In the Old Testament, when Moses married a Cushite woman, Aaron and Miriam said “Has the Lord spoken only through Moses? Has he not spoken through us also?” (Numbers 12: 2) They dared to question a so-called man of God.
What do we know about Aaron and Miriam? First, both are believed to be the older siblings of Moses and must have been instrumental in his formation. Second, Aaron is a priest and Miriam is a prophetess and were both leaders beside Moses in the liberation of the Hebrew people. In Jewish tradition, Miriam is also Puah, one of the midwives who resisted the orders of Pharaoh to kill all the male babies of the Hebrew slaves. When they asked, “Has the Lord spoken only through Moses?,” they were asserting that in the struggle for life and dignity, the slaves, their people, and their cries were valid. They were also asserting that God hears them and speaks to them, too. As a people, they escaped Egypt to create an alternative social order where there were no tyrants and slaves; a social order where there was equality. How then did Moses, the youngest of three siblings, the one raised inside the palace of the Egyptian pharaoh, now become the sole voice of God to the people?
Then and now, people have to struggle to be heard. Then and now, people must speak even when their voices shake. Then and now, people must write what others will say is forbidden. Those who struggle for human rights will never be silenced. More importantly, they write because more than hearing God, they have heard the cries of those who need God the most. More importantly, many of those who speak for those who suffer cried, journeyed, lived and struggled alongside them.
Going back to the first question, “Has the Lord spoken only through Moses?” God in the text responds, “He is entrusted with all my house. With him I speak face to face— clearly, not in riddles; and he beholds the form of the Lord. Why then were you not afraid to speak against my servant Moses?” It continues to read, “And the anger of the Lord was kindled against them, and he departed.” (Numbers 12: 7-10) Later, Miriam is stricken with skin disease which made her skin white. I am very sad about how this narrative ends and how God is depicted in the text. Is this the same God who said, “I have heard the cries of my people.” Not of one leader but of a People. God heard the cries of people. Not just of people but of slaves. God heard the cries of slaves. Why is it that in Numbers, God privileges, Moses, a prophet and a prince? We have heard the cries of people: activists, churchworkers, youth, IPs, laborers, farmers, the urban poor, the youth and more. We must listen to their voices and must always dare to question even God-self, when God forgets that all our voices must be heard.
Finally, the issue of human rights is a Christological issue. Jesus himself became fully human, had no shelter at birth and was raised in inhumane living conditions. He witnessed the crucifixion and suffered with his people who were colonized. During his ministry, he preached about the Kingdom of God which was a critique and a direct challenge to the Kingdom of Rome. The Christ we follow did not die on the cross, he was killed by the Roman Empire. He was villified and tortured before he was killed. Crucifixion is a form of state killing. He, like many of our sisters and brothers, was a victim of human rights violations under an empire. In his time, it was called Pax Romana. Today, we call it Pax Americana. It is necessary to further unmask the complex relationship between human rights violations and U.S. Imperialism.
I would like to end with a quote from the late Archbishop of Sweden, Nathan Soderblom, “Let no one imagine that they hear the voice of God clearer when they turn a deaf ear to the cries of the world.”
*excerpted from a response to the book “In the Image of God…We are Created: Reflections and Perspectives on Human Rights,” published by the National Council of Churches in the Philippines, delivered on September 27, 2012, U.P. Diliman.