Envy And Jealousy
(Read the twelfth chapter of Numbers.)
Among the lowest and most mischievous passions of our nature are envy and jealousy. It is right to desire to be all that we are capable of being, in the line of goodness and usefulness, and to be emulous of the virtues and excellences of those who stand above us. Hence the examples of faith and holiness set before us in the Scriptures. As Pope says:
Envy, to which th' ignoble mind's a slave, Is emulation in the learn'd or brave.
But when either a consciousness of our inferiority or a conceit of your superiority leads us to undervalue the character or the work of others, blinds us to their genuine merits, or inclines us to pull down their reputation that we may exalt ourselves at their expense and build up our name on the ruin of theirs, it is a base selfishness and wickedness which, if encouraged will eat out everything that is good, and leave our souls a prey to evil principle and unholy passion. It leads to falsehood and slander, to the sacrifice of all unholy passion. It leads to falsehood and slander, to the sacrifice of all generous feelings and sentiments, to all sort of injustice, and to a disregard of all laws, whether of God or man, that stand in the way of the gratification of a vile ambition. "Envy," said Solomon, "is the rottenness of the bones." "Wrath is cruel, and anger is outrageous; but who is able to stand before envy?" It should make us tremble at the fearful possibilities of wrong and crime that slumber in this base passion, when we read concerning the greatest crime ever perpetrated in the world so full of crimes as ours--the condemnation of Jesus of Nazareth — that "for envy they delivered him up" (Matt.27;18) .
The chapter selected for this reading presents an exhibition of envy which is well worth studying. We can stand off and behold this hideous deformity in others as we can not behold it in ourselves; yet a knowledge of its hideousness in others may help us to detect and abhor it as a sell-deformity. If there were a self-revelation of its native ugliness, we could not but detest it even in its smallest manifestations; but it is generally cloaked in a seeming zeal for righteousness, and we deceive ourselves as to the motive that sways us. Miriam--who, we judge, was in some respects a superior woman--did not allow herself to believe that she was influenced by envy, when she rose in rebellion against Moses as Jehovah's appointed leader and law-giver. Oh, no; it was only virtuous disgust at his marriage to a Cushite or Ethiopian woman! When she could find nothing else on which to base a complaint and with which to feed her jealousy, she must vent her spleen on this swarthy Ethiopian woman, and raise a storm of indignation because her brother had not married to please her! Yet, when the truth comes out, it is not the Ethiopian woman at all. "Hath the Lord indeed spoken only by Moses? hath he not also spoken by us?" There was the real trouble--envy of the superior distinction and authority of Moses; Miriam and Aaron simply tried to deceive themselves by clothing this envy and jealousy with a professed indignation at what they may have sincerely regarded as an ill-assorted marriage. We must be very careful as to our motives. We are often deceived about them, There may be much of meanness and vileness inspiring our actions, when we are unwilling to admit it, even to ourselves; and if we can only import some worthier reason for our conduct, such as will give some coloring of honesty and righteousness to our proceeding, it is easy to emphasize this, and allow the motives that chiefly inspire us to be overlooked. The Ethiopian woman may have been the occasion, but she certainly was not the cause of this outbreak.
Miriam appears to have been the chief malcontent. Aaron was probably controlled by her influence. This appears from the fact that Miriam is first mentioned, and also for the reason that the punishment fell on her. Aaron was a weak man. This was seen in his yielding to the demands of the people for an idol to worship. It is more strikingly seen here in allowing himself to be swayed by his envious and ill-natured sister, against a brother whom he had every reason to love and reverence, and whose preeminent position, he well knew, was divinely bestowed. While it may not be a pleasant task to hold up a woman like Miriam as the chief transgressor, the truth requires it; and there is a lesson in it which women ought to heed. Miriam is here a leader in mischief, and Aaron is her humble follower.
Miriam was a prophetess (Exo. 15:20); the Lord had spoken by her. She evidently held the first rank among the women of Israel. Aaron was high-priest--a preeminent dignity. There was enough of honor to satisfy a reasonable ambition in either position. But Moses was greater than they--and this became to them intolerable.
Base envy withers at another's joy, And hates that excellence it can not reach.
Although they knew that Moses held his place by divine appointment, they had cherished this envious feeling until it broke out in actual rebelliousness against the will of God, as well as against a brother whom they had every reason to love and honor.
Moses quietly bears their reproaches, but Jehovah quickly interfered in his behalf, and Miriam is smitten with the loathsome and terrible disease of leprosy, and becomes an outcast. Then these ambitious and fretful spirits are humbled before Moses, and beseech his intercessions in their behalf. The generous Moses pleads with God for them, and Miriam, after a brief punishment, is restored to her place--let us hope a wiser and better woman.
-(From "EVENINGS WITH THE BIBLE")