REBELLION HAS many faces.
Numbers 12-13 reports two quite different and complex forms of rebellion. The first finds Aaron and Miriam bad-mouthing their brother Moses. The presenting problem is that because the Lord has spoken through them as well as through Moses, they feel they have the right to share whatever authority he enjoys. But other layers lie hidden: they are upset with Moses because of his marriage to a Cushite. Human motives are often convoluted.
Inevitably, the protest sounds reasonable and sensible, even (to our ears) democratic. Further, it is calculated to put Moses into a horrible position. If he insists that he alone is the leader whom God has peculiarly called to this task, he could be accused by the envious and the skeptical as guilty of self-promoting turf-protection. What saves him, in part, is that, like the Savior who followed him, Moses is an extraordinarily humble man (12:3; cf. Matt. 11:29).
God himself intervenes and designates who the leader is. Moses is unique, for the immediacy of the revelation he receives and transmits is beyond that of all other prophets; further, Moses has proved faithful in all God’s household (12:6-8). Miriam faces fearful judgment. Why Miriam is so afflicted and not Aaron is unclear: perhaps in this rebellion she was the leader, or perhaps God did not want to undermine the legitimate authority Aaron possessed as high priest. What is clear is that even when Miriam, owing to Moses’ intercessory intervention, is forgiven, she faces a week of disgrace and illness outside the camp, to teach both her and the nation that the rebellion that manifests itself in lust for power deserves judgment from the living God.
The second rebellion, reported in Numbers 13, begins with the fears of ten of the twelve spies commissioned to reconnoiter the Promised Land. They could not fail to report its lush fertility, but they focused on the obstacles. In this they had forgotten, or willfully ignored, all that God had miraculously performed to bring them this far. But their rebellion is worse yet. As leaders they were charged not only with accurate reporting but also with forming the opinion of the people. As leaders of the people of God, they should have presented the features of the land as they found them, and then focused attention on the faithful, covenantal God, reminding the people of the plagues, the Passover, the Exodus, the supply of food and safety in the desert, and God’s self-disclosure at Sinai. But in fact, they succeed only in fomenting a major mutiny (see chap. 14), primarily by fostering fear and unbelief.
In what ways does rebellion manifest itself among the people of God today?