The Destroying Effect of Evil Speaking and Gossip

Gossip—small talk, hearsay, rumor, scandal—is the major element used by Satan to destroy love and unity within the church.

“Gossipers and news carriers are a terrible curse to neighborhoods and churches. Two thirds of all the church trials arise from this source.” Testimonies, vol. 2, 465.

We read from God’s holy word the following, “And Miriam and Aaron spake against Moses because of the Ethiopian woman whom he had married: for he had married an Ethiopian woman.” Numbers 12:1.

From the pen of inspiration we are given an insight into this whole experience. God’s servant records: “Moses felt the importance of the great work committed to him as no other man had ever felt it. He realized his own weakness, and he made God his counselor. Aaron esteemed himself more highly, and trusted less in God. He had failed when entrusted with responsibility, giving evidence of the weakness of his character by his base compliance in the matter of the idolatrous worship at Sinai. But Miriam and Aaron, blinded by jealousy and ambition, lost sight of this. Aaron had been highly honored by God in the appointment of his family to the sacred office of the priesthood; yet even this now added to the desire for self-exaltation. ‘And they said, Hath the Lord indeed spoken only by Moses? hath He not spoken also by us’ [Numbers 12:2]? Regarding themselves as equally favored by God, they felt that they were entitled to the same position and authority.

“Yielding to the spirit of dissatisfaction, Miriam found cause of complaint in events that God had especially overruled. The marriage of Moses had been displeasing to her. That he should choose a woman of another nation, instead of taking a wife from among the Hebrews, was an offense to her family and national pride. Zipporah was treated with ill-disguised contempt.

“Though called a ‘Cushite woman’ (Numbers 12:1, R.V.), the wife of Moses was a Midianite, and thus a descendant of Abraham. In personal appearance she differed from the Hebrews in being of a somewhat darker complexion. Though not an Israelite, Zipporah was a worshiper of the true God. She was of a timid, retiring disposition, gentle and affectionate, and greatly distressed at the sight of suffering; and it was for this reason that Moses, when on the way to Egypt, had consented to her return to Midian. He desired to spare her the pain of witnessing the judgments that were to fall on the Egyptians.

“When Zipporah rejoined her husband in the wilderness, she saw that his burdens were wearing away his strength, and she made known her fears to Jethro, who suggested measures for his relief. Here was the chief reason for Miriam’s antipathy to Zipporah. Smarting under the supposed neglect shown to herself and Aaron, she regarded the wife of Moses as the cause, concluding that her influence had prevented him from taking them into his counsels as formerly. Had Aaron stood up firmly for the right, he might have checked the evil; but instead of showing Miriam the sinfulness of her conduct, he sympathized with her, listened to her words of complaint, and thus came to share her jealousy.” Patriarchs and Prophets, 383, 384.

Evidence before us is the fact that Miriam’s jealousy produced evil speaking and gossip, but how did she and Aaron come to be affected by jealousy?

  1. In the appointment of the seventy elders, Miriam and Aaron had not been consulted, and their jealousy was excited against Moses.
  2. At the time of Jethro’s visit, while the Israelites were on their way to Sinai, the ready acceptance by Moses of the counsel of his father-in-law had aroused in Aaron and Miriam a fear that his influence with the great leader exceeded theirs.
  3. In the organization of the council of elders, they felt that their position and authority had been ignored.
  4. Because they had been chosen to aid Moses, they regarded themselves as sharing equally with him the burden of leadership, and they regarded the appointment of further assistance as uncalled for.

This seeming disregard of their authority by Moses fanned into operation the flames of jealousy or envy which ultimately gave rise to evil speaking and gossip, and this spirit of evil speaking and gossip that was now alive and active, due to irresponsible attitudes of Miriam and Aaron, would have soon leavened the whole camp of Israel. Ever keep in mind the fact that jealousy is an attribute of Satan, which means that gossip is of Satan and therefore will only produce a harvest of cruel deeds. We are counseled:

“Envy is one of the most satanic traits that can exist in the human heart, and it is one of the most baleful in its effects. Says the wise man, ‘Wrath is cruel, and anger is outrageous; but who is able to stand before envy?’ Proverbs 27:4. … ‘Where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work.’ James 3:16.

“It should not be regarded as a light thing to speak evil of others or to make ourselves judges of their motives or actions. ‘He that speaketh evil of his brother, and judgeth his brother, speaketh evil of the law, and judgeth the law: but if thou judge the law, thou art not a doer of the law, but a judge.’ James 4:11. There is but one judge—He ‘who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts.’ 1 Corinthians 4:5. And whoever takes it upon himself to judge and condemn his fellow men is usurping the prerogative of the Creator.” Ibid., 385.

As a name, Miriam belongs to a family of words having different root-form; all of which suggest bitterness, Mary, Maria. Miriam, then, the same as Mary, means bitterness or rebellion. This she lived out in the prime of her days!

Let’s examine closer Miriam’s life in relation to this incident. Miriam was the eldest child of Amram and Jochebed, and the sister of Aaron and Moses. Miriam owed much to her ancestry. She was the daughter of godly parents and the sister of two of Israel’s greatest figures. We have no biblical evidence that Miriam was ever married. Her interests were not matrimonial; they were national. Her mission was not domestic; it was patriotic. Miriam is wellknown as a prophetess, and she was highly respected in Israel. The Bible, we can all agree, is an honest book that gives only the truth. It tells the naked truth of those it describes. Blemishes, as well as beauties, are revealed in spite of the person! Miriam, for instance, rebelled against the mission of her life, namely to protect and labor in association with God’s leader whom she had been the means of saving for his country.

Miriam was, above all things, a faithful patriot, with a love for her country greater than the love for her renowned brother. Jealousy led Miriam to reject both the position of Moses as the leader of Israel and his partner in the wife he took unto himself. She found the management and marriage of Moses most distressing, most annoying! Miriam as a church member and more so as a leader became careless and irresponsible because of envy, which led her to turn against her own brother. Isn’t this the same attitude that many of us who profess to be Christians display towards each other who are namely our brothers and sisters?

It was not so much feminine jealousy on Miriam’s part as patriotic jealousy, which gave rise to her gossiping spirit. She was a confirmed member of the Hebrew race and set against any foreign alliance. How often do we, as confirmed Seventh-day Adventists, become troubled concerning those who have come in and joined us who were of a different faith or of another Adventist church? How often are we affected because of their rise to authority within the precincts of the church? We share our burdens with each other about the intruders positioning themselves in our church to take away our positions and belittle our authority.

But Miriam’s greatest offense was her sarcastic rejection of the leadership of her brother, Moses. Hitherto she had been a symbol of unity, cooperation, and support as she shared in the triumphs and hopes of Israel. Now, unfortunately, she is prominent as a leader of discord, division and discontent. “It was envy,” Ellen White wrote, “that first caused discord in heaven, and its indulgence has wrought untold evil among men.” Ibid. So Miriam was now doing the service of Satan. Was this her original desire and intention? Did she desire to bring division, discord and strife between herself and her younger brother?

From the book The Desire of Ages, 323 is found sobering counsel: “Closely connected with Christ’s warning in regard to the sin against the Holy Spirit is a warning against idle and evil words. The words are an indication of that which is in the heart. ‘Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh.’ [Matthew 12:34]. But the words are more than an indication of character; they have power to react on the character. Men are influenced by their own words. Often under a momentary impulse, prompted by Satan, they give utterance to jealousy or evil surmising, expressing that which they do not really believe; but the expression reacts on the thoughts. They are deceived by their words, and come to believe that true which was spoken at Satan’s instigation. Having once expressed an opinion or decision, they are often too proud to retract it, and try to prove themselves in the right, until they come to believe that they are.”

You will notice that Aaron is paired with Miriam in this ungodly ordeal. We know from the record that Miriam was the instigator and spokes-woman in the revolt. The Holy Scripture says, “And Miriam and Aaron spake against Moses.” Numbers 12:1.

Why is it that Miriam did not seek out Moses and express to him her concern? Why did she seek out Aaron, in whom she found a listening ear? Well, it is no doubt because she and Aaron shared a closer relationship, because when Moses was away growing up in the palace and the wilderness, Aaron was there with her. Miriam knew well her brother’s weak and strong points of character, one who would quickly sympathize and agree even if it was wrong, and who would understand, one who would not be quick to oppose, condemn and rebuke.

Miriam understood Aaron and Aaron understood Miriam! For the little she knew of Moses, he was too exact, unbending and regimental as well as overly religious. Aaron was far easier to talk with! It is on this basis, against this background, that we have this cooperative effort.

Personal jealousy and fear of their own respective leadership are mingled in their question, “Hath the Lord indeed spoken only by Moses? hath he not spoken also by us?” Numbers 12:2. What we see here is that Miriam and Aaron aspired to a joint partnership in state power and in the government of Israel, but they failed! Miriam’s chief error consisted in her effort to break down the God-given authority of Moses and thereby imperil the unity and hope of the nation. This would most effectively be accomplished through the same method that Lucifer used in heaven, namely gossip, evil surmising and evil speaking.

No doubt, this will be the result in every church in which members cherish the Miriam and Aaron Syndrome. In every church where the spirit of gossip and evil speaking is encouraged; unity, love, trust and hope are destroyed. It has been said that one of the torments of jealousy is that it can never turn away its eyes from the thing that pains it.

Up to this time Moses was unaware of the evil work being done by the two closest persons to him in his leadership, but God knew, for the Holy Scripture declares, “The Lord heard it.” Numbers 12:2. God heard the evil conversation of Miriam and Aaron. He will always hear the gossipers in conversation, and He will certainly pay for the work done by such individuals!

“And the Lord spake suddenly unto Moses, and unto Aaron, and unto Miriam, Come out ye three unto the tabernacle of the congregation. And they three came out. And the Lord came down in the pillar of the cloud, and stood in the door of the tabernacle, and called Aaron and Miriam: and they both came forth. And he said, Hear now my words: If there be a prophet among you, I the Lord will make myself known unto him in a vision, and will speak unto him in a dream. My servant Moses is not so, who is faithful in all mine house. With him will I speak mouth to mouth, even apparently, and not in dark speeches; and the similitude of the Lord shall he behold: wherefore then were ye not afraid to speak against my servant Moses? And the anger of the Lord was kindled against them; and he departed. And the cloud departed from off the tabernacle; and, behold, Miriam became leprous, white as snow: and Aaron looked upon Miriam, and, behold, she was leprous.” Verses 4–10.

Many times gossipers seek to conceal themselves and their accomplice, but God in time will reveal such individuals the way He knows best and in most cases for their good and the benefit of His church. We are told in the book Patriarchs and Prophets that, “This manifestation of the Lord’s displeasure was designed to be a warning to all Israel, to check the growing spirit of discontent and insubordination. If Miriam’s envy and dissatisfaction had not been signally rebuked, it would have resulted in great evil.” Ibid., 385.

Notice that the very one whom Miriam was gossiping about was the same one who had to pray for her in order that she be spared. This spirit that Moses possessed should be the same spirit all share who are victims of gossip and evil speaking.

The significance of God’s attitude concerning the discipline of Miriam is worth noting. In spite of His forgiving mercies, she never escaped a lesser discipline; she, being a temporary leper, was shut out of the camp for seven days. Due to Miriam’s ungodly behavior the church was brought to a halt for one week at least! It’s no different today, for the progress of the church will be greatly affected by gossipers and evil-surmisers. Indeed, “Gossipers and news carriers are a terrible curse to neighborhoods and churches. Two thirds of all the church trials arise from this source.” Testimonies, vol. 2, 465.

Is it possible that the confidence Moses placed in Aaron and Miriam had been shaken as to make him walk alone from that point onward? Well, Miriam accepted her discipline, repented of her sins, and remained faithful until death.

“And the Lord spake unto Moses and Aaron in mount Hor, by the coast of the land of Edom, saying, Aaron shall be gathered unto his people: for he shall not enter into the land which I have given unto the children of Israel, because ye rebelled against my word at the water of Meribah. Take Aaron and Eleazar his son, and bring them up unto mount Hor: And strip Aaron of his garments, and put them upon Eleazar his son: and Aaron shall be gathered unto his people, and shall die there.” Numbers 20:23–26.

“Aaron’s work for Israel was done. Forty years before, at the age of eighty-three, God had called him to unite with Moses in his great and important mission. He had co-operated with his brother in leading the children of Israel from Egypt. He had held up the great leader’s hands when the Hebrew hosts gave battle to Amalek. He had been permitted to ascend Mount Sinai, to approach into the presence of God, and to behold the divine glory. The Lord had conferred upon the family of Aaron the office of the priesthood, and had honored him with the sacred consecration of high priest. He had sustained him in the holy office by the terrible manifestations of divine judgment in the destruction of Korah and his company. It was through Aaron’s intercession that the plague was stayed. When his two sons were slain for disregarding God’s express command, he did not rebel or even murmur. Yet the record of his noble life had been marred. Aaron committed a grievous sin when he yielded to the clamors of the people and made the golden calf at Sinai; and again, when he united with Miriam in envy and murmuring against Moses. And he, with Moses, offended the Lord at Kadesh by disobeying the command to speak to the rock that it might give forth its water. …

“For his sin at Kadesh, Aaron was denied the privilege of officiating as God’s high priest in Canaan—of offering the first sacrifice in the goodly land, and thus consecrating the inheritance of Israel.” Patriarchs and Prophets, 425, 426.

If there was hope for the gossipers Miriam and Aaron, then there is certainly hope for every gossiper today! Jesus stands today and says to each one, “Only acknowledge thine iniquity, that thou hast transgressed against the Lord thy God, and hast scattered thy ways to the strangers under every green tree, and ye have not obeyed my voice, saith the Lord. Turn, O backsliding children, saith the Lord; for I am married unto you.” Jeremiah 3:13, 14.

I firmly believe that Aaron and Miriam will be in heaven, simply because they repented and submitted themselves to God’s discipline. Why not follow in the footsteps of Aaron and Miriam? Amen!!!

Pastor Ivan Plummer ministers through the Emmanuel Seventh Day Church Ministries in Bronx, New York. He may be contacted by telephone at: 718-882-3900.