Have I mentioned I hate complaint? I'm pretty sure I have, but if not...I hate complaint. I mean I really hate it. It puts a cloud over everything. It is enervating. It can completely derail a church. Now I'm a pretty pessimistic person, so I spend far too much time complaining myself, but frankly, I've had it up to my eye balls with complaint...my own or anyone's.
After years of being personally cared for by God himself, the Israelites are ready to leave Mount Sinai. They've seen the 10 plagues of Egypt. They've crossed the Reed Sea. They've seen bitter water made sweet, starvation turned to full bellies, deserts transformed into wet oases. They want meat; they get meat. They want water; they get water. They want protection; they get protection, and now, after spending an entire year being able to look upon Mount Sinai and see the active presence of God himself, what do the Israelites do? They complain. They whine. They revolt, after all...in Egypt they at least got to eat fish.
The Israelites tick me off. I completely understand God saying, "You want meat? I'll give you meat. I'll give you meat until it's shooting out your nose. I'll give you meat until you choke on it." As a minister, I've had those days, and I don't know a single minister who hasn't. Sometimes I just want to tell people, "We have a promised land waiting for us, and all you want to do is complain about meat?!"...metaphorically speaking, of course. It rather irritates me.
But on a different note, as if dealing with an entire nation of complainers wasn't enough, Moses's brother and sister try to usurp some authority. It's a strange story. Miriam and Aaron get upset that Moses is married to a foreigner. They make a play for power, saying that Moses isn't the only person God speaks to (presenting themselves as the other options), but God catches wind of their behavior and calls them in for a family meeting. In front of Moses, God berates Aaron and Miriam, and as his presence leaves the tent of meeting, Miriam is found leprous. Moses asks God to heal her, but God refuses until Miriam has been forced outside the camp for seven days.
As I said, this is strange. First of all, why do Aaron and Miriam care who Moses is married to. Second, why is Miriam the only one given leprosy? Weren't both her and Aaron guilty of the same thing, and if so, isn't God rather sexist in his punishment of Miriam? Well, not having done any research what-so-ever, here are my thoughts.
I think Aaron and Miriam's anger over Zipporah and Miriam's punishment are connected. A play for power is obviously going on behind this story. That having been said, we must also take into account how families centralized power in Egypt. The way that worked in Egypt (as it does in all royal families even until relatively recently) was to marry within the family. Pharaohs were often times married to sisters or near cousins. We can see Hebrew examples of this in Genesis with the Patriarchs. Abraham married his half-sister. Abraham's son married a first cousin, etc. If Miriam wanted to gain and consolidate power, the best way to do that (and the culturally acceptable way) would have been to marry her brother. But there was a problem...Moses had run off and married a foreigner, not only outside the family...but a foreigner. Ah, the shame of it all! If Aaron and Miriam can get ride of Moses's Cushite wife, Miriam can try to force herself into the position of Moses's new wife and, wallah, guess who's the power behind the throne now? Who knows, maybe Miriam was the mastermind behind the whole plan. Maybe that's why she's punished and Aaron isn't. Aaron hasn't exactly proven himself the natural leader type, but Miriam, after the crossing of the Reed Sea, had gained quite a bit of prominence in Israel. Maybe she liked it...a lot. Maybe by knocking Miriam down a few notches, God dealt with Aaron as well. Dominoes 101, maybe.
Last thought for today...if you had seen God deal with the most powerful nation on the planet, would you have had the courage to follow God into a relatively weak country of loosely allied city states? If so, in the entire nation of Israel you'd be one among four. Is it any wonder that God has finally had enough of that generation of Israelites? Strike three...you're out.
Stopping point: Numbers 13