"And the Lord said unto Moses, If her father had but spit in her

face, should she not be ashamed seven days? Let her be shut out from

the camp seven days, and after that let her be received in

again."--NUMBERS xii. 14.

The incident recorded in this chapter is of a painful character.

Petty jealousies discovered themselves in the most distinguished

family of Israel. Through the robes of the anointed and sacred High

Priest the throbbings of a heart stirred with evil passion were

discernible. Aaron and Miriam could not bear that even their own

brother should occupy a Position of exceptional dignity, and with

ignorant pretentiousness aspired to equality with him. It is to the

punishment of this sin that our attention is here called. This

punishment fell directly on Miriam, possibly because the person of

the High Priest was sacred, and had he been incapacitated all Israel

would have suffered in their representative; possibly because the

sin, as it shows traces of a peculiarly feminine jealousy, was

primarily the sin of Miriam; and partly because, in her punishment,

Aaron suffered a sympathetic shame, as is apparent from his,

impassioned appeal to Moses in her behalf.

The noteworthy feature of the incident and its most impressive lesson

are found in the fact that, although the healing and forgiveness

sought for Miriam were not refused, God is represented as resenting

the speedy oblivion of the offence on account of which the leprosy

had been sent and of the Divine displeasure incurred. There was cause

to apprehend that the whole matter might be too quickly wiped out and

forgotten, and that the sinners, reinstated in their old positions,

should think too lightly of their offence. This detrimental

suddenness God takes measures to prevent. Had an earthly father

manifested his displeasure as emphatically as God had now shown His,

Miriam could not for a time have held up her head. God desires that

the shame which results from a sense of His displeasure should last

at least as long. He therefore enjoins something like a penance; He

removes His stroke, but provides for the moral effects of it being

sufficiently impressed on the spirit to be permanent.

Three points are involved in the words:

1. Our keener sense of man's displeasure than of God's.

2. The consequent possibility of accepting pardon with too light a heart.

3. The means of preventing such acceptance of pardon.

1. _We are much more sensitive to the displeasure of man than to that

of God._ Men have several methods of expressing their opinion of us

and their feeling toward us; and these methods are quite effectual

for their purpose. There is an instinctive and exact correspondence

between our feelings and every slightest hint of disapprobation on

the part of our acquaintances; and so readily and completely does the

mere carriage of any person convey to us his estimate of our conduct

that explicit denunciation is seldom required. The mode of expressing

opinion which is cited in the text is the most forcible Eastern mode

of expressing contempt. When one man spits in the face of another, no

one, and least of all the suffering party, can have the slightest

doubt of the esteem in which the one holds the other. If an insolent

enemy were to spit in the face of a slain foe, the dead man might

almost be expected to blush or to rise and avenge the insult. But

comparing His methods with such a method as this, God awards the palm

to His own for explicitness and emphasis. He speaks of the most

emphatic and unambiguous of human methods with a "but," as if it

could scarcely be compared with His expressions of displeasure. "If

her father had _but_ spit in her face"--if that were all--but

something immensely more expressive than that has happened to her.

God, therefore, would have us ponder the punishments of sin, and find

in them the emphatic expressions of His judgment of our conduct and

of ourselves. He resents our shamelessness, and desires that we

consider His judgments till our callousness is removed. The case

stands thus: God. is long-suffering, slow to anger, not of a

fault-finding, everchiding nature, but most loving and most just; and

this God has recorded against us the strongest possible condemnation.

This God, who cannot do what is not most just, and who cannot make

mistakes, this unfurious and holy God, whose opinion of us represents

the very truth, has pronounced us to be wicked and worthless; and we

seem scarcely at all impressed by the declaration. God's judgment of

us is not only absolutely true, but it must also take effect; so that

what He has pronounced against us will be seen written in the facts

bearing upon and entering into our life. But, although we know this,

we are for the most part as unmoved as if in hearing God's judgment

pronounced against us we had heard but the sighing of the wind or any

other inarticulate, unintelligible sound. There is a climax of

ignominy in having excited in the Divine mind feelings of displeasure

against us. One might suppose a man would die of shame, and could not

bear to live conscious of having merited the condemnation and

punishment of such a Being; one might suppose that the breath of

God's disapproval would blast every blessing to us, and that so long

as we know ourselves displeasing to Him His sweetest gifts must be

bitter to us; but the coldness of a friend gives us more thought, and

the contempt of men as contemptible as ourselves affects us with a

more genuine confusion.

God's demand, then, is reasonable. He would have us feel before Him

as much shame as we feel before men, the same kind of shame--shame

with the same blush and burning in it, not shame of any sublimated,

fictitious kind. He desires us individually to take thought, and to

say to ourselves: "Suppose a man had proved against me even a small

part of what is proved against me by God: Suppose some wise, just,

and honourable man had said of me and believed such things as God has

said: suppose he had said, and said truly, that I had robbed him,

betrayed trust, and was unworthy of his friendship, would the shame

be no more poignant than that which I feel when God denounces me?"

How trifling are the causes which make us blush before our fellows: a

little awkwardness, the slightest accident which makes us appear

blundering, some scarcely perceptible incongruity of dress, an

infinitesimal error in manner or in accent--anything is enough to

make us uneasy in the company of those we esteem. It is God's

reasonable demand that for those gross iniquities and bold

transgressions of which we are conscious we should manifest some

heartfelt shame--a shame that does not wholly lack the poignancy and

agitation of the confusion we feel in presence of human judgment.

2. _The consequent possibility of accepting the pardon of sin with

too light a heart._ To ask for pardon Without real shame is to treat

sin lightly; and to treat sin lightly is to treat God lightly.

Nothing more effectually deadens the moral sense than: the habit of

asking pardon without a due sense of the evil of sin. We ask God to

forgive us our debts, and we do so in so inconsiderate a spirit that

we go straightway and contract heavier debts. The friend who repays

the ten pounds we had lent him and asks for a new loan of twenty,

does not commend himself to our approval. He is no better who accepts

pardon as if it cost God nothing.

3. _The means of preventing a too light-hearted acceptance of

pardon._ Under the ceremonial prescriptions enjoined on Miriam lay

some moral efficacy. A person left for a full week without the camp

must, in separation from accustomed companionship, intercourse, and

occupations, have been thrown upon his or her own thoughts. No doubt

it is often while engaged in our ordinary occupations that the

strongest light is flashed upon our true spiritual condition. It is

while in the company of other people that we catch hints which seem

to interpret to us our past and reveal to us our present state. But

these glimpses and hints often pass without result, because we do not

find leisure to follow them up. There must be some kind of separation

from the camp if we are to know ourselves, some leisure gained for

quiet reflection. It is due to God that we be at some pains to

ascertain with precision our actual relation to His will.

The very feeling of being outcast, unworthy to mingle with former

associates and friends, must have been humbling and instructive.

Miriam had been the foremost woman in Israel; now she would gladly

have changed places with the least known and be lost among the throng

from the eye of wonder, pity, contempt or cruel triumph. All sin

makes us unworthy of fellowship with the people of God. And the

feeling that we are thus unworthy, instead of being lightly and

callously dismissed, should be allowed to penetrate and stir the


If the leprosy departed from Miriam as soon as Moses prayed, yet the

shock to her physical system, and the revulsion of feeling consequent

on being afflicted with so loathsome a disease, would tell upon her

throughout the week. All consequences of sin, which are prolonged

after pardon, have their proper effect and use in begetting shame. We

are not to evade what conscience tells us of the connection between

our sin and many of the difficulties of our life. We are not to turn

away from this as a morbid view of providence; still less are we to

turn away because in this light sin seems so real and so hideous.

Miriam must have thought, "If this disgusting condition of my body,

this lassitude and nervous trembling, this fear and shame to face my

fellows, be the just consequence of my envy and pride, how abominable

must these sins be." And we are summoned to similar thoughts. If this

pursuing evil, this heavy clog that drags me down, this insuperable

difficulty, this disease, or this spiritual and moral weakness be the

fair natural consequence of my sin, if these things are in the

natural world what my sin is in the spiritual, then my sin must be a

much greater evil than I was taking it to be.

But especially are we rebuked for all light-heartedness in our

estimate of sin by remembering Him who went without the camp bearing

our reproach. It is when we see Christ rejected of men, and outcast

for us and for our sin, that we feel true shame. To find one who so

loves me and enters into my position that He feels more keenly than

myself the shame I have incurred; to find one who so understands

God's holiness and is Himself so pure that my sin affects Him with

the profoundest shame--this is what pierces my heart with an

altogether new compunction, with an arrow that cannot be shaken out.

And this connection of Christ with our sin is actual. If Paul felt

himself so bound up with his fellow-Christians that he blushed for

them when they erred, and could say with truth, "Who is weak and I am

not weak, who is offended and I turn not?" much more truly may Christ

say, Who sins and I am not ashamed? And if He thus enters into a

living sympathy with us, shall not we enter into sympathy with Him,

and go without the camp bearing His reproach, which, indeed, is ours;

striving, though it cost us much shame and self-denial, to enter

heartily into His feelings at our sins, and not letting our union to

Him be a mere name or an inoperative tie which effects no real

assimilation in spirit between us and Him.

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