Penalty Box

Numbers 12:15 “So Miriam was confined outside the camp for seven days, and the people did not move on till she was brought back” (NIV).

Observation: Miriam had exposed a petulant jealous streak by speaking against Moses, saying, “Has the Lord spoken only through Moses? Hasn’t He also spoken through us?” (Num. 12:2). Angered, God struck Miriam with leprosy. Moses immediately interceded for her, but God required that she bear her uncleanness by being put outside the camp for seven days, a very public rebuke.

Application: The Lord has a deft touch indeed as he reveals my heart condition through a simple story several thousand years old. Miriam was beloved of God; she also led the nation in exuberant celebration after their Red Sea deliverance from Pharaoh’s army (see Ex. 15:20-21). The prophet Micah would later remind of God’s having “sent Moses to lead [the nation], also Aaron and Miriam” (Micah 6:4, NIV). She was honored, famous, and secure in God’s love.

Yet Miriam, like me, was apparently still capable of blurting things she would regret, words that revealed an area of her heart not yet fully yielded to God. The resulting discipline, while due to her sin, was nonetheless motivated by God’s love for her and for those around her. As long as she was in the penalty box, forward progress waited. It is in the goodness of God, not meanness, that the time finally comes for Him to address heart issues I would prefer to leave buried. In my headlong rush to achieve something, to become something, my loving Abba will design a penalty box just my size: a major illness, a business reversal, a relational train wreck, or some other creative invention.

There comes a time when God determines that this thing is to be addressed now, no longer to be hidden from view, covered by pretense. He calls “time out,” and like Miriam, I find that forward progress stops while He works on my heart. I must see this not as the harsh punishment of an angry God, but as a necessary course correction by the lover of my soul. He is much more committed to my intimacy with Him than He is to the outer accoutrements I have given my life to pursue. After all, He Himself volunteered for the shame of the Cross; He would appear to have been a failure in his earthly ministry. Should I think myself above the suffering to which He submitted? Love put Miriam outside the camp. And it is His passionate love for me that has caused me to join her there.

Prayer: O Lord, when I see You through the paradigm of a lovesick bridegroom rather than as a cranky, harsh, disapproving authority, the hard things in life take on new meaning. Thank You for loving me enough to crush me when it is needed. I gladly submit to Your work in my heart.

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