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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' own law contains legislation that prohibits marriages to other nations (Dt. 7:1–3, 16; Ex. 34:16). He broke that law, and this was used as an excuse to question his authority. But Yahweh came to His rescue in very forthright fashion. He simply hates this kind of politics. Miriam considered her sister in law as outside the people of God- but because of that, she herself is placed outside the camp for seven days.

The tensions between Aaron and Moses were already apparent. Aaron had been appointed the spokesman of Moses, but Moses himself soon speaks for himself and Aaron is redundant. Then at the incident of the golden calf, Aaron gives in to the masses and isn't faithful to Moses nor Yahweh, making very lame excuses to Moses. Then in Lev. 10 we read of how Moses snaps at Aaron after Aaron's sons Nadab and Abihu are killed for offering strange fire; Moses complains that Aaron's other sons Eleazar and Ithamar hadn't eaten the sin offering and had left it to burn to ashes; and he puts the blame for that on Aaron, who replies that it wasn't an appropriate thing to do given the context. In the immediate context, Moses has complained in Num. 11 that he has nobody to help him. Aaron as High Priest and Miriam as leader of the women were surely intended as his helpers, but Moses complains he has asbolutely nobody to help him. This was in fact an implied criticism of Aaron and Miriam. Again we see the psychological credibility of the Biblical record. Tensions between siblings simmer... and then explode, with an issue like "You married a woman unworthy of you and your position" becoming the excuse to unseat the senior sibling from their position of authority. Aaron was the firstborn, but God had chosen Moses as His number one man... and that was always going to be hard for Aaron to cope with. We see him pressed on one hand by normal sociological pressures, and on the other, by the need to accept God's choice and not be jealous of another man's relationship with God, and to get on with our own calling to serve Him. And Aaron at this point gives in.

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. But "Cushite" is a strange term for Zipporah. Perhaps this Cushite was one of the "mixed multitude" who left Egypt, and was taken after his divorce with Zipporah. For the Israelite leader to marry a black woman would have been rather like an apartheid era white South African premier marrying a black servant woman. It demonstrated Moses' humility, and also his attraction to the idea of non-Israelites entering the community of God's people. This would have made Moses a case of divorce and remarriage. It was certainly no barrier to his public service.

But it seems to me that they were using his marriage as an opportunity to bring him down, as they had their own agenda regarding the leadership of the nation. If you feel you have been slandered by gossip in the church, remember that almost every servant of God has been through this at the hands of those they counted as their brethren: Joseph, Moses, Job, David, Jeremiah, Nehemiah, Paul, and above all the Lord Himself. Miriam and Aaron implied Moses (their own brother!) was immoral (Num. 12:1). The comment that Moses was the humblest man on earth is made in the very context of his enduring unjust criticism in a spiritual way (Num. 12:3). The way Paul commanded Timothy not to even consider a complaint against an elder unless another two or three had been eye-witnesses (1 Tim. 5:19) is proof enough that he expected elders to be slandered from within the ecclesia. The more you read between the lines of Paul's letters, the more evident it is that his very own brethren almost unbelievably slandered him.

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. Likewise we wonder whether they "said" these things in so many words. The implications of their self talk were seen by Yahweh as their actual words, just as ours are. The idea is that indeed God had spoken through Aaron and Miriam as prophets but just at specific times (Ex. 4:15; 15:20). But with Moses He was in open, face to face relationship. He strongly objects to anyone somehow devaluing His intimate relationship with others. But that is just what happens when those in close relationship with Him are judged by others as in fact not having that relationship. 

It's possible that they were twisting Moses' recent words: "Would that all the Lord’s people were
prophets, that the Lord would put His spirit upon them” (Num. 11:29). As if to say: 'OK, so you're saying that having a prophetic relationship with Yahweh isn't that unique nor important, so therefore, you have no right to be the leader just because you are Yahweh's prophet". This again is psychologically credible in that it is typical of what happens in power struggles- words are twisted and used as a pretext for one's own agenda.

"They said... and Yahweh heard it" is similar to what we several times read of how the private or even internal mutterings of the Israelites were spoken in Yahweh's ears (Num. 11:1). Perhaps all this that follows is a rebuke of their private thoughts or mutterings of siblings to each other in their tent. It is not stated to whom they spoke.

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'. His struggles with depression were used by God to bring him to this acme of humility. Thus 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 possibly 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 criticizing him. 

God’s comment on Moses was: “the man Moses was very great” (Ex. 11:3). Yet it is also written here 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 great. Miriam 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-
God's sudden response appears to be because Moses was "humble" (:3). He made no response. But God did. This is a powerful encouragement to self control. It shows for all time that we do not have to always justify ourselves nor answer criticism. Even though at other times it may be necessary. Moses' silence was perhaps because he recognized that his marriage "out" to a non Hebrew was not totally justifiable. Neither was his divorce and remarriage... seeing Zipporah had not committed adultery against him. God sees these situations, when a man indeed may be in the wrong but has a heart for Him. And He is so eager to get involved and justify that man. These ancient records are so relevant to life today. Imagine a group of believers on a committee discussing an issue, and a conservative cuts down a liberal with the comment "You're divorced and remarried". The brother blushes and goes silent. We want to hug the brother and slap his critic, just as God did.

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).

Yahweh asked the three of them to come to Him, but then revealed Himself to just Miriam and Aaron. Perhaps He invited Moses too so that Moses could intercede for them so that they not be slain. We see how He so wants to show mercy, He wants to hear an advocate on our behalf. And we have that in the Lord, supremely.


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-
"A pillar" rather than "the pillar" could suggest that this was an especially intense manifestation of God through an Angel. God is extremely sensitive to the slander of His people, and has an especial interest in preserving the truly humble.

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. "please listen" shows God's humility and passion to save Miriam and Aaron. 

Heb. 1:1 states that God spoke to the prophets in various manners. We can understand by this that inspiration took various forms. Here 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. God had indeed spoken to Miriam and Aaron, but in a one off sense. They are being told here that they are wrong to assume that they are regularly being given revelations from God. The fact they received God's word in the past at specific times didn't mean they were justified in their claims to leadership.

Num 12:7 My servant Moses is not so. He is so faithful in all My house-
Paul quotes this in Heb. 3:2,5, but making the point that Moses' technical obedience to all the commands about building the tabernacle, the house or dwelling place of Yahweh, was nothing compared to the work of the Lord Jesus. For He was not only legally obedient, He developed a character far beyond that. And on the basis of that utter perfection was able to build an eternal dwelling place of God in a group of redeemed persons. God appeared to prophets in visions regarding specific things at specific times (:6). But He spoke with Moses regularly, face to face, as a man speaks with his friend. That source of regular, ongoing revelation was infinitely higher than the occasional revelations to Aaron and Miriam in visions in the past.

The idea is "Faithful in all My household". The context is Miriam and Aaron complaining that Moses had divorced Zipporah for reasons other than adultery, and had remarried- and outside the covenant people. Their implication was that Moses had not been faithful in his own household affairs, so how could he be the leader in God's household. God's response is to comment that Moses has been faithful in all God's household. He thereby overlooks the possibly legitimate hints that Moses' own family management hadn't been that great- but then, it would seem that God accepted that the marriage breakup was perhaps due to factors beyond Moses' control. Not least Zipporah's faithfulness to her pagan father, who did not want to unite with the people of God.

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.

Paul speaks as if he has in one sense matured into "love", no longer a child but a man; yet he writes as if he is still in the partial, immature phase, seeing in a mirror darkly, waiting for the day when he would see "face to face". Likewise "Now I know in part, but then shall I know..." (1 Cor. 13:12). It's the 'now but not yet' situation which we often encounter in Scripture. In a sense we have attained to the mature state of love; in reality, we are still far from it. Paul is alluding to Num. 12:8 LXX, where God says that He spoke with Moses face to face and not in dark similitudes. Paul felt that he wasn't yet as Moses, encountering God 'face to face' in the life of mature love. He was still seeing through a glass darkly. But some time later, Paul wrote to the Corinthians that he was now beholding the glory of the Lord's face [as it is in Christ] just as Moses did, "with unveiled face", and bit by bit, that glory was shining from him (2 Cor. 3:18 RV). And hopefully we feel the same- that bit by bit, we are getting there. So let's take Paul's urging seriously: to grasp the utter supremacy of the life of love, to "follow after love", to press relentlessly towards that state of final maturity which is love (1 Cor. 14:1).

The extent of inspiration is revealed by the way that God says He spoke with Moses "mouth to mouth"- not 'mouth to ear', as if Moses just sat and listened; but mouth to mouth in the sense that God placed His words inside the mouth of Moses (Num. 12:8). Thus what Moses spoke forth wasn't merely the memory of what his ears had heard from God's mouth; rather it was God's own words put somehow within him. "Mouth to mouth" rather than "mouth to ear" reflects the mutuality of relationship between them. Moses not only listened but spoke back and even changed God's intentions. "Why then...?" suggests that it is so wrong to disregard the fact another man has a deeply intimate personal relationship with the Lord. But the lines drawn by denominational Christianity do this all the time.

Num 12:9 The anger of Yahweh was kindled against them; and He departed-
The departure of Yahweh is parallel with the departure of the cloud (:10), again showing that there was an Angel within the cloud which ascended and descended. The implication of :10 could be that the conversation enveloped them all in the cloud, and when the cloud departed, Miriam stood there stricken white as snow.  

The same words are used in Ex. 4:14 of God's anger burning against Moses. He too had once been stricken leprous and had been healed. So his mediation for others was based on his own experience of grace, just as ours should be.


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.

"Snow white" leprosy was a sign the leprosy was over (Lev. 13). So she was stricken with the appearance of having been judged for sin, but the judgment was over at the point of it being inflicted. It's as if God foresaw the intercession of Moses and Aaron for her, and Aaron's statement of repentance, and factored this in at the time of the judgment. Perhaps we can understand our own judgment for sin in a similar way. We see something similar in the way she is punished by being shut out of the camp for seven days, when the law required 14 days for those who had been leprous (Lev. 13:13-17). The law was ameliorated, to again show that in wrath God remembers mercy- at one and the same time. Just as we saw in Num. 11:33, where the intended 30 days judgment of lustful Israel was reduced, so that they were plagued as soon as the quail meat was between their teeth. God's judgment and His mercy are seen at one and the same time, unlike in human judgment and wrath.

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's language here clearly places Moses as his superior, and he as the far inferior. This is a far cry from the original attempt he made to place himself on at least an equal level with Moses, and to bring Moses down from his exalted status. Effectively, these words are repentance for his previous position. Perhaps this is why Aaron is not punished whereas Miriam is [what other explanation is there for that?]. He makes no specific apology nor statement of repentance, but he does speak of "this sin" and the implication of his words is that he regrets what he said. But clearly his motivation is also fear that he may also be struck with the terrible disease his sister had. We note the contrast in how Aaron cries out to Moses to help, whereas Moses cries out to God. LXX implies Aaron was not fully repentant: "Do not lay sin upon us, for we were ignorant wherein we sinned". God would not have been so angry if this were a genuine sin of ignorance. But despite their fearing the results of sin more than repenting from the heart, Moses still intercedes and is heard. If this is how eager God is to perceive repentance, despite impure motivation, we should likewise, rather than demanding specific apologies. We note too that Aaron's penitence here is greater than it was over the golden calf incident. Acceptance of guilt is indeed a sign of spiritual growth.

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. "Don't count this sin..." is "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. He 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.

Often the Spirit points out that the sinner is only harming himself by his actions- and yet he earnestly pursues his course, in the name of self-interest and self-benefit (Num. 16:38; Prov. 19:8; 20:2; Hab. 2:20; Lk. 7:30). Sin is therefore associated by God with utter and derisible foolishness (e.g. Num. 12:11; 2 Tim. 3:9); but this isn't how man in his unwisdom perceives it at all. Indeed, to him self-denial is inexplicable folly and blindness to the essentials of human existence. "This their way is their folly: yet their posterity approve their sayings. Selah (pause to meditate)" (Ps. 49:13). The folly of sin is only fully evident to God.


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. This description of Miriam indicates that the "leprosy" was not Hansen's disease, leprosy as we now know it. For leprosy doesn't begin with such dramatic manifestations. See on :14. 

We note the sad state of Miriam's skin, white as snow. Perhaps this was some Divine justice for her dislike of Moses' Cushite, Gentile wife because she was a woman of black skin. Miriam's white skin was now shown to be shameful and repulsive to everyone.

Num 12:13 Moses cried to Yahweh, saying, Heal her, God, I beg You!-

AV "Heal her now" was not totally answered, as God wanted her to be quarantined for seven days first. Moses was surely motivated by his own experience in Ex. 4:6 of being struck “leprous like snow" because he had also resisted God's prophetic purpose. Awareness of our own failures motivates us to pray for others in theirs. We note Moses refers to Miriam as "her" rather than mentioning her name. He knows that God intimately knows the situation he stands in.

Faith is inculcated by an appreciation of the height of the exaltation of the Lord Jesus. He now has all power in Heaven and in earth, and this in itself should inspire us with faith in prayer and hope in His coming salvation. On the basis of passages like Ex. 4:7; Num. 12:10-15; 2 Kings 5:7,8, "leprosy was regarded as a "stroke" only to be removed by the Divine hand which had imposed it". The leper of Mk. 1:40 lived with this understanding, and yet he saw in Jesus nothing less than God manifest. Inspired by the height of the position which he gave Jesus in his heart, he could ask him in faith for a cure: "If you will, you can [as only God was understood to be able to] make me clean".

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-
The idea is that she had done something which would justify her father spitting in her face, i.e. disowning her or spitting in her face and making her sleep outside his house for a period. Dt. 25:9 explains spitting in the face as a sign of deep disdain. This is an unusually passionate example of God's specific anger with His daughter Miriam. The image of a father spitting in his daughter's face is extreme. She must jave really behaved awfully. This is how much He hates racism, judging a man on his apparent marital failures, and seeking to politically machinate for power amongst God's people by bringing another man down. God absolutely hates and despises those who do such things in His family. Yet those who do them often consider themselves somehow more mature than those they abuse.  I suggested on Lev. 13:1 that the plague of leprosy was not Hansen's disease as we now know it. See on :12. The Hebrew for "leprosy" is literally 'a stroke', and here we have an example of a person being struck down and then isolated for a period of repentance. Leprosy as we know it would not have been cured so quickly. Leprosy had no cure in the ancient world. And yet the legislation in Lev. 13,14 sounds as if after a relatively short time, the affliction could be lifted- and then a sin offering had to be made. The decisions and diagnosis of the affliction was to be made by the priests, not physicians. I conclude therefore that we should pay more attention to the Hebrew word here translated "leprosy". It is the same word as used for the "stroke" of Divine judgment. This makes more sense throughout the legislation. God could smite sinners with this affliction, mistranslated as "leprosy". If the sinner repented sufficiently, it would be lifted. But the priest would judge that, and therefore sin offerings were required to complete the cleansing process. It is no sin to get sick with leprosy; but if we understand this affliction as a Divine stroke, then it all makes so much more sense.   

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'. There is also the idea present here that true spiritual progress of God's people towards His Kingdom will not be achieved by abandoning smitten sinners in the desert. They must be "brought in again". We think of how during Paul's final shipwreck, salvation was made conditional upon all abiding in the ship.

Num 12:16 Afterward the people travelled from Hazeroth, and encamped in the wilderness of Paran-
Num. 33:18 says that "They departed from Hazeroth, and pitched in Rithmah", whilst Num. 12:16 has "the people travelled from Hazeroth, and encamped in the wilderness of Paran". Rithmah was in the wilderness of Paran, which covered a large area. The intellectual desperation of Bible critics in raising this kind of supposed "contradiction" speaks more about them than anything else. Such intellectual desperation is symptomatic of a struggling, uneasy conscience.