Numbers 12:1-11, 13-15
Alan Hall, associational missionary
Mulberry Baptist Association
Children often respond to criticism with the phrase, “Sticks and stones can break my bones but words will never hurt me.” Fact is, words can hurt, words are powerful. God spoke the world into existence; God’s words are powerful and effective.
God’s words, even those of discipline, are spoken from a heart of pure holiness. Our words, however, don’t always originate in holiness.
I’ve heard it said that “the tongue is the dipstick of the heart,” and the Book of James tells us that no man can control the tongue. A critical spirit generates critical words and is often the result of playing the comparison game. Comparing ourselves to others can lead to discontentment and dissatisfaction and ultimately to a critical spirit. A critical spirit is poison to the Lord’s work in our lives and in His church.
Our session passage today, Numbers 12:1‐11, 13‐15, reminds us of the trouble a critical spirit can bring. The Israelites are on their journey from Mount Sinai to the Promised Land. Along the way a series of complaints erupted among them against God and His leader, Moses. They complained of the hardships of their journey, God responded by sending fire. They complained about having no meat to eat, God sent quail but also a deadly plague. Moses himself complained about the burdens of leading the people, so God directed him to appoint leaders to assist him as they traveled to Hazeroth. There, a conflict between Moses and his siblings Miriam and Aaron takes place.
Rise of a critical spirit –Numbers 12:1‐3
Miriam’s name is listed first and seems to have been the leader in criticizing Moses’ Cushite (or Ethiopian) wife. Moses had apparently taken a wife as Zipporah may have died. The criticism most likely rises from this more current circumstance rather than referring to his marriage to Zipporah more than 40 years ago.
Was the real issue her ethnicity? Or was it that Miriam was comparing Moses’ judgment and leadership to her own. Failing to stay focused on God’s will and instead looking at her own will, a critical spirit arose in her. Critical words against Moses were spoken. And although we don’t know who all heard the criticism, we know that the Lord heard it (v.2)! When politicians “sling mud” and harshly critisize their opponents we are appalled.
Rejection of a critical spirit‐ Numbers 12:4‐11
The criticism receives swift rebuke from the Lord. Miriam and Aaron are literally “called out” by the Lord as He reconfirms Moses’ leadership role to them. “The Lord’s anger burned against them” (v.9) – definitely not a position you want to be in. Practically put, if someone starts lobbing up complaints against God’s chosen leaders expect it to be rejected like a basketball shot slapped down by the Atlanta Hawks former center, Mutumbo (“Not in my house!”) I always loved watching that guy block a shot. That mental imagery might be helpful to think of if a critical spirit ever rears it’s ugly head.
Even worse for Miriam, she is then stricken with a disease. Why is it that we are appalled when politicians start “mud slinging,” harshly criticizing their opponents? Yet, “mud slinging” takes place routinely in God’s House where surely He rejects it.
Restoration from a critical spirit‐Numbers 12:13‐15
The blessed New Testament illustration of the restoration of Peter in John Chapter 21 leads to where Peter begins to compare himself to another disciple (“What about him?”). Jesus’ response is, “What is that to you? As for you, follow me.”
Though we don’t have a definitive answer as to Miriam’s spirit and mindset after this incident, Scripture does infer that she was restored and continued to serve God as a leader in the Israelite community. In verse 14 it says Miriam would be “brought back” to the camp. In Numbers 20:1 her death was acknowledged and she was buried as an act of honor. In Micah 6:4 she is chiefly remembered for her role as a leader.
What a blessing when we can be “brought back,” redeemed from a critical spirit! Jesus reminded Peter not to compare himself to others, but to “follow me.” That is how we avoid a critical spirit in the first place and how we can be restored if we do fail.
Follow Him First. Follow Him Faithfully. Follow Him Fervently!
- Have you been affected by a critical spirit‐what happened?
- Is there a difference between criticism and having a critical spirit?
- What is the right way to deal with criticism?
Keep your eyes on Jesus!