The Agora
Bible Commentary

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Numbers 12

Num 12:1

CUSHITE: Sig "black". Ref either to Elam (land of black mountains) (Gen 2:13), to Ethiopia (land of black people) (Jer 13:23; 38:7), or to Midian (land of black tents) (cp Hab 3:7).

FOR HE HAD MARRIED A CUSHITE: Miriam and Aaron prob feel Moses has fallen too much under influence of in-laws: Num 10:29-32; cp Exo 18:17-24 with Num 11:16,17. Prob ref to Zipporah -- in which case Miriam and Aaron have no basis to condemn. She was not an alien! (Cp attitude of near-kinsman to Ruth the Moabitess.)

"Strange choice of Moses, but how much more strange the choice of him who is a prophet like unto Moses, and greater than he! Our Lord, who is fair as the lily, has entered into marriage union with one who confesses herself to be black, because the sun has looked upon her [Song 1:6]. It is the wonder of angels that the love of Jesus should be set upon poor, lost, guilty men. Each believer must, when filled with a sense of Jesus' love, be also overwhelmed with astonishment that such love should be lavished on an object so utterly unworthy of it. Knowing as we do our secret guiltiness, unfaithfulness, and black-heartedness, we are dissolved in grateful admiration of the matchless freeness and sovereignty of grace. Jesus must have found the cause of his love in his own heart; he could not have found it in us, for it is not there. Even since our conversion we have been black, though grace has made us comely... Most tender and faithful Husband of our souls, pursue thy gracious work of conforming us to thine image, till thou shalt present even us poor Ethiopians unto thyself, without spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing. Moses met with opposition because of his marriage, and both himself and his spouse were the subjects of jealousy. Can we wonder if this vain world opposes Jesus and his spouse, and especially when great sinners are converted? for this is ever the Pharisee's ground of objection: 'This man receiveth sinners' [Luk 15:2]. Still is the old cause of quarrel revived, 'Because he had married an Ethiopian woman' " (CHS).

Num 12:2

13 murmurings: Exo 5:21; 14:10; 15:24; 16:2; 17:2; 32:1; Num 11:1,4; 12:2; 14:2; 16:3; 20:2; 21:5. Cp Joh 6:41-43. Those who murmur without cause are soon given cause to murmur.

...SPOKEN THROUGH US?: Yes, He had spoken through Aaron (Exo 4:14-17; 7:1,2). And Miriam had prophesied at Red Sea (Exo 15). But Aaron had only been a spokesman for Moses (Exo 4:14). Moses' reluctance to speak for himself leaves lingering effects.

Num 12:3

HUMBLE: "Anah" = lit, to suffer travail, affliction (WGos 169). Therefore, not a man more disposed by nature to be humble than any other man -- not a "milksop"! Rather, a man who had endured much affliction, who had learned his lessons well. A man who had "learned obedience from what he suffered" (Heb 5:8).

But how did Moses react, he who years before had felled an Egyptian with one blow of his fist? Did he pour out a torrent of indignation, assuring himself that he had just cause to be angry? Did he show them the door of the tent and bid them mind their own business? Did he call on God to strike them down in his anger?

Nothing of the sort. He in his bearing up under this attack reminds us of Christ in the judgment-hall, who, "when he was reviled, reviled not again". Was Moses showing weakness? No. It was an exhibition of colossal strength. It is the weak man who gives blow for blow; who blurts out his wrath; who cannot control the passion of his spirit. Only the strong man can be perfectly still under provocation, holding himself in, and turning the vehemence of his spirit into the heat of an intense love. Moses became the intercessor before God on Miriam's behalf.

For us, it is only as we claim the meekness of Christ that we can exhibit this kind of noble humility. This was not possible for Moses as it is for us. The humility of Jesus did not forbid his proposing himself as our model for meekness: "Learn of me," he said, "for I am meek and lowly in heart" (Mat 11:28,29). The likeness of the dove that rested on him, and the lamb to which he was compared, were the emblems of his heart.

So in moments of provocation there is nothing better than to turn to him and claim his calm, sweet silence, his patience and meekness, praying, "My Lord, may I exhibit a noble humility in your name."

Num 12:5

THEN THE LORD CAME DOWN IN A PILLAR OF CLOUD: There are five occasions when the Glory of the LORD appeared in Num; on each occasion it is because of the rebellion of the people: Num 12:5; 14:10; 16:19,42; 20:6.

Num 12:7

FAITHFUL IN ALL MY HOUSE: As such Moses typ Christ (Heb 3:2-5). Moses was the most trusted servant. But Christ was also the son and heir!

Num 12:10

MIRIAM: Who must have been the prime mover in the rebellion (cp order, v 1).

LEPROSY: Since she had objected to Moses marrying a black woman, she is made doubly white!

No covering, no veil, no excuse, no hope, exposed. She stood in the docket -- guilty. Her brother turned and saw his sister who had always been such a dynamic influence in his life condemned to a life "outside the camp". Doomed, so to speak, from all further intercourse with family, tribe -- dying before his eyes. We may want to minimize leprosy as just a skin disorder, but it was as life threatening then as it can be now. Her nose, her fingers and toes would lose their circulation and literally rot off. She would emit an odor of death which only the strong willed could tolerate. And at last alone, and forsaken, she would die.

Num 12:11

Vv 11,12: There is no record of what went on in Aaron's mind, except his next utterance to Moses: "Please, my Lord, do not hold against us the sin we have so foolishly committed. Do not let us (note the awareness of guilt) be like a stillborn infant coming from its mother's womb with its flesh half eaten away!" (Medically, this sadly still happens today.)

Num 12:13

O GOD, PLEASE HEAL HER: In an Israelite context of 'cause and effect' religion Moses desperately cried out, not with some of the more common names of Deity but with "EL" -- the very Creator of all living. Both men stood glued to the spot as they watched their sister, as she looked aghast at her body being ravaged by that dread disease of leprosy.

We may be awed by the experience of 'sin in the flesh', raw and ungarnished, without benefit of the niceties of societal trappings. Henceforth to be known as "Miriam the Leper". More likely to have her bones to remain in the Wilderness wanderings. What dread?

The "sin" had been in v 1 where Miriam and Aaron thought presumptuously of Moses, and now it is he who goes to the Father and begs for her, the big sister, to be "healed". Echoes of Isa 53: "All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all."

Sometimes the enormity of sin can be so overwhelming that we are stymied, we can't move. Then is when agape love comes to play, the ability to pray for and with one another is without limit. "There is a friend closer than a brother."

Cp Christ, who could heal leprosy immediately (Mar 1:35-45).

Num 12:15

THE PEOPLE DID NOT MOVE...: The sin of one brother or sister may set back the progress of an entire congregation.

Forgiveness there is, but not without a gradual washing of the event from all Israel, for this was not a first-time event. For 7 days "the woman" was to be "absent from the meeting". Meanwhile all forward activity ceased until one of their own was reconciled to their God. And at last Miriam "was brought in again." What a poignant expression, filled with the very essence of salvation through our Lord and Redeemer, the Lord Jesus Christ, as we are learning how to repent and be a better reflection of the Glory of the Father through suffering. "Open ye the gates that the King of Glory may come in" as manifested in one sinner who repents.

Each sin is a "murmur" and reaps a "discipline" else we are not loved... "Because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son... "Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it" (Heb 12: 6,10-11).

Num 12:16

Cp Deu 1:22: This was first suggested by the people.

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