Numbers 12:1 MEANING

Numbers 12:1

(1) And Miriam and Aaron spake against Moses.--Miriam appears to have been the leader in this insurrection against the authority of Moses. Her name occurs before that of Aaron, either as the nearer or as the more prominent subject; and the verb which is rendered "spake" is in the feminine gender. Moreover, the judgment which was inflicted (Numbers 12:10) fell upon Miriam, not upon Aaron. who seems to have yielded to the suggestions of Miriam, as he had previously done to the request of the Israelites in regard to the golden calf.

Because of the Ethiopian woman whom he had married.--Some suppose that the reference is to Zipporah, who may have been included amongst the Asiatic division of the Ethiopians, or Cushites (comp. Habakkuk 3:7, where the tents of Cushan, or Cush, are coupled with the curtains of Midian), and that the occasion of the opposition to Moses was the undue influence which he is supposed to have allowed Hobab and other members of Zipporah's family to exercise over him. This supposition, however, seems improbable on many accounts. The words, "for he had married an Ethiopian (or Cushite) woman," naturally point to some recent occurrence, not to one which had taken place more than forty years previously, and which is, therefore, very unlikely to have given occasion to the murmuring of Miriam and Aaron at this time. Moreover, the murmuring is expressly connected with the Cushite herself, not with any of the subsequent or incidental results of the marriage. It seems, therefore, much more probable that Zipporah was dead, and that Moses had married one of the African Cushites who had accompanied the Israelites in their march out of Egypt, or one of the Cushites who dwelt in Arabia, and who were found at this time in the neighbourhood of Sinai. A similar marriage had been contracted by Joseph, and such marriages were not forbidden by the Law, which prohibited marriage with the Canaanites (Exodus 34:16).

Verse 1. - And Miriam and Aaron spake against Moses. While the people were encamped at Hazeroth (see verse 16), and therefore probably very soon after the events of the last chapter. That Miriam's was the moving spirit in the matter is sufficiently evident,

(1) because her name stands first;

(2) because the verb "spake" is in the feminine (יַתְּדַבֵּר, "and she said");

(3) because the ground of annoyance was a peculiarly feminine one, a mesalliance;

(4) because Miriam alone was punished;

(5) because Aaron never seems to have taken the lead in anything.

He appears uniformly as a man of weak and pliable character, who was singularly open to influence from others, for good or for evil. Superior to his brother in certain gifts, he was as inferior to him in force of character as could well be. On the present occasion there can be little question that Aaron simply allowed himself to be drawn by his sister into an opposition with which he had little personal sympathy; a general discontent at the manifest inferiority of his position inclined him to take up her quarrel, and to echo her complaints. Because of the Ethiopian woman whom he had married: for he had married an Ethiopian woman. Hebrew, a Cushite woman. The descendants of Cush were distributed both in Africa (the Ethiopians proper) and in Asia (the southern Arabians, Babylonians, Ninevites, etc.). See Genesis 10. Some have thought that this Ethiopian woman was none other than the Midianite Zipporah, who might have been called a Cushite in some loose sense by Miriam. The historian, however, would not have repeated in his own name a statement so inaccurate; nor is it at all likely that that marriage would have become a matter of contention after so many years. The natural supposition undoubtedly is that Moses (whether after the death of Zipporah, or during her lifetime, we cannot tell) had taken to himself a second wife of Hamite origin. Where he found her it is useless to conjecture; she may possibly have been one of the "mixed multitude" that went up out of Egypt. It is equally useless to attribute any moral or religious character to this marriage, of which Holy Scripture takes no direct notice, and which was evidently regarded by Moses as a matter of purely private concern to himself. In general we may say that the rulers of Israel attached neither political, social, nor religious significance to their marriages; and that neither law nor custom imposed any restraint upon their choice, so long as they did not ally themselves with the daughters of Canaan (see Exodus 34:16). It would be altogether beside the mark to suppose that Moses deliberately married a Cushite woman in order to set forth the essential fellowship between Jew and Gentile. It is true that such marriages as those of Joseph, of Salmon, of Solomon, and others undeniably became invested with spiritual importance and evangelical significance, in view of the growing narrowness of Jewish feeling, and of the coming in of a wider dispensation; but such significance was wholly latent at the time. If, however, the choice of Moses is inexplicable, the opposition of Miriam is intelligible enough. She was a prophetess (Exodus 15:20), and strongly imbued with those national and patriotic feelings which are never far removed from exclusiveness and pride of race. She had - to use modern words - led the Te Deum of the nation after the stupendous overthrow of the Egyptians. And now her brother, who stood at the head of the nation, had brought into his tent a Cushite woman, one of the dark-skinned race which seemed oven lower in the religious scale than the Egyptians themselves. Such an alliance might easily seem to Miriam nothing better than an act of apostasy which would justify any possible opposition.

12:1-9 The patience of Moses was tried in his own family, as well as by the people. The pretence was, that he had married a foreign wife; but probably their pride was hurt, and their envy stirred up, by his superior authority. Opposition from our near relations, and from religious friends, is most painful. But this is to be looked for, and it will be well if in such circumstances we can preserve the gentleness and meekness of Moses. Moses was thus fitted to the work he was called to. God not only cleared Moses, but praised him. Moses had the spirit of prophecy in a way which set him far above all other prophets; yet he that is least in the kingdom of heaven, is greater than he; and our Lord Jesus infinitely excels him, Heb 3:1. Let Miriam and Aaron consider whom it was they insulted. We have reason to be afraid of saying or doing any thing against the servants of God. And those are presumptuous indeed who are not afraid to speak evil of dignities, 2Pe 2:10. The removal of God's presence is the surest and saddest token of God's displeasure. Woe to us, if he depart! he never departs, till by sin and folly we drive him from us.And Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses,.... Miriam is first mentioned, because she was first in the transgression, and so was only punished; Aaron was drawn into the sin by her, and he acknowledged his fault, and was forgiven: it must be a great trial to Moses, not only to be spoken against by the people, as he often was, but by his near relations, and these gracious persons, and concerned with him in leading and guiding the people through the wilderness, Micah 6:4,

because of the Ethiopian woman, whom he had married, for he had married an Ethiopian woman; not a queen of Ethiopia, as the Targum of Jonathan; nor Tharbis, a daughter of a king of Ethiopia, whom Josephus (h) says he married, when he was sent upon an expedition against the Ethiopians, while he was in Pharaoh's court; nor the widow of an Ethiopian king whom he married after his death, when he fled from Pharaoh into Ethiopia, and was made a king there, as say some Jewish writers (i): for there is no reason to believe he was married before he went to Midian; nor was this some Ethiopian woman he had married since, and but lately, Zipporah being dead or divorced, as some have fancied; but it was Zipporah herself, as Aben Ezra, Ben Melech, and so the Jerusalem Targum, which represents her not as truly an Ethiopian, but so called, because she was like to one; indeed she was really one; not a native of Ethiopia, the country of the Abyssines, but she was a Cushite, a native of Arabia Chusea, in which country Midian was, from whence she came; hence the tents, of Cushan, and the curtains of Midian, are spoken of together, Habakkuk 3:7. Now it was not on account of Moses's marriage with her that they spoke against him, for that was an affair transacted in Midian some years ago, which at first sight may seem to be the case; nor because he now had divorced her, as Jarchi, which perhaps would have given them no uneasiness; and for the same reason, not because he abstained from conversation with her, that he might give up himself to the service of God in his house, and perform it in a more holy and faithful manner, which is the common sentiment of the Jewish writers: but rather, as it is thought by others, because of a suspicion they had entertained, that she had interested herself in the affair of the choice of the seventy elders, and had prevailed upon Moses to put in such and such persons into the list she had a mind to serve; at least this seems to be the case, for the displeasure was against Moses himself; they were angry with him, because he transacted that affair without them, and chose whom he pleased, without consulting them; and therefore, though they cared not to ascribe it entirely to him, and his neglect of them, they imputed it to his wife, as if she had over persuaded him, or her brother through her means, to take such a step as he did.

(h) Antiqu. l. 2. c. 10. sect. 2.((i) Dibre Hayamim, fol. 7. 2. Shalshalet Hakabala, fol. 5. 2. so some in Aben Ezra in loc.

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