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  • Leadership Lessons from Numbers 12

    Posted on March 9th, 2010 admin 1 comment

    One of the trends sweeping its way across U.S. cities concerns pets. A couple of hundred dollar bills will get you another friend who will respond when called by name, and who will accompany you on walks around town. If you’re lucky, this friend may provide enough milk for a morning meal. Planning Commissions must decide: limit acceptable pets to cats, dogs, and goldfish, or let the trendsetters have their way by allowing miniature goats in urban areas.

    On one side of the debate are people who classify miniature goats as livestock. They hear these animals go, “baa;” they see them eating hay; and, they smell new odors when they are around. They do the math, accessing everything they learned as a child, and conclude that miniature goats are livestock. However, on the other side of the debate are people who don’t see miniature goats as any different than dogs: they follow kids around the yard, they’re friendly, and they fetch balls.

    One family in Matthews, NC recently complained about their neighbors who were violating a prohibition on keeping livestock. Their neighbor’s two miniature goats had to temporarily relocate to a farm, but they’re back home now that a judge has ruled that the goats are pets.

    Now, how does such a trend begin? Remember, a few years ago the hot thing was potbellied pigs. Now it’s the miniature goat. How does such a thing as walking a goat around a city, where there are Starbucks and stop lights, move from crazy to cool?

    I submit to you that starting such a trend, and keeping it alive, takes leadership. Leadership is one of those words that people write books about. I googled leadership Wednesday and found 146 million hits, that’s more than Bible or Christ. It’s more than doctrine and disciple combined. Leadership is a big deal in this world, and it is a big deal in the Bible. God sets leaders over us in government, and he sets leaders over us in the local church—men who serve as elders, or spiritual leaders over each congregation. They have the authority to start new initiatives. They set the direction of the local church. And, they have the responsibility of protecting their congregation. I don’t think they have any plans of bringing miniature goats to the service so don’t worry about that.

    In some way, all of us should be leaders. All of us should be part of pointing people to the Gospel of Jesus Christ and moving them along in the disciple-making process. That doesn’t mean that all of us have to chair a committee, organize events, or find volunteers for this and that. But it does mean that we have to show other people the way to the cross. That leadership isn’t always pointing fingers, and raising your voice. Leading people to the cross is most effectively done side-by-side, shoulder-to-shoulder, where you walk with people, and lead as a servant rather than king.

    The man of a house, the husband and dad, must lead his wife and his family. The woman of a house must lead her children. Regardless of your position at work, you can guide the people you interact with toward a greater understanding of Jesus Christ. Students can lead their classmates by being an example of Jesus in the classroom. Siblings can lead other siblings to the cross by surrendering their favorite toy, or the bequeathed dining room set, and by not fighting when it’s time to sell the farm.

    What we are talking about today is much more important than miniature goats. We are talking about living a life of leadership for the exaltation of Jesus Christ. We are dealing with life and death; a life lived for the glory of God and a life wasted on the pursuit of temporal things. Will you do your part in leading people to the cross?

    Our text this morning comes from the book of Numbers. We will read all of Numbers chapter 12. Then we will make leadership observations from the life of Moses.

    Before we read our passage, let’s talk about the book of Numbers. To date the book, we can turn to Numbers chapter 1, verse 1. It reads, “The Lord spoke to Moses in the wilderness of Sinai, in the tent of meeting, on the first day of the second month, in the second year after they had come out of the land of Egypt.” So, that gives us the starting point for the book. The Israelites have come out of bondage in Egypt, and they’ve been wandering in the wilderness for one year and one month. There is another time stamp found on the other side of Numbers in Deuteronomy chapter 1, verse 3, “In the fortieth year, on the first day of the eleventh month…” Between the beginning of the second year and the end of the fortieth year we have 39 years. What difference does that make? It just means that the events we read about in the book of Numbers occur within that 39 year time period. At the beginning of Numbers, the Israelites were one year into their wilderness wandering, which began when they crossed the Red Sea in Exodus 14. At the end of Numbers, or the beginning of Deuteronomy, they still had not reached their intended destination, the Promised Land. The Israelites spent forty years walking around in circles. That’s more than a majority of most of our lives. The book of Numbers records this wilderness wandering.

    The purpose of the book is not to give us juicy details of everything that happened during those 39 years. Moses writes with a more theological than a historical emphasis. Flip through the pages of Numbers and you’ll read, “The Lord spoke to Moses” all over the place. Go to a historical book, like Samuel, and you don’t see that language as often. Moses, the writer of Numbers, wants us to know something about God, specifically how he deals with his people on their spiritual journey. As we read our text, Numbers 12, be thinking about how God dealt with his people. Moses was the leader of God’s people during this time. Let’s learn from his example. Numbers 12, starting at verse 1:

    Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses because of the Cushite woman whom he had married, for he had married a Cushite woman. 2 And they said, “Has the Lord indeed spoken only through Moses? Has he not spoken through us also?” And the Lord heard it. 3 Now the man Moses was very meek, more than all people who were on the face of the earth. 4 And suddenly the Lord said to Moses and to Aaron and Miriam, “Come out, you three, to the tent of meeting.” And the three of them came out. 5 And the Lord came down in a pillar of cloud and stood at the entrance of the tent and called Aaron and Miriam, and they both came forward. 6 And he said, “Hear my words: If there is a prophet among you, I the Lord make myself known to him in a vision; I speak with him in a dream. 7 Not so with my servant Moses. He is faithful in all my house. 8 With him I speak mouth to mouth, clearly, and not in riddles, and he beholds the form of the Lord. Why then were you not afraid to speak against my servant Moses?” 9 And the anger of the Lord was kindled against them, and he departed.

    10 When the cloud removed from over the tent, behold, Miriam was leprous, like snow. And Aaron turned toward Miriam, and behold, she was leprous. 11 And Aaron said to Moses, “Oh, my lord, do not punish us because we have done foolishly and have sinned. 12 Let her not be as one dead, whose flesh is half eaten away when he comes out of his mother’s womb.” 13 And Moses cried to the Lord, “O God, please heal her—please.” 14 But the Lord said to Moses, “If her father had but spit in her face, should she not be shamed seven days? Let her be shut outside the camp seven days, and after that she may be brought in again.” 15 So Miriam was shut outside the camp seven days, and the people did not set out on the march till Miriam was brought in again. 16 After that the people set out from Hazeroth, and camped in the wilderness of Paran. (ESV)

    This morning we are talking about living a life of leadership. When we look at this passage, and the rest of the Bible, we see three things every leader should do: 1) expect contention, 2) extend grace, and 3) execute God’s plan.

    First, expect contention.

    We’ve already said how Moses was the leader of God’s people. He didn’t win this responsibility as a result of some drawing; he didn’t earn it through a series of interviews and physical endurance tests; no, God chose Moses to lead his people out of bondage in Egypt.

    Moses was far from a perfect man. In Exodus 2 he saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his people. He looked around, didn’t see anyone, so he killed the man and buried him in the sand. Yet, God, in his grace, gave Moses another chance, and God chose him in Exodus 3 as the leader of his people, to face Pharaoh, and to lead the Israelites out of Egypt.

    So, you’ve made a few mistakes in your life? Or, you may think, “I’m not good at this” or “I could never do that.” Look at Moses. He was guilty of murder. But, God chose him to lead a nation. God can certainly use you to share a message on Sunday mornings, to share the Gospel with your coworkers, or to invite a stranger to church.

    No matter what leading looks like in your life, though, you can expect contention.

    Numbers 12:1 begins, “Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses.” They expressed their opposition to the leadership God had placed over them. Keep in mind that Miriam and Aaron are Moses’ siblings. Miriam was the older sister who stood at a distance and watched Moses safely float down the river to Pharaoh’s daughter in the basket boat their mother placed him in. She then went to Pharaoh’s daughter, “Shall I go find someone from the Hebrew women to nurse this child?” Then, Miriam reconnected baby Moses with his mom. Miriam saved Moses’ life as a baby. How about Aaron? He was three years older than Moses, according to Exodus 7:7. When Moses was arguing with the Lord in Exodus 4, “I’m not an eloquent speaker; I’m slow of speech and of tongue,” the Lord said, “Okay, then I will reunite you with Aaron, your brother, the Levite. He can speak well. No more excuses Moses.” Moses and Aaron met, and together they went to Pharaoh in Exodus 5, where they delivered the Lord’s message, “Let my people go.” Aaron and Miriam were both grown adults, who had already been used by God. Considering all that these three had been through by this time, you would think that they would understand, God speaks to Moses, then we obey God by obeying Moses.

    What was happening in this wilderness wandering that caused Miriam and Aaron to lose sight of God’s ideal?

    Earlier in Numbers 11:16, the Lord told Moses to gather 70 men to help him lead. The Lord said he would take some of the Spirit that was on Moses and put it on these 70 men. Then, they would bear the burden of the people with Moses, rather than Moses bearing it alone. Moses obeyed God. He gathered the 70 men, and God began to work through them also. As God works through the 70 men, and as God works through Moses, somewhere, watching all this Spirit-led work take place, there sit Miriam and Aaron.

    Miriam was, the one who saved Moses’ life. Aaron was, the eloquent speaker. They murmured, “Does the Lord only speak through Moses? Hasn’t he spoken through us too? Why, then, aren’t we out there, rather than Moses—not to mention these 70 men?”

    Can you sense what is going through their hearts? They wanted to be used. They wanted to lead. But rather than allowing God to show them what leading looks like in their life, they wanted Moses’ position. They wanted his power. But since they couldn’t have what God gave Moses, they chose to speak against Moses.

    We see the same thing today—even in churches. People speak against people, rather than cooperating with God. In one sense, everyone wants what God wants. But in another sense, everyone wants more than what they have—especially in terms of position and power. So, when God places you in a position of leadership—be it in this church, at home, at work, at school, wherever—expect contention. We live in a fallen world, dominated by sin. To ignore that would be to minimize the gospel. Should you attempt to lead people to the cross, where your message is die to self for the glory of God, and people, even your brothers and sisters, will speak against you.

    There are three things to remember when you face heated disagreement. They are observations from verses 1 through 12.

    First, endure personal attack (1-2). Notice that verse 1 says, “Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses because of the Cushite woman whom he married.” It repeats the same thought, “for he had married a Cushite woman.” Exodus 2:21 tells us that Moses married Zipporah, a Midianite. It could have been that she died, and Moses married this unnamed Cushite woman. A Cushite is someone from the land of Cush. That is where they make those things that are placed couches, chairs and church pews. That’s a joke. I don’t know the exact whereabouts of the land of Cush, but people say it refers to countries south of the Israelites. Some say it includes territory west of the Red Sea, Egypt or Ethopia. Where this land is exactly is a subject of debate. But, what is known is that Cushites were black. Read another way, verse 1, “Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses because of the black woman whom he had married, for he had married a black woman.”

    Now, we need to interpret this verse. You know the context: wilderness wandering, the Lord spoke to Moses, Moses’ leadership, the appointment of 70 elders. Then, Moses married a black woman. If that union were a violation of God’s law, it would have appeared within the biblical context of covenant relationship, or marriage. In Exodus 34:16, the Lord prohibits marriage with Canaanites, but he doesn’t say anything about Cushites. Moses did no harm in marring this black woman. But, Miriam and Aaron needed something to speak against him, so they went with a personal attack: he married a black woman.

    Let me tell you, the personal attack hurts. But, even brothers and sisters use it when there is something about you that they don’t like. The content of personal attack doesn’t even have to be true. It could be the most bizarre, out of this world story, but it will still have the potential of consuming your mind. Someone could approach you, “So, tell me about this black woman you married.” “Of course I married a black woman. She’s my wife. She’s right here. Would you like to meet her?” “No, but I heard you married a black woman.” “Yes, that’s what I just told you. Is there anything wrong with that?” “Well, I don’t know for sure.” “What do you mean you don’t know for sure? Of course it’s okay. Who said it’s wrong to marry a black woman?” And on the conversation goes. The goal of the personal attack is to smear your character, to knock you off your feet, so that someone else can get you out of his or her way.

    When you face contention in the form of personal attack, follow Moses’ example: endure. Don’t argue. Don’t try to unearth the origin of the attack—who said that? Endure.

    We have other examples in the Bible of people who endured personal attack. The greatest is Jesus Christ. It wasn’t his working on the Sabbath that sent him to the cross. It wasn’t his talking to a Samaritan woman. In Luke’s gospel, chapter 22, he stood before the council. They asked, “Are you the Son of God, then?” And he said to them, “You say that I am.” In Luke 23 he stood before Pilate who asked, “Are you the King of the Jews?” And he answered him, “You have said so.”

    Talk about personal attack? He could have said, “Yes, of course, I am the Son of God. Yes, of course, I am the King of the Jews. Haven’t you seen anything I’ve been doing these past three years? Haven’t you heard anything I’ve said?” But, Jesus didn’t go there. He simply endured.

    In middle school I had a classmate named Dallas. He was a pastor’s kid, and new to town—two reasons for other kids to give him a difficulty. At the time, I was among those who hurled personal attacks against him. Any time he could have thrown a few punches, or stuffed someone, like me, in a locker; he was a big kid. But, he endured. Dallas is now one of my Facebook friends, and every time I read one of his posts or see pictures of his family, I remember how he led his classmates to the gospel as he endured personal attack.

    The second thing to do when you face contention is hang on to humility (3).

    Verse 3 reads, “Now the man Moses was very meek, more than all people who were on the face of the earth.” This verse initially stands out as somewhat odd, given that Moses wrote it. Based on the way most of us understand humility, it is not something people can claim for themselves. Stated another way, we think that describing yourself as humble invalidates that claim. You may have heard people say, “The moment you start thinking you’re humble is the moment you’re not.” Well, when Moses said that he was the meekest man on the face of the earth, he wasn’t boasting. He was sharing his heart in response to his siblings’ opposition. They gripped, “Who is Moses? Is he the only one that is so great?” His response was, “No, Moses is the meekest person on the face of the earth.” He wasn’t thinking more, or even less, of himself than he should have. He had a clear and proper understanding of his total dependence on God. His attitude of humility is one to be modeled.

    The apostle Paul had this attitude when he addressed the elders of Ephesus in Acts 20:18-19, “You yourselves know how I lived among you the whole time from the first day that I set foot in Asia, serving the Lord with all humility…” Paul professed his humility. He wasn’t ashamed of it. He wasn’t boasting in self, but he was boasting in Christ. “You know that I was serving the Lord in complete dependence upon him.” By knowing that he was dependent upon the Lord, Paul had confidence to do the work God entrusted to him. Acts 20:20-21 continue, “You yourselves know… how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in public and from house to house, testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.“ If Paul were proud, he would not have led the Jews and Greeks to the cross. His ego would have prevented him from doing anything that brought the inevitable personal attack.

    There is something important to know about this humility that applies to Christians: If you don’t humble yourself, God will do it for you. To humble yourself is to know that everything you do, and everything you are, is dependent on God, not yourself. It is understanding that, “I am a worm; you are God. Everything I do, and everything I am, is because you have chosen to work through me.” Should you not have this attitude of humility, then God may chose to work in your life to give it to you. One of the ways he may do that is through affliction. When God brings affliction upon his people, he is actively teaching them to depend on him. The purpose of affliction is humility.

    Are you facing some form of affliction: health, financial, relational? Rather than growing hard and bitter, ask yourself if God could be teaching you to depend on him. In the midst of affliction, hold on to humility by depending on God. Humble yourself so that God doesn’t have to keep doing it for you. Join the Psalmist who cries in Psalm 10:17, “O Lord, you hear the desire of the afflicted; you will strengthen their heart; you will incline your ear.”

    Jesus Christ humbled himself by depending on God as he suffered on the cross. In his messianic prophecy, Isaiah writes in Isaiah 53:7, “He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth.”

    When you face contention, or opposition from other people, hold on to humility. Keep depending on God to rescue you. Don’t look to yourself by arguing, defending, reasoning, suing, trying to protect your position. Such a response to contention will undermine your leadership. The cross to which you are pointing people will be viewed as nothing more than a religious symbol, rather than the way to redemption.

    The third thing to do when you face contention is to trust Lord to deal with people (4-12). Let’s direct our attention to a lot of text, verses 4 through 12.

    Miriam and Aaron had just spoken against Moses. Then in verse 4, “Suddenly the Lord” acts. In this case, there is no waiting around for the Lord to do his thing. This speaking against Moses was such a bad thing that the Lord decided to take care of it right there. The Lord calls the three, Moses, Aaron, and Miriam—notice the order is reversed from verse 1. The Lord tells them to meet him at the tent of meeting, which was the portable tabernacle. It was a tent-like structure where the Lord would meet with his people, and it could be moved as the Israelites traveled.

    In verse 5, the Lord calls Aaron and Miriam. He then speaks to them in verses 6 through 8. The idea is that God usually spoke with his prophets, at that time, through visions and dreams. He then said that was not the case with Moses. The Lord said he spoke with Moses mouth to mouth, as in friendly conversation. Moses was different; he was privileged, above the prophets, above the priests, above all the Israelites, above Aaron and Miriam. The Lord then asks this rhetorical question in verse 8, “Why then were you not afraid to speak against my servant Moses?”

    How do they respond? Look at the end of verse 8. Right, the text doesn’t tell us. But, it must have been a shock. There is silence, as they think, “What have we done?”

    Verse 9 says, “And the anger of the Lord was kindled against them, and he departed.” Friends, these are two people who have been chosen by God, and who have been used by God. They questioned God’s way of establishing order. The Lord heard it. And, his anger was brought against them. This anger comes in the form of temporal, earthly judgment, intended to humble his people. The Lord teaches Miriam and Aaron that they are worms, and he is God. They must submit to, and obey, and depend on him.

    When the Lord departs in verse 10, Miriam was leprous. Her skin was diseased, covered with lesions—wounds, ulcers, and inflammations. This one verse, verse 10, repeats the idea that this punishment made her white three times: leprous, like snow, leprous. How interesting that earlier she made such a big deal of Moses’ wife being black, and now she is made white, white, white. Aaron confirmed her diagnosis. That is significant because in Leviticus 13:2, “When a person has on the skin of his body a swelling or an eruption or a spot, and it turns into a case of leprous disease on the skin of his body, then he shall be brought to Aaron the priest or to one of his sons the priests, and the priest shall examine the diseased area on the skin of his body.” Aaron had plenty of experience with leprosy. He knows how harmful the disease can be. At this point in the story, he recognizes Moses’ leadership. He turns to Moses and cries out in Numbers 12, verses 11 and 12, “Oh, my lord, do not punish us because we have done foolishly and have sinned. Let her not be as one dead, whose flesh is half eaten away when he comes out of his mother’s womb.” Do you see how God has changed Aaron’s heart? He’s no longer speaking against Moses, but he’s begging him to lead him to God. He understands the order established by God: God speaks to Moses; Aarons speaks to God through Moses. How would you describe Aaron’s current attitude? Humility—total dependence on God.

    Notice what Moses has done in verses 4 through 12. I hesitate to say it this way, but the only thing he has done is trust the Lord to deal with people. That active trust in God takes faith. When we look at our own lives, we want to do something to make situations better, to solve the problems that we have with people, and to make life easier. However, the best thing we can do when people speak against us is trust the Lord to deal with them.

    Consider Jesus Christ. He could have freed himself from his suffering at any time. He could have caused the nails that pierced his hands to hurl themselves at his oppressors. Yet, he chose to trust the Lord to deal with those people who spoke and acted against him.

    How about you? Is there someone, or a group of people, who have spoken against you? If yes, that’s contention; it’s nothing new; you should expect it. Even if it’s in the form of personal attack, endure. Hang on to humility; keep depending on God. And, trust the Lord to deal with people; don’t try to solve people problems on your own.

    Okay, we are talking about leadership lessons from the life of Moses. The first one was expect contention. There are two more. They are very short, but very important.

    Second, extend grace (13-15).

    When Aaron pleaded with Moses on behalf of Miriam, Moses opens his mouth for the first time in this passage. Verse 13, “O God, please heal her—please.” Can you hear his humility, or his total dependence on God? Moses understood the role of God’s grace in his life. It was only by grace that he was placed in a basket as a baby and floated down the river to Pharaoh’s daughter. It was only by grace that God appeared before him in a burning bush. It was only by grace that he was reunited with Aaron. It was only by grace that the Red Sea parted. It was only by grace that the Israelites were set free from bondage in Egypt. Moses had no other choice than to take the grace God has extended to him, and extend it to others. He extended grace to the very one who spoke against him by asking God to have mercy on her.

    I would have been tempted to say, or to at least think, “ha, ha, ha.” Are you with me? Not Moses. He extended grace; “O God, please heal her—please.”

    The Lord hears Moses’ request, but he responds in such a way that lets us know the seriousness of Miriam’s sin. Had Miriam’s father shown his contempt for her by spitting in her face, she would have had to stay outside the camp for seven days. The Lord showed his scorn for Miriam not by spitting in her face but by giving her leprosy. As with any sin, there are consequences. For Miriam, she would have to stay outside the camp for seven days.

    So, Moses extended grace by asking God to extend mercy. God heard Moses’ request, and chose to honor it according to his timeline.

    When given the chance to extend grace, will you do it? Or, will you say, or at least think, “ha, ha, ha?” When that friend who has spoken against you needs someone to love them, be the one to do it. Understand the role of God’s grace in your own life, and be a spiritual leader by extending grace.

    Third, execute God’s plan (16).

    Notice that the Israelites could not move forward until Miriam was brought back into the camp. Her sin affected everyone. It contributed to their wilderness wandering.

    Unfortunately, the same could be true when people speak against you. There could be consequences for other people’s sin that affect you. That’s not good, but I suppose that’s part of living in a fallen world.

    Rather than getting distracted by the past, execute God’s plan for today. That may start with you as an individual. Make sure you are walking in step with the Spirit and obeying God’s direction for your life. Make sure you are depending on God in a spirit of humility, and make sure you are extending grace. Executing God’s plan also applies to you corporately, as a church. You, as a body of believers, should be heading somewhere together as you go out into the world and lead people to Christ.

    Earlier this week there was an article in The Tennessean, a Nashville-based newspaper, about a church that is back to executing God’s plan. Two years ago Two Rivers Baptist Church was in a mess, and faced the possibility of disintegration. A conflict broke out between 70 church members and the former pastor. The conflict was over worship style, the form of church government and finances. These church members sued the pastor, and cost the church millions of dollars. Those 70 church members lost in court and were kicked out of the church. The pastor retired and left in July 2008. Attendance dropped from over 2,000 to under 800. The church has since called an interim pastor who is leading a turnaround. He and his wife have joined the church and have made it their home. While still burdened with debt, this church is currently executing God’s plan. People are coming back as the church focuses on the good news of Jesus Christ. The interim pastor, Ed Stetzer of Lifeway Research, said, “They key to the turnaround is getting back to the basics of Christianity.”

    God’s mission for the church is to make disciples. That requires all of us to lead people to the cross. Yes, you can do that in here, but you must do it out there, too. Expect contention. Extend grace. And, execute God’s plan.

    Let’s pray.


    1 responses to “Leadership Lessons from Numbers 12” RSS icon

    • eric "B" faulkner

      Lead man, lead. praise God for you.
      Leading people to Christ can be scary at times, but if you know in your heart to let HIM do the work for you, just make your self free to be used….God’s great about making “weak” turn into “strong”.

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