Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary
And Miriam and Aaron spake against Moses because of the Ethiopian woman whom he had married: for he had married an Ethiopian woman.
Nu 12:1-9. Miriam's and Aaron's Sedition.
1. an Ethiopian woman—Hebrew, "a Cushite woman"—Arabia was usually called in Scripture the land of Cush, its inhabitants being descendants of that son of Ham (see on Ex 2:15) and being accounted generally a vile and contemptible race (see on Am 9:7). The occasion of this seditious outbreak on the part of Miriam and Aaron against Moses was the great change made in the government by the adoption of the seventy rulers [Nu 11:16]. Their irritating disparagement of his wife (who, in all probability, was Zipporah [Ex 2:21], and not a second wife he had recently married) arose from jealousy of the relatives, through whose influence the innovation had been first made (Ex 18:13-26), while they were overlooked or neglected. Miriam is mentioned before Aaron as being the chief instigator and leader of the sedition.
And they said, Hath the LORD indeed spoken only by Moses? hath he not spoken also by us? And the LORD heard it.
2. Hath the Lord indeed spoken only by Moses? hath he not also spoken by us?—The prophetical name and character was bestowed upon Aaron (Ex 4:15, 16) and Miriam (Ex 15:20); and, therefore, they considered the conduct of Moses, in exercising an exclusive authority in this matter, as an encroachment on their rights (Mic 6:4).
(Now the man Moses was very meek, above all the men which were upon the face of the earth.)
3. the man Moses was very meek—(Ex 14:13; 32:12, 13; Nu 14:13; 21:7; De 9:18). This observation might have been made to account for Moses taking no notice of their angry reproaches and for God's interposing so speedily for the vindication of His servant's cause. The circumstance of Moses recording an eulogium on a distinguishing excellence of his own character is not without a parallel among the sacred writers, when forced to it by the insolence and contempt of opponents (2Co 11:5; 12:11, 12). But it is not improbable that, as this verse appears to be a parenthesis, it may have been inserted as a gloss by Ezra or some later prophet. Others, instead of "very meek," suggest "very afflicted," as the proper rendering.
And the LORD spake suddenly unto Moses, and unto Aaron, and unto Miriam, Come out ye three unto the tabernacle of the congregation. And they three came out.
4. the Lord spake suddenly unto Moses, and unto Aaron, and unto Miriam—The divine interposition was made thus openly and immediately, in order to suppress the sedition and prevent its spreading among the people.
And the LORD came down in the pillar of the cloud, and stood in the door of the tabernacle, and called Aaron and Miriam: and they both came forth.
5. the Lord came down in the pillar of the cloud, and stood the door of the tabernacle—without gaining admission, as was the usual privilege of Aaron, though it was denied to all other men and women. This public exclusion was designed to be a token of the divine displeasure.
And he said, Hear now my words: If there be a prophet among you, I the LORD will make myself known unto him in a vision, and will speak unto him in a dream.
6, 7. Hear now my words—A difference of degree is here distinctly expressed in the gifts and authority even of divinely commissioned prophets. Moses, having been set over all God's house, (that is, His church and people), was consequently invested with supremacy over Miriam and Aaron also and privileged beyond all others by direct and clear manifestations of the presence and will of God.
My servant Moses is not so, who is faithful in all mine house.
With him will I speak mouth to mouth, even apparently, and not in dark speeches; and the similitude of the LORD shall he behold: wherefore then were ye not afraid to speak against my servant Moses?
8. with him will I speak mouth to mouth—immediately, not by an interpreter, nor by visionary symbols presented to his fancy.
apparently—plainly and surely.
not in dark speeches—parables or similitudes.
the similitude of the Lord shall he behold—not the face or essence of God, who is invisible (Ex 33:20; Col 1:15; Joh 1:18); but some unmistakable evidence of His glorious presence (Ex 33:2; 34:5). The latter clause should have been conjoined with the preceding one, thus: "not in dark speeches, and in a figure shall he behold the Lord." The slight change in the punctuation removes all appearance of contradiction to De 4:15.
And the anger of the LORD was kindled against them; and he departed.
And the cloud departed from off the tabernacle; and, behold, Miriam became leprous, white as snow: and Aaron looked upon Miriam, and, behold, she was leprous.
Nu 12:10-16. Miriam's Leprosy.
10. the cloud departed from the tabernacle—that is, from the door to resume its permanent position over the mercy seat.
Miriam became leprous—This malady in its most malignant form (Ex 4:6; 2Ki 5:27) as its color, combined with its sudden appearance, proved, was inflicted as a divine judgment; and she was made the victim, either because of her extreme violence or because the leprosy on Aaron would have interrupted or dishonored the holy service.
And Aaron said unto Moses, Alas, my lord, I beseech thee, lay not the sin upon us, wherein we have done foolishly, and wherein we have sinned.
11-13. On the humble and penitential submission of Aaron, Moses interceded for both the offenders, especially for Miriam, who was restored; not, however, till she had been made, by her exclusion, a public example [Nu 12:14, 15].
Let her not be as one dead, of whom the flesh is half consumed when he cometh out of his mother's womb.
And Moses cried unto the LORD, saying, Heal her now, O God, I beseech thee.
And the LORD said unto Moses, If her father had but spit in her face, should she not be ashamed seven days? let her be shut out from the camp seven days, and after that let her be received in again.
14. her father had but spit in her face, should she not be ashamed seven days?—The Jews, in common with all people in the East, seem to have had an intense abhorrence of spitting, and for a parent to express his displeasure by doing so on the person of one of his children, or even on the ground in his presence, separated that child as unclean from society for seven days.
And Miriam was shut out from the camp seven days: and the people journeyed not till Miriam was brought in again.
15. the people journeyed not till Miriam was brought in again—Either not to crush her by a sentence of overwhelming severity or not to expose her, being a prophetess, to popular contempt.
And afterward the people removed from Hazeroth, and pitched in the wilderness of Paran.
16. pitched in the wilderness of Paran—The station of encampments seems to have been Rithma (Nu 33:19).