Guest post by Rob Tims
In Numbers 12, Moses faced resistance from two of his closest confidantes: Aaron (his older brother) and Miriam (his older sister). The crux of their issue with Moses was that they wanted a share in the prophetic leadership of the people. “Does the Lord speak only through Moses? Does He not also speak through us?” This rather emphatic statement, however, was shrouded in what you might call a “smokescreen issue:” the ethnicity of Moses’ wife. She was not Jewish. So Aaron and Miriam used the fact that he married a non-Jew to question whether or not he should exclusively hold the prophetic leadership powers of the Jews.
On one level, I find Aaron and Miriam’s attitude quite surprising. Moses once killed a man for mistreating Jews. Moses saw the backside of God’s glory. God chose Moses to lead the Exodus. Aaron and Miriam witnessed the plagues against Egypt, not to mention the many wonders God performed in protecting them from the Egyptians. That they would even want a part of leading the Jews is shocking, and that they would throw God’s chosen man under the bus to get it is almost too much to believe. Then again, we are talking about human beings.
Given the seriousness of the charge and the implications the truth of that charge might have on Moses’ leadership, you might expect Moses to come out swinging with the kinds of qualifications I listed above. Yet Moses did nothing to defend himself. God, however, did a lot. He heard their charge against Moses, and He literally called them on the carpet for it. After setting them straight, He gave them a skin disease that kept them alone in the wilderness for seven days.
Through the entire ordeal, one particular trait of Moses is mentioned: meekness. “Now the man Moses was very meek, more than all people who were on the face of the earth” (Numbers 12:3, ESV). Moses had learned meekness through accepting his helplessness as a leader, so he knew that he did not need to fight back against attacks on him or his leadership. He knew that God had his reputation.
The passage implies that Aaron and Miriam perceived weakness in Moses. They saw that the once prideful man who murdered an Egyptian was now soft-spoken and gentle. He wasn’t bombastic or flamboyant, but serene and comfortable in any setting. Little seemed to bother him. As he led more than a million complaining people on a 40-year camping trip through the middle-eastern wilderness, he calmly and quietly persevered, trusting God with his life and calling.
Like Aaron and Miriam, many of us mistake meekness for weakness. Maybe you’ve been a part of a church working through a conflict between members and the pastor. While members continually lambasted him and his efforts in the parking lot and private “prayer meetings,” your pastor behaved as if their words and actions, though hurtful, were not nearly as vitriolic as you perceived them. He absorbed their criticism and weathered the adversity without ever questioning the integrity or character of those who defamed him. He patiently persevered through the unjust suffering that came with the conflict, and even looked for any truth that might be found in the criticism of his adversaries.
Such behavior is contrary to the way the world encourages us to be. In the face of adversity or criticism, the world teaches us to be strong and defiant. We’re to go on the offensive against our enemies by poking holes in their arguments and calling their integrity into question. We’re to make them look worse than us, and make ourselves out to be victims of their evil plans.
But people who know they are helpless before God are people who don’t need to justify themselves before men. The result is a quiet trust frequently perceived as weakness, incompetence, or apathy. Ironically, it’s anything but. It’s a quiet, solid strength reflective of the gospel’s work in an individual’s life. The meek person is constantly deepening in his awareness that he is helpless before God, and increasingly accepting this reality. Growth in these areas impacts his relationships. He no longer sees the need to flaunt or defend himself. He knows where He stands with God, so He trusts God to work out his standing with others.
No, meekness is not weakness. It is the very definition of strength, because it is strength found in faith in a God who empowers and has our reputation, as proven in the cross of Jesus Christ.
Rob Tims is husband to Holly and father to Trey, Jono, Abby Jane and Luke. He’s the author of Southern Fried Faith: Confusing Christ and Culture in the Bible Belt, and manages the team behind smallgroup.com at LifeWay Christian Resources in Nashville. He writes regularly at RobTims.com and blogs every Friday at Forward Progress.