Monday, May 22, 2006

Shame, Shame

Miriam and Aaron began to speak against Moses because of his Cushite wife, for he had married a Cushite. “Has the Lord spoken only through Moses?” they asked. “Hasn’t he also spoken through us?” And the Lord heard this. (Now Moses was a very humble man, more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth.)

At once the LORD said to Moses, Aaron, and Miriam, “Come out to the Tent of Meeting, all three of you.” So the three of them came out. Then the Lord came down in a pillar of cloud; he stood at the entrance to the Tent and summoned Aaron and Miriam. When both of them stepped forward, he said, “Listen to my words:

“When a prophet of the Lord is among you, I reveal myself to him in visions, I speak to him in dreams.But this is not true of my servant Moses; he is faithful in all my house. With him I speak face to face, clearly and not in riddles; he sees the form of the Lord. Why then were you not afraid to speak against my servant Moses?”

The anger of the Lord burned against them, and he left them.

When the cloud lifted from above the Tent, there stood Miriam – leprous, like snow. Aaron turned toward her and saw that she had leprosy; and he said to Moses, “Please my lord, do not hold against us the sin we have so foolishly committed. Do not let her be like a stillborn infant coming from its mother’s womb with its flesh half eaten away.”

So Moses cried out to the Lord, “O God, please help her!”

The Lord replied to Moses, “If her father had spit in her face, would she not have been disgraced for seven days? Confine her outside the camp for seven days; after that she can be brought back.”

So Miriam was confined outside the camp for seven days, and the people did not move on till she was brought back.

(Numbers 12:1-15; NIV)

One of the most powerful emotions we human beings can feel is shame and it can powerfully influence us and create memories we neither enjoy nor forget.

Questions to consider:

  • Have you ever been publicly humiliated? Can you remember the intensity of that emotion? Was there a time in your past when you were so embarassed that it still affects you today?
  • Have you ever really embarrassed someone else? Whether or not you felt sorry then, how do you feel about it now? Does your regret of something you've done in the past influence how you see yourself?
Our likes / dislikes are often based on the emotional impact of events in our past. Personally, when I hear someone being loud and obnoxious in a public setting, I get tense - even red-faced. Why? Because I can count more than a few times when I've done that myself - only to later realize how idiotic I was to my firends, family, and the complete strangers around me. On the positive side, whenever I smell coffee, I become more relaxed and conversational. Why? Because some of my favorite conversations have been shared over a cup (or, more often, a pot) of hot coffee. In both cases, a relationship was being affected either negatively or positively. Humans are relational creatures. What makes our happiest or most instensely shameful moments so memorable is how others around us are affected.

While this is a perfectly normal and helpful mechanism for us humans, there are times when it can become unmanageable and even harmful.

Consider the excerpt from Numbers, chapter 12. Moses was publicly embarrassed by his brother and sister before Israel. Miriam and Aaron accused Moses of marrying a woman who was not an Israelite. However, the real issue appears to be one of sibling rivalry - Aaron and Miriam were jealous of Moses' authority as Israel's leader. In any case, as a consequence of their rebellion, God struck Miriam with leprosy. Then Moses begs God for help.

God's response is rather ... odd:
"If her father had spit in her face, would she not have been in disgrace for seven days?"

Yeah. File that one under "Weird Sayings of the Bible"...

Why would any self-respecting dad want to spit in his daughter's face? What weird rule is behind that?

So far as I know, there's no specific command in Scripture for this practice, but there is some context for it. In Deuteronomy chapter 25, we're told that if a man dies without a son and his brother refuses to marry the dead man's widow (and try to concieve a son in the dead man's name), the brother would be brought before the elders of the town and the widow would then spit in his face, disgracing him publicly. (There's actually more to it than that - read Deuteronomy 25:7-10 for a truly unique idea of public disgrace).

Thus, a brother who refused to fulfill his social obligation to carry on his brother's family line and care for his widow was a disgraceful, selfish man - he deserved public contempt because he refused to sacrifice to do the right thing.

So when Miriam and Aaron challeneged Moses, their brother and leader, they were ultimately challenging and publicly humiliating God (who appointed Moses). You might say that God struck Miriam with leprosy to "spit in her face" or publicly shame her for her rude, inconsiderate, and selfish behavior.

But what about Aaron? He got off easy, didn't he?

Not really. Aaron could have talked Miriam out of it. He didn't and as a result, his sister ended up with leprosy. Aaron's response in Numbers 12:11,12 shows he knew his guilt.

Now fastforward ten years. Imagine Aaron, Moses, Miriam and a bunch of other Israelites are all sitting around the campfire reliving the "glory days." (No, this isn't in the Bible...) Everyone's enjoying talking about the good 'ol times till someone laughs and says,
"Hey, Miriam! Remeber that time you and Aaron got after Moses and cheesed off the Almighty and then you got struck with leprosy?"

I bet Miriam would just chuckle and say, "Yeah.. good times..."

Obviously, if she's anything like you and me, she'd feel at least a little embarrassed, so here's the critical question:

  • Should Miriam feel guilty for what she did ten years later?
(Remember those questions I asked*way* at the beginning of this? Now's a good time to reflect on them...)

What actually happened to Miriam after she was struck with leprosy?

It's fairly obvious that ten years later Miriam no longer had leprosy. Jewish law demanded that anyone suffering leprosy be completely isolated from the main group of people either until the disease was cured or for the rest of their lives. Therefore, there's no way Miriam would have been accepted back into the group if she still had the disease seven days later. So if God struck her with leprosy for insulting Him and then healed her seven days later, do you think He was still upset over her arrogance?

How you answer that question determines how you answer whether or not Miriam should have been ashamed of her behavior ten years later.

You can probably see where I'm going.

Read Psalm 103:12 and look at the imagery that's used in Zechariah 3:1-4. It should be fairly obvious that no Christian should ever feel guilty for a past that God has forgiven them for. That's not the same thing as having no regrets. What I'm talking about is the daily beatings many of us (myself included) tend to give ourselves for things we've done in the past.

In fact, Scripture gives us a good picture of what is and is not acceptable guilt. In Numbers 12, note that Miriam was "shamed" for seven days. It was only temporary. However, in Zechariah ch. 3, Satan is described as an accuser. That is, one of Satan's goals is to consistently remind you of things you've done in the past - no matter if God has forgiven you for them.
So how can you tell the difference between God's conviction and Satan's accusation? Time is a good indicator. If you've confessed and repented of your sin, there's no reason you ought to remain continually ashamed of your past.

My firend Ron once shared with me a story:

Theologian R.C. Sproul was asked by a woman how she could find God's forgiveness for a past sin. She admitted to having begged God for years for forgiveness but never really felt forgiven. Sproul's response was perhaps a bit harsh, but theologically accurate. He said, "The next time you pray, ask God for forgiveness one more time. This time, ask Him to forgive you for your arrogance for refusing to believe he forgave you years ago."

But what if you can't get over it? It may be true that God's forgiven you, but how can you forgive yourself?

We can take an example from Jesus Christ. If you read the account leading to His crucifixion, you'll see that Christ suffered a great deal of public shame and humiliation. Mark 14:60-65 relates the Jews spitting in Jesus' face, for example. Then, in his final moments, Matthew 27:46 tells us Jesus cried out, "My God, my God, why have You forsaken Me?"

Jesus was not only rejected by society, but even God turned His back. Since Christ took on the sins of the world (and God cannot bear to have sin in His presence), Jesus literally became something repulsive to God. No Christian, no matter how badly beaten they are by shame and humiliation can say that God has truly abandoned them. So how did Jesus take it?

Hebrews 12:2 tells us:

Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

What does that mean to us?

Here's a hint: In the Greek, the word "scorn" (or "despise") means literally, "to think against". Jesus, therefore, "thought against the shame of the cross". He didn't run from it - He "endured the shame", but He did not accept it as defining who He was. Thus, a clue to overcoming the emotional bondage of shame, then, begins with rejecting the lies you tell yourself and accepting the truth of what God says about you as one of His children...

Have a great week!



Mrs. Graffy said...

Very well written. Can't wait to hear on a Tuesday night.

Samurai Sam said...

Just on the context of "spitting in one's face": if you read some of the laws in Leviticus, you'll notice that Moses lists "what comes out of a man" as being unclean. Thus, the answer to the odd question is "Yes".

Graffy said...

"Or if the man with the discharge spits on the one who is clean, he too shall wash his clothes and bathe in water and be unclean until evening." (Leviticus 15:8 - NASB)

Good catch - I didn't see that one. Actually, I didn't even look in the Levitical laws because I knew the Numbers 12 reference wasn't one of them. The reference God makes in Numbers 12 appears to be a cultural practice more than any sort of religious decree, though I can't say for certain from whence it came...

Although the Lev. 15:8 law has some good parallels, it's context is vastly different from Numbers 12 (e.g., note who is doing the spitting). Considering the context of the entire story of Numbers 12, it seems to me that Deuteronomy 25 provides a more accurate parallel.

Just my opinion, though you don't need either viewpoint to figure out Miriam was being punished because she had a bad attitude...