. . . don’t harden your hearts as Israel did when they rebelled, when they tested me in the wilderness.Hebrews 3:8
Our List of the Places of Rebellion in Order
- Mt Sinai
- Kadesh Barnea
From Kibroth-hattaavah the Israelites traveled to Hazeroth, where they stayed for some time. While they were at Hazeroth, Miriam and Aaron criticized Moses because he had married a Cushite woman. They said, “Has the LORD spoken only through Moses? Hasn’t he spoken through us, too?”
But the LORD heard them. (Now Moses was very humble—more humble than any other person on earth.) So immediately the LORD called to Moses, Aaron, and Miriam and said, “Go out to the Tabernacle, all three of you!”
So the three of them went to the Tabernacle. Then the LORD descended in the pillar of cloud and stood at the entrance of the Tabernacle. “Aaron and Miriam!” he called, and they stepped forward. And the LORD said to them, “Now listen to what I say: “If there were prophets among you, I, the LORD, would reveal myself in visions. I would speak to them in dreams. But not with my servant Moses. Of all my house, he is the one I trust. I speak to him face to face, clearly, and not in riddles! He sees the LORD as he is. So why were you not afraid to criticize my servant Moses?” The LORD was very angry with them, and he departed.
As the cloud moved from above the Tabernacle, there stood Miriam, her skin as white as snow from leprosy. When Aaron saw what had happened to her, he cried out to Moses, “Oh, my master! Please don’t punish us for this sin we have so foolishly committed. Don’t let her be like a stillborn baby, already decayed at birth.”
So Moses cried out to the LORD, “O God, I beg you, please heal her!”
But the LORD said to Moses, “If her father had done nothing more than spit in her face, wouldn’t she be defiled for seven days? So keep her outside the camp for seven days, and after that she may be accepted back.”
So Miriam was kept outside the camp for seven days, and the people waited until she was brought back before they traveled again. Then they left Hazeroth and camped in the wilderness of Paran.Numbers 11:35-12:16
They left Kibroth-hattaavah and camped at Hazeroth. They left Hazeroth and camped at Rithmah.Numbers 33:17-18
These are the words that Moses spoke to all the people of Israel while they were in the wilderness east of the Jordan River. They were camped in the Jordan Valley near Suph, between Paran on one side and Tophel, Laban, Hazeroth, and Di-zahab on the other.Deuteronomy 1:1
Hazeroth is like all the other places, chosen because of their link to the Israelites’ rebellion. Hazeroth means “villages” but more specifically it signifies ‘an unwalled village’. In other words a village without walls is a village without protection. The reason the map has the name Ain Hudra attached to Hazeroth is because in the search for the location of this place many Ancient Near Eastern experts suggest the likely place is now called Ain Hudra, Hudherah or el-Hadherah. Again we have the variation in the names which I explained in the Nugget Unravelling the Puzzle of Multiple Locations to Key Places. The most likely significance of the name Hazeroth connects to the idea of ‘an unwalled village’. Now that is interesting given what happened there. The events that occurred there left the people without God’s protection in the leader He appointed to them, namely Moses. When Aaron and Miriam stepped out from under the leadership God had appointed they left themselves and the people vulnerable. It is clear God was angry at what Miriam had done and punished her accordingly. There are a number of layers to what we are told in the text.
- The punishment that came on her and Aaron for their criticism of Moses and the reason they chose for their criticism. (Num 12:1)
- God then summoned all three together to address the issue. (12:4)
- God was angry with them and departed. (12:9)
- The fact that the cloud, the symbol of God’s Presence, lifted from above the tabernacle and departed. (12:10)
All these elements in the text are hints that something serious had occurred. God takes rebellion against His appointed leaders seriously. The effect was not only felt on Miriam and Aaron but also on the people of God as a whole. This is a principle which runs through Scripture. Look at what happened in Ai with Achan’s sin (Joshua 8) which had been covered up. Although the sin was due to an individual’s behaviour, there were implications for the community: the immediate family and the wider community. It can be concluded that criticism of leadership has serious implications for the body. The action on the part of Miriam and Aaron, due to their criticism of Moses, is seen as a rebellion. That seems harsh doesn’t it? After all, there is not a hint in the text that the people rebelled. Miriam and Aaron’s rebellion is not viewed in the same way as Kohath’s rebellion (Number’s 16:1-50). That rebellion resulted in the deaths of the 250 leaders who sided with Kohath in his rebellion and the effect spread to 14,700 others who were implicated. Now you have to admit that’s a pretty serious rebellion. When God’s people are unprotected by their leadership all sorts of outcomes can result.
Numbers 11 and 16 are linked by being examples of rebellion in each case. All of these chosen segments in the story of Numbers relate to rebellion. That much is made clear to us. But we know too that there were other place names in the wider list that were not connected to rebellion. The author of Hebrews chose to highlight the Israelites’ rebellion over a span of forty years. The word rebellion was chosen as the label for their behaviour. That much is true. It seems God hates rebellion.
BUT, I can’t just leave it there. There is a huge connotation which lies behind this teaching which is in error. It would be remiss of me not to give some clarification on this issue. Leadership must be accountable. Surely that is the point of the text related to Miriam, Aaron and Moses. I don’t need to spell out to you the fact that leaders need to be held accountable. I don’t need to give you examples of where leaders of churches and religious organisations have not been accountable for the practices done under the name of God. Almost every time I open my Twitter account now there is a posting about spiritual abuse by church leaders of one form or another. In some cases the said abuse is abuse which contravenes criminal law.
There is also an attitude around, especially held and verbalised by those in church leadership, that it is wrong for members of a congregation to criticise the leadership of the church. Often this prohibition extends to challenging the leaders on issues of doctrine. The familiar phrase used is “touch not the Lord’s anointed”. This clause appears in Psalm 105:15. It is also used by David when David’s men encouraged him to take Saul’s life in 1 Samuel 24:6 . This statement is often used by church leaders to send the message to the congregation that they are not to criticise the leadership. Neither of these two biblical examples can be used to suggest we may not criticise the leadership for valid things they are doing wrong or on matters of doctrine or faith that we might take issue with.
To suggest that a pastor is ‘untouchable’ or not able to be challenged in something he has taught, preached or claimed is nonsense. The issue in the case of Miriam and Aaron’s criticism was that it was totally unfounded and misdirected. The fact that Moses had married a Cushite woman was not the issue. There were other issues that God had a problem with. For pastors to use these verses as a way of claiming they were not to be challenged doctrinally or otherwise is ludicrous. There have been many times I have challenged the leadership of churches I have been part of over teaching, doctrine or practice. But I have always done it face to face with the said pastor and with those with whom the criticism relates. “Touch not the Lord’s anointed” is not a carte blanche to say nothing to a leader about matters which concern you. Surely church leadership should want to know the things their followers are concerned about and make themselves open to discussing such matters.
I have an Ian story to add at this point. A couple of them come to mind but I will only include them if I get enough of you wanting to read them. I am not wanting to open a can of worms by this Gem. I am merely addressing the issues that are involved with these related biblical passages and highlighting a spiritual abuse which is abroad these days. If you have questions or want to know more, then ask. If you want the Ian story, tell me. If you don’t have questions or don’t tell me you want to receive the story then I will move on to the next named place of rebellion – Kadesh Barnea.
‘Touch not the Lord’s anointed.’ Does that mean we should not criticise, offer advice or give the pastor a head’s up?Ian
Criticism is something we can avoid by doing nothing, saying nothing and being nothing.Aristotle
Honest criticism is hard to take, particularly from a relative, a friend, an acquaintance, or a stranger.Ian
Before you criticise and accuse, walk a mile in my shoes.Joe South
He has the right to criticise who has a heart to help.Abraham Lincoln