Moses Himself Needs a Humble Savior (Numbers 12:1-16)


Our Daily Bread passage on Mon, Sep 19, 2011 was "Moses' Humbleness" (Num 12:1-16). Later that day, someone asked me, "Teach us about Moses' humbleness." These are my reflections.

My Initial Thoughts: Without the gospel of grace, at best we Christians will act humanly humble, usually by being soft spoken or silent. Though Moses was "humble," 8 chapters later he was proud, impatient and filled with anger, when he struck a rock twice in defiance of God's instructions to him (Num 20:8-11). This caused him to forfeit his life dream of entering the promised land (Num 20:12). Moses the humble man, needed a humbler Man. Moses, the mediator of Israel, needed a Mediator himself. Moses who delivered his people needed a Deliverer himself. Moses who saved his people needed a Savior himself. Only the gospel of Christ being butchered for me produces true sweet humility. This narrative is ultimately not about Moses' humility, since Jesus said that Moses wrote about Jesus (John 5:39, 46).

My Questions. I asked myself a few questions: What is the main biblical teaching of Num 12:1-16? Is it to be humble like Moses, who allowed God to deal with his dissenters? Is it to never complain against God's appointed leader, or else face very harsh and severe consequences? Absolutely and surely without question, as God fearing and God honoring Christians, we should always seriously heed the obvious answer to both questions with fear and trembling in our own frail and proud hearts. But do such teachings help us to see Jesus and to understand the gospel? My above thoughts suggests, "No." Outside of the gospel, no one can be truly humble. Also, outside of the gospel no one can overcome his or her own pride and jealousy. These are my burning thoughts as I looked into Num 12:1-16.

My key verse is Num 12:11: "I ask you not to hold against us the sin we have so foolishly committed." A title could be "Complaining in the Camp/Church."

A Painful Reality. A sad and painful reality in Christian ministry is when dissension arises within a church family or community, even among good, godly, God fearing, God honoring Christians. This was apparently what happened in Numbers 12. It is similar to the 2 prior incidents of grumbling in Num 11:1,4-6,10, except that this 3rd time it occurred in the highest ranks of Israel's leadership. Moses was a great leader. Aaron was the chief priest and Moses' older brother. Miriam was a prophetess (Ex 15:20) and Moses' older sister. Both Aaron and Miriam were greatly honored servants of God in Israel in their own right, and whom God had also used mightily. Was there jealousy over Moses their younger brother playing the lead role in Israel? Perhaps so. Regardless, it displeased and angered God, because Moses was God's appointed servant and mediator. Though God had used Aaron and Miriam greatly, yet there was folly and sin in them. 2 observations:

1. God violated the traditional and expected iron law of primogeniture. Primogeniture is a hard and unfamiliar word. It means that the chain of command in any family begins with the oldest son, for the oldest son always receives the largest share of the family inheritance--ALWAYS. But God does not follow "human rules and tradition." God's calling and election is ALWAYS by grace alone, and never based on a person's status or standing. As a result, God often breaks this "iron law" and expected tradition of man. For instance:

  • God chose Abel the younger instead of Cain the older.
  • God chose Isaac the younger instead of Ishmael the older.
  • God chose Jacob the younger instead of Esau the older.
  • God bypassed the older 10 sons and chose Joseph the 11th of Jacob's sons.
  • God chose Ephraim the younger son of Joseph instead of Manasseh the older son.
  • God chose David, the youngest of the 8 sons of Jesse.
  • God chose Moses, the youngest one in his family.
2. Dissension arose within the senior leadership and God dealt with it (Num 12:1-10). This shows that even among the most gifted and God-appointed/anointed leaders sin can creep in and cause serious dissension. Little sins can cause tremendous ruptures in the life of God's people. Most of all this passage points us to man's utmost dire need for a Mediator, just as Moses was a mediator of the Lord for Israel, and also for Aaron and Miriam. This passage can be divided into 4 parts: Rebellion, Mediator, Judgment, Intercession.
  1. Rebellion: Rebellion Against Moses by His Own Family (1-3).
  2. Mediator: A Mediator is Necessary to Stand Between God and men (4-8).
  3. Judgment: God's Judgment Against Those Who Reject His Mediator (9-12).
  4. Intercession: The Mediator as Intercessor for Sinners (13-16).
I. Rebellion Against Moses by His Own Family (Num 12:1-3)

The complaint against the mediator Moses' wife (perhaps for racial reasons) masked their real complaint against Moses' leadership and unique position and authority (Num 12:1-2). God, who searches all hearts, "heard this" (Num 12:2b), for this was a complaint against God who had appointed Moses. Their complaint against Moses was not unlike the complaint against Jesus in his own hometown and by his own family.

Moses' humility was like that of Jesus who did not speak up or retaliate when falsely accused (Num 12:3; 1 Pet 2:23; Isa 53:7). Moses humility is commendable. Jesus' humility is ultimate.

II. A Mediator is Necessary to Stand Between God and Men (Num 12:4-8)

Because of the challenge against the mediator Moses, God becomes the advocate for the mediator. God summoned all 3 of them to the tent of meeting, where "the LORD came down in a pillar of cloud" and "summoned Aaron and Miriam" to step forward (Num 12:4-5). Then in the 11-line poem in Num 12:6-8, God describes Moses' unique mediating role (Ex 33:11, 18-23). To vindicate the mediator, God shows us the uniqueness, the necessity, and the indispensability of the mediator. To God, any challenge to his appointed mediator will ultimately result in our own destruction, because the mediator has been provided by God for our good, and without him we are undone. To Christians, it is a foreshadowing of Christ, the prophet greater than Moses (Deut 18:15; Acts 3:22, 7:37).

III. God's Judgment Against Those who Reject His Mediator (Num 12:9-12)

In anger, God departs and Miriam becomes leprous (Num 12:9-10). Aaron pleaded with Moses, "Please, my lord, I ask you not to hold against us the sin we have so foolishly committed." This plea is a picture of the doctrine/teaching of the non-imputation of our sin to us through God's imputation of our sin to His Mediator. This doctrine underlies the great gospel doctrine of justification by faith alone, where God freely justifies us by grace, which we receive through faith, not because of our own righteousness, but because of the righteousness of Christ imputed (reckoned, counted, credited) to us, while our sins are credited to him (2 Cor 5:21). Here God is demonstrating the necessity of a mediator.

IV. The Mediator as Intercessor for Sinners (Num 12:13-16)

Here Moses the mediator intercedes for those who sinned against him. It is like Jesus' prayer of intercession on the cross on our behalf in Luke 23:34. When we sin and our heart is weighed down by our guilt, our only place of true rest is to come to Jesus (Mt 11:29). Like Moses, Jesus did not defend Himself against His accuser. But Jesus is the greater Moses (Heb 3:1-6).

Final Thoughts. Though Moses was a humble man (Heb 12:3), he too needed a humble Savior and Mediator himself. Though Aaron and Miriam sinned against Moses, their sin was primarily and ultimately against God (Ps 51:4), from whom they needed forgiveness. Moses the human mediator and leader could not heal or forgive them. Only God can (Num 12:13-15; Lk 23:34)

References: ESV Study Bible, 2008
Numbers 12:1-16 “Murmuring In the House.” Sermon by Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III July 18, 2007.

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