Numbers 12


‘Miriam and Aaron began to talk against Moses because of his Cushite wife, for he had married a Cushite. “Has the LORD spoken only through Moses?” they asked. “Hasn’t he also spoken through us?” And the LORD heard this. (Now Moses was a very humble man, more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth.) At once the LORD said to Moses, Aaron and Miriam, “Come out to the tent of meeting, all three of you.” So the three of them went out. Then the LORD came down in a pillar of cloud; he stood at the entrance to the tent and summoned Aaron and Miriam. When the two of them stepped forward, he said, “Listen to my words: “When there is a prophet among you, I, the LORD, reveal myself to them in visions, I speak to them in dreams. But this is not true of my servant Moses; he is faithful in all my house. With him I speak face to face, clearly and not in riddles; he sees the form of the LORD. Why then were you not afraid to speak against my servant Moses?” The anger of the LORD burned against them, and he left them.’ Numbers 12:1-9

Miriam And Aaron Oppose Moses

In the previous chapter, we learned that Israel complained about a lack of good food, despite the Lord providing manna and quail.

Here, in this chapter we find Miriam, the prophetess, Exodus 15:20-21, and Aaron complaining about Moses marrying a foreigner, that is, Zipporah the Cushite. Note that some translations have the word Ethiopia.

We know that Moses did indeed marry a woman named Zipporah, Exodus 2:21, but there are a few thoughts about the Zipporah who is mentioned here because back in Exodus 3:16-22, Moses’ wife was called Zipporah but she was from Midian.

Some commentators believe that Zipporah had died, and this was a second wife Moses took after her death. Other commentators believe that Moses took a second wife in addition to Zipporah.

While others suggest that Jethro, Zipporah’s father, was actually from Ethiopia and had moved to Midian, making Zipporah an Ethiopian by birth but living in Midian.

One other commentator suggested that it’s possible that the word Ethiopian which was being used here was a derogatory term used to criticize Zipporah because of their dark skin.

Notice, however, there was a more serious complaint, they complained about Moses being the lone leader of the people, Matthew 13:57.

Interestingly, God appears to ignore the complaints against Moses being married to Zipporah but instead, focuses on the complaint against Moses being their leader and the authority he had. God didn’t waste any time in speaking, which tells us that in His eyes, this was a serious matter.

He spoke indirectly to other prophets through visions and dreams, but with Moses, He spoke mouth to mouth, face to face, Exodus 33:20. This tells us that Moses had a real personal relationship with God.

Remember that the words, ‘face to face’ are a figure of speech, telling of great and unhindered intimacy. Moses’ face was not literally beholding the literal face of God, but he did enjoy direct, intimate, conversation with the LORD.

Moses was God’s mediator between Himself and the people and he became the example of how God would relate to all men personally through the mediatorship of Jesus, Hebrews 3:2-6. It was very clear that no one should challenge God’s appointed leader, Moses.

‘When the cloud lifted from above the tent, Miriam’s skin was leprous—it became as white as snow. Aaron turned toward her and saw that she had a defiling skin disease, and he said to Moses, “Please, my lord, I ask you not to hold against us the sin we have so foolishly committed. Do not let her be like a stillborn infant coming from its mother’s womb with its flesh half eaten away.” So Moses cried out to the LORD, “Please, God, heal her!” The LORD replied to Moses, “If her father had spit in her face, would she not have been in disgrace for seven days? Confine her outside the camp for seven days; after that she can be brought back.” So Miriam was confined outside the camp for seven days, and the people did not move on till she was brought back. After that, the people left Hazeroth and encamped in the Desert of Paran.’ Numbers 12:10-16

It appears that Miriam must have been the one who initiated the challenge against Moses as she is the one who is punished with leprosy. We must remember that Miriam would now because of being a leper, would have social disadvantages, she would have no social contact with anyone in Israel, Leviticus 13-14.

It’s certainly possible that she thought that she could rise to a position of power among the people, like Moses, but this led her to be humiliated and banished from among the people, Proverbs 16:18 / Isaiah 10:33.

Notice that when Aaron saw what happened to his sister, his attitude towards Moses changed, he called Moses, ‘my lord’. He knows the only way to save his sister is by understanding Moses’ position and his job as mediator, and more importantly accept it.

Seven days was sufficient time to punish anyone who dared to question God’s anointed authority. Because of this incident we know that the authority of God’s Word mustn’t be questioned either, John 12:48 / Galatians 1:6-9 / Revelation 22:18-19.

The desert of Paran is Kadesh-Barnea, Deuteronomy 1:18.

Go to Numbers 13