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(MT versing)
The Murmuring of Miriam and Aaron Dissension of Aaron and Miriam A Dispute Over Moses' Authority As Leader Miriam Is Punished Miriam and Aaron Criticize Moses
12:1-8 12:1-8 12:1-9 12:1-3 12:1-3
God's Answer



12:4-8 12:4-8
12:9-15 12:9-13 12:9-12 12:9-10
12:10-16 The Prayer of Moses
12:13 12:13
12:14-16 12:14-16 12:14

READING CYCLE THREE (see "Bible Interpretation Seminar")


This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects. Compare your subject divisions with the five translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

  1. First paragraph
  2. Second paragraph
  3. Etc.


  1. Notice how so many people are grumbling about things.
    1. the people, Num. 11:1
    2. the rabble, Num. 11:4
    3. Moses, Num. 11:10-15
    4. Joshua, Num. 11:28
    5. Miriam and Aaron, Num. 12:1-2
    6. the 10 spies, Numbers 13
    7. the whole congregation, Num. 14:1-4

  2. There are several theological issues alluded to in this context.
    1. the desired giftedness of all God's people (Num. 11:29)
    2. the non-problem of interracial marriage (Num. 12:1; Ruth, and Jewish tradition about Rahab of Jericho)
    3. the obvious editorial addition in Num. 12:3. The Pentateuch is an historical editorial process of some kind. See SPECIAL TOPIC: PENTATEUCH SOURCE CRITICISM (J,E,D,P), VII. C. 1).


1Then Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses because of the Cushite woman whom he had married (for he had married a Cushite woman); 2and they said, "Has the Lord indeed spoken only through Moses? Has He not spoken through us as well?" And the Lord heard it. 3(Now the man Moses was very humble, more than any man who was on the face of the earth.) 4Suddenly the Lord said to Moses and Aaron and to Miriam, "You three come out to the tent of meeting." So the three of them came out. 5Then the Lord came down in a pillar of cloud and stood at the doorway of the tent, and He called Aaron and Miriam. When they had both come forward, 6He said,
  "Hear now My words:
  If there is a prophet among you,
  I, the Lord, shall make Myself known to him in a vision.
  I shall speak with him in a dream.
7Not so, with My servant Moses,
  He is faithful in all My household;
8With him I speak mouth to mouth,
  Even openly, and not in dark sayings,
  And he beholds the form of the Lord.
  Why then were you not afraid
  To speak against My servant, against Moses?"

12:1 "because of the Cushite woman" The ADJECTIVE "Cushite" (BDB 469, KB 467) usually refers to a dark skinned person from Nubia or Ethiopia (cf. 2 Chr. 12:3; 14:9,11,12; 16:8; Jer. 13:23; 38:7,10,12; 39:16; Dan. 11:43; Amos 9:7, and in Acts 8:27). Moses married a black lady!

Apparently Aaron and Miriam joined the complainers, questioning Moses' and, thereby, YHWH's leadership.

12:2 This same argument is repeated by Korah in Num. 16:3. It is a half-truth.

  1. YHWH does call all His people "a kingdom of priests" (Exod. 19:4-5; Jer. 31:31-34; Joel 2:28-32)
  2. YHWH does choose some to lead His people (Moses was surely YHWH's special leader, cf. Num. 12:6-8)

Apparently the spiritual empowering of the seventy elders threatened Aaron's and Miriam's position, at least in their minds and hearts.

▣ "And the Lord heard it" Be careful of attacking God's leaders!


12:3 Rarely are people in the Bible called "humble" (BDB 776).

  1. Moses ‒ here
  2. eschatological Messianic king ‒ Zech. 9:9
  3. Jesus ‒ Matt. 11:29

12:4 "come out to the tent of meeting" See full note about the location of this tent at Num. 11:26-30.

12:5 "a pillar of cloud" See notes at Exod. 13:21-22; 27:10-17; 33:10; Num. 12:5; 14:14. This was a special physical sign of YHWH's presence but veiled so as not to kill unholy, fallen humans!

See NIDOTTE, vol. 4, pp. 1052-1055.

12:6 "If there is. . ." The NASB follows the LXX. The MT has literally, "If your prophet was YHWH." The LXX emends the MT.

▣ "a prophet" Notice the two ways YHWH communicates His message to them.

  1. vision ‒ BDB 909 I, cf. Gen. 46:2; 1 Sam. 3:10, 15, 21; Ezek. 1:1; 8:1-3; 11:24; 40:2; 43:3; Dan. 8:1, 2; 10:11; Joel 2:28
  2. dream ‒ BDB 321, cf. Gen. 28:12; 37:5, 6, 9, 10; Joel 2:28; false dreams in Deut. 13:2, 4, 6; Jer. 23:25; 29:8; Zech. 10:2

In Jer. 18:18 three types/persons involved in revelation.

  1. law ‒ priests
  2. wise counsel ‒ sages
  3. message ‒ prophets


12:7-8 Moses had a unique intimate relationship with YHWH.

  1. he was most faithful (cf. Heb. 3:2,5)
  2. YHWH spoke to him mouth to mouth (Hebrew idiom for personally, cf. Deut. 34:10; Jer. 32:4; 34:3)
  3. YHWH did not speak to him in dark sayings (i.e., riddles, hard to understand imagery)
  4. he had seen YHWH (cf. Exod. 24:9-11; somehow this does not contradict Exod. 33:20)

To speak against Moses was to speak against YHWH!


12:8 "My servant" See SPECIAL TOPIC: MY SERVANT.

9So the anger of the Lord burned against them and He departed. 10But when the cloud had withdrawn from over the tent, behold, Miriam was leprous, as white as snow. As Aaron turned toward Miriam, behold, she was leprous. 11Then Aaron said to Moses, "Oh, my lord, I beg you, do not account this sin to us, in which we have acted foolishly and in which we have sinned. 12Oh, do not let her be like one dead, whose flesh is half eaten away when he comes from his mother's womb!" 13Moses cried out to the Lord, saying, "O God, heal her, I pray!" 14But the Lord said to Moses, "If her father had but spit in her face, would she not bear her shame for seven days? Let her be shut up for seven days outside the camp, and afterward she may be received again." 15So Miriam was shut up outside the camp for seven days, and the people did not move on until Miriam was received again.

12:10 Apparently Miriam was upset over

  1. Moses marrying
  2. Moses marrying outside of Israel
  3. Moses marrying a black woman

If #3 is correct, it is ironic that YHWH's judgment (cf. Deut. 24:9) was to turn Miriam "white." She had to get Moses to pray for her skin to be pigmented again.

12:11-12 Moses prays for her (two JUSSIVES), and by implication, Aaron.

  1. do not account this sin to us (notice the PLURALS referring to both Aaron and Miriam), Num. 12:11
  2. do not let her be like one dead, Num. 12:12 (the rest of v. 12 is unusual and uncertain in meaning.
    It is one of the ten texts that the Masoretic scholars altered, apparently to protect the reputation of Moses', Aaron's, and Miriam's mother)

12:13 Moses continues his prayer (Qal IMPERATIVE) in v. 13. He prays specifically for YHWH to heal (BDB 950, KB 1272, Qal IMPERATIVE) her. See Special Topics:


▣ "God" This is the general name for deity in the ANE, El. See SPECIAL TOPIC: NAMES FOR DEITY, A.

The NET Bible, p. 303, mentions that some scholars see El (God) as "al" (not), making the phrase "Please, not this! Pray, heal her!"

12:14-15 Miriam's verbal attack on Moses (Num. 12:1) angered YHWH. The rabbis say YHWH struck Miriam because she vocalized the complaint (FEMININE VERB in v. 1 and her name, surprisingly, occurs first). It truly was a sin (Num. 12:11). Sin has consequences even when forgiven. Miriam must remain isolated outside the camp for seven days. One wonders why Aaron's verbal attack (12:1) is not specifically mentioned.

12:14 "spit in her face" This is an emphatic construction of an INFINITIVE ABSOLUTE and a PERFECT VERB of the same root (BDB 439, KB 440). This was a cultural act/gesture of rejection (cf. Deut. 25:9).



▣ "outside the camp" This is a requirement of how to protect the community from disease (cf. Lev. 13:45-52; Num. 5:1-4).

16Afterward, however, the people moved out from Hazeroth and camped in the wilderness of Paran.


This is a study guide commentary which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought-provoking, not definitive.

  1. Why were Aaron and Miriam angry?
  2. Why is Miriam mentioned first in Num. 12:1?
  3. Define "Cushite."
  4. Why does Num. 12:3 imply a later editor?
  5. In Num. 12:4, where is the tent of meeting?
  6. How does one reconcile Num. 12:8c with Exod. 33:20?
  7. Why is Miriam's being turned white irony?

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