Chapter 12

NUMBERS CHAPTER 12

Miriam and Aaron Rebel

    • While they were at Hazeroth, Miriam and Aaron spoke out against Moses because he had married a Cushite (some Bible translations say “Ethiopian”) woman. They said, “Is Moses the only one the Lord speaks through? Hasn’t He also spoken through us?”

      • We’ll address three issues that arise with this passage:

        1. Why was Miriam punished , but Aaron was not? Guzik points out in his commentary that Miriam was the instigator of this complaint. He quotes Allen, “The feminine singular verb that initiates the chapter (lit., ‘and she spoke,’ v.1) and the placement of her name before that of Aaron indicate that Miriam is the principal in the attack against Moses.”

        2. Was the ethnicity of Moses’ wife the real issue? The HCSB commentary notes that the objection to Moses’ wife is merely a cover for the actual problem, “The supposed occasion for the complaint of Miriam…was Moses’ marriage to a Cushite woman, though the real reason was his positional authority as God’s primary spokesperson.”

        3. The final issue has to do with the stated ethnicity of Moses’ wife in this passage (Cushite) and whether or not this is a different wife than the one we already know about- Zipporah (who has been identified previously as Midianite). There are a few options:

          • It is possible that Moses’ first wife, Zipporah, had died and that Moses had recently remarried. Guzik writes, “Remember that Moses had a remarkably long life, and was more than 81 at this time – it is entirely possible he outlived several wives.”

        • Some propose that Moses had multiple wives at the same time (polygamy). This is possible, but most agree that this scenario is unlikely.

          • Those who believe this Cushite (or Ethiopian) wife is not Zipporah (whether Moses married her while Zipporah was still alive or after her death) can cite the following evidence:

            • The NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible notes, “On the basis of Genesis 2:13; 10:6; Psalm 68:31; Isaiah 18:1, Cush, the first son of Ham, is identified with Nubia in modern Sudan, bordering ancient Egypt on the south. If this connection is assumed, Moses’ Cushite wife would be a woman other than Zipporah…”

          • Claude Mariottini, Professor of Old Testament at Northern Baptist Seminary cites extra-biblical corroboration for this theory from the ancient Jewish historian Josephus. He cites 4 passages from Josephus’ Antiquity of the Jews in which he documents that Moses commanded an Egyptian army during an Egyptian/Ethopian war and that he married an Ethopian woman. On this source Mariottini writes, “This narrative about Moses fighting in Ethiopia as the commander of an Egyptian army and his marriage to an Ethiopian princess is not in the Bible. It is difficult to believe that Josephus would create a fictitious narrative about Moses’ marriage to an Ethiopian woman, even though some scholars say that this narrative is fictitious. However, the source for Josephus’s information about Moses’ action in Ethiopia and his marriage to an Ethiopian woman is unknown.”

        • The third (and in my opinion) most likely option is that this “Cushite woman” and Zipporah are one and the same. I’ll list some corroboratory evidence below:

          • Mariottini writes, “The Midianites were descendants of Abraham through his wife Keturah (Genesis 25:1-4). The Midianites lived in the Sinai region and in northern Arabia. Since the word ‘Cushites’ or ‘Ethiopians’ refers to black-skinned people, it is possible that the word was also applied to the Midianites to describe them as nomads with dark skin. Some scholars have identified Midian with Cushan. The synonymous parallelism between Cushan and Midian in Habakkuk 3:7 suggests that the words Cushite and Midianite are identical…In Habakkuk 3:7, Cushan is identified with a tribe in Midian: ‘I saw the tents of Cushan in distress, the dwellings of Midian in anguish.’” Mariottini supplies further biblical corroboration for this view, “In 2 Chronicles 14:12, Asa, king of Judah fought against his enemies at Gerar and ‘the LORD routed the Cushites before Asa and Judah, and the Cushites fled’ (2 Chronicles 14:11). Gerar is a town in the Negeb (Genesis 10:19), not in Ethiopia. 2 Chronicles 21:16 mentions that the Arabs were neighbors of the Cushites. These texts indicate that these Cushites did not live in Ethiopia, but in an area that was near to the land of Israel.”

          • The NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible notes, “The term Cushite may refer to a distinguishable physiological trait, such as that of the deeply tanned Midianites from northwest Arabia.”

          • The above information agrees with Guzik’s notation, “It may also be possible that Ethiopian here was a derogatory term used to criticize Zipporah because of a dark complexion.”

    • Moses was more humble than any man on earth. The Lord heard Miraim’s complaint and He spoke suddenly to Moses, Aaron, and Miriam, telling them all to go to the Tabernacle. He descended on the entrance of the Tabernacle in a cloud, called Miriam and Aaron forward, and said, “Listen to what I’m going to tell you: When there is a prophet among you, I reveal Myself to them in visions or speak to them in dreams, but I deal differently with Moses. In all of my household, he is the most faithful. I speak with him openly and directly- not in riddles. He sees My form. Why aren’t you afraid to speak against him?”

      • Guzik writes, “The basis of the complaint of Miriam and Aaron was essentially, ‘What’s so special about Moses?’ Here, God explained exactly what was so special about him. Most prophets receive revelation through a dream or in a vision; God spoke with Moses face to face…What did it mean that God spoke with Moses face to face? Didn’t the Lord say in Exodus 33:20, You cannot see My face; for no man shall see Me, and live? How then could God speak with Moses face to face? Face to face is 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…This is also demonstrated by the phrase, and he sees the form of the Lord. This is what Moses had actually seen of God with his physical eyes – only the ‘form’ of the Lord, nothing specific, because he could not see the Lord and live.”

    • The Lord was angry and He left. As His cloud moved away, Miriam’s skin suddenly became diseased- turning white with leprosy. When Aaron saw her he begged Moses, “Please don’t hold this foolish sin we’ve committed against us! Don’t let her be like a stillborn baby, born with decaying flesh!”

    • Moses cried out to the Lord, “God, please heal her!”

    • The Lord responded, “If her father had done nothing more than spit in her face she’d be considered disgraced for seven days. Keep her outside the camp for seven days, then she can come back.”

      • HCSB notes, “The seven-day period of separation after Miriam’s healing is consistent with the regulations of Levitcus 14:1-32.”

    • After the seven day period had passed Miriam was brought back into camp. The Israelites left Hazeroth and camped in the wilderness of Paran.

      • …the wilderness of Paran is a broad area of northeast Sinai, bordered on the north-northeast by the Wilderness of Zin, site of Kadesh-barnea (Numbers 33:15-37).” (HCSB commentary)

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