I grew up in Nicholas County, WV, an all-white county in the 1970’s. The only time I saw a black person was when our high school played against another team. To this day, not much has changed where I grew up. But it doesn’t matter what your experience was in the days of your youth, the heart is prideful and harmfully competitive in a thousand ways. One way is with ethnicity.
Last month, I finished John Piper’s book, and clearly, one of his best, “Bloodlines: Race, Cross, and the Christian.” I previously posted on this book Sept. 19 and want to give a final high-five to this incredible and eye-opening tome that excels in what it delivers: everyone is a racist at heart, including Moses’s sister, Miriam, and like Miriam, everyone needs the gospel for this area of their lives. God’s response to her racism is alarming as it is telling of what God thinks about white people who love their whiteness, and by implication what God thinks of interracial marriage. (Footnote: Piper shows that there is no biblical warrant to even use the term ‘interracial’ when one person of one ethnicity marries another person of a different ethnicity; two humans who have Adam and Eve as their first parents are not marrying outside their human family. He also shows why the term “race” is unhelpful, while “ethnicity” is preferred, see chapter 15).
Moses writes, “Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses because of the Cushite woman whom he had married, for he had married a Cushite woman” (Num. 12:1). And Piper writes,
“Cushite” means a woman from Cush, a region south of Egypt, and a people known for their black skin. We know this because of Jeremiah 13:23: “Can the Ethiopian [the very same Hebrew word translated Cushite in Num. 12:1] change his skin or the leopard his spots?” Piper continues, “J. Daniel Hays writes in his book From Every People and Nation: A Biblical Theology of Race that Cush is used regularly to refer to the area south of Egypt, and above the cataracts on the Nile, where a Black African civilization flourished for over two thousand years. Thus it is quite clear that Moses marries a Black African woman” (pg. 211).
Back to the biblical text.
It is true that Miriam and Aaron were jealous of Moses’s authority and were attempting to undermine what God had established. It is also true that most commentators remark that the back-handed slander against Moses’s wife was only a ruse for their real aim – Moses’s authority. Of which Piper quips, “Perhaps. But what you use for a smoke screen reveals your heart. And God was not pleased” (pg. 212). I agree. But I will say more than what Piper said.
What is one of the most successful ways to undermine someone’s authority so that you may assume it? Expose their lack of sound judgment! If you can demonstrate the ineptness or lack of reasoning skills of a superior, then the big boss may take notice of your “sound judgment” and may promote you to the coveted leadership position of your rival. What did God think about the implied accusation that Moses’s decision-making skills may be skewed, given that he “married a Cushite woman”, a Black African woman?
Concerning Moses, God said to Miriam and Aaron, “he is faithful in all my house. With him I speak mouth to mouth, clearly, and not in riddles, and he beholds the form of the LORD. Why then were you not afraid to speak against my servant Moses? And the anger of the LORD was kindled against them, and he departed. When the cloud removed from over the tent, behold, Miriam was leprous, like snow. And Aaron turned toward Miriam, and behold, she was leprous (Num. 12:7-10).
Piper comments further:
“Is there more here than mere punishment? Is there symbolism in the punishment? Consider this possibility: in God’s anger at Miriam, Moses’s sister, God says in effect, “Do you like being light-skinned, Miriam? Do you belittle the Cushite because she is dark-skinned and foreign? All right, I’ll make you light-skinned.” Verse 10: “Behold, Miriam was leprous, like snow.” God says not a critical word against Moses for marrying a black Cushite woman. But when Miriam criticizes God’s chosen leader for this marriage, God strikes her skin with white leprosy. If you ever thought black was a biblical symbol for uncleanness, be careful how you use such an idea; a white uncleanness could come upon you” (pg. 212).
For me and all my white friends: Let us Be careful how and why we like being white!