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Basic Bible: Miriam and Aaron Oppose Moses

Numbers 12:1-16

“And Miriam and Aaron spake against Moses . . .” (v. 1). All that takes place in Numbers 12 transpires at Hazeroth. While the scriptures do not state the calendar date of Miriam’s and Aaron’s opposition, it would have been in the second year following Israel’s departure from Egypt about two months prior to the ripening of the grapes in Canaan (see Num. 13:20).

Miriam and Aaron spoke out against Moses because he had married an Ethiopian woman. Moses’ father-in-law was the priest of Midian and a Midianite but there is no good reason to believe that the Ethiopian wife of Moses was anyone other than Zipporah. Zipporah was not with Moses when he led the children of Israel out of Egypt (see Ex. 18:2, 5). She joined him while Israel was encamped before the mount at Sinai. The scriptures are silent on any second wife to Moses and speak only of Zipporah.

Any criticism of Moses because of Zipporah is without merit. The Lord spoke to Moses from the burning bush years after Moses took Zipporah for his wife. Because of that which follows in the text before us, criticism of Moses’ mixed marriage by Miriam and Aaron is an indictment against Miriam and Aaron rather than Moses. There were many of mixed marriage who came up out of Egypt with the children of Israel. Mixed marriages (Salmon to Rahab and Ruth to Boaz) are found in the genealogy of Christ (Matt. 1:5). Hebrews 11:31 makes it clear that it is faith, not national origin, that counts with God. Miriam’s and Aaron’s criticism testifies of racial prejudice.

The purpose of their speaking against Moses appears to be an attempt by Miriam and Aaron to magnify themselves in the eyes of the people.

Miriam and Aaron pointed out to the people that the Lord had also spoken by them. Miriam was a prophetess (Ex. 15:20). In Egypt, Aaron spoke the words of the Lord to Pharaoh and the Lord had, on an earlier occasion, spoken directly to Aaron (Ex. 4:27).

The Lord listened to Miriam’s and Aaron’s words and responded. In the normal course of human interactions, criticism of Moses would be addressed by Moses. Moses, however, was not one to assert himself. Moses was very meek (v. 3) and the Lord intervened. The Lord let it be known that there was a big difference in the manner in which he spoke to a prophet or prophetess than the manner in which He spoke to Moses. The Lord spoke to Moses, not in visions and dreams, but, mouth to mouth.

Miriam and Aaron knew that the Lord spoke to Moses in this manner before and after He delivered the law to him but chose to speak out against him. Nothing is hidden from the Lord. In speaking against Moses, they spoke against God. In speaking out against Zipporah because she was an Ethiopian, they spoke against God. The Lord was angry with them because they did not recognize Moses as “my servant” (v. 8). The Lord’s anger was manifested by Miriam becoming leprous.

Why Miriam? Why not Aaron or both Miriam and Aaron? Return to verse 1. The verb “spake” in Hebrew is in the feminine singular form, suggesting that Miriam was more culpable than Aaron. It is likely that Miriam’s criticisms were heard by a wider audience than those of Aaron who was restricted by his duties as high priest.

Looking upon his sister, Aaron asked Moses to intercede. Moses did as Aaron asked, but the Lord did not do as Moses requested. The Lord did not heal Miriam now. He let her remain leprous for seven days. The Lord made the reason for the seven-day wait. The Lord likened His action to that of a father’s rebuke of a daughter. If a father should rebuke a daughter, the sting of the rebuke lingers. Miriam was to be shamed for seven days because she flouted God’s authority. Her rebuke was of the Lord, and like her sin against God, was witnessed by all.

Public rebuke is a deterrent against sin. The Apostle Paul instructed Timothy to rebuke those who sin before all such that others may fear (I Tim. 5:20). The public rebuke which the Lord employed in Numbers 12 is given to New Testament believers for instruction. The God of the Old Testament is the God of the New Testament. He is never changing. He counts faith for righteousness today as He counted Abraham’s faith for righteousness in Genesis.