Sibling Rivalry

“Miriam and Aaron began to talk against Moses saying…‘Has the Lord spoken only through Moses?  Hasn’t he also spoken through us?’ And the Lord heard this…The anger of the Lord burned against them, and…Miriam’s skin was leprous.  Aaron turned toward her and saw that she had a defiling skin disease, and he said to Moses, ‘Please, my lord, I ask you not to hold against us the sin we have so foolishly committed.’  So Moses cried out to the Lord, ‘Please, God, heal her!’” – Numbers 12:1-13

Watching my kids play together is a high stakes activity.  When they are sharing, being kind, and generally enjoying each other, it’s amazing.  Watching my son read a book to my daughter fills me with enough joy to get through the day.  But when it goes wrong, it’s a mess.  There are tears, accusations, and intentional acts to hurt their sibling.  It tears me apart.  My wife and I do what we can to encourage them to support and celebrate each other but at the end of the day they are each responsible for the kind of relationship they will have.  Having a sibling and being a sibling is no simple thing.  The Bible understands this all too well.

Genesis practically begins with sibling rivalry.  The list of fraught and fractured relationships between sisters and brothers in the scriptures is long.  The relationship between Miriam, Aaron, and Moses is no different.

Miriam and Aaron, Moses’ older sister and brother, were both leaders in the Israelite camp.  Miriam was considered a prophetess and Aaron the high priest.  They were with Moses from the beginning of the Exodus.  And now Moses did something they disapproved of.

The text isn’t extremely clear but it seems that Miriam did not approve of Moses’ wife or that Miriam did not approve of the way Moses was treating his wife.  Either way, Miriam and Aaron rallied their authority and went to challenge him.

It’s interesting that Moses does not defend himself in the passage.  He does not attempt to counterattack Aaron or Miriam.  He is passive in the story. Even as God’s anger burns against them and God strikes Miriam with leprosy, Moses is inert.  Aaron steps into the gap and begs Moses to do something.

I wonder about that sliver of a moment between Aaron’s plea and Moses’ response.

At this point in the story Moses had already endured a lot of grumbling and complaining about his leadership.  The unjust actions and accusations from the Hebrew people had already begun to weigh upon him.  Did he see his sibling’s complaint as more of the same?  Or, in that moment, did he think about the story of Miriam following his baby basket as it floated down the Nile?  Did he remember standing side-by-side with Aaron as they faced down the most powerful ruler in the world?  Did he hear the tune of the victory song he composed with Miriam after they crossed the Red Sea?

In response to Aaron’s impassioned plea, Moses did what so often does in the Bible.  He cried out for God to intervene.  He asked God to heal his sister.

The relationships we have with sisters and brothers are rarely superficial.  They are layered and significant.

When I watch my children interact I am grateful that they have an opportunity to develop and hone those critical life skills like compromise and reconnecting.  Watching them build memories with each other and work through how we live life together reminds me a quote from Maya Angelou,

I don’t believe an accident of birth makes people sisters or brothers. It makes them siblings, gives them mutuality of parentage. Sisterhood and brotherhood is a condition people have to work at.