“A Time To Share”
“And Miriam and Aaron spake against Moses because of the Ethiopian woman whom he had married: for he had married an Ethiopian woman. And they said, ‘Hath the Lord indeed spoken only by Moses? hath he not spoken also by us?’ And the Lord heard it.”
Numbers 12: 1,2
King James Version
“Zipporah’s Father – Silence Is Golden.”
“Speech is silver. Silence is golden.”
Have I ever said something to a family member that I wish I could take back?
What consequence have I witnessed from words spoken in haste?
“Not only to say the right thing in the right place, but far more difficult, to leave unsaid the wrong thing at the tempting moment.”
“Kind words can be short and easy to speak but their echoes are truly endless.”
When, as young kids, Jim and I married 31 years ago, one of the very first lessons I learned was that it wasn’t only unwise, but it was downrightly stupid to comment about another sibling’s spouse. Even when siblings were angry at their spouse, it was a huge mistake to chime in and pour more gasoline on an already explosive situation.
As I have learned through the years, like the song says, “Silence is golden, golden!” How true it is!
For all the times in my life when I thought I was trying to be sympathetic or offer assistance, I’ve found out the hard way that comments which are in anyway critical of a brother or sister’s spouse will come back, when you least expect them to and boomerang in your face. I’ll never forget making a comment in frustration to my sister once about her husband to which she agreed whole heartedly. Later, when I was trying to be nice, I complimented him and my sister said, “Oh but Dorothy, I know how you really feel about him.” My big mouth had gotten me in trouble and rightly so. It was a lesson I needed to learn.
Today, we are skipping over to the book of Numbers as we finish our study on Zipporah. In Numbers 12: 1, as we learned when we studied about Miriam, a family problem arose. Zipporah and her two boys were brought by her father Jethro, to rejoin Moses in the desert.
Jethro’s name “Reuel” means “friend of God” and implies monotheism. Since Jethro was a Midianite, a descendant of Abraham and Keturah’s marriage, it is likely he knew of the true God and taught his daughters about God. And, as we learned yesterday, when Moses shared with Jethro all God had done for the Israelites, Jethro not only said, “I know that the Lord is greater than all gods,” but then, “took a burnt offering and sacrifices for God: and Aaron came, and all the elders of Israel, to eat bread with Moses’ father-in-law before God” (Exodus 18: 12, K.J.V.).
There’s also one other thing to remember about Jethro, he not only brought Moses his family, he also gave him some very excellent advice that helped relieve the great burdens weighing so heavily upon Moses.
With this as background, let’s look at our text for today. Miriam and Aaron had been separated from Moses for nearly 80 years. After the Exodus from Egypt, they enjoyed a relationship they had not had for years. Not only were they siblings, but they were confidants. They were part of the leadership. They had an inside track to God’s instructions. I don’t blame them at all, if this was a position they loved. They were big shots!
Then one day a Midianite priest brings Moses’ wife and children into the camp. I can just hear them say, “She’s not one of us. She isn’t one of God’s ‘chosen.’ But to make matters worse, the Bible describes Moses’ reunion with his family in this way: “Moses went out, and did obeisance, and kissed (Jethro)” (Exodus 18:7, K.J.V.). Let’s get this straight – this was a joyous occasion. There was great fondness shown by Moses for this family who had taken him in when he had no place to go. I didn’t know what the word “obeisance” meant so I went to my handy Hebrew dictionary and found out something extremely interesting! (This is always what happens when we open the word of God!) The word “Obeisance” means “to pay homage before royalty, to prostrate one’s self on the ground, humbly worship.” And do you know where else this word was used? When Joseph told his brothers he had had a dream about sheaves of grain and stars bowing to him, we again find the word ‘obeisance.’
Picture the scene in your mind. Miriam, Aaron and Moses had been running the show. They were the “top dogs” and over one million people were under their care.
Now a foreigner and his daughter and grandsons arrive in camp and Moses is falling on the ground treating them as royalty. He takes them right into his tent which is like taking someone into your confidence and then these “interlopers” have the nerve to offer advice to Moses on how to run things and without consulting his siblings, Moses implements Jethro’s suggestions. I can only imagine that Miriam and Aaron felt this was a slap in the face. Especially Miriam, who during the Exodus from Egypt, had been the premier female in Moses’ life. Now she had to share Moses and she obviously didn’t like it.
So what did she do? She and Aaron attacked Moses’ spouse. They attacked her nationality, her culture, her background, her heritage. Zipporah was “lesser” than they were because she wasn’t “one” of them.
I’m sorry to say this but we do this all the time, all too often in our families. Here are some of our put-downs: “Their race is different. They don’t have the ‘good breeding’ of our family. They’re class-less. They don’t come from money.” You can add anything you want to my list because you’ve probably heard it all, too. And these attitudes are devastating if you want family harmony. Furthermore, once words like this are spoken in a family, they are impossible to take back and the memory of these poison darts can last a lifetime.
But I want to go one step further. God’s children, His family on earth, often do the same harm when we become so high and mighty in our own religious circle that we alienate other children of God because they aren’t part of my “chosen” group. We push away others who believe in the one God of heaven and earth; who believe in His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ; who believe in the Father’s gift of the Holy Spirit, our Comforter; and who believe that the Bible is the inspired Word of God – all because there is some denominational wall that separates us. How small. How unfortunate. How un-Christian. And often, by our words, we wound those whom we should embrace as brothers and sisters in Christ.
As we read this experience, we find that there is something missing. What is it? It is retaliatory words from Zipporah! How I admire this wonderful woman. She didn’t take on Miriam and Aaron. The Bible contains no record of her trying to point out the error of their words. Nor do we find Zipporah going to Moses whining. There’s silence! She kept her mouth shut. And in Numbers 12: 2 we are told, “And the Lord heard it.” God heard the words of murmuring coming from Miriam and Aaron. But, He also heard the silence from Zipporah. In this case, the words of Leroy Brownlow are so fitting, “There are times when silence has the loudest voice.”
In our families, may we remember the words of Eurpides who thousands of years ago advised, “Silence is true wisdom’s best reply.”
“Keep your words soft and sweet. You never know when you’re going to have to eat them.”
“(She) that hath knowledge spareth (her) words.”
“Bestow on me, O Lord, a genial spirit and unwearied forbearance, a mild, loving, patient heart; kindly looks, pleasant, cordial speech and manners in the exchanges of daily life; that I may give offence to none, but as much as in me lies live in charity with all.”
Dorothy Valcárcel, Author
When A Woman Meets Jesus