Numbers 12


Miriam and Aaron raise a sedition against Moses, because of the

Ethiopian woman he had married, 1,

and through jealousy of his increasing power and authority, 2.

The character of Moses, 3.

Moses, Aaron, and Miriam are suddenly called to the tabernacle, 4.

The Lord appears in the pillar of the cloud, and converses with

them, 5.

Declares his purpose to communicate his will to Moses only, 6-8.

His anger is kindled against Miriam, and she is smitten with

the leprosy, 9, 10.

Aaron deplores his transgression, and entreats for Miriam, 11,12.

Moses intercedes for her, 13.

The Lord requires that she be shut out of the camp for seven

days, 14.

The people rest till she is restored, 15,

and afterwards leave Hazeroth, and pitch in the wilderness of

Paran, 16.


Verse 1. Miriam and Aaron spake against Moses] It appears

that jealousy of the power and influence of Moses was the real

cause of their complaint though his having married an Ethiopian

woman- haishshah haccushith-THAT WOMAN, the Cushite,

probably meaning Zipporah, who was an Arab born in the land of

Midian-was the ostensible cause.

Verse 2. Hath the Lord indeed spoken only by Moses?] It is

certain that both Aaron and Miriam had received a portion of the

prophetic spirit, (see Ex 4:15, and Ex 15:20), and therefore they

thought they might have a share in the government; for though

there was no kind of gain attached to this government, and no

honour but such as came from God, yet the love of power is natural

to the human mind; and in many instances men will sacrifice even

honour, pleasure, and profit to the lust of power.

Verse 3. Now the man Moses was very meek] How could Moses, who

certainly was as humble and modest as he was meek, write this

encomium upon himself? I think the word is not rightly

understood; anav, which we translate meek, comes from

anah, to act upon, to humble, depress, afflict, and is translated

so in many places in the Old Testament; and in this sense it

should be understood here: "Now this man Moses was depressed or

afflicted more than any man haadamah, of that land." And

why was he so? Because of the great burden he had to bear in the

care and government of this people, and because of their

ingratitude and rebellion both against God and himself: of this

depression and affliction, see the fullest proof in the preceding

chapter. The very power they envied was oppressive to its

possessor, and was more than either of their shoulders could


Verse 4. And the Lord spake suddenly] The sudden

interference of God in this business shows at once the importance

of the case and his displeasure.

Verse 6. If there be a prophet] We see here the different ways

in which God usually made himself known to the prophets, viz., by

visions-emblematic appearances, and by dreams, in which the future

was announced by dark speeches, bechidoth, by enigmas or

figurative representations, Nu 12:8. But to Moses God had

communicated himself in a different way-he spoke to him face to

face, apparently, showing him his glory: not in dark or

enigmatical speeches; this could not be admitted in the case in

which Moses was engaged, for he was to receive laws by Divine

inspiration, the precepts and expressions of which must all be ad

captum vulgi, within the reach of the meanest capacity. As Moses,

therefore, was chosen of God to be the lawgiver, so was he chosen

to see these laws duly enforced for the benefit of the people

among whom he presided.

Verse 7. Moses-is faithful] neeman, a prefect or

superintendent. So Samuel is termed, 1Sa 2:35; 3:20; David is so

called, 1Sa 18:27,

Neeman, and son-in-law of the king. Job 12:20, speaks of the

Neemanim as a name of dignity. It seems also to have been a title

of respect given to ambassadors, Pr 13:17; 25:13. Calmet well

observes that the word fidelity is often used for an employ,

office, or dignity, and refers to 1Ch 9:22, 26, 31;

2Ch 31:12, 15; 34:12, &c.

Moses was a faithful, well-tried servant in the house of God, and

therefore he uses him as a familiar, and puts confidence in him.

Verse 10. Miriam became leprous] It is likely Miriam was chief

in this mutiny; and it is probable that it was on this ground she

is mentioned first, (see Nu 12:1,) and punished here, while Aaron

is spared. Had he been smitten with the leprosy, his sacred

character must have greatly suffered, and perhaps the priesthood

itself have fallen into contempt. How many priests and preachers

who deserved to be exposed to reproach and infamy, have been

spared for the sake of the holy character they bore, that the

ministry might not be blamed! But the just God will visit their

transgressions in some other way, if they do not deeply deplore

them and find mercy through Christ. Nothing tends to discredit

the work of God so much as the transgressions and miscarriages of

those who minister in holy things.

Verse 14. If her father had but spit in her face] This appears

to have been done only in cases of great provocation on the part

of the child, and strong irritation on the side of the parent.

Spitting in the face was a sign of the deepest contempt. See

Job 30:10; Isa 50:6; Mr 14:65. In a case where a parent was

obliged by the disobedient conduct of his child to treat him in

this way, it appears he was banished from the father's presence

for seven days. If then this was an allowed and judged case in

matters of high provocation on the part of a child, should not the

punishment be equally severe where the creature has rebelled

against the Creator? Therefore Miriam was shut out of the camp

for seven days, and thus debarred from coming into the presence of

God her father, who is represented as dwelling among the people.

To a soul who knows the value and inexpressible blessedness of

communion with God, how intolerable must seven days of spiritual

darkness be! But how indescribably wretched must their case be

who are cast out into outer darkness, where the light of God no

more shines, and where his approbation can no more be felt for

ever! Reader, God save thee from so great a curse!

Several of the fathers suppose there is a great mystery hidden

in the quarrel of Miriam and Aaron with Moses and Zipporah.

Origen (and after him several others) speaks of it in the

following manner:-"1. Zipporah, a Cushite espoused by Moses,

evidently points out the choice which Jesus Christ has made of the

Gentiles for his spouse and Church. 2. The jealousy of Aaron and

Miriam against Moses and Zipporah signifies the hatred and envy of

the Jews against Christ and the apostles, when they saw that the

mysteries of the kingdom of heaven had been opened to the

Gentiles, of which they had rendered themselves unworthy. 3. The

leprosy with which Miriam was smitten shows the gross ignorance of

the Jews, and the ruinous, disordered state of their religion, in

which there is neither a head, a temple, nor a sacrifice. 4. Of

none but Jesus Christ can it be said that he was the most meek and

patient of men; that he saw God face to face; that he had every

thing clearly revealed without enigmatical representations; and

that he was faithful in all the house of God." This, and much

more, Origen states in the sixth and seventh homilies on the book

of Numbers, and yet all this he considers as little in comparison

of the vast mysteries that lie hidden in these accounts; for the

shortness of the time, and the magnitude of the mysteries, only

permit him "to pluck a few flowers from those vast fields-not as

many as the exuberance of those fields afford, but only such as by

their odour he was led to select from the rest." Licebat tamen ex

ingentibus campis paucos flosculos legere, et non quantum ager

exuberet, sed quantum ordoratui supiciat, carpere.

Verse 16. The wilderness of Paran.] This could not be the same

Paran with that mentioned De 1:1, for that was on the borders of

the promised land, see the note on De 1:1, 2; they were long near

the borders of Canaan, and might have speedily entered into it,

had it not been for their provocations and iniquities. They spent

thirty-eight years in a journey which might have been accomplished

in a few weeks! How many through their unfaithfulness have been

many years in gaining that for which, in the ordinary procedure of

Divine grace, a few days had been sufficient! How much ground may

a man lose in the Divine life by one act of unfaithfulness or

transgression! Israel wandered in the wilderness because Israel

despised the pleasant land, and did not give credence to the word

of the Lord. They would have a golden calf, and they had nothing

but tribulation and wo in return,

Copyright information for Clarke