One of the great challenges for long-time Bible readers is to find ways to read Scripture with fresh eyes. When I open the text, I need to be mindful of the thick, old lenses I bring to the task, including a backlog of previous teachings, experiences and my own temperament and assumptions.
My favourite approach is through Q&A times with children. Among the most fruitful was the grilling I got from a little boy (Mal) concerning Judas. Here’s the link. Today it was from my little friend, Anna, one of the brightest young Bible scholars I know. Her questions are always a challenge, but they are especially helpful to me as they heal my eyes to see the unvarnished text once again. I will give her questions, pictured in the photo, my best brief responses:
Why did Moses marry a Cushite woman? I don’t really know. I suppose he saw her and thought she was attractive. Or maybe it was because she was a princess and that would help him politically. Or maybe it was because she was a prophet too and thought that would be good.
It seems like for whatever reason, Miriam (his sister) was upset. And again, why was she upset? Was she upset because Cushites were black people? Was she jealous because of competition in the family or as another prophet? Or was she upset because Moses actually separated from her?
Jewish Rabbis have wondered and debated these questions for 1000s of years now. Their debates and traditions ABOUT the story also ADD more questions and make everything more complicated. Here is a very good, brief summary of how complex it got, by Rabbi Dovid Rosenfeld: https://www.aish.com/atr/Moses-Cushite-Wife.html
But I suspect that the question behind Anna’s question might be more straightforward. Why did Moses marry a SECOND wife? He was already married to Zipporah. What’s the deal with that?
Well, long ago and even today in certain parts of the world, some men would take more than one wife. Many of the famous men in the Bible had several wives. I don’t think that was God’s plan, but in those cultures, it was pretty common. They had many different reasons to do this. Some of those reasons were pretty bad. But here is the good news:
No matter what type of family we have, God loves us and lives with us and welcomes us and can bless our families, whether they are healthy, broken, mixed or very different than what we’re used to. It seems that the mistakes we make, even in marriage, do not hinder God from caring for us and being part of our messy lives.
Did God give Miriam leprosy? I don’t think so. I say that for two reasons.
First, in the story, the narrator says that because Miriam was disrespectful, God “burned with anger” and then “God left.” And “when the cloud lifted,” Miriam had leprosy. This is a good example of why we should not read these old stories without Jesus as our guide and as our God.
Whoever wrote down the story had certain ideas about God, sin and sickness. And God lets him tell the story even with those ideas. In this case, the narrator thought it works this way:
If you disobey, God gets angry and makes you sick. Then if you beg him, God will take away the sickness. And so that’s how he tells the story. But if we come to the story with Jesus as our Rabbi, we have to read this story with his ideas of God. And what does Jesus show us about God, sin and sickness? Jesus shows us that it is more like this:
Sometimes, people get sick and they didn’t even sin. Like the blind man in John 9. Some people just get sick. Notice: the sickness made you sick, not always sin.
Other times, God warns us not to do something but we disobey and the sin does make us sick. Notice: the sin makes you sick, not God. For example, God says that we should forgive instead of being angry all the time. But if we disobey and hold resentment in our hearts, our anger can begin to give us high blood pressure and that can damage your heart. Did God damage our heart? No. The sin did.
So, what gave Miriam the leprosy? Well, it happened pretty suddenly, so the narrator figured it was God. But I think the simplest answer is, “Her jealousy gave her leprosy.” How? We don’t know.
But more importantly, something Anna’s dad reminded me of, was another question: we need to read EVERY story about leprosy remembering Jesus, because Jesus knew his Father better than the narrator of Exodus. Jesus showed us who God is and what God does with leprosy. What do we learn? God doesn’t give people leprosy. In Jesus, we see that when God touches leprosy, he heals it. And we’re happy that God did that for Miriam too.
Why didn’t Moses listen to God and talk to the rock? Another good question. Was it because he was angry or impatient? Or was he assuming that he knew what was best himself? Was he being disobedient or impulsive or forgetful? I don’t exactly know. But what is the big lesson for me? Two things:
Before I act, I should listen.
When I listen, I should obey.
So why don’t I?
And what if I don’t?
If I don’t, sometimes bad stuff happens. God gives me good advice and so trusting him and obeying him is the best way to live. And if I don’t, sometimes I suffer from my own disobedience and sometimes others suffer. It is not God causing the suffering. It’s me.
Sometimes we blame God for the consequences just because he was the One we disobeyed. But that’s like saying that a traffic sign caused an accident just because you ignored it. Kind of silly.
But the good news is, even when I disobey and even if my disobedience causes a disaster, God does NOT leave me. Did God really ever leave Miriam or Moses? The narrator kind of thinks so. But what do we find out later? God says, “I will NEVER leave you or forsake you.” Even if I’m bad? NEVER.
When I was Anna’s age, I remember being very afraid that if I ever disobeyed, God would leave me. But I also remember a really nice lady opening her Bible and saying, “Bradley, I want you to read this out loud.” And she pointed to this verse. Hebrews 13:5b — “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” I memorized that sentence that day and I put it in my heart and it has never left me. I hope you will put it in your heart too, Anna.
And remember, if you are going to read Exodus, always remember that Jesus has shown us what God is like in a way that the author of Exodus never dreamed of. Always read Exodus with Jesus as your Rabbi. Because even Exodus is a story that is waiting for Jesus!