Numbers 12:3
(Now the man Moses was very meek, above all the men which were upon the face of the earth.)
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(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. 2Corinthians 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.

Numbers 12:3. The man Moses was very meek — This is added as the reason why Moses took no notice of their reproach, and why God did so severely plead his cause. Thus was he fitted for the work he was called to, which required all the meekness he had. And this is often more tried by the unkindness of our friends, than by the malice of our enemies. This meekness of Moses was a great aggravation of the sin or his brother and sister, namely, that they should behave so insolently toward a man of his mild and sweet disposition, who was farthest of all men living from abusing his power, slighting any person beneath him, or harbouring the least malice for personal affronts. Probably this commendation was added, as some other clauses were, by some succeeding prophet. But how was Moses so meek, when we often read of his anger? Not to mention that the law made nothing perfect, (Hebrews 7:19,) it must be observed, true meekness does not exclude every kind of anger, but only such as is sinful. We may and ought to be angry when God is dishonoured, in the sense in which Christ was when he looked round about upon the people with anger, grieved for the hardness of their hearts, Mark 3:5. Displeasure or grief on account of the sin or folly of another, if it be not immoderate, and imply no resentment, is not sinful, but commendable, Ephesians 4:26.

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.The man Moses was very meek - In this and in other passages in which Moses no less unequivocally records his own faults (compare Numbers 20:12 ff; Exodus 4:24 ff; Deuteronomy 1:37), there is the simplicity of one who bare witness of himself, but not to himself (compare Matthew 11:28-29). The words are inserted to explain how it was that Moses took no steps to vindicate himself, and why consequently the Lord so promptly intervened.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. This is added as the reason why Moses took no notice of their reproach, but was one that heard it not, and why God did so speedily and severely plead Moses’s cause, because he did not avenge himself.

Quest. 1. Did it become Moses thus to commend himself?

Answ. 1. The holy penmen of Scripture are not to be measured or censured by other profane writers, because they are guided by special instinct in every thing they write; and as they ofttimes publish their own and their near relations’ greatest faults, where it may be useful to the honour of God, and the edification of the church in after-ages; so it is not strange if for the same reasons sometimes they commend themselves, especially when they are forced to it by the insolence and contempt of their adversaries, which was Moses’s case here, in which case St. Paul also commends himself, 2 Corinthians 11:5, &c. 2 Corinthians 12:11,12; which they might the better do, because all their writings and carriage made it evident to all men that they did not this out of vain-glory, and that they were exalted above the affectation of men’s praises, and the dread of men’s reproaches.

2. This might be added, as some other clauses were, by some succeeding prophet, which was no disparagement to the authority of the Holy Scriptures, seeing it is all written by one hand, though divers pens be used by it.

Quest. 2: How was Moses so meek, when we oft times read of his anger, as Exodus 11:8 16:20 32:19 Leviticus 10:16 Numbers 16:15 20:10,11, compared with Psalm 106:32,33?

Answ. 1. The meekest men upon earth are provoked sometimes, yea, oftener than Moses was.

2. True meekness doth not exclude all anger, but only such as is unjust, or immoderate, or implacable. Moses was and ought to be angry where God was offended and dishonoured, as he was in almost all the places alleged.

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.

(Now the man Moses was very {b} meek, above all the men which were upon the face of the earth.)

(b) And so endured their grudging, although he knew of them.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
3. very meek] very humble; it might almost be rendered ‘very pious.’ The word does not connote meekness towards men, in the sense of patience under wrongs or insults, but always pious humility towards God. It is found frequently in the Psalms; and see Zephaniah 2:3. Because of Moses’ humble piety, Jehovah grants him an overwhelming vindication in answer to the jealous challenge. To those who have held that the Pentateuch was from Moses’ own pen, this verse, with its appearance of self-righteousness, has always been a serious difficulty.

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. Numbers 12:3Miriam and Aaron said, "Hath Jehovah then spoken only by Moses, and not also by us?" Are not we - the high priest Aaron, who brings the rights of the congregation before Jehovah in the Urim and Thummim (Exodus 28:30), and the prophetess Miriam (Exodus 15:20) - also organs and mediators of divine revelation? "They are proud of the prophetic gift, which ought rather to have fostered modesty in them. But such is the depravity of human nature, that they not only abuse the gifts of God towards the brother whom they despise, but by an ungodly and sacrilegious glorification extol the gifts themselves in such a manner as to hide the Author of the gifts" (Calvin). - "And Jehovah heard." This is stated for the purpose of preparing the way for the judicial interposition of God. When God hears what is wrong, He must proceed to stop it by punishment. Moses might also have heard what they said, but "the man Moses was very meek (πραΰ́ς, lxx, mitis, Vulg.; not 'plagued,' geplagt, as Luther renders it), more than all men upon the earth." No one approached Moses in meekness, because no one was raised so high by God as he was. The higher the position which a man occupies among his fellow-men, the harder is it for the natural man to bear attacks upon himself with meekness, especially if they are directed against his official rank and honour. This remark as to the character of Moses serves to bring out to view the position of the person attacked, and points out the reason why Moses not only abstained from all self-defence, but did not even cry to God for vengeance on account of the injury that had been done to him. Because he was the meekest of all men, he could calmly leave this attack upon himself to the all-wise and righteous Judge, who had both called and qualified him for his office. "For this is the idea of the eulogium of his meekness. It is as if Moses had said that he had swallowed the injury in silence, inasmuch as he had imposed a law of patience upon himself because of his meekness" (Calvin).

The self-praise on the part of Moses, which many have discovered in this description of his character, and on account of which some even of the earlier expositors regarded this verse as a later gloss, whilst more recent critics have used it as an argument against the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch, is not an expression of vain self-display, or a glorification of his own gifts and excellences, which he prided himself upon possessing above all others. It is simply a statement, which was indispensable to a full and correct interpretation of all the circumstances, and which was made quite objectively, with reference to the character which Moses had not given to himself but had acquired through the grace of God, and which he never falsified from the very time of his calling until the day of his death, either at the rebellion of the people at Kibroth-hattaavah (ch. 11), or at the water of strife (at Kadesh (ch. 20). His despondency under the heavy burden of his office in the former case (ch. 11) speaks rather for than against the meekness of his character; and the sin at Kadesh (ch. 20) consisted simply in the fact, that he suffered himself to be brought to doubt either the omnipotence of God, or the possibility of divine help, in account of the unbelief of the people.

(Note: There is not a word in Numbers 20:10 or Psalm 106:32 to the effect, that "his dissatisfaction broke out into evident passion" (Kurtz). And it is quite a mistake to observe, that in the case before us there was nothing at all to provoke Moses to appeal to his meekness, since it was not his meekness that Miriam had disputed, but only his prophetic call. If such grounds as these are interpolated into the words of Moses, and it is to be held that an attack upon the prophetic calling does not involve such an attack upon the person as might have excited anger, it is certainly impossible to maintain the Mosaic authorship of this statement as to the character of Moses; for the vanity of wishing to procure the recognition of his meekness by praising it, cannot certainly be imputed to Moses the man of God.)

No doubt it was only such a man as Moses who could speak of himself in such a way, - a man who had so entirely sacrificed his own personality to the office assigned him by the Lord, that he was ready at any moment to stake his life for the cause and glory of the Lord (cf. Numbers 11:15, and Exodus 32:32), and of whom Calmet observes with as much truth as force, "As he praises himself here without pride, so he will blame himself elsewhere with humility,"-a man or God whose character is not to be measured by the standard of ordinary men (cf. Hengstenberg, Dissertations, vol. ii. pp. 141ff.).

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