New European Commentary


About | PDFs | Mobile formats | Word formats | Other languages | Contact Us | What is the Gospel? | Support the work | Carelinks Ministries | | The Real Christ | The Real Devil | "Bible Companion" Daily Bible reading plan

Deeper Commentary


Num 12:1 Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses because of the Cushite woman whom he had married; for he had married a Cushite woman-
Moses "took" (not married) another woman, an Ethiopian- probably a  slave woman, or possibly a cheap woman. Moses' brother and sister were ashamed that their brother was involved with a woman like this. Whoever she was, Moses was under the one man: one woman standard of the garden of Eden. At the time of Num. 10:11,29, Moses asks Jethro ["Hobab"] to remain with the people as a guide through the desert. I have suggested that the events of Ex. 18 should be inserted after Num. 10:10 and before Num. 10:11. In this case the argument between Moses, Aaron and Miriam about Zipporah in Num. 12:1 would have occurred after Zipporah had been accepted again by Moses as his wife.

Num 12:2 They said, Has Yahweh indeed spoken only with Moses? Hasn’t He spoken also with us? And Yahweh heard it-
It is a theme of the record of the wilderness journeys that God heard the thoughts and secret complaints of His people. His total knowledge and sensitive awareness of every word and thought of our wilderness journey should have an abiding impression on how we think and talk.


Num 12:3 Now the man Moses was very humble, above all the men who were on the surface of the earth-
The Hebrew for "meek" means one brought down; he was made meek. The word can also mean 'depressed'.
The man Moses was made very meek, until he was the meekest man alive on earth (Num. 12:3 Heb.). Moses appears to have been very angry at times, but this may be understandable in terms of his depression, and this great commendation, that he was the humblest person, must be allowed its full weight in our interpretation of his character. True greatness is in humility, as the New Testament often teaches. Moses was the leader because he was the most humble.

 “A stuttering shepherd, shy of leadership and haunted by his crime of passion” in slaying the Egyptian… these things developed this in him. Remember that Moses himself wrote this. It's an autobiographical comment, reflecting of course the Spirit of Him who knows every heart, and could make such a statement. And yet he writes it in recording how God had rebuked Aaron and Miriam for criticizing him, and how He had told them that He spoke with Moses alone face to face. We can imagine Moses blushing, with hung head. And then he makes the comment, that he was made the most humble man… Appreciating the honour of seeing so much of God, when he himself was a sinner, was part of that humbling process. All Israel will ultimately go through this when they face up to the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ: " Enter into the rock, and hide thee in the dust, for fear of the Lord, and for the glory of his majesty. The lofty looks of man shall be humbled, and the haughtiness of man shall be bowed down, and the Lord alone shall be exalted in that day" (Is. 2:10,11). This certainly reads like an allusion to Moses' cowering in the rock, humbling himself in the dust, before the glory of Yahweh. Our glimpses of the wonder of the Father's character should have the same effect upon us, just beholding the glory of God, i.e. the manifestation of His perfect character is Christ, should change us into the same image (2 Cor. 3:18- another invitation to see ourselves as Moses). What a compliment! The most humble man that was then alive; and humility is of great value to God, according to the Proverbs and 1 Pet. 3:4. That the leader of 3 million people for forty years could be the meekest man is a sure wonder. Perhaps this comment is made at this point because Moses weakness in the previous chapter had perhaps further developed his humility. He truly cries unto God to heal Miriam of the punishment she was given for criticising him. 

God’s comment on Moses was: “the man Moses was very great” (Ex. 11:3). Yet it is also written that “the man Moses was very meek” (Num. 12:3). Putting the two passages together we have the clear lesson that he who humbles himself is made gMiriam and Aaron try to humiliate Moses because of the Ethiopian woman he had palled up with in earlier days. But his response was humility itself; so much so that the record comments: "The man Moses was very meek (some suggest the Hebrew implies 'made very meek', as a process), above all the men which were upon the face of the earth". 


Num 12:4 Yahweh spoke suddenly to Moses, to Aaron, and to Miriam, You three come out to the Tent of Meeting! The three of them came out-
The glory of the “similitude of the Lord” that Moses saw and reflected (Num. 12:4) is likened to “the glory of Christ, who is the likeness of God” (2 Cor. 4:4). Like Moses, Jewish people have that glory, but they have it veiled; they potentially have it, but it is hidden, because their minds are veiled. This could possibly suggest that Paul saw more potential in the Jewish mind for Christ than other races; thus he speaks in Rom. 11 of how the natural branch which has been cut off [Israel] will be more effectively grafted back into the olive tree than the wild Gentile branches. This of course has similarities with the Lord’s teaching about Himself as the vine, whose unfruitful branches had been cut off (Jn. 15:2). Israel “much more” than the Gentiles can be grafted back in, whereas Gentile converts do this “against nature” (Rom. 11:24).

Num 12:5 Yahweh came down in a pillar of cloud, and stood at the door of the Tent, and called Aaron and Miriam; and they both came forward.
Num 12:6 He said, Hear now My words. If there is a prophet among you, I Yahweh will make Myself known to him in a vision. I will speak with him in a dream-
Heb. 1:1 states that God spoke to the prophets in various manners. We can understand by this that inspiration took various forms. Consider Num. 12:6. God tells Moses and Aaron that [at that time] He reveals Himself to prophets by dreams and visions, but with His prophet Moses, He uses another method- He spoke with Moses “mouth to mouth”. Whilst all prophets spoke God’s word, they each had different processes of inspiration at work.

Num 12:7 My servant Moses is not so. He is so faithful in all My house
Num 12:8 that with him I will speak mouth to mouth, even plainly, and not in riddles; and he shall see Yahweh’s form. Why then were you not afraid to speak against My servant, against Moses?-
God spoke to Moses "mouth to mouth, even apparently, and not in dark speeches; and the similitude of Yahweh shall he behold" (Num. 12:8) is the basis of 1 Cor. 13:12: "Now (in the period of the Spirit gifts) we see through a glass darkly; but then (in the dispensation of the completed word) face to face: now I know in part (from the ministry of the gifts); but then shall I know, even as also I am known". The point of this connection is simply this: The close relationship between God and Moses is now available to us through the word. But do we feel God speaking to us face to face, as a man speaks to his friend (Ex. 33:11)? For this is how close God and Moses came through the word. Yet it is possible. An urgent devotion to the word is needed by us as a community. This is what we really need exhortation about.


Num 12:9 The anger of Yahweh was kindled against them; and He departed.
Num 12:10 The cloud departed from over the Tent; and behold, Miriam was leprous, as white as snow. Aaron looked at Miriam, and behold, she was leprous-
Leprosy was a symbol of sin. Moses had himself had the experience of being struck leprous "as white as snow" and then quickly healed from it (Ex. 4:6). He was thus shown that human sin and weakness were not going to stop God's purpose going forward. Moses would have been able to see her leprosy with the eye of faith, remembering his own experience; and Miriam likewise would have been encouraged by Moses' experience to believe that the affliction could quickly be healed. If she perceived the similarities between herself and her brother. And we likewise can take encouragement from others' experiences, insofar as we are thoughtful about life. And if we are familiar with the Biblical records and biographies of the lives of God's previous servants.

Num 12:11 Aaron said to Moses, Oh, my lord, please don’t count this sin against us, in which we have done foolishly, and in which we have sinned-

Aaron doesn't instinctively pray for his own self-preservation- that the leprosy didn't also break out upon him. Instead he prays for his sister's healing.

Lay not the sin upon us... which we sinned- To carry sin therefore is not the same as the sin. To carry sin is to bear the result and consequence of sin. This was what Jesus bore on the cross. Therefore the consequence of every sin is crucifixion, death by torture. And Jesus took this for us. Christ knew from Isaiah 53 that He was to bear Israel's sins, that the judgments for their sins were to fall upon Him. Israel ‘bore their iniquities’ by being condemned for them (Num. 14:34,35; Lev. 5:17; 20:17); to be a sin bearer was therefore to be one condemned. To die in punishment for your sin was to bear you sin. There is a difference between sin, and sin being laid upon a person. Num. 12:11 brings this out: “Lay not the sin upon us… wherein we have sinned”. The idea of sin being laid upon a person therefore refers to condemnation for sin. Our sin being laid upon Jesus therefore means that He was treated as if He were a condemned sinner. He briefly endured within Him the torment of soul which the condemned will feel.


Num 12:12 Let her not, I pray, be as one dead, of whom the flesh is half consumed when he comes out of his mother’s womb-
The description of Miriam in Num. 12:12 LXX is quoting from Job 3:16 LXX; as if both Job and Miriam represented apostate Israel. 

Num 12:13 Moses cried to Yahweh, saying, Heal her, God, I beg You!
Num 12:14 Yahweh said to Moses, If her father had but spit in her face, shouldn’t she be ashamed seven days? Let her be shut up outside of the camp seven days, and after that she shall be brought in again.
Num 12:15 Miriam was shut up outside of the camp seven days, and the people didn’t travel until Miriam was brought in again-
The overall progress of God's people is hindered by the unresolved sin of their leadership. This isn't the same as the false notion of 'guilt by association'.

Num 12:16 Afterward the people travelled from Hazeroth, and encamped in the wilderness of Paran.