Numbers 12 Bible Commentary

John Wesley’s Explanatory Notes

(Read all of Numbers 12)

Verse 1

[1] And Miriam and Aaron spake against Moses because of the Ethiopian woman whom he had married: for he had married an Ethiopian woman.

Miriam — Miriam seems to be first named, because she was the first mover of the sedition; wherefore she is more eminently punished.

The Ethiopian — 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. If she be meant, probably they did not quarrel with him for marrying her, because that was done long since, but for being swayed by her and her relations, by whom they might think he was persuaded to chose seventy rulers, by which co-partnership in government they thought their authority and reputation diminished. And because they durst not accuse God, they charge Moses, his instrument, as the manner of men is. Or, 2. some other woman, whom he married either whilst Zipporah lived, or rather because she was now dead, though that, as many other things, be not recorded. For, as the quarrel seems to be about his marrying a stranger, it is probable it was a fresh occasion about which they contended. And it was lawful for him as well as any other to marry an Ethiopian or Arabian woman, provided she were, a sincere proselyte.

Verse 2

[2] And they said, Hath the LORD indeed spoken only by Moses? hath he not spoken also by us? And the LORD heard it.

By us — Are not we prophets as well as he? so Aaron was made, Exodus 4:15,16, and so Miriam is called, Exodus 15:20. 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.

The Lord heard — Observed their words and carriage to Moses.

Verse 3

[3] (Now the man Moses was very meek, above all the men which were upon the face of the earth.)

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. Probably this commendation was added, as some other clauses were, by some succeeding prophet. How was Moses so meek, when we often read of his anger? But this only proves, that the law made nothing perfect.

Verse 4

[4] 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 — To stifle the beginnings of the sedition, that this example might not spread amongst the people.

Come out — Out of your private dwellings, that you may know my pleasure and your own doom.

Verse 5

[5] 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 — While they stood without, not being admitted into the tabernacle, as Aaron used to be; a sign of God's displeasure.

Verse 6

[6] 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.

Among you — if you be prophets, yet know there is a difference among prophets, nor do I put equal honour upon all of them.

Verse 7

[7] My servant Moses is not so, who is faithful in all mine house.

In all my house — That is, whom I have set over all my house, my church and people, and therefore over you; and who hath discharged his office faithfully, and not partially as you falsely accuse him.

Verse 8

[8] 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 — That is, 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.

Apparently — Plainly and certainly.

Dark speeches — Not in parables, similitudes, dark resemblances; as by shewing a boiling pot, an almond tree, etc. to Jeremiah, a chariot with wheels, etc. to Ezekiel.

The similitude — Not the face or essence of God, which no man can see and live, Exodus 33:20, but some singular manifestation of his glorious presence, as Exodus 33:11,20. Yea the Son of God appeared to him in an 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.

Verse 9

[9] And the anger of the LORD was kindled against them; and he departed.

He departed — From the door of the tabernacle, in token of his great displeasure, not waiting for their answer. The removal of God~s presence from us, is the saddest token of his displeasure. And he never departs, till we by our sin and folly drive him from us.

Verse 10

[10] 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 the tabernacle — Not from the whole tabernacle, but from that part, whither it was come, to that part which was directly over the mercy-seat, where it constantly abode.

Leprous — She, and not Aaron, either because she was chief in the transgression or because God would not have his worship interrupted or dishonoured, which it must have been if Aaron had been leprous.

White — This kind of leprosy was the most virulent and incurable of all. 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 smitten with this universal whiteness.

Verse 11

[11] 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.

Lay not the sin — 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.

Verse 12

[12] 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 — Because part of her flesh was putrefied and dead, and not to be restored but by the mighty power of God. Like a still-born child, that hath been for some time dead in the womb, which when it comes forth, is putrefied, and part of it consumed.

Verse 14

[14] 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 — That is, expressed some eminent token of indignation and contempt, which was this, Job 30:10.

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 publickly bear the shame of her sin, and be a warning to others to keep them from the same transgression.

Verse 15

[15] And Miriam was shut out from the camp seven days: and the people journeyed not till Miriam was brought in again.

Journeyed not — 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 publick rebuke from God, and partly lest, she being a prophetess, the gift of prophesy should come into contempt.

Verse 16

[16] And afterward the people removed from Hazeroth, and pitched in the wilderness of Paran.

Paran — That is, in another part of the same wilderness.