At one point in the wilderness, Aaron and Miriam (the sister of Moses and Aaron) have had just about enough of Moses and start to question his qualifications to be really anything at all in Israel, since he has married a foreign woman. It starts to make more sense to them that God should speak to Israel through, well, a more full-blooded, fully-dedicate Israelite. Such as, you know, themselves.
So they start grumbling amongst themselves, sharing their distaste for their brother's high rank and special favor with God, and it doesn't take long (of course) for word to reach God's ears. And God, who has chosen Moses, isn't having it. He calls a meeting, just the four of them, to remind Aaron and Miriam that He's kind of the Lord and He can kind of do whatever Lord-like things He chooses to do, including choosing for Himself the person He elects to choose. And, by the way, that's Moses.
Miriam comes out of the meeting afflicted with leprosy.
Now, Moses - a man humble in spirit who has spent most of Israel's wilderness journey on his face, pleading in intercession for God's people - cries out in intercession here once more. He pleads with God to restore his sister, to heal her of this leprosy with which He has afflicted her. He prays earnestly for this woman who literally just questioned his value to pray at all.
And God's answer is beautiful. If her father had spit in her face, would she not have been in disgrace for seven days?
In other words, God says, I am her father, and I have made her unclean for a time. But she will be clean again.
Don't miss this. Don't read right past this all the things you've heard or worried about God and miss this. You see, it's tempting for us to see the punishment narrative, to see God's heavy hand come down on Miriam and to see Him assert His divine authority to do whatever He wants, particularly with those who disappoint/discourage/disobey Him. That is what we're always taught most prominently, it seems, and our hearts seem to just jump there rather quickly.
If we do, we're prone to struggle with the same questions that we so frequently struggle with: who is this God? How do we know anything about His wrath? Does He just love punishing people? He must, mustn't He? Just like God. Always punishing His people. And then we wrestle with how He can even claim to be love when He's so...vengeful. So...quick-tempered. So...heavy-handed.
But listen to the love. Hear it in His words. Moses cries out on behalf of His sister, and God's answer is, "Am I not her father? I am her father." And He loves her like a father. A father who loves her enough to discipline her.
We always say it, right? We always talk about how God loves His children and part of love is discipline and we should be thankful for a God who punishes us and blah blah blah. We say it mostly so that maybe we ourselves will believe it, so that maybe it will be some comfort to us in our own times of punishing. Though we're not sure if we really believe it or not. It sounds...hokey. At best.
Yet God Himself said it. He didn't just imply it. He didn't have it interpreted through someone who wrote the Scriptures for us. He didn't have it as some kind of theory in someone's head during their own time of trial. He came right out and said it. (It's in Numbers 11, by the way.) In the very same breath in which He punished Miriam for her grumbling, in the very same stanza where she walks leprously out of the tent, He says, Oh, but I am her father.
I Am her Father.