Numbers 12:3 MEANING

Numbers 12:3
(3) Now the man Moses was very meek . . . --These words have been urged by some as an argument against the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch generally, or of the Book of Numbers in particular, but whether they may or may not have been inserted by a later writer, this inference is altogether unfounded. It is possible that the writer of Deuteronomy 34:10 may have inserted these words in this place. On the other hand, there is no necessity for such a supposition. An objective statement, such as that contained in these words, is perfectly consistent with true humility and with a deep sense of sinfulness and frailty. When such expressions are required in order to a full understanding of all the circumstances of the history, they afford no just ground of objection either against the writer, or against the genuineness of the writing; and least of all can they be justly objected to in the case of those who, like Moses and St. Paul, were ever ready to sacrifice their own personality in the cause to which they had devoted their lives (comp. 2 Corinthians 11:5). It may be observed, further, that the word anav, meek, is frequently interchanged with the cognate word ani, and that the meaning may be bowed down, or oppressed.

Verse 3. - Now the man Moses was very meek, above all the men which were upon the face of the earth. For the Hebrew עָנָו the Septuagint has πραὺς here; the Vulgate, mitis. The Targum Palestine has "bowed down in his mind," i.e., overwhelmed ("plagued," Luther). The ordinary version is undoubtedly' right; the object of the parenthesis was either to explain that there was no real ground for the hostility of Miriam and Aaron, or to show that the direct interference of the Lord himself was necessary for the protection of his servant. The verse bears a difficulty on its very face, because it speaks of Moses in terms which could hardly have been used by Moses of himself. Nor is this difficulty in the least degree diminished by the explanations which are offered by those who are determined to maintain at any cost the Mosaic authorship of every word in the Pentateuch. It is no doubt true to some extent that when a great and good man is writing of himself (and especially when he writes under the influence of the Holy Spirit), he can speak of himself with the same calm and simple truthfulness with which he would speak of any other. It is sufficient, however, to refer to the example of St. Paul to show that neither any height of spiritual privilege and authority, nor any intensity of Divine inspiration, obliterates the natural virtue of modesty, or allows a really humble man to praise himself without pain and shrinking. It is also to be observed that while St. Paul forces himself to speak of his privileges, distinctions, and sufferings, all of which were outward to himself, Moses would here be claiming for himself the possession of an inward virtue in greater measure than any other living soul. Surely it is not too much to say that if he did possess it in such measure, he could not possibly have been conscious that he did; only One was thus conscious of his own ineffable superiority, and this very consciousness is one of the strongest arguments for believing that he was infinitely more than a mere man, howsoever good and exalted. There is but one theory that will make it morally possible for Moses to have written this verse, viz., that in writing he was a mere instrument, and not morally responsible for what he did write. Such a theory will find few upholders. But, further, it is necessary to prove not only that Moses might have made this statement, but also that he might have made it in this form. Granted that it was necessary to the narrative to point out that he was very meek; it was not necessary to assert that he was absolutely the meekest man living. And if it was unnecessary, it was also unnatural. No good man would go out of his way to compare himself to his own advantage with all men upon the face of the earth. The whole form of the sentence, indeed, as well as its position, proclaim it so clearly to be an addition by some later hand, that the question may be left to the common sense and knowledge of human nature of every reader; for the broad outlines of human character, morality, and virtue are the same in every age, and are not displaced by any accident of position, or even of inspiration. A slight examination of passages from other sacred writers, which are sometimes adduced as analogous, will serve to show how profound is the difference between what holy men could say of themselves and what they could not (cf. Daniel 1:19, 20; Daniel 5:11, 12; Daniel 9:23; Daniel 10:11). On the question of the inspiration of this verse, supposing it to be an interpolation, and as to the probable author of it, see the Preface. As to the fact of Moses' meekness, we have no reason to doubt it, but we may legitimately look upon the form in which it is stated as one of those conventional hyperboles which are not uncommon even in the sacred writings (cf. Genesis 7:19; John 21:25). And we cannot avoid perceiving that Moses' meekness was far from being perfect, and was marred by sinful impatience and passion on more than one recorded occasion.

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.Now the man Moses was very meek,.... So that they might say anything against him, and he not be affronted, nor resent any injury; and this therefore is introduced as a reason why the Lord undertook the cause, and vindicated him, resenting the obloquies of Miriam and Aaron against him; because he knew he was so exceeding meek, that he himself would pass it by without taking notice of it, though he might hear it: hence the Targum of Jonathan"and he cared not for their words;''they gave him no concern or uneasiness, so meek, mild, and gentle was he: and this is to be considered; not as a self-commendation of Moses, but as a testimony of his character by God himself, by whom he was inspired in writing it; though it is possible this might be added by another hand, Joshua or Ezra, under the same direction and inspiration of the Spirit of God; who chose that such a character of Moses should stand here, in opposition to the calumnies cast upon him, and as giving a reason why not he himself, but the Lord, appeared in his vindication, he being so meek and lowly, as is said of his antitype, and by himself, Matthew 11:29,

above all the men which were upon the face of the earth; being seldom angry, and when he was, it was generally, if not always, when the honour of God was concerned, and not on account of his own person and character; though it must not be said of him that he was perfect in this respect, or free from passion, or from blame at any time on account of it, but, when compared with others, he was the meekest man that ever lived; whereby he became the fittest person to have to do with such a peevish, perverse, and rebellious people as the Israelites were, whom no other man could well have bore with.

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