Unbelievably, after all God’s gifts – the redemption from Egypt, the covenant with Divine instruction, the invitation to draw near, and the blessing of forever well-being – the people complain. This is evil to God, yet it happens in the midst of God in both ancient times and ours.
In the Bible, we learn that God responds first with fire directed to the outskirts of the camp. Why there?
Some say it refers to the marginal sort, those not committed to the Way and those disenchanted with it, who started the dissension. Others note the closeness of the Hebrew for outskirts (katzei) with that for leader (katzin) and say that the leaders who didn’t calm or stop the complainers were the ones principally held accountable by God.
Perhaps there’s truth in a Divine concern about both. Rebellion against the good and God tends to begin on the edge, but the fire grows when leaders look the other way and fail to take responsible and effective action to stop it.
Once the fire rages, it spreads to all “family groups” so that “each weeps at the entrance of his tent.” Indeed it can be so dangerous that, in its fervor, even the truly good, such as Miriam, can turn against Moses and God, and do wrong.
What does the Bible teach here about facing this horror?
First, we must understand our support comes from God. Second, we must be sure there are leaders in place in whom the spirit of God resides. Third, we and our leaders must be vigilant about what happens “on the outskirts” and assure that the fire of dissension and rebellion never be allowed to spread from there, through the riffraff, to the broader community. And, fourth, when good people, who generally elevate others to God’s Way, fail, they, properly chastised, should be welcomed back in mercy.
It’s hard in the wilderness. Teach us, God. Support us. May we lead in your Way. And when the good among us fall short may we remember Moses’ prayer, “please provide healing now.”