Numbers 12: The Problem of Envy


For a full audio version of this teaching go here.

The passage before us in Numbers 12 deals with Miriam, Aaron, and the subtle sin of envy. Envy gets neither the publicity that murder does, nor the press that adultery can. Yet, although it’s unnoticed by many, envy can be just as damaging, just as dangerous, and just as deadly as murder or adultery. Pastor Jon Courson wrote:

“Envy is the whimpering whisper within me which says, ‘Why him and not me? It’s not fair what he has, where he’s at, what he enjoys.’ Envy is different than jealousy, for while jealousy fears that I’ll lose what I have, envy wants what someone else has—be it a personality trait or skill, a gift or position.”

In Numbers 12 Moses’ siblings, Miriam and Aaron, speak against Moses. They express concern over his wife’s ethnicity, but a the core of their negative attitude is envy. While they had personally experienced God, they, in effect say, “After all, God speaks to us also Shouldn’t we get some of the credit around here?” They were feeling left out as God had not given them authority to lead the fledgling nation. They accuse Moses of being prideful, ironically, the very same emotion they were exhibiting in their accusation.

While Moses defends his humble attitude, God answers the accusations directly to Aaron and Miriam. God called—seemingly, in an audible voice—for all three to come before the tabernacle of meeting. Perhaps Miriam and Aaron thought that God would use this situation to correct Moses, whom they thought was proud and dictatorial. However, that was not the case as God vindicates Moses telling them, He is “faithful in all My house.” That’s quite a compliment!

Instead of correcting Moses, God chooses to punish Miriam and Aaron. The price of their envy is steep as Miriam is turned into a leper and Aaron, the High Priest, is forced to watch his sister contract this hideous disease.

In the end, Moses intercedes for his sister and, after a waiting period of seven days, she is healed.

Aaron and Miriam’s complaints were petty, false, and self-interested criticism. They were envious of their brother, and instead of realizing how God was using him and seeking their own place, using their own God-given gifts, they chose instead to want what they didn’t have.


Why is envy so dangerous?

1. Envy grieves God. When I say, “Why him and not me?” I am actually saying, “You goofed, Lord.” And so offensive is this to Him that His response to Miriam was not only to infect her with leprosy, but to depart.

2. Envy eats at me. Miriam was smitten with leprosy—the disease that eats away at one’s skin and causes a great stench to emanate from the person. Envy does that too. When envy takes root in the soil of my soul, the fruit is stinky. James nails it when he says, “For where envy is, there is confusion and every evil work” (James 3:16).

3. Envy pulls me away. Miriam was isolated in her leprous condition for a full week. Envy does that. It causes me to close the door, to pull the shades, to isolate myself from those of whom I am envious.

4. Envy holds others back. The entire congregation was stuck for seven days, waiting for Miriam to be healed of her leprous, envious condition. Instead of enjoying and using what God has given us, when we envy what we don’t have; we hold back the church in the same way. She can’t move forward with envy and strife strangling the gifts everyone has been given.



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Trust is the winsome wedding of faith and hope.

Brennan Manning

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