 12:2 (NIV)
2 "Has the LORD spoken only through Moses?" they asked. "Hasn't he also spoken through us?" And the LORD heard this.
In Numbers 12:1-16, Miriam and Aaron, Moses' high profile older sister and older brother, speak critical, condemning words about Moses. (The fact that they put Miriam ahead of Aaron in verse 1 suggests that Miriam was the ringleader and Aaron followed.) God hears Miriam and Aaron speaking against Moses (v2) and what is God's response? God calls Miriam and Aaron to account for their careless words (v4). He defends His servant Moses and rebukes Miriam and Aaron, saying "Why were you not afraid to speak against my servant Moses?" (v8b) God's anger burns against them and His presence departs from them (v9), and all of a sudden Miriam's skin becomes leprous (v10). Aaron pleads with Moses for forgiveness (v11), Moses pleads with God to heal Miriam (v13), and God confines Miriam outside the Israelite camp for 7 days (v14). As a result, the Israelites could not move forward until Miriam was brought back (v15).
What can we learn from this?
1. God hears every word we say, including words we speak against the leaders God has placed over us. He not only hears our words. He holds us accountable for our words. Jesus says in Matthew 12:36, "But I tell you that men will have to account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken."
2. When God's anger burned and His presence departed Miriam and Aaron (v9), it's a reminder that when we speak carelessly against others, we grieve God's heart, cause His anger to burn, and the joy of His presence leaves us.
3. Miriam's leprosy (v10) is a reminder that when you speak carelessly against others, the one who ends up looking the worst is you. A person who can't control their tongue and who dishonours others with their words is sick and in need of help.
4. Miriam's confinement outside the camp (v14-15) is a reminder that when you speak carelessly against others in your church community, your place in that community is outside the camp. Fortunately for Miriam, since it was a one time incident, God, Moses and the Israelites were gracious enough to let her back in and waited for her to come back before moving forward.
Have you spoken careless words against others? If so, you need to repent. Confess your sins to God and ask Him for forgiveness. Ask God to change your heart so that your words would bring life and blessing -- rather than death and curses -- to you and those around you.
Thank God that though He had every reason to speak condemning and critical words of us, instead He chose to protect us and cover us in His love. Let's do the same with others too.