Matthew Poole's Commentary
And Miriam and Aaron spake against Moses because of the Ethiopian woman whom he had married: for he had married an Ethiopian woman.Miriam and Aaron murmur against Moses, Numbers 12:1-3. God commandeth him, Aaron, and Miriam to come to the tabernacle, which they did, Numbers 12:4,5. God rebuketh Aaron and Miriam, Numbers 12:6-9. Miriam becometh leprous, Numbers 12:10. Aaron humbling himself before Moses, Numbers 12:11,12; he intercedeth for him, Numbers 12:13. Miriam remains without the camp seven days, Numbers 12:14,15.
Aaron to murmur against their brother, partly to exercise and discover his admirable meekness and patience for the instruction of after-ages; and partly, that by this shaking Mose’s authority might take the deeper root, and the people might be deterred from all sedition and rebellion against him by this example. Miriam seems to be first named, because she was the chief instigator or first mover of the sedition; wherefore she also is more eminently punished.
The Ethiopian woman was either 1. Zipporah, who is here called an Ethiopian, in the Hebrew a Cushite, because she was a Midianite; the word Cush being generally used in Scripture, not for Ethiopia properly so called below Egypt, but for Arabia, as some late learned men have evidently proved from 2 Kings 19:9 2 Chronicles 21:16 Ezekiel 29:10 30:8,9 Hab 3:7, and other places. If she be meant, as it is commonly conceived, I suppose they did not quarrel with him for marrying her, because that was done long since, but for indulging her too much, and being swayed by her and her relations, by whom they might think he was persuaded to make this innovation, and to choose seventy rulers, as he had been formerly, Exo 18; by which copartnership in government they thought their authority and reputation much diminished, especially when no notice was taken nor use made of them in the choice, but all was done by the direction of Moses, and for his assistance in the government. And because they durst not accuse God, who was the chief Agent in it, they charge Moses, his instrument, as the manner of men is. Or,
2. Some other woman, though not named in Scripture, whom he married either whilst Zipporah lived, or rather because she was now dead, though that, as really other things, be not recorded. For as the quarrel seems to be about his marrying a stranger, so it is probable it was a late and fresh occasion about which they contended, and not a thing done forty years ago. And it was lawful for him as well as any other to marry an Ethiopian or Arabian woman, provided she were, as doubtless this woman was, a sincere proselyte, which were by the law of God admitted to the same privileges with the Israelites, Exodus 12:48; so there might be many reasons why Moses might choose to marry such a person rather than an Israelite, or why God so ordered it by his providence, either because she was a person of eminent worth and virtue, or because God intended that the government should not be continued in the hands of Moses’s children, and therefore would have some political blemish to be upon the family, as being strangers by one parent. And this they here urge as a blemish to Moses also.
And they said, Hath the LORD indeed spoken only by Moses? hath he not spoken also by us? And the LORD heard it.Are not we prophets as well as he? so Aaron was made, Exodus 4:15,16, and so Miriam is called, Exodus 15:20. See also Micah 6:4. And Moses hath debased and mixed the holy seed, which we have not done. Why then should he take all power to himself, and make rulers as he pleaseth, without consulting us in the case? The Lord heard it, i. e. observed their words and carriage to Moses.
(Now the man Moses was very meek, above all the men which were upon the face of the earth.)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.
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.Suddenly; partly to show his great respect unto Moses, and unto the grace of meekness; and partly to stifle the beginnings of the sedition, that this example might not spread amongst the people, who had too much of that leaven among them.
Come out, to wit, out of your private dwellings, and from amongst the people, both that you may not infect them by such scandalous words, and partly that you may know my pleasure and your own doom.
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.In the door of the tabernacle, where they stood without, not being admitted into the tabernacle, as Aaron used to be; which is noted as a sign of God’s 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.If you be prophets, as you pretend, yet know there is a difference among prophets, nor do I put equal authority and honour upon all of them. By a vision God represents things to the mind of a prophet when he is awake, as Genesis 15:1 46:2 Daniel 8:18 10:8. By a dream God manifests his mind to them when asleep, as Genesis 20:3 28:12.
My servant Moses is not so, who is faithful in all mine house.i.e. Whom I have set over all my house, i.e. my church and people, and therefore over you, and who hath discharged his office faithfully, and not partially and selfseekingly, as you falsely accuse him.
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?Mouth to mouth, i.e. distinctly, by an articulate voice; immediately, not by an interpreter, nor by shadows and representations in his fancy, as it is in visions and dreams; and familiarly. This is called speaking face to face, 2Jo 1:12 3Jo 1:14.
Apparently; plainly and certainly. Not in dark speeches; not in parables, similitudes, riddles, dark resemblances; as by showing a boiling pot, an almond tree, &c. to Jeremiah, a chariot with wheels, &c. to Ezekiel.
The similitude of the Lord; not the face or essence of God, which no man can see and live, Exodus 33:20; it being invisible, Colossians 1:15, and never seen by man, John 1:18; but some singular manifestation of his glorious presence, as Exodus 33:11,20, &c.; Exodus 34:5, &c.; Deu 34:10. Yea, the Son of God appeared to him in a human shape, which he took up for a time, that he might give him a foretaste of his future incarnation.
My servant; who is so in such an eminent and extraordinary manner.
And the anger of the LORD was kindled against them; and he departed.From the door of the tabernacle, in token of his great displeasure, not waiting for their answer, and judging them unworthy of any further discourse.
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.From off the tabernacle; not from the whole tabernacle, for then they must have removed, but from that part of the tabernacle whither it was come, to that part which was directly over the mercy-seat, where it constantly abode.
Miriam became leprous; she, and not Aaron, either because she was first or chief in the transgression, or because God would not have his worship either interrupted or dishonoured, which it must have been if Aaron had been leprous.
White as snow: this kind of leprosy was the most virulent and incurable of all. See Exodus 4:6 2 Kings 5:27. It is true, when the leprosy began in a particular part, and thence spread itself over all the flesh by degrees, and at last made it all white, that was an evidence. of the cure of the leprosy, Leviticus 13:12,13; but it was otherwise when one was suddenly and extraordinarily smitten with this universal whiteness, which showed the great corruption of the whole mass of blood, as it was here.
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.Let not the guilt and punishment of this sin rest upon us, upon her in this kind, upon me in any other kind, but pray to God for the pardon and removal of it.
Let her not be as one dead, of whom the flesh is half consumed when he cometh out of his mother's womb.As one dead; either naturally, because part of her flesh was putrefied and dead, and not to be restored but by the mighty power of God; or morally, because she was cut off from all converse with others, Leviticus 13:46.
When he cometh out of his mother’s womb; like an untimely birth, without due shape and proportion, or like a still-born child that hath been for some time dead in the womb, which when it comes forth is white and putrefied, and part of it consumed.
And Moses cried unto the LORD, saying, Heal her now, O God, I beseech thee.No text from Poole on this verse.
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.Spit in her face, i.e. expressed some eminent token of indignation and contempt, which this was, Job 30:10 Isaiah 1:6.
Should she not be ashamed, and withdraw herself from her father’s presence? as Jonathan did upon a like occasion, 1 Samuel 20:34. So though God healed her according to Moses’s request, yet he would have her publicly bear the shame of her sin, and be a warning to others to keep them firm the same transgression.
Seven days, the time appointed for cleansing the unclean. See Numbers 6:9 31:19.
And Miriam was shut out from the camp seven days: and the people journeyed not till Miriam was brought in again.Which was a testimony of respect to her both from God and from the people, God so ordering it, partly lest she should be overwhelmed by such a public rebuke from God, and partly lest, she being a prophetess, together with her person, the gift of prophecy should come into contempt.
And afterward the people removed from Hazeroth, and pitched in the wilderness of Paran.Hazeroth, where they abode, as is said, Numbers 11:35, for Miriam’s sake.
In the wilderness of Paran, i.e. in another part of the same wilderness, as may be gathered from Numbers 10:12: see also Deu 33:2. It is possible they might have removed out of one part of that wilderness into another wilderness, and then returned again into another part of it, as we know the Israelites had many strange windings and turnings in their wilderness travels. And this part was more especially called Rithmah, Numbers 33:18, and Kadesh-barnea, Numbers 13:26 Deu 1:19, which were two noted places in that part, both which seem to be comprehended within their camp, or near adjoining to it.