Who’s in Charge Here? Numbers 12

Many apologies for giving you double-Romans and skipping Numbers. Well, as many as are appropriate.

The leadership crisis. It hits many organizations, and never hits at a good time. Either things begin to go well and someone else wants a piece of it, or things go so poorly that replacements begin to offer themselves.

At times, this crisis is not only expected but necessary. Not every leader has achieved his position in a God-honoring manner. Not every leader has used her position in a God-honoring manner. These types of crises require a different action plan: no matter the success level, abusive or unethical leaders must cede their leadership role and accept any other relevant consequences for their actions. That should be non-negotiable in any organization of honor and doubly so for any organization of Christians. I find it beyond reprehensible that this even needs said.

However, this is not the case in Numbers 12. Here we have a case where jealousy leads to a near-rebellion against the God-anointed leader of the people. It does not arise from the people at-large, but comes from the most painful place: Moses’ own family. His brother and sister rise up and complain against him.

This gives us a great opportunity to consider how to handle both types of leadership crisis, since many of us will encounter both across the years. Let us look at some steps to be considered:

Step 1: Understand where your leadership comes from. This applies to the leader: why are you leading? How do you know? Moses is certain that God has spoken to him at the Burning Bush (Exodus 3) and so he knows that he is doing what he’s supposed to do. Miriam and Aaron knew this—yet they rebelled against him anyway.

Are you certain that what you are doing as a leader comes from God? If and only if it is based on clear Scripture can you be absolutely certain. So is that its base?

Are you following a leader whose history you do not know? It is necessary that we do not follow people with no backstory. When we do that, we risk following those who do not have righteous motives and habits. Someone does not have to have been pure all their life. If so, no one could lead. However, patterns matter.

Step 2: Understand the problem. What is the nature of the complaint?

In this specific case, Aaron and Miriam are complaining that Moses is married to a Cushite (see Nerd Note). When you get to the next verse, you see that the real problem Miriam and Aaron have is jealousy over Moses’ primacy in the group. They want recognition that they are also people who God has spoken through.

One key to understanding leadership crises is pealing back to the real issue at hand. Usually, there are hurt feelings underneath whatever the actual statements are. If you are facing a crisis in leadership, whether as a leader or follower, try to understand what is actually at hand. It’s not about your spouse.

Step 3: Recognize the true parts. Is there any basis to the complaint?

Aaron and Miriam are correct that God has spoken through them. In this case, there are some grounds for them to raise questions. It is from this basis, though, that the solution also comes: take it to God for the solution.

Step 4: Take it to God. Seek answers from the source. In seeking leadership among Christian organizations, the decision rests with God. What do we see that God has said?

Ultimately: the leadership of Christian organizations should never be seen as resting solely on any one person. There are people that help, but the Word of God as illuminated by the Holy Spirit is in charge. That is the authority in the church and among believers. There are points where we cannot resolve differences of understanding and we must allow for that reality.

Leadership crises happen. We must consider how to handle those moments before they happen.

Today’s Nerd Note: The Cushites were a people from modern-day Ethiopia and Eritrea. This complaint is about Moses marrying someone not of the “right race and ethnicity.” Miriam and Aaron are fussing that Moses married outside the family. There are some questions how the Cushite wife meshes with Zipporah, the Midianite Moses married during his exile from Egypt.

Some commentators suggest polygamy, which would not have been unheard of. Others suggest that Zipporah and the Midianites are ethnically connected to the Cushites. Another view is that Zipporah had died and Moses had remarried from among the ‘mixed multitude’ in Exodus 12. A final view sees Cushite as an ethnic insult lobbed against those with darker skin. It’s hard to pick, though I like the second view that draws a connection between Midianites and Cushites, but there is nothing to guarantee that view.

I think the final view reads our Western racism problems back onto those days and we have to be careful with that.

Any way in which you slice this, you have to deal with this: judging people based solely on their skin, national origin, or ethnic heritage has no place in the God-honoring life.

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