A scripture in the Doctrine & Covenants encourages us to “be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of [our] own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness.” But I’ve noticed that there is a concept that is widespread in the LDS Church which tends to limit our engagement in good causes and even, on occasion, the righteous seeking of revelation. This is the idea of stewardship.
When I was a young mother living in Hawaii, an elderly neighbor invited me and another ward member over to her house for lunch. While we were there, she presented us with a proposal. She had noticed there were many needs in our ward and in our immediate neighborhood, and she suggested that we get together on Friday mornings to pray. She hoped that we might also be able to help with some of the needs in a tangible way, but the main focus was to be on prayer and petitioning the Lord for divine assistance. I thought this was a great idea and was excited to be a part of it. We did this for about a year until our family moved away. But a damper was put on the project the first Friday morning we started, for the other woman who had been invited had declined to join us. She told my elderly neighbor that she felt uncomfortable praying for others in our ward, since we were not part of the Relief Society Presidency, and it wasn’t our stewardship so to do.
This idea is presented in the OT SS Manual along with the story in Numbers 12. First, let us examine the scripture passage. Moses marries a Cushite woman, and Miriam and Aaron are perturbed. We don’t know exactly why. Moses’ wife Zipporah was the daughter of a Midianite, so either she had died and Moses remarried, or the Cushite woman was a second wife. There is no evidence that the Lord had commanded the Hebrews not to marry women from other nations, as he did later when they moved into the land of Canaan. If he gave this command earlier it may have been the reason for his siblings’ objection. In any case, the next verse gives a clue that because of this marriage a challenge to Moses’ authority as a prophet was involved. “Hath the Lord indeed spoken only by Moses?” they asked. “Hath he not spoken also by us?”
The Lord HAD spoken to Miriam and Aaron in the past. He spoke to the people through Aaron in Exodus 4:30; He spoke to Aaron in Exodus 12:1; Miriam herself spoke words inspired by God in Exodus 15:21. But when they challenged Moses, they were reprimanded. The Lord called all three of them together, came down in a pillar of the cloud, and rebuked Miriam and Aaron for their affront. Then he afflicted Miriam with leprosy.
<feminist rant> Why was Miriam punished and not Aaron? Some say that she was the instigator because she was named first. But it seems clear by the use of the plural form “we” throughout the passage, that both were equally involved. Aaron confesses “we have done foolishly, and… we have sinned.” I find it appalling that Miriam was made to bear the sole punishment for this transgression. One commentary explains: “Had he [Aaron] been smitten with the leprosy, his sacred character must have greatly suffered, and perhaps the priesthood itself have fallen into contempt.” There seems to have been one ancient tradition that taught Aaron was also struck with leprosy. According to that tradition, the Torah does not explicitly mention Aaron’s punishment out of respect for the office of the high priest. Instead, Aaron’s punishment was edited out of the record but remembered nonetheless. Rabbi Yehudah warned that “Anyone who says that Aaron was also smitten with leprosy will have to give an account [in heaven]. When God has concealed the matter concerning Aaron [how dare we reveal it?]”
Our SS lesson engages the story of Miriam and Aaron by asking the question: What are the limits to our right to receive revelation?
The LDS concept of stewardship involves the careful and responsible management of something entrusted to one’s care. Bishops are said to have stewardship over the people in their wards, and fathers over their families. If we have stewardship over a group of people, we may receive revelation regarding how to manage those under our care. But we are cautioned that the revelation does not extend to those outside our sphere of influence. The manual includes the following quotation:
- Elder James E. Faust said: “The prophets, seers, and revelators have had and still have the responsibility and privilege of receiving and declaring the word of God for the world. Individual members, parents, and leaders have the right to receive revelation for their own responsibility but have no duty nor right to declare the word of God beyond the limits of their own responsibility” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1989, 9; or Ensign, Nov. 1989, 8).
As I read the manual, I wondered if the story of Miriam and Aaron really had much to do with the modern concept of stewardship. Do you think it is a stretch to equate Miriam and Aaron’s questioning of Moses’ authority with members’ right to “declare the word of God?” Do you think this might discourage members without leadership callings to “be anxiously engaged in a good cause,” and “bring to pass much righteousness?”