I think it is safe to say that Moses was one of the greatest leaders. Ever. This guy led one and a half million people through the wilderness for over 40 years. Yes, Moses made a lot of mistakes, but what he did took serious leadership skills.
That is why Numbers 12:3 is so shocking.
Only 3 days into their journey from Mount Sinai, the people began complaining about…nothing. God responded with fire, burning part of the camp. A warning that could not be more obvious.
The warning was not enough. Soon, the people would begin complaining that they do not have “real food”. They wanted meat, not manna. Why couldn’t God give them cucumbers, melons, leeks, garlic, and fish like they had in Egypt?
In return, God promises them meat. So much meat, in fact, that He promises it will come out of their nostrils. After quail rains down upon the camp, God strikes them with a plague while they are in the midst of eating.
Yeah, it had been a rough couple of weeks.
Imagine Moses’ surprise when Aaron and Miriam – his brother and sister – begin complaining. Could it get any worse?
Moses grimaced as Miriam laid out their case with Aaron standing by. Coming from his family just made it worse. Yet it was not just who said it but what they said.
His sister explained that they were just as qualified as Moses. Aaron was high priest, she a prophetess. Did not God speak through them as well? Then why did Moses have to act like he was the only guy in charge? Shouldn’t he share some of the authority and leadership with them as well?
This was not near as hurtful as what came next.
They had a problem with who Moses had married. His wife was Ethiopian from the nation of Cush, south of Egypt. She practiced the religion and traditions just like the rest of the Jewish people. But that was not enough for Miriam and Aaron. The fact that she was not one of “their people” was too much.
If Miriam and her brother could only have known what would soon happen in the future. Rahab, a prostitute from Jericho, would marry a Hebrew. Her son, Boaz, would marry a Moabite woman named Ruth. Both Rahab and Ruth would be in the line of Christ.
For now, Moses was going to be in the crosshairs.
With their words still stinging in his ears, Moses’ emotions welled up inside of him. Not only was his leadership being taken into question, but also his marriage.
Moses is the leader, right? He could stand up, defend himself, and give it to his insensitive family members. Maybe even come back with disciplinary action or something worse. How the greatest leader responds is what makes the next verse so shocking. And powerful.
And they said, “Has the Lord indeed spoken only through Moses? Has he not spoken through us also?” And the Lord heard it.
Now the man Moses was very meek, more than all the people who were on the face of the earth. – Numbers 12:2-3
Moses is silent. The greatest leader also happens to be the meekest man on the planet.
What is meekness? Here is the best way to define it:
Meekness: strength under control
the attitude of meekness
Meekness can carry a double meaning in the Hebrew. Humbleness and patience, but also afflicted and oppressed. Even in the face of affliction and oppression, meekness responds with patient humility.
the action of meekness
How does meekness respond? Does it even respond at all?
Meekness is often misunderstood. It is not being a roll-over or passive aggressive. Meekness does respond but in a radical way.
- Meekness Waits.
- Meekness Trusts.
When the accusations and ridicules begin flying, meekness endures in silence. It absorbs the criticism without being defensive. It does not assert itself or retaliate in revenge. It does not become angry.
This takes a different type of strength. A quiet strength that is under control.
Just when you thought meekness = passiveness, meekness goes on the offensive. Meekness directs the action not toward the accusers but toward the All-knowing God. What does that look like?
Commit your way to the Lord;
trust in him, and he will act. – Psalm 37:5
Meekness commits – or literally “rolls” – the problems and the hurt to God. It trusts that if we wait on God, He will come to our defense and respond. Meekness leaves the defending to God.
And the Lord heard it. – Numbers 12:2b
God heard Aaron and Miriam’s complaints and was about to do something about it. Through the rest of the chapter, God answers their accusations. Even when God disciplines Miriam with leprosy, Moses responds with meekness and begs God to heal her.
If we are willing to be meek – to quietly wait and patiently trust – He will come to our defense.
Why is Moses’ response so shocking? Because he was the greatest leader of all time and the meekest man of all time.
What is a true leader to you? Is it what the world champions as a “leader”? The kind of individual who:
- Always assertive and “strong”
- Never shows signs of “weakness” (humility, patience)
- Retaliates against those who accuse
That is not meekness. Moses’ example shows us that true leaders are to be truly meek. And that takes true strength.
Guess what? Each one of us is a leader as well. We influence people each day whether we realize it or not. And the way we respond to complaints, criticism, and cutting accusations proclaims Christ.
God has called us to show love not just to the mistreated, but also to the ones who mistreat us. That is a radical response and a radical proclamation.