With the help of the Lord, the Israelites were able to escape from the Egyptians who had held them captive for many years. They traveled into the Wilderness of Paran, at the north end of the Red Sea, a place in Egypt known today as the Sinai Peninsula.
The task that the prophet Moses had of leading his people back into Israel and the Promised Land was not an easy one. There were more than half a million people traveling in one group. Because the Israelites were quarrelsome, wicked, and complained so often, the Lord caused them to wander in this barren land for 40 years until they repented of their foolishness and wickedness.
Even when God gave them manna (a tasty white food) to eat and sometimes quail, they grumbled. And then one day, Aaron and his sister, Miriam, spoke against their brother Moses. They were upset that Moses had married a woman from Ethiopia, and they were jealous because he was the Lord’s chosen prophet. “Hath the Lord … spoken only [to] Moses?” they asked with envy; “hath he not spoken also [to] us?”
Their attitude greatly displeased the Lord and He suddenly spoke to them and to Moses out of a pillar-like cloud that rested in the sacred tabernacle. The Lord told Aaron and Miriam to come forward and then 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.”
Then speaking of Moses, the Lord said that he was the most faithful and that He would speak with him “mouth to mouth.”
There was no misunderstanding now. Aaron and Miriam knew that Moses was a special prophet called by the Lord. To show that He meant what He said, the Lord caused Miriam to become “white as snow” with a terrible skin disease called leprosy.
In horror over what happened to their older sister, Aaron apologized to Moses for the way he and Miriam had behaved. He said, “… I beseech thee, lay not the sin upon us, wherein we have done foolishly … Let her not be as one dead. …”
Moses, of course, loved his brother and sister very much. He prayed to the Lord and asked that Miriam be healed. But true repentance takes more than an apology and a prayer. The Lord wanted to be sure that everyone understood what it meant to truly repent for any wrong they might do.
The Lord told Moses that Miriam was to be taken outside of their camp and kept away for seven days while she repented.
It was a hard lesson. At the end of seven days, Miriam returned to the camp humble and repentant. The leprosy was removed from her body, and the whole camp that had waited for Miriam to repent, could now move on. (Numbers, Chapter 12.) [Num. 12]