SHAME ON ACCOUNT OF GOD'S DISPLEASURE.
"And the Lord said unto Moses, If her father had but spit in her
face, should she not be ashamed seven days? Let her be shut out from
the camp seven days, and after that let her be received in
again."--NUMBERS xii. 14.
The incident recorded in this chapter is of a painful character.
Petty jealousies discovered themselves in the most distinguished
family of Israel. Through the robes of the anointed and sac
Priest the throbbings of a heart stirred with evil passion were
discernible. Aaron and Miriam could not bear that even their own
brother should occupy a Position of exceptional dignity, and with
ignorant pretentiousness aspired to equality with him. It is to the
punishment of this sin that our attention is here called. This
punishment fell directly on Miriam, possibly because the person of
the High Priest was sacred, and had he been incapacitated all Israel
would have suffered in their representative; possibly because the
sin, as it shows traces of a peculiarly feminine jealousy, was
primarily the sin of Miriam; and partly because, in her punishment,
Aaron suffered a sympathetic shame, as is apparent from his,
impassioned appeal to Moses in her behalf.
The noteworthy feature of the incident and its most impressive lesson
are found in the fact that, although the healing and forgiveness
sought for Miriam were not refused, God is represented as resenting
the speedy oblivion of the offence on account of which the leprosy
had been sent and of the Divine displeasure incurred. There was cause
to apprehend that the whole matter might be too quickly wiped out and
forgotten, and that the sinners, reinstated in their old positions,
should think too lightly of their offence. This detrimental
suddenness God takes measures to prevent. Had an earthly father
manifested his displeasure as emphatically as God had now shown His,
Miriam could not for a time have held up her head. God desires that
the shame which results from a sense of His displeasure should last
at least as long. He therefore enjoins something like a penance; He
removes His stroke, but provides for the moral effects of it being
sufficiently impressed on the spirit to be permanent.
Three points are involved in the words:
1. Our keener sense of man's displeasure than of God's.
2. The consequent possibility of accepting pardon with too light a heart.
3. The means of preventing such acceptance of pardon.
1. _We are much more sensitive to the displeasure of man than to that
of God._ Men have several methods of expressing their opinion of us
and their feeling toward us; and these methods are quite effectual
for their purpose. There is an instinctive and exact correspondence
between our feelings and every slightest hint of disapprobation on
the part of our acquaintances; and so readily and completely does the
mere carriage of any person convey to us his estimate of our conduct
that explicit denunciation is seldom required. The mode of expressing
opinion which is cited in the text is the most forcible Eastern mode
of expressing contempt. When one man spits in the face of another, no
one, and least of all the suffering party, can have the slightest
doubt of the esteem in which the one holds the other. If an insolent
enemy were to spit in the face of a slain foe, the dead man might
almost be expected to blush or to rise and avenge the insult. But
comparing His methods with such a method as this, God awards the palm
to His own for explicitness and emphasis. He speaks of the most
emphatic and unambiguous of human methods with a "but," as if it
could scarcely be compared with His expressions of displeasure. "If
her father had _but_ spit in her face"--if that were all--but
something immensely more expressive than that has happened to her.
God, therefore, would have us ponder the punishments of sin, and find
in them the emphatic expressions of His judgment of our conduct and
of ourselves. He resents our shamelessness, and desires that we
consider His judgments till our callousness is removed. The case
stands thus: God. is long-suffering, slow to anger, not of a
fault-finding, everchiding nature, but most loving and most just; and
this God has recorded against us the strongest possible condemnation.
This God, who cannot do what is not most just, and who cannot make
mistakes, this unfurious and holy God, whose opinion of us represents
the very truth, has pronounced us to be wicked and worthless; and we
seem scarcely at all impressed by the declaration. God's judgment of
us is not only absolutely true, but it must also take effect; so that
what He has pronounced against us will be seen written in the facts
bearing upon and entering into our life. But, although we know this,
we are for the most part as unmoved as if in hearing God's judgment
pronounced against us we had heard but the sighing of the wind or any
other inarticulate, unintelligible sound. There is a climax of
ignominy in having excited in the Divine mind feelings of displeasure
against us. One might suppose a man would die of shame, and could not
bear to live conscious of having merited the condemnation and
punishment of such a Being; one might suppose that the breath of
God's disapproval would blast every blessing to us, and that so long
as we know ourselves displeasing to Him His sweetest gifts must be
bitter to us; but the coldness of a friend gives us more thought, and
the contempt of men as contemptible as ourselves affects us with a
more genuine confusion.
God's demand, then, is reasonable. He would have us feel before Him
as much shame as we feel before men, the same kind of shame--shame
with the same blush and burning in it, not shame of any sublimated,
fictitious kind. He desires us individually to take thought, and to
say to ourselves: "Suppose a man had proved against me even a small
part of what is proved against me by God: Suppose some wise, just,
and honourable man had said of me and believed such things as God has
said: suppose he had said, and said truly, that I had robbed him,
betrayed trust, and was unworthy of his friendship, would the shame
be no more poignant than that which I feel when God denounces me?"
How trifling are the causes which make us blush before our fellows: a
little awkwardness, the slightest accident which makes us appear
blundering, some scarcely perceptible incongruity of dress, an
infinitesimal error in manner or in accent--anything is enough to
make us uneasy in the company of those we esteem. It is God's
reasonable demand that for those gross iniquities and bold
transgressions of which we are conscious we should manifest some
heartfelt shame--a shame that does not wholly lack the poignancy and
agitation of the confusion we feel in presence of human judgment.
2. _The consequent possibility of accepting the pardon of sin with
too light a heart._ To ask for pardon Without real shame is to treat
sin lightly; and to treat sin lightly is to treat God lightly.
Nothing more effectually deadens the moral sense than: the habit of
asking pardon without a due sense of the evil of sin. We ask God to
forgive us our debts, and we do so in so inconsiderate a spirit that
we go straightway and contract heavier debts. The friend who repays
the ten pounds we had lent him and asks for a new loan of twenty,
does not commend himself to our approval. He is no better who accepts
pardon as if it cost God nothing.
3. _The means of preventing a too light-hearted acceptance of
pardon._ Under the ceremonial prescriptions enjoined on Miriam lay
some moral efficacy. A person left for a full week without the camp
must, in separation from accustomed companionship, intercourse, and
occupations, have been thrown upon his or her own thoughts. No doubt
it is often while engaged in our ordinary occupations that the
strongest light is flashed upon our true spiritual condition. It is
while in the company of other people that we catch hints which seem
to interpret to us our past and reveal to us our present state. But
these glimpses and hints often pass without result, because we do not
find leisure to follow them up. There must be some kind of separation
from the camp if we are to know ourselves, some leisure gained for
quiet reflection. It is due to God that we be at some pains to
ascertain with precision our actual relation to His will.
The very feeling of being outcast, unworthy to mingle with former
associates and friends, must have been humbling and instructive.
Miriam had been the foremost woman in Israel; now she would gladly
have changed places with the least known and be lost among the throng
from the eye of wonder, pity, contempt or cruel triumph. All sin
makes us unworthy of fellowship with the people of God. And the
feeling that we are thus unworthy, instead of being lightly and
callously dismissed, should be allowed to penetrate and stir the
If the leprosy departed from Miriam as soon as Moses prayed, yet the
shock to her physical system, and the revulsion of feeling consequent
on being afflicted with so loathsome a disease, would tell upon her
throughout the week. All consequences of sin, which are prolonged
after pardon, have their proper effect and use in begetting shame. We
are not to evade what conscience tells us of the connection between
our sin and many of the difficulties of our life. We are not to turn
away from this as a morbid view of providence; still less are we to
turn away because in this light sin seems so real and so hideous.
Miriam must have thought, "If this disgusting condition of my body,
this lassitude and nervous trembling, this fear and shame to face my
fellows, be the just consequence of my envy and pride, how abominable
must these sins be." And we are summoned to similar thoughts. If this
pursuing evil, this heavy clog that drags me down, this insuperable
difficulty, this disease, or this spiritual and moral weakness be the
fair natural consequence of my sin, if these things are in the
natural world what my sin is in the spiritual, then my sin must be a
much greater evil than I was taking it to be.
But especially are we rebuked for all light-heartedness in our
estimate of sin by remembering Him who went without the camp bearing
our reproach. It is when we see Christ rejected of men, and outcast
for us and for our sin, that we feel true shame. To find one who so
loves me and enters into my position that He feels more keenly than
myself the shame I have incurred; to find one who so understands
God's holiness and is Himself so pure that my sin affects Him with
the profoundest shame--this is what pierces my heart with an
altogether new compunction, with an arrow that cannot be shaken out.
And this connection of Christ with our sin is actual. If Paul felt
himself so bound up with his fellow-Christians that he blushed for
them when they erred, and could say with truth, "Who is weak and I am
not weak, who is offended and I turn not?" much more truly may Christ
say, Who sins and I am not ashamed? And if He thus enters into a
living sympathy with us, shall not we enter into sympathy with Him,
and go without the camp bearing His reproach, which, indeed, is ours;
striving, though it cost us much shame and self-denial, to enter
heartily into His feelings at our sins, and not letting our union to
Him be a mere name or an inoperative tie which effects no real
assimilation in spirit between us and Him.