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Bailey Sadler Class



Study Theme:  Beauty From Ashes: Redeeming Your Broken Moments

What This Lesson Is About:

Week of:

Lesson Title:

The focus of this week’s study is on the dangers of a critical spirit, how it affected the relationship between Moses and his sister, Miriam, and how God’s discipline defeated such a spirit.




April 17

Redeemed From Poor Choices


April 24

Redeemed From Broken Relationships


May 01

Redeemed From A Critical Spirit


May 08

Redeemed From Crippling Doubt


May 15

 Redeemed From Devastating Failure


May 22

Redeemed From An Unbelieving Past






A critical spirit damages our lives.


Numbers 12:1-11,13-15





A Selfish Focus Breeds A Critical Spirit (Num. 12:1-3)

God Rejects A Critical Spirit (Num. 12:4-11)

God’s Discipline Defeats A Critical Spirit (Num. 12:13-15)


Numbers 11 details how on their journey from Mount Sinai to the promised land, a series of complaints erupted among the Israelites against God and His leader Moses. The Israelites first complained about the hardships of the journey, resulting in God sending fire among them. Not learning their lesson, they complained again about having only manna to eat and no meat. Moses also complained bitterly to God about the burdens of leading the Israelites, so God directed him to appoint 70 elders to assist him. God sent quail for the people to eat, but then sent a deadly plague upon them in judgment. The Israelites then traveled to Hazeroth, where a conflict between Moses and his siblings Miriam and Aaron ensued.

SOURCE: The Herschel Hobbs Commentary; Family Bible Study; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; 1 LifeWay Plaza, Nashville, TN.


When we play the comparison game, it becomes easy to fall prey to criticism. Comparing ourselves to others can lead to discontentment and dissatisfaction, and such discontentedness only leads to further problems, such as a critical spirit. Contentment comes only when we take the focus off of ourselves and place it on God. God will place in us an ambition—a desire—to serve His kingdom.

SOURCE: Advanced Bible Study; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; One LifeWay Plaza, Nashville, TN.


A Selfish Focus Breeds A Critical Spirit (Num. 12:1-3)

1 Miriam and Aaron criticized Moses because of the Cushite woman he married (for he had married a Cushite woman). 2 They said, “Does the Lord speak only through Moses? Does He not also speak through us?” And the Lord heard it. 3 Moses was a very humble man, more so than any man on the face of the earth.









1.   What is the setting for this focal passage?

2.   What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the word “critic”?

3.   Who were Moses’ chief critics in this account (v. 1)?

4.   What do we know about both critics?  (See Digging Deeper.)

5.   Do you think this comes as a surprise?  Why, or why not?

6.   What was the surface reason Miriam and Aaron gave for their complaint against their brother Moses (v. 1)?

7.   What was the deeper reason (v. 2)?

8.   What do you think is the most ominous statement in these verses?  Why do you think so?

9.   What outstanding assertion is made about Moses (v. 3)?

10.   Based on these three verses, what do we learn about God’s character as well as Moses’ character?

11.   What are some of the main motivations behind our desire to criticize?

12.   What do you think is the most important thing you can do to prevent you from criticizing another person?

13.   Do you think comparing ourselves to others can lead to a critical spirit, a spirit that God rejects?  If so, why is that?

14.   Do you think technology has rapidly expanded our opportunities to criticize?  Why, or why not?

15.   If so, what impact do you think it has had on our society?


Lasting Lessons in Numbers 12:1-3:

1.  The resentment of authority is an age-old problem that testifies to the sinful pride of the human heart.

2.  Many times a stated accusation does not represent the primary motivation for someone’s harsh and unfair words.

3.  The words we speak reveal much about the condition of our hearts (Matt. 12:34).



God Rejects A Critical Spirit (Num. 12:4-11)

4 Suddenly the Lord said to Moses, Aaron, and Miriam, “You three come out to the tent of meeting.” So the three of them went out. 5 Then the Lord descended in a pillar of cloud, stood at the entrance to the tent, and summoned Aaron and Miriam. When the two of them came forward, 6 He said: “Listen to what I say: If there is a prophet among you from the Lord, I make Myself known to him in a vision; I speak with him in a dream. 7 Not so with My servant Moses; he is faithful in all My household. 8 I speak with him directly, openly, and not in riddles; he sees the form of the Lord. So why were you not afraid to speak against My servant Moses?” 9 The Lord’s anger burned against them, and He left. 10 As the cloud moved away from the tent, Miriam’s skin suddenly became diseased, as white as snow. When Aaron turned toward her, he saw that she was diseased 11 and said to Moses, “My lord, please don’t hold against us this sin we have so foolishly committed.

1.   What was the first step the Lord took as an intervention into this situation?

2.   How did Moses, Aaron, and Miriam respond to the Lord’s direction?

3.   What action did the Lord take then (v. 5)?

4.   To whom did the Lord direct His comments (v. 5b)?

5.   What did the Lord say to Aaron and Miriam (vv. 6-8)?

6.   In what terms did the Lord describe His special relationship with Moses?

7.   What does this tell you about Moses?

8.   How did the criticism of Moses by Aaron and Miriam impact the Lord (v. 9)?

9.   What happened to Miriam (v. 10)?

10.   Why do you think the Lord didn’t punish Aaron?

11.   How did God’s punishment of Miriam impact Aaron (v. 11)?

12.   What did Aaron say to Moses (v. 11)?

13.   What does this tell you about Aaron?

14.   What price do you think we pay for having a critical spirit?

15.   When criticism breaks our fellowship with God and with others, what are some things you think are necessary for restoration?

16.   What does this passage teach you about God’s character?


Lasting Lessons in Numbers 12:4-11:

1.  It is a serious thing to presume to speak for God, as it is a serious thing to speak against one whom God has appointed to speak for Him.

2.  God’s judgment against sin is so perfectly justified that there is no response or defense we can offer to Him.

3.  When one is made aware of the seriousness with which God considers our sin, the only recourse is to beg for His mercy.  Thankfully His grace is as great as His wrath.



God’s Discipline Defeats A Critical Spirit (Num. 12:13-15)


13 Then Moses cried out to the Lord, “God, please heal her!” 14 The Lord answered Moses, “If her father had merely spit in her face, wouldn’t she remain in disgrace for seven days? Let her be confined outside the camp for seven days; after that she may be brought back in.” 15 So Miriam was confined outside the camp for seven days, and the people did not move on until Miriam was brought back in.

1.   How did Moses respond to Aaron’s plea for mercy in verse 11 (v. 13)?

2.   What emotions do you sense behind Moses’ appeal to God (v. 13)?

3.   What does Moses’ response reveal about his character?

4.   How did the Lord respond (v. 14)?

5.   What was behind the reason for Miriam’s banishment for seven days (v. 14)? (See Lev. 14:1-32 [the cleansing law for the leper], and commentary of the phrase “Taking off of the shoe” in Digging Deeper.)

6.   What act suggests the restorative grace of God exercised in His discipline on those who sin (v. 14)?

7.   What kind of impact can a member with a critical spirit have on a church’s  congregation?

8.   What can be the ripple effect in the church when God disciplines one of His people?

9.   What are some things believer’s can do to support this individual?

10.   What are some things we can do to help one other avoid a critical spirit?


Lasting Lessons in Numbers 12:13-15:

1.  The Lord commands us to pray for those who have hurt us.

2.  We are called to respond with patience and mercy to those who have offended us.

3.  A celebration of restoration should follow the demonstration of repentance.



A critical spirit is destructive.  Certainly the one who is criticized is affected.  His or her reputation can be negatively affected.  One’s leadership can be undermined, even destroyed.  But a critical spirit also can destroy the critic.  The critic loses the confidence of those around him or her and leads to broken fellowship.  Thus, the critic is left alone in his or her own misery.  Neither is the Lord pleased with those who have a critical spirit.  The critic cannot be in a close relationship with the Lord who Himself seeks to encourage and build up rather than discourage and tear down.

Have you ever been like Miriam and Aaron in relationship with another person?  What impact did that have on that relationship?  How did it affect your relationship with God?  If you have been the recipient of criticism, what impact did it have on your relationship with the critic?  What did you do about it?

Is your spirit where it should be when it comes to being critical of others?  So, on a scale of 1 (very critical) to 10 (rarely critical), how would you rate your spirit when it comes to being critical?  If you need improvement, ask God for help!  He stands ready to help if you are serious about improving.  May God’s Word reside in our hearts!

  What are the implications of these truths for your life?  THE CHOICE IS YOURS, ISN’T IT!

REMEMBER, the safest place for a believer is in the center of God’s will.


Lesson Outline, Introduction, Discussion Questions, and Conclusion adapted from the following sources:

SOURCE: Life Ventures-Bible Studies for Life; Leader Guide; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; Nashville, TN.

SOURCE: The Herschel Hobbs Commentary; Family Bible Study; by Robert J. Dean; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; 1 LifeWay Plaza, Nashville, TN.

SOURCE: Advanced Bible Study; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; One LifeWay Plaza, Nashville, TN.



Focal Passage from three different translations of God’s Word:

King James Version: 

Numbers 12:1-15 (KJV)

1 And Miriam and Aaron spake against Moses because of the Ethiopian woman whom he had married: for he had married an Ethiopian woman.  And they said, Hath the LORD indeed spoken only by Moses? hath he not spoken also by us? And the LORD heard it. 3 (Now the man Moses was very meek, above all the men which were upon the face of the earth.) 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. 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. 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. 7 My servant Moses is not so, who is faithful in all mine house. 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? 9 And the anger of the LORD was kindled against them; and he departed. 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. 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. 12 Let her not be as one dead, of whom the flesh is half consumed when he cometh out of his mother's womb. 13 And Moses cried unto the LORD, saying, Heal her now, O God, I beseech thee. 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. 15 And Miriam was shut out from the camp seven days: and the people journeyed not till Miriam was brought in again.


The Message: 

 Numbers 12:1-15 (MSG)

1 Miriam and Aaron talked against Moses behind his back because of his Cushite wife (he had married a Cushite woman). 2 They said, "Is it only through Moses that GOD speaks? Doesn't he also speak through us?" GOD overheard their talk. 3 Now the man Moses was a quietly humble man, more so than anyone living on Earth. 4 GOD broke in suddenly on Moses and Aaron and Miriam saying, "Come out, you three, to the Tent of Meeting." The three went out. 5 GOD descended in a Pillar of Cloud and stood at the entrance to the Tent. He called Aaron and Miriam to him. When they stepped out, 6 he said, Listen carefully to what I'm telling you. If there is a prophet of GOD among you, I make myself known to him in visions, I speak to him in dreams. 7 But I don't do it that way with my servant Moses; he has the run of my entire house; 8 I speak to him intimately, in person, in plain talk without riddles: He ponders the very form of GOD. So why did you show no reverence or respect in speaking against my servant, against Moses? 9 The anger of GOD blazed out against them. And then he left. 10 When the Cloud moved off from the Tent, oh! Miriam had turned leprous, her skin like snow. Aaron took one look at Miriam—a leper! 11 He said to Moses, "Please, my master, please don't come down so hard on us for this foolish and thoughtless sin. 12 Please don't make her like a stillborn baby coming out of its mother's womb with half its body decomposed." 13 And Moses prayed to GOD: Please, God, heal her, please heal her. 14 GOD answered Moses, "If her father had spat in her face, wouldn't she be ostracized for seven days? Quarantine her outside the camp for seven days. Then she can be readmitted to the camp." 15 So Miriam was in quarantine outside the camp for seven days. The people didn't march on until she was readmitted.


New Living Translation:   

Numbers 12:1-15 (NLT)

1 While they were at Hazeroth, Miriam and Aaron criticized Moses because he had married a Cushite woman. 2 They said, “Has the LORD spoken only through Moses? Hasn’t he spoken through us, too?” But the LORD heard them. 3 (Now Moses was very humble—more humble than any other person on earth.) 4 So immediately the LORD called to Moses, Aaron, and Miriam and said, “Go out to the Tabernacle, all three of you!” So the three of them went to the Tabernacle. 5 Then the LORD descended in the pillar of cloud and stood at the entrance of the Tabernacle. “Aaron and Miriam!” he called, and they stepped forward. 6 And the LORD said to them, “Now listen to what I say: “If there were prophets among you, I, the LORD, would reveal myself in visions. I would speak to them in dreams. 7 But not with my servant Moses. Of all my house, he is the one I trust. 8 I speak to him face to face, clearly, and not in riddles! He sees the LORD as he is. So why were you not afraid to criticize my servant Moses?” 9 The LORD was very angry with them, and he departed. 10 As the cloud moved from above the Tabernacle, there stood Miriam, her skin as white as snow from leprosy. When Aaron saw what had happened to her, 11 he cried out to Moses, “Oh, my master! Please don’t punish us for this sin we have so foolishly committed. 12 Don’t let her be like a stillborn baby, already decayed at birth.” 13 So Moses cried out to the LORD, “O God, I beg you, please heal her!” 14 But the LORD said to Moses, “If her father had done nothing more than spit in her face, wouldn’t she be defiled for seven days? So keep her outside the camp for seven days, and after that she may be accepted back.” 15 So Miriam was kept outside the camp for seven days, and the people waited until she was brought back before they traveled again.

(NOTE:  Commentary for the focal passage comes from four sources: “The Old Testament Survey Series: The Pentateuch,” “Believer's Bible Commentary,” “The Complete Biblical Library Commentary,” “The Moody Bible Commentary,” and is provided for your study.)

Lesson Outline — “Redeemed From A Critical Spirit” — Numbers 12:1-15




A Selfish Focus Breeds A Critical Spirit (Num. 12:1-3)

God Rejects A Critical Spirit (Num. 12:4-11)

God’s Discipline Defeats A Critical Spirit (Num. 12:13-15)


The Old Testament Survey Series – The Pentateuch:  Numbers 12:1-15

Complaint against Moses (Nm 12:1-16)

From Kibroth Hattaavah the people moved to Hazeroth were a leadership crisis of a different sort developed. Miriam and Aaron began to criticize Moses because of his Cushite wife. Had Zipporah died? Or had Moses taken a second wife? Or was "the Cushite" a designation for Zipporah? Since Cushan is mentioned in connection with Midian (Hab 3:7), and since Zipporah was from the land of Midian, it is possible that Zipporah is intended. The influence of Miriam the sister had waned after the arrival of Zipporah at Sinai. In any case, the marriage issue was merely a pretext. Miriam and Aaron wanted more power for themselves. God had spoken through them just as much as through Moses, they claimed (12:1-2).

Moses was not inclined to deal with the dissidents because "he was more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth." Modern critics have argued that these words are incongruous with Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch. Interpreted as braggadocio this verse would be difficult to square with Mosaic authorship. Perhaps Moses, however, intended the words to be understood as a confession of weakness in leadership. Because of his very low self-esteem he did not exercise boldness in dealing with the rebels (12:3).

God intervened in the crisis by calling the three leaders to the door of the tent. This is the only instance where the Lord spoke "at once" or immediately. He was quick to defend his servant Moses. In the pillar of cloud the Lord came down and stood there. He directed Aaron and Miriam to take one step forward (12:4-5).

The Lord then indicated in no uncertain terms the unique role of Moses. To ordinary prophets God revealed himself in dreams and visions. Moses, however, spoke "face to face" with the Lord. He had the privilege of viewing the form of the Lord. That which the elders had seen only once (Ex 24:10), Moses saw every time he spoke with God. Just as Joseph had been faithful over all things in the house of Potiphar, so Moses was the dependable majordomo of God's house. He was God's servant par excellence! Because of this standing with the Lord, others should be afraid to speak out against Moses (12:6-8).

The anger of Yahweh burned against Aaron and Miriam. When the cloud lifted from above the tent, Miriam was leprous, as white as snow. This indicates that Miriam was the instigator of this act of rebellion. Aaron got off with a fright as is indicated by the structure of the Hebrew sentence. He turned to Moses and begged him not to "hold against us the sin we have so foolishly committed." Perhaps to evoke Moses' sympathy, Aaron compared his sister to a child who suffered from a fatal disease when it is born (12:9-12).

Moses said nothing in defense of himself, nothing by way of rebuke to his detractors. He earnestly prayed for the healing of Miriam. God healed the woman; but her disease was a divine rebuke of no small consequence, comparable to the act of a father spitting in his child's face after the child misbehaved. A child who had been the victim of such indignity would not dare show his face for a week. So Miriam was to be confined outside the camp for seven days. So that everyone might know what had happened to her, the nation was delayed for a week at Hazeroth ("villages") until Miriam was restored to the camp (12:9-15).

SOURCE: The Old Testament Survey Series: The Pentateuch; By James E. Smith; College Press Publishing Company, Joplin, Missouri.


Believer's Bible Commentary: Numbers 12:1-16

Rebellion of Aaron and Miriam (Chap. 12)

12:1, 2.  The next sad chapter in the history of Israel concerns two of the leaders of the people, Miriam and Aaron. Though they were Moses' sister and brother, they spoke against him for marrying an Ethiopian woman. At least that was their pretext. But the real reason seems to be given in verse 2: they resented Moses' leadership and wanted to share it—they were jealous. At this time there was no law against marrying an Ethiopian, though when they came to the land, the Israelites were forbidden to marry a non-Jew.

12:3. Moses did not try to vindicate himself but trusted God, who had placed him in the position of leadership. His family (Chap. 12), the leaders (Chap. 16), and ultimately the whole congregation (16:41, 42) disputed his authority. Yet when the judgment of God fell upon his adversaries, Moses did not gloat but interceded for them. He was indeed very humble, more than all men who were on the face of the earth. The fact that he wrote this about himself does not deny his humility; rather it illustrates 2 Peter 1:21b; he wrote as he was moved by the Holy Spirit.

12:4-8.  God summoned Moses, Aaron, and Miriam to the door of the tabernacle of meeting, rebuked Miriam and Aaron, and reminded them that Moses held a position of nearness to God that no other prophet ever held. He might speak to others indirectly, by visions and dreams, but He spoke to Moses directly, face to face. (The word plainly in v. 8 means "directly," i.e., without a go-between.) The form of the Lord means some manifestation or visible representation. Although Miriam herself was a prophetess (Ex. 15:20), the Lord made clear the difference between His relationship with Moses and other prophets. The only other thing recorded about Miriam after this incident is her death (Num. 20:1).

12:9, 10.  The Lord was angry with them, and He departed. As punishment for her rebellion, Miriam was smitten with leprosy. Since Aaron was not punished, some suggest that Miriam was the ringleader. They point out that the verb in verse 1 is feminine singular. Others believe that Aaron's punishment was to see his sister become a leper. Aaron was the high priest, and he would have been unable to function on behalf of the people if he had been made leprous. His position might have saved him from the humiliation that Miriam had to go through.

12:11-16.  Aaron confessed his sin to Moses and asked that Miriam should not be "like a stillborn child, which comes into the world half decomposed." In response to Moses' intercession, God healed Miriam of the leprosy but insisted that she should go through the usual seven-day period for the cleansing of a leper. The Lord reminded Moses that she would have been barred from the camp as unclean if her father had but spit in her face.

SOURCE: Believer's Bible Commentary; by William MacDonald; Copyright © 1995, 1992, 1990, 1989 by William McDonald. Database © 2014 WORDsearch.


The Complete Biblical Library Commentary:  Numbers 12:1-16

12:1-16. This interesting chapter is a sad commentary on human nature. Displeasure or mere prejudice leads to jealousy then to rebellion and further sin. It was more tragic in that it came in the very family of the God-appointed leader. But how often has it happened that a king’s closest relations aspired to take his throne? Aaron and Miriam had already been exalted to high position. But high position often wants higher. Jealousy is an old and common failing.

12:1-2. The Cushite woman (NASB). Who the Cushite woman was is unclear. Cush (Ethiopian, KJV) may be used for the Kassite country of eastern Mesopotamia (cf. Gen. 2:13) or more often, the upper Nile region, now called Sudan. Tirhakah (Isa. 37:9) belonged to a Cushite dynasty that ruled Egypt for a time. In the Egyptian paintings he seems to have been Negroid (Pritchard, Ancient Near Eastern Pictures, #447). Zipporah, Moses’ first wife, was a Kenite, hardly a Cushite. She was the only wife mentioned when Moses returned to Egypt about a year before this time (Exo. 4:20). Miriam’s complaint may have arisen because of a recent second marriage. Miriam may have felt her own position somewhat threatened. Apparently, she does not object to the Cushite wife because of her ethnicity or color. Perhaps Miriam thought Moses had allowed his new wife to usurp some of the authority his brother and sister had. Her particular pique was that her and brother Aaron’s prophetic gifts were being minimized. Actually there seems to be no clear place where God did speak through Miriam. The so-called song of Miriam in Exodus 15 was written and sung by Moses, with Moses leading the men, and Miriam leading the women in the refrain. Perhaps God had spoken to Aaron on some occasion from the atonement cover between the cherubim, but the record mentions only God speaking thus to Moses (Num. 7:89). Aaron should have been satisfied.

12:3. Moses was very meek. This verse has been cited repeatedly as proving that Moses did not write the Pentateuch. It is in the third person. Of course much of the Pentateuch is in the third person. This proves nothing with regard to authorship unless one can show that in those days no one wrote his own story in the third person.

Today a writer uses the third person if he wishes to appear objective, as in a dissertation. But how could a person say of himself that he was the most humble man on earth! Here scholars fall into the old trap of judging another culture by our own. That we would not affirm our own humility, does not prove that, in Moses’ time, he would not; nor is any level of ancient social acceptability known. Paul in Acts 20:18f affirms great humility.

Furthermore, the exact meaning of “humble” or “meek” is biblically defined in Zeph. 2:3 and Ps. 22:27ff as “those who seek God.” Dr. Cleon Rogers has suggested that the Hebrew word ‘naw “humble” may be read with different vowel letters ‘ani and be translated as “miserable” (JETS, 29:3:257-63). After the rebellion at Kibroth-Hattaavah Moses may well have felt his misery to be extreme.

12:4-5. Suddenly. The implication is that the Lord did not allow the plot to gain headway. This problem at the very top of Israel’s leadership must not be allowed to grow. As far as it appears, there were no others sharing the complaint. Then the Lord came down. What an awesome and humbling experience it must have been for Aaron and Miriam, knowing their sin, to enter that cloud of glory! Peter and John, without such rebellion on their lips, feared as they entered the heavenly cloud on the Mount of Transfiguration (Luke 9:34).

Nadab and Abihu had perished when they defiled the Tabernacle. In God’s mercy, the judgment in this case was limited to the leprosy that fell upon Miriam (who is mentioned first in the conspiracy in v. 1, and was perhaps the one to vocalize the complaint.).

12:6. A prophet. This is another important verse on the prophetic office. A prophet was a man to whom God revealed himself, and who was to speak that revelation to the people. The important thing was not the prophet’s action or possible ecstatic state, but the word of God which came to him.

In a vision... a dream. These were not the only methods of divine inspiration of the prophet. Many times God simply put his words in the prophet’s mouth to be spoken to the people. In the call of the Prophet Ezekiel, he was commanded symbolically to eat the scroll of God’s words and then to give that word out (Ezek. 3:1-11). But God did use visions and dreams to reveal his message. It must be said that every dream in ancient Israel was not revelatory. But God could use a dream, and often did so, in order to communicate his message.

12:7-8. My servant Moses... faithful in all my house. Moses is here exalted as chief of the prophets. He was faithful to God and God was close to him, so close that He spoke with him “face to face as a man speaks with his friend” (Exo. 33:11). The experience of Moses was so transcendent, that Moses’ face shone for a while with reflected glory when he emerged after talking with God (Exo. 34:29-35). Hebrews 3:2 alludes to Moses’ great position as a servant over God’s house, but adds that Christ excels Moses as a son over God’s house, the Church. So great was Moses that he saw the “form” of the Lord. This seems to refer to the experience Moses has when he hid in a cleft of the rock he saw the Lord go by. Exodus 33:20-23 says that in this great experience Moses saw God’s “back” but not his “face.” These words should not be taken too anatomically. “Face” surely means “presence”; the Hebrew word here translated “back” is not the usual word for a person’s physical back, but rather is the word for “after.” God says that his trailing glory, his after-effects will be seen. This was Moses’ known relation to God. How then could his own sister and brother speak against him? How indeed. But sin dulls the memory, and senses, and we forget. They really were complaining against God, not Moses. A further caution should be stated, however. Moses was in a very special situation. Every servant of God is not sacrosanct, never to be called to account. But in all cases, the motives must be right and God’s will observed. There are many who still speak against Moses’ writings and deny his very existence. But he was the head of a long line of prophets and a type of the Great Prophet, Priest and King to come.

12:9-12.  Miriam—leprous, like snow (NIV). The word here translated “leprous” is used for various skin diseases not necessarily technical leprosy, Hansen’s disease. Here, however, it was not just a skin rash. It was miraculous and the skin was deeply affected. The wording is quite like the miraculous “leprosy” of Gehazi (2 Ki. 5:27). This may have been true leprosy. Aaron was repentant, as was Miriam. They abjectly appealed to the brother they had envied. That he turned to Moses in contrition and for help is a witness to the fact that Moses was usually the intercessor and source of help. It had been a different story in v. 1.

12:13-15. Moses cried to the Lord. To this point, Moses had said nothing. In complete submission, he had let God be his defense. Now, without rancor or triumph, he interceded for his sinning sister, as he had interceded for the whole nation when Aaron had made the golden calf. God forgave, but not without the public humiliation and distress that such a crime deserved. Miriam was unclean 7 days and was put outside the camp. Only after that did the cloud lift from Hazeroth so the people could move on, this time to the Desert of Paran from where they were to invade the Promised Land.

12:16. The Desert of Paran. We cannot, at this distance, outline the boundaries of the Desert of Paran. We know from 13:26 that Kadesh was in this area. “Kadesh” means “holy place,” often consecrated in earlier days to some heathen god. Deuteronomy 1:19 also identifies the camping place as Kadesh-Barnea. There were several Kadeshes, notably Kadesh on the Orontes, scene of a famous battle between the Egyptians and the Hittites. There is also a Kadesh in Galilee. Kadesh-Barnea is about fifty miles southwest of Beersheba at the site of four major oases, one of which is called “Ain Qadeis” (Spring of Kadesh) today. The identification is clear. It was a suitable stopping place for Israel to camp for a while and prepare for the invasion, which was planned to take place shortly. Neither Kadesh nor Paran appear in the travelog of ch. 33. It is possible that Rithmah (Num. 33:18) is another name for Kadesh or for an area in the Desert of Paran including Kadesh. But there may be other reasons why Kadesh is not mentioned in ch. 33.

SOURCE: The Complete Biblical Library Commentary - Numbers.  Copyright © 2009 WORDsearch Corp.; World Library Press, Inc.


The Moody Bible Commentary; Numbers 12:1-16

Rebellion of Aaron and Miriam (12:1-16)

12:1-8. After the nation set up camp at Hazeroth (11:35), Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses. Though Miriam and Aaron are paired together, the Hebrew verb is in the feminine form, indicating that Miriam was the instigator in this challenge against Moses' leadership and explaining the reason she suffered the consequences. The combination of Aaron and Miriam, however, was a serious threat, not just because they were siblings, but also because he was the high priest and she was a prophetess (Ex 15:20). The explanation for this defiance was his marriage to a Cushite woman. It is not clear whether this is referring to Zipporah (since Midian and Cush/Cushan are perhaps related, as seen in Hab 3:7) or to a second wife from the area today known as either Nubia or Ethiopia. Even though the nationality of this woman is not transparent, what is clear is that Moses' siblings raised an ethnic objection.

While ethnic purity in Israel was an issue, foreigners were allowed to participate in the spiritual community (9:14). Though ethnicity was the issue Miriam raised, her underlying concern was jealousy and possibly concern over losing some of her spiritual status to this woman. Perhaps Moses' wife was viewed as a threat to Miriam's position as the most influential woman in Israel. Considering the newly elevated spiritual authority of the 70 elders (11:25), perhaps Miriam thought her spiritual authority was dwindling. Or perhaps she thought that by challenging Moses she could reclaim some of her former spiritual status. These concerns were clearly a repudiation of the Lord's choice of Moses as Israel's supreme human leader.

The next statement about Moses' humility (12:3) is a parenthetical thought and seems to be one of the few places in the Pentateuch where a later inspired editor gave a simple statement about God's perspective on Moses' character. Moses' humility was revealed in the previous chapter (11:29), and so a reference to it here makes Miriam's charges seem all the more egregious. In response to this challenge the Lord summoned Moses... Aaron... and Miriam... to the tent of meeting and reconfirmed Moses' authority and status. The Lord directly addressed them from within the cloud in a poetic form and verbally defended Moses' special relationship. When the Lord revealed Himself, He did so, He said, through visions and dreams, but He addressed Moses mouth to mouth, that is, face to face. Moses even saw the form of the Lord that no one else has had the privilege of seeing (v. 8). With all these special privileges, Moses' siblings were asked why they were not afraid to speak against him as God's servant. This affirmation established Moses' uniqueness as a prophet—he alone received direct revelation from God. This became significant later when the Lord promised Israel a messianic prophet like Moses (Dt 18:15-19). This future prophet, the Messiah, would not be like all the other prophets of Israel, but like Moses He would engage in direct communication with God without dreams or visions.

12:9-16. Then the Lord in anger struck Miriam with leprosy, making her ceremonially unclean and an outcast within the community. Aaron pleaded with his brother and intervened on her behalf. He said Miriam's physical condition was like that of a stillborn child whose flesh is half eaten. Moses without hesitation interceded on his sister's behalf and asked the Lord to heal her. Yet, she was not immediately healed. Since her offense was so serious she was like someone whose father spat in her face. Such a person would have to remain outside the camp for seven days. Spitting was an extreme act of contempt (Dt 25:9) and left one unclean for obvious reasons. The public nature of her challenge caused her to suffer public humiliation. Her sin delayed the movement of the camp until she was able to return from her weeklong exile. After she was received back, the nation moved out from Hazeroth to the wilderness of Paran.

SOURCE: The Moody Bible Commentary; by Michael Rydelnik and Michael Vanlaningham; © 2014 by The Moody Bible Institute of Chicago. Database © 2015 WORDsearch.




Cushite (v. 1)—This term may refer to Moses’ wife Zipporah (“Midianite” and “Cushite” were used as synonyms), or to a second wife he possibly married after Zipporah had died.

The form of the Lord (v. 8)—The term rendered form means “likeness” or “semblance.” This phrase most likely refers to some type of a visible representation of God, but not to His full glory.

Diseased (v. 10)—The Hebrew term was used for a wide variety of skin diseases, ranging in severity of effects from white spots on the skin to the loss of fingers and toes.

SOURCE: Life Ventures-Bible Studies for Life; Leader Guide; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; Nashville, TN.

CUSHITE (cyoo’ sshite): Citizen or inhabitant of Cush. See Cush. The Hebrew word is the same as the proper name, “Cushi.” God has concern for and control over them just as He does for His own people (Amos 9:7). An unnamed Cushite served as Joab’s messenger to bring the news of Absalom’s death to David (2 Sam. 18:21-32). A eunuch under King Zedekiah who helped Jeremiah escape from a cistern into which the king had had him thrown (Jer. 38:6-12; 39:16).Holman Bible Dictionary.

CUSH (cuhssh): 1. A member of the tribe of Benjamin about whom the psalmist sang (Ps. 7:1). Nothing else is known of him. 2. Son of Ham and grandson of Noah (Gen. 10:8). Thus in this Table of Nations he is seen as the original ancestor of inhabitants of Cush, the land.

3. A nation situated south of Egypt with differing boundaries and perhaps including differing dark-skinned tribes (Jer. 13:23) at different periods of history. The Hebrew word Cush has been traditionally translated Ethiopia, following the Septuagint, or earliest Greek translation, but Cush was not identical with Ethiopia as presently known. Moses’ wife came from Cush (Num. 12:1), probably a woman distinct from Zipporah (Ex. 2:21). Cush was an enemy of Egypt for centuries, being controlled by strong pharaohs but gaining independence under weak pharaohs. Zerah, a general from Cush, fought against Asa, king of Judah (910-869) (2 Chron. 14:9). Finally, Pi-ankhi of Cush conquered Egypt and established the twenty-fifth dynasty of Egyptian rulers (716-656) with their capital at Napata above the fourth cataract. Isaiah 18 may describe some of the political activity involved in Cush’s establishing their power in Egypt. Tirhakah (2 Kings 19:9) was one of the last of the pharaohs from Cush. Isaiah promised that people who fled from Judah and were exiled in Cush would see God’s deliverance (Isa. 11:11; compare Zeph. 3:10). Isaiah acted out judgment against Cush, probably as the rulers of Egypt (Isa. 20:3-5; compare 43:3; 45:14; Ps. 68:31; Jer. 46:9; Ezek. 30:4-5,9). In Ezekiel’s day Cush represented the southern limit of Egyptian territory (Ezek. 29:10). Cush’s strength could not help Thebes escape from Ashurbanipal, king of Assyria, in 663 B.C. Nahum used this historical example to pronounce doom on Nineveh, the capital of Assyria (Nah. 3:9). Ezekiel listed Cush as one of the allies of Gog and Magog in the great climatic battle (Ezek. 38:5). The psalmist proclaimed that God’s reputation had reached even unto Cush (Ps. 87:4). Job saw Cush as a rich source of minerals, especially topaz (Job 28:19).

By the time of Esther, Cush represented the southwestern limits of Persian power (Esther 1:1). Cambyses (530-522) conquered Cush for Persia.

Cush is mentioned in Genesis 2:13 as surrounded by the Gihon River. The Gihon is usually associated with Jerusalem as a spring (1 Kings 1:33). Some Bible students identify Cush here with the Kassites, the successors to the old Babylonian empire, who controlled Babylon between about 1530 and 1151 B.C. Such students connect this with Genesis 10:8, where Cush is associated with Nimrod, whose kingdom centered in Babylon (Gen. 10:10). Other Bible students would see Gihon here as another name for the Nile River and Cush as referring to the land south of Egypt. A clear solution to this problem has not been found.

SOURCE: Holman Bible Dictionary; General Editor, David S. Dockery; Holman Bible Publishers; Nashville, Tennessee.

MIRIAM (mih’ ih uhm): Personal name of uncertain meaning, perhaps “bitter,” “God’s gift,” “beloved,” or “defiant.” 1. Sister of Moses and Aaron and the daughter of Jochebed and Amram. Miriam played a key role in the rescue of Moses (Ex. 2:4-8) and in the subsequent experience of the Exodus and the wilderness community. After crossing the Red Sea, she assumed the role of prophetess and led the women in the song of victory that was steeped in faith and gratitude (Ex. 15:20-21).

At Hazeroth, Miriam sided with Aaron in an act of rebellion against Moses when he married an Ethiopian woman (Num. 12:1-15). Beneath her disapproval of Moses’ choice of a wife lay a deeper problem of ambition and insubordination. Consequently, God reminded her of Moses’ divinely appointed leadership and chastened her with leprosy. She was healed following Moses’ intercessory prayer and a seven-day quarantine (Num. 12:15).

Miriam died at Kadesh (Num. 20:1). Later biblical writers remembered her as an example to Israel in cases of leprosy (Deut. 24:9) and as a leader sent by God (Mic. 6:4).

SOURCE: Holman Bible Dictionary; General Editor, David S. Dockery; Holman Bible Publishers; Nashville, Tennessee.

AARON (awehr’ uhn): Moses’ brother; Israel’s first high priest. He figures prominently in Exodus through Numbers and then is mentioned in Deuteronomy 9-10; Joshua 21; Judges 20; 1 Samuel 12; 1 Chronicles 6; 15; 23-24; 2 Chronicles 13; 26; 29; 31; 35; Ezra 7; Nehemiah 10; 12; Psalms 77:20; 99:6; 105:26; 106:16; 115:10, 12; 135:19; Micah 6:4.

Aaron’s parents Amram and Jochebed were from the tribe of Levi, Israel’s tribe of priests. Miriam was his sister. See Exodus 6:16-26. With his wife Elisheba, Aaron had four sons: Nadab, Abihu, Eleazar, and Ithamar. The first two perished when they offered sacrifices with fire that God had not commanded them to make (Lev. 10:1-2; 16:1-2). Two priestly lines developed from the remaining sons: (1) Ithamar through Eli to Abiathar and (2) Eleazar to Zadok (1 Sam. 14:3; 22:20; 1 Kings 2:26-27; 1 Chron. 6:50-53).

Aaron experienced the joy of starting Israel’s formal priesthood, being consecrated to the office (Ex. 28-29; Lev. 8-9), wearing the first priestly garments, and initiating the sacrificial system (Lev. 1-7). He also bore the burdens of his office as his sons were killed for their disobedience (Lev. 10:1-2), and he could not mourn for them (Lev. 10:6-7). He also bore the special rules of conduct, clothing, and ritual cleanness (Lev. 27:1-22:33).

He could not live up to such high standards perfectly. Thus he had to offer sacrifices for his own sins (Lev. 16:11). Then in his cleansed, holy office, he offered sacrifices for others. In his imperfection, Aaron still served as a symbol or type of the perfect priest as seen in Psalm 110:4, where the future king was described as eternal priest. Zechariah 6:11-15 also speaks of a priest—Joshua—in typical terms. Thus the imperfect Aaron established an office full of symbolic meaning for Israel.

Aaron’s life:  With all his faults, Aaron was a man chosen by God. We do not know what Aaron did during Moses’ forty-year exile from Egypt, but he maintained the faith, kept contact with Israel’s leaders, and did not forget his brother (Ex. 4:27-31). Ready of speech, he served nobly as Moses’ spokesman before Pharaoh. More than once he stretched out Moses’ staff to bring God’s plagues on the land (Ex. 7:9,19). In the wilderness Aaron and Hur helped Moses hold up the staff, the symbol of God’s power, so that Israel would prevail over Amalek (Ex. 17:12).

At Sinai, Aaron and his two older sons, Nadab and Abihu, were called to go up the mountain with Moses and seventy elders (Ex. 24:9). There they worshiped and ate and drank in heavenly fellowship. As Moses and Joshua went farther up, Moses left Aaron and Hur in charge (Ex. 24:14). But as Moses delayed on the mountain, the people asked Aaron for action. They cried, “Make us gods” (Ex. 32:1). Their sin was polytheism (worship of many gods) as well as idolatry. Aaron all too easily obliged and made a calf and apparently led in its worship. How far into sin Aaron went we do not know. Was it giving in or active error? The text does not say, but Aaron was not specifically judged. The Levites, the tribe of Moses and Aaron, rallied to Moses and were blessed accordingly (Ex. 32:26-29).

On another occasion Aaron appeared in a bad light. In Numbers 12 he and Miriam spoke against Moses’ marriage to the Cushite (Ethiopian) woman. (Cush was an old name for upper Egypt—approximately modern Sudan.) We are not told if this was a wife in addition to Zipporah, or if Zipporah had died, or even if Zipporah—a Midianite—had Cushite connections. Anyway, Aaron and Miriam were jealous of their younger brother. Really, their murmuring was against God’s selection. Second place did not satisfy them.

Miriam was severely judged. Again, Aaron was not as harshly judged. Perhaps again he was not the instigator but the accomplice. He confessed his sin and pleaded for mercy for Miriam. When Korah, Dathan, and Abiram opposed Moses and Aaron, Aaron’s intercession stopped the plague (Num. 16). Aaron’s leadership was vindicated by God in the miraculous blossoming of his staff (Num. 17). When the people cried for water at Kadesh in the desert of Zin, Aaron joined in Moses’ sin as they seized the power of the Lord for themselves (Num. 20:7-13). In consequence, Aaron, like Moses, was not to enter the Promised Land. Nearby on the border of Edom after forty years of his priesthood, Moses took Aaron up mount Hor, transferred his garments to his son, Eleazar, and Aaron died there at the age of 123 years (Num. 20:23-28). Israel mourned for their first high priest thirty days (Num. 20:29), as they soon would mourn for Moses (Deut. 34:8).

SOURCE: Holman Bible Dictionary; General Editor, David S. Dockery; Holman Bible Publishers; Nashville, Tennessee.


Background of the phrase “Taking off of the shoe” in Num. 12: 14:  Deuteronomy 25:5-10

On Levirate Marriages.—Vv. 5, 6. If brothers lived together, and one of them died childless, the wife of the deceased was not to be married outside (i.e., away from the family) to a strange man (one not belonging to her kindred); her brother-in-law was to come to her and take her for his wife, and perform the duty of a brother-in-law to her. ‏יַבֵּם‎, denom. from ‏יָבָם‎, a brother-in-law, husband's brother, lit., to act the brother-in-law, i.e., perform the duty of a brother-in-law, which consisted in his marrying his deceased brother's widow, and begetting a son of children with her, the first-born of whom was "to stand upon the name of his deceased brother," i.e., be placed in the family of the deceased, and be recognised as the heir of his property, that his name (the name of the man who had died childless) might not be wiped out or vanish out of Israel. The provision, "without having a son" (ben), has been correctly interpreted by the lxx, Vulg., Josephus (Ant. iv. 8, 23), and the Rabbins, as signifying childless (having no seed, Matt 22:25); for if the deceased had simply a daughter, according to Num 27:4ff., the perpetuation of his house and name was to be ensured through her. The obligation of a brother-in-law's marriage only existed in cases where the brothers had lived together, i.e., in one and the same place, not necessarily in one house or with a common domestic establishment and home (vid., Gen 13:6; 36:7).—This custom of a brother-in-law's (Levirate) marriage, which is met with in different nations, and as an old traditional custom among the Israelites (see at Gen 38:8ff.), had its natural roots in the desire inherent in man, who is formed for immortality, and connected with the hitherto undeveloped belief in an eternal life, to secure a continued personal existence for himself and immorality for his name, through the perpetuation of his family and in the life of the son who took his place. This desire was not suppressed in Israel by divine revelation, but rather increased, inasmuch as the promises given to the patriarchs were bound up with the preservation and propagation of their seed and name. The promise given to Abraham for his seed would of necessity not only raise the begetting of children in the religious views of the Israelites into the work desired by God and well-pleasing to Him, but would also give this significance to the traditional custom of preserving the name and family by the substitution of a marriage of duty, that they would thereby secure to themselves and their family a share in the blessing of promise. Moses therefore recognised this custom as perfectly justifiable; but he sought to restrain it within such limits, that it should not present any impediment to the sanctification of marriage aimed at by the law. He took away the compulsory character, which it hitherto possessed, by prescribing in vv. 7ff., that if the surviving brother refused to marry his widowed sister-in-law, she was to bring the matter into the gate before the elders of the town (vid., Deut 21:19), i.e., before the magistrates; and if the brother-in-law still persisted in his refusal, she was to take his shoe from off his foot and spit in his face, with these words: "So let it be done to the man who does not build up his brother's house."

The taking off of the shoe was an ancient custom in Israel, adopted, according to Ruth 4:7, in cases of redemption and exchange, for the purpose of confirming commercial transactions. The usage arose from the fact, that when any one took possession of landed property he did so by treading upon the soil, and asserting his right of possession by standing upon it in his shoes. In this way the taking off of the shoe and handing it to another became a symbol of the renunciation of a man's position and property,—a symbol which was also common among the Indians and the ancient Germans (see my Archäologie, ii. p. 66). But the custom was an ignominious one in such a case as this, when the shoe was publicly taken off the foot of the brother-in-law by the widow whom he refused to marry. He was thus deprived of the position which he ought to have occupied in relation to her and to his deceased brother, or to his paternal house; and the disgrace involved in this was still further heightened by the fact that his sister-in-law spat in his face. This is the meaning of the words (cf. Num 12:14), and not merely spit on the ground before his eyes, as Saalschütz and others as well as the Talmudists (tr. Jebam. xii. 6) render it, for the purpose of diminishing the disgrace. "Build up his brother's house," i.e., lay the foundation of a family or posterity for him (cf. Gen 16:2).—In addition to this, the unwilling brother-in-law was to receive a name of ridicule in Israel: "House of the shoe taken off" (‏חֲלוּץ  הַנַּעַל‎, taken off as to his shoe; cf. Ewald, §288, b.), i.e., of the barefooted man, equivalent to "the miserable fellow;" for it was only in miserable circumstances that the Hebrews went barefoot (vid., Isa 20:2-3; Mic 1:8; 2 Sam 15:30). If the brother-in-law bore this reproach upon himself and his house, he was released from his duty as a brother-in-law. By these regulations the brother-in-law's marriage was no doubt recognised as a duty of affection towards his deceased brother, but it was not made a command, the neglect of which would involve guilt and punishment. Within these limits the brother-in-law's marriage might co-exist with the prohibition of the marriage with a brother's wife; "whereas, if the deceased brother had a son or children, such a marriage was forbidden as prejudicial to the fraternal relation. In cases where the deceased was childless, it was commanded as a duty of affection for the building up of the brother's house, and the preservation of his family and name. By the former prohibition the house (family) of the brother was kept in its integrity, whilst by the latter command its permanent duration was secured. In both cases the deceased brother was honoured, and the fraternal affection preserved as the moral foundation of his house" (vid., my Archäologie, pp. 64, 65).

SOURCE: Keil and Delitzsch Commentary on the Old Testament - Commentary on the Old Testament – Volume 1: The Pentateuch.






MIRIAM  All We Know

By Martha S. Bergen

Martha S. Bergen is professor of Christian education at Hannibal-LaGrange University, Hannibal, Missouri.

God spoke His message to Miriam and she conveyed it to others.  She is the first prophetess mentioned in Scripture.


HE SISTER OF MOSES!”  If asked, this is probably how most people would describe the biblical person known as Miriam.1  After all, she was indeed his sister—and Aaron’s too.  While the amount of biblical material about her is relatively small when compared to Moses himself, she played an important role in Hebrew history.  Though much of her life is obscure, the snapshots we do have reveal a great deal about her character and background.  Hers was no ordinary family.  Having levitcal parents, her heritage  placed her within Israel’s priestly tribe.

Miriam, as well as her brothers, was under divine mandate to lead Israel.  God spoke through the prophet Micah confirming that she was among those He had sent as a leader or helper to Israel: “I brought you up out of Egypt and redeemed you. . . . I sent Moses to lead you, also Aaron and Miriam” (Mic. 6:4, NIV).  Though hers was a role different from her brothers’, she too was a leader of God’s people around the time of the exodus and wilderness wanderings.

Miriam to the Rescue

The first glimpse we have of Miriam is in Exodus 2.  The text describes her familial background in light of her relationship to Moses and in the context of the Egyptians oppressing her people.  Thought unnamed here, the genealogical listing as part of the census in Numbers 26:59 leaves no doubt that their parents were Amram and Jochebed.  Although Pharaoh had ordered all the Hebrew male children killed at birth, miraculously Moses was allowed to live.  His mother managed to hide him for three months; afterward she sent him floating in a papyrus basket along the Nile River under the watchful eye of his older sister Miriam, in perhaps a last, desperate attempt to save his life.

Miriam watched as, ironically, Pharaoh’s own daughter discovered the child.  Having observed what happened, Miriam bravely asked her if she could get a Hebrew woman to nurse him.  In all likelihood the princess understood what was happening and allowed Miriam to get their mother.  Thus, Miriam was instrumental in reuniting Jochebed and Moses at a crucial time when he needed his birth mother.  God worked through your Miriam to preserve the life of the one who was to be a great leader of His people.

Miriam the Musician and Prophetess

Miriam and Moses appear to be the musically gifted ones from this family based upon Exodus 15.  Among the Hebrews, music had its place,2 and it was especially significant for this occasion.  After the grand and glorious event of the exodus, Moses and the Israelites sang, recounting God’s victorious work in the exodus and at the Red Sea.  Miriam also took her leadership role among the women.3  Using the tambourine as her accompaniment, with all the women following suit, Miriam led them as she danced and sang a song of victory: “Sing to the Lord, for He is highly exalted; He has thrown the horse and its rider into the sea” (v. 21, HCSB).  Some believe “her brief song in these verses reflects her devotion to God and her thankfulness for his marvelous deliverance.”4  Others believe since Miriam repeated the words of Moses in verse 1, the women must have replicated the song in its entirety.  Still others interpret the song to have been sung antiphonally, where both genders responded back and forth.5  However it was done, both the women and the men were recipients of God’s miraculous deliverance, and both erupted in ecstatic praise to God.  Both needed to worship the One who was worthy of their praise and thanksgiving.  Furthermore, both Miriam and Moses were God’s leaders for this time and occasion.

Verse 20 also refers to Miriam as “the prophetess.”  A prophet or prophetess (a female prophet) was God’s spokesperson.  As such, God spoke His message to Miriam and she conveyed it to others.  She is the first prophetess mentioned in Scripture.  Her leadership role, which this chapter highlights, shows this to be her finest hour.

Miriam’s Rebellion

Numbers 12 depicts Miriam in sharp contrast to what we saw in Exodus 15.  While Exodus shows her to be a leader who models praise, joy, and thanksgiving, Numbers shows her to be rebellious, characterized by her anger, resentment, and jealousy.  She audaciously spoke against her brother Moses, whom God said was “more . . . [humble] than any man on the face of the earth” (Num. 12:3, HSCB).  Her prideful remarks incited God’s anger, for in criticizing Moses she criticized God Himself.  Moses was a prophet with whom God had spoken directly or “face to face” (Deut. 34:10), rather than by dreams and visions.  Consumed with jealousy she, as did Aaron, lashed out against Moses asking, “Has the Lord spoken only through Moses?  Hasn’t he also spoken through us, too?” (Num. 12:2, NLT).  Indeed He had.  Although they apparently resented Moses’ marriage to a Cushite woman, they seemingly used her as a pretense for their resentment.  As a result of their criticism, God summoned the siblings to appear before Him as the tabernacle.

God chided Miriam and Aaron for criticizing Moses.  He then struck Miriam with leprosy as a consequence of her rebellion.  He did not, however, afflict Aaron with leprosy.  Perhaps Miriam had been the instigator of the ordeal.  Notwithstanding, the pain of seeing his sister leprous caused Aaron to repent and cry out to Moses on her behalf: “Please, my lord, do not hold against us the sin we have so foolishly committed.  Do not let her be like a stillborn infant” (vv. 11-12a, NIV).  Moses prayed for Miriam’s healing, but she had to face the disgrace of being placed outside the camp for seven days.6  This meant she was isolated from the community, which resulted in shame and public humiliation.  Based on 2 Kings 7:3-4, we can deduce she stayed outside the camp with others who were afflicted with skin diseases.  Normally leprosy would have required her to be outside the camp for 14 days (Lev. 13:4-5); mercifully, however, the Lord permitted her to return after 7 days.  Returning would have required her to go through certain religious rituals before being restored to her previous position.  The fact that the Israelites waited for her before moving on (v. 15) reveals something of the respect and level of leadership she held among the community.  Her punishment, however, became a warning to the Israelites that sin has dire consequences (Deut. 24:9).

Miriam’s Death

Numbers 20:1 records Miriam’s death.  She is among only a handful of women whose deaths the Old Testament mentions.7  She died and was buried in the desert at Kadesh and, like her brothers, never had opportunity to enter the promised land.  An examination of her life reveals that, like all who desire to follow God, two natures were at war within her.  And when she chose to honor God, He used her as a leader to benefit her family and the Israelite community.  The choice to honor God always benefits others, as well as ourselves.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     Bi

1.  The exact meaning of Miriam’s name is unclear.  Suggestions include “God’s gift,” “beloved,” “defiant,” or “bitter.”  See R. Dean Register, “Miriam” in Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary, gen. ed. Chad Brand, Charles Draper, and Archie England (Nashville: Holman Bible Publishers, 2003), 1136.

2.  Israelite women typically welcomed men who had been victorious in battle by dancing and using timbrels to celebrate their triumph.  See Ephraim Stern, “Miriam” in Encyclopaedia Judaica, vol. 12 (Jerusalem: Keter Publishing House, 1971).

3.  Perhaps a precedent for women’s ministry in the church today.

4.  Glen S. Martin, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers in Holman Old Testament Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2002), 68-69.

5.  John N. Oswalt, “Exodus” in Genesis and Exodus in Cornerstone Biblical Commentary (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House, 2008), 399.

6.  Had her father spit in her face, she would have received the same consequence (v. 14).

7.  Sarah (Gen. 23:2); Deborah (Gen. 35:8); Rachel (Gen. 35:19); Judah’s wife (Gen. 38:12); Levite’s raped concubine (Judg. 19:28); Jezebel (2 Kings 9:33); Azubah (1 Chron. 2:19); and Ezekiel’s wife (Ezek. 24:18).

SOURCE: Biblical Illustrator; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; Nashville, TN 37234; Vol. 39, No. 1; Fall 2012.



By Leon Hyatt

Leon Hyatt is pastor of Pineville Grace Baptist Church, Pineville, Louisiana.


HEN GOD  CALLED MOSES to go to Egypt and demand that Pharaoh let the Israelites go free, one of Moses’ fears was that he was not a good speaker.  The Lord told Moses He was going to send his older brother Aaron to help him speak (Ex. 4:14-15).  God kept His promise, and a long but sometimes troubled relationship began between the two brothers.

A Willing Assistant

While Moses was on his way to Egypt, the Lord spoke to Aaron and told him to go into the wilderness to meet Moses.  Aaron gladly accepted the assignment and left immediately.  When they met, Moses told Aaron everything the Lord had told him; and Aaron accepted every word (vv. 27-31).  Back in Egypt, Moses and Aaron assembled Israel’s elders.  Aaron explained what God had said and performed the signs as God had directed (vv. 27-30).  Aaron and Moses next appeared before Pharaoh.  Although the Lord told Moses to use the staff as a sign that He was going to work a miracle or send a plague, Aaron was the one who actually held up the staff (4:1-5; 7:9,10,19).  Afterward, Aaron eagerly stood alongside Moses in almost everything Moses did until Israel arrived at Sinai.

A Weak Leader

At Sinai, Israel agreed to enter into a covenant relationship with the Lord.  Then, Moses went back up on the mountain to receive further instructions from God, leaving Aaron and Hur in charge (24:12-14).  Moses remained on the mountain for 40 days and nights, and the people grew tired of waiting.  They demanded that Aaron make an idol, a physical representation of the God who had brought them out of Egypt.  This action was a blasphemous, syncretistic mixing of Yahwistic with Egyptian religion.  Aaron weakly complied.  He then stood by while the people celebrated with pagan rites around the golden calf (32:1-6).  When Moses returned, Aaron offered the feeble excuse that he had thrown the people’s gold in the fire and the calf had popped out (vv. 23-24).  Moses’ urgent intercession with God brought him the revelation that rebels against God’s covenant can be restored to God through His grace (vv. 31-35; 34:5-10).  In tragic contrast, Aaron’s weakness as a leader had encouraged Israel’s rebellion.1

A Committed Worship Leader

In spite of Aaron’s failure, God told Moses to proceed with plans to construct the tabernacle, where Aaron and his sons were to serve as Israel’s first priests (40:1-16).  After the tabernacle was erected, God gave Moses a series of instructions concerning the offerings the Israelites were to offer on the tabernacle altar.  Then He told Moses to anoint Aaron and his sons to be priests.  Part of the ceremony required Aaron and his sons to remain at the entrance to the tent portion of the tabernacle for seven days, probably for prayer and study in preparation for their holy service (Lev. 8—9).  On the eighth day, they officiated over their first offerings at the altar.  Sadly, tragedy struck immediately.

Aaron’s two sons, Nadab and Abihu, evidently in mistaken enthusiasm over their new authority, put coals and incense on their censers and began to swing them in an unauthorized ceremony before the tabernacle.2  Fire burst forth from the tabernacle and killed them.  Moses commanded that their bodies be taken outside the camp for burial; however, he instructed Aaron and Aaron’s two youngest sons to remain at the tabernacle.  The ceremonies for the offerings over which they were officiating were not yet finished, and they were not to desert those responsibilities even for the funeral of Nadab and Abihu.  They stayed at the tabernacle as instructed and remained true to their duties.3  While the burial was taking place, the Lord spoke directly to Aaron and gave him instructions about his service as a priest (10:8-11).  His speaking directly to Aaron was evidence that Aaron had passed the test of faithfulness and God still intended to use him in the important position of high priest.4

An Able Interpreter of the Law

After Nadab and Abihu were buried, Moses encouraged Aaron to complete the ceremonies of the grain offering and the presentation offering.  Moses discovered though that the ceremonies of the sin offering had been completed already.5  He became upset because they had not been completed exactly according to the instructions God had given.  The meat of a sin offering for the congregation was supposed to be eaten by the priests in the courtyard of the tabernacle, to show they had been restored to God’s service.  Instead, Aaron’s two younger sons had incinerated the meat (vv. 12-18).  Aaron replied to Moses, “Since these things have happened to me, if I had eaten the sin offering today, would it have been acceptable in the Lord’s sight?” (v. 10b, HCSB.)  He meant his heart would not have been in the eating, and the Lord would not have been pleased if he ate the offering in the wrong spirit.  So, he had had his sons substitute a ceremony that was authorized for a sin offering offered by a priest (4:3,11-12).  Moses accepted Aaron’s explanation, and neither Aaron nor his sons were punished.  Aaron’s interpretation revealed two great thrust about the altar offerings—first, the Lord would accept a small deviation from the normal ceremony if the priest has a legitimate reason.  Second, in the Lord’s offerings, the condition of the heart was more important than the performance of the ceremony.6  Aaron’s interpretation was a brilliant warning against dead legalism.

A Jealous Offender

After the Israelites left Sinai, the people fell into the habit of complaining and criticizing Moses.  Sadly, Moses’ sister Miriam and brother Aaron joined in the criticism (Num. 12),7  The specific occasion for their criticism was Moses’ marriage to a Cushite woman.  However, Moses’ marriage was only the occasion.  Their real criticism was because only Moses gave instructions about God to everyone.  They were jealous, because God spoke to them as well.  The Lord called the three before the tabernacle and declared that He spoke to Moses in a distinctly different was.  He spoke to Miriam and Aaron as prophets through visions and dreams, but he spoke to Moses “mouth to mouth,” directly and openly.  God was angry that they questioned the superiority of what He spoke to Moses.  God did speak to them, but what He spoke to Moses was greater.  They were messages that would ultimately become a part of the living truth of the Bible.8  The Lord was describing the difference between the way He revealed Himself to Miriam and Aaron and the way He revealed Himself to Moses—one of those special few who received His perfect inerrant Word.  What a difference that distinction means for us today!

Aaron learned from that experience, because later a Levite named Korah raised a similar complaint against Moses.  This time Aaron stood with Moses, while the earth opened up under the feet of Korah and his followers and they went alive into Sheol (16:1-33).9

An Honored Hero

Near the end of their wilderness journeys, the Israelites came to Mount Hor.  The Lord told Moses and Aaron it was time of Aaron to die (20:22-29).  Moses, Aaron, and Aaron’s oldest living son Eleazar went to the top of the mountain.  Moses took the high priest’s clothes off of Aaron and placed them on Eleazar, signifying that he was assuming Aaron’s responsibilities.  Aaron died on the mountain at the age of 123 (33:37-39).  Afterwards, the Israelites mourned Aaron’s death for 30 days, honoring the life and ministry of a great servant of God.10  Aaron’s life was over.  The exodus and Aaron’s priestly influence, however, would continue.           Bi

1.  Edward Mack, “Aaron” in  The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, gen. ed. Geoffrey W. Bromley (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1979), 1:1.

2.  F. Meyrick, Leviticus in The Pulpit Commentary (PULPIT), ed. H. D. M. Spence and Joseph S. Exell (New York: Funk and Wagnalls, n. d.), 4:149-50.

3.  Ibid., 150.

4.  Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible (New York: Fleming H. Revell, n. d.) 1:482.

5.  In Leviticus 1—7, God gave Israel instructions concerning five types of offerings to be offered on the tabernacle altar on different occasions.  Three of those offerings are mentioned in this passage.  The names of the offerings are translated differently in different English translations.  The translations used in this article are those used by the Holman Christian Standard Bible.

6.  Henry, 1:484.

7.  Aaron’s tendency to weakly follow the leadership of others is shown again in this event, in that Miriam obviously was the instigator and leader of this rebellion.

8.  R. Dennis Cole, Numbers, vol. 3B in The New American Commentary  (Nashville: Broadman and Holman, 2000), 204-205; R. Winterbotham, Numbers in PULPIT, 5:132-33; Henry, 1:615.

9.  Cole, 268-69; C. F. Keil, Commentary on the Old Testament, vol. 1, The Pentateuch, ed. C. F. Keil and F. Delitzsch (Peabod, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1996), 722-25.

10. Mack, 2.

SOURCE: Biblical Illustrator; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; Nashville, Spring 2010.


The Tabernacle  Its History and Use

By Allen Moseley

Allen Moseley is professor of Old Testament and Hebrew, vice president for student services and dean of students at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, Wake Forest,  North Carolina.


HE TABERNACLE was the structure that the Lord designated as the place of worship for His people during the period of the wilderness wandering and beyond.  The chronological placement of the tabernacle is important.  Immediately before the Lord commanded the construction of the ark of the covenant, He gave His people His law.  What were the people to do if they broke God’s law?  God could  have ignored such sin, or He could have regarded transgression of His law as reason to annul His covenant with His people.  The Lord chose a third response.  He outlined a sacrificial system that provided a means of atonement for transgressions of His law and  a location for the implementation of that sacrificial system—the tabernacle.  The Lord wanted to continue to relate to His people even when they sinned.

The Book of Exodus refers to the tabernacle by five names.  First , Exodus calls it a “sanctuary” (25:8; Hebrew, miqdash ), meaning “set apart,” or “holy.”  The tabernacle was set apart for a holy purpose—worshiping the Lord.  Second, Exodus uses the actual term “tabernacle” (26:1; Hebrew, mishkan ), meaning “to dwell” or “to abide.”  This term helped the Israelites to underatsnd the tabernacle as the Lord’s dwelling place in their midst.  Exodus also uses the word “tent” (26:12; Hebrew ohel ), which emphasized the tabernacle’s temporary nature.  The tabernacle was temporary—it was made to be moved from one place to another.  Also, the Lord intended His people to worship at the tabernacle only until they built the temple in Jerusalem.  Fourth, Exodus refers to the tabernacle as the “tent of meeting” (27:21; Hebrew, ohel moed ).  This term typically emphasized the actual structure that was the holy place and the holy of holies, not the entire tabernacle structure.  Here the Lord met with His people, sometimes in majestic fashion (40:34).  Finally, Exodus refers to the tabernacle as the “tabernacle of the testimony” (38:21; Hebrew mishkan eduth ).  The term for “testimony” can also mean ordinance, referring to the location where the tablets God gave Moses were kept.1

Five facts point to the tabernacle’s importance.  First, the description of its construction dominates more space than any other issue in the Book of Exodus (chapters 25-31 and  35-40), and in all the Pentateuch the space devoted to the tabernacle is about 50 chapters.  Second, the tabernacle was the holy location of Israelite worship for almost 500 years.  Third, the tabernacle was the main representation of the Lord’s presence among His people.2 Fourth, the tabernacle’s design and furniture illustrate some major themes of biblical theology and worship, like God’s holiness and the necessity of atonement for sin.  Fifth, the tabernacle was the center of the worship and life of God’s people.  The twelve tribes of Israel encamped with the tabernacle in the center of the camp (Num. 2—3).  This was a physical representation of the spiritual reality that relating properly to the Lord was the focal point of God’s people.

The outer hangings (curtain) of the tabernacle measured 100 by 50 cubits.  A cubit was about one and a half feet.  Therefore, the tabernacle precincts were 150 feet long and 75 feet wide.  The tabernacle proper, or tent of meeting, measured 30 by 10 cubits, or 45 feet by 15 feet.  The tabernacle tent consisted of two sections—the holy place and the holy of holies.  The holy place measured 20 cubits long and 10 cubits wide.  The holy of holies measured 10 cubits square.

As worshipers entered the tabernacle (on the eastern side), the first piece of furniture they encountered was the bronze altar, located in the open space between the entrance to the tabernacle precincts and the entrance to the holy place.3 The bronze altar was a hollow  box made of acacia wood (the Hebrew is the Shittim tree) and overlaid with bronze.  Horns, or protrusions, were on each corner of the bronze altar.  Presumably, priests or worshipers tied animals to horns to secure the animal before killing.  The bronze altar was a place of sacrifice.  The idea of sacrifice is fundamental in biblical theology.  Sin leads to death.  Sacrifices were offered so the sacrificial animals could die in place of  the worshipers.  The final, once-for-all sacrifice was Jesus, when He died on the cross (Heb. 9:11-14).

As worshipers moved from the bronze altar through the open-air court of the tabernacle in the direction of the holy place, they encountered the bronze laver.4 A laver is a basin, or bowl.  It was made of polished bronze.  The bronze, reflecting beneath the water, allowed the priests who washed their hands to observe whether the water was pure.  It would also allow them to see themselves and be reminded of their own need for cleansing.  Priests were to was themselves before they entered the holy place.  This is surely symbolic of the fact that priests were to be cleansed from sin before they were qualified to serve as worship leaders.  Some have suggested that the bronze altar communicates the idea of justification, and the bronze laver was for sanctification.  When one is placed in a right relationship with God, or justified, sanctification is still needed.  Sanctification was illustrated by means of washing at the laver before entering the sanctuary.  The psalmist asked, “Who may ascend into the hill of the Lord?  And who may stand in His holy place?  He who has clean hands and a pure heart? (Ps. 24:3-4, NASB).

As worshipers entered the tent, the golden lampstand was on the left side of the holy place.5 The Hebrew word for “lampstand” is menorah.  The menorah  was solid gold.  It had seven lamps—three on each side and one in the middle.  The stem for each lamp was decorated with three cups shaped like almond blossoms.  The lamps were to be filled with clear olive oil, and were to burn continually.  The holy place had no windows to allow light to enter, so the lampstand provided light.  In the Scriptures, fire and light were evocative of the Lord’s presence and direction (Ex. 3:1-4).

The table of the bread of the presence was on the opposite side of the holy place from the lampstand.6 The table was made of acacia wood overlaid with pure gold.  The priests kept bread on this table continually.  The King James Version refers to the bread as “showbread.”  The word “showbread” translates two Hebrew words that mean “bread of the presence.”  Evidently the bread had this title because it was placed in the presence of the Lord as a meal offering.  Leviticus 24:6 states there were 12 cakes, or loaves of bread, and they were to be set on the table in 2 rows of 6.  Every Sabbath the priests ate the bread and placed fresh bread on the table.  Since bread was to be on the table continually, the priests had a weekly ceremony that ensured bread was always on the table.7 The cakes of bread represented the fellowship that God desired to have with all twelve tribes of Israel.

The final piece of furniture in the holy place was the altar of incense.8 This altar was on the west side of the holy place, against the curtain that divided the holy place from the holy of holies.  The altar of incense was made of acacia wood and overlaid with gold.  The horns on this altar presumably were purely ornamental, since no animals were sacrificed on the altar of incense.  Exodus 30 states that a priest was to burn incense on this altar at least twice a day—at the beginning of the day and at the end of the day (vv. 7-8).  Also, the incense offered on this altar was to be made according to the specifications the Lord provided (vv. 34-38).  The smoke of the burning incense, which was to be continual, seems to have represented the prayers of God’s people (Ps. 141:2; Luke 1:10; Rev. 5:8; 8:3-4).9

The ark of the covenant was the only furniture in the holy of holies.  The ark was called “the ark of the testimony” because the two tablets of the law were inside it (Ex. 25:22).10 The ark was a box that was made of acacia wood and overlaid with gold.  The Lord gave specific details about the construction of the ark that He did not make concerning any other piece of furniture.  First of all, the carrying poles were to remain in the rings of the ark (v. 15).  Second, articles were inside the box—the tablets with the Ten Commandments, and at some point a jar of manna and Aaron’s rod were added (16:33-34; 25:16,21; Num. 17; Deut. 10:2).  The Lord also commanded that the ark was to be decorated with two gold cherubim (Ex. 25:17-21).  Cherubim were angelic beings of some kind, the same kind that guarded the way to the garden of Eden after Adam and Eve were expelled.  A fourth feature of this piece of furniture was that the top, or lid, of this box was called “the mercy seat,” and this was where atonement for sin was made once per year on the Day of Atonement (Ex. 25:17-22; Lev. 16).  A fifth unique feature about the ark was that the Lord connected the ark to His presence.  He said to Moses, “There I will meet with you” (Ex. 25:22, NASB).  This sort of language is used elsewhere specifically with reference to the sacred space near, or over, the mercy seat (30:6,36; Lev. 16:2; Num. 17:4).  The Lord provided no physical representation of His presence.  Instead, His presence was associated with a particular space, not represented by an object.

A final fact about the tabernacle should not be overlooked.  God’s people constructed the tabernacle and all its furniture in obedience to the Lord’s explicit command.  He determined where and how He would be worshiped.  Pagan religions in the ancient Near East devised worship spaces and rituals that were designed to gain the favor of the gods.  However, in the case on the one true God, no person or group has the prerogative to determine how or where He will be worshiped.  He commands, and His people worship Him according to His commands.                                                                                                                                                                                               Bi

1.  Information on the Hebrew terms is from Francis Brown, S. R. Driver, and Charles A. Briggs, The Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon  ( Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1996): (qadash, “be set apart, consecrated”) and (miqdash, “sacred place, sanctuary”), 872-74; (shakan, “settle down, abide, dwell”) and (mishkan, “dwelling-place, ‘tabernacle’”), 1014-1015; (ohel, “tent”), 13-14; (moed, “appointed time, place, meeting”) 417-418; (eduth, “testimony”), 730.  See David M. Levy, The Tabernacle: Shadows of the Messiah (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 2003), 10-11.

2.  For references to the Lord’s presence in association with the tabernacle, see Exodus 25:22; 28:29-30,35,38; 29:23-26,42-43; 40:34-35.

3.  Directions for the construction of the bronze altar are in Exodus 27, and a description of its construction is in chapter 38.

4.  The directions for the laver’s construction are in Exodus 30, and its construction is in chapter 38.

5.  The directions for the lampstand’s construction are in Exodus 30, and its construction is in chapter 38.

6.  Directions for the construction of the table are in Exodus 25-23-30, and the construction is in 37:10-16.

7.  Levy, 46-48.

8.  The directions for the construction of the altar of incense are in Exodus 30:1-10 and the construction is in 37:25-29.

9.  Walter C. Kaiser, Jr., “Exodus” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary,  gen. ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 2 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1990), 472-473.

10. The directions for the construction of the ark are the first directions the Lord gave to Moses concerning the construction of tabernacle furniture (Ex. 25:10-22). The description of its construction is also the first description of construction for any piece of furniture in the tabernacle (37:1-9).

SOURCE: Biblical Illustrator; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; Nashville, TN 37234; Vol. 35, No. 4; Summer 2009.



By Rick Davis

Rick Davis is pastor of First Baptist Church, Midlothian, Texas.


OSES INITIAL FAITH ACT was to deny his Egyptian family and lay claim to his Hebrew parentage (Heb. 11:24).  Moses might have remained in luxury as the adopted son of Pharaoh’s daughter.  Instead the Old Testament deliverer rejected the ones who drew him from the waters of the Nile.  He stood with those whom he would one day lead through the waters of the Red Sea.1

Tribe of Levi

Levi was Jacob’s third son by his first wife, Leah.  Leah hoped that Levi would be the son who would make Jacob give his heart over to her, the least favored wife (Gen. 29:34).

There is no evidence that Jacob ever changed his affection from Rachel to Leah.  Two of Leah’s sons, Simeon and Levi, may have felt this more keenly.  They grew to become men of Wrath and vengeance.  Once they put an entire town to the sword because of an injustice done to their sister, Dinah (Gen. 34:1-27).  Jacob later condemned their wrathfulness.  He insisted that he would scatter them in Israel in order to dilute the effect of their anger (Gen. 49:5-7).

In the incident of the golden calf only the tribe of Levi could stand as fully faithful with Moses (Ex. 32:26).  For this the Levites were given the honor of working in the sanctuary of God.  In the division of the land the tribe of Levi received no land of their own but only some settlements set aside for them.  In this way the prophecy of Jacob about their scattering among Israel was fulfilled (Num. 35:2-8).2

Line of Levi

Levi sired three sons.  Kohath, his second son, became father of Amram, the father of Moses.  As a Levite, Kohath’s descendants were given duties for the care and transport of the wilderness tabernacle (Num. 4:1-4).  The Kohathites had charge over the south side of the sanctuary with special attention given to the ark, table of the show bread, lampstands, altars, sacred vessel, and screen (Num. 3:29-31).  The Kohathites were not to touch the most holy objects of the tabernacle under penalty of death.  At the conquest of Canaan the Kohathites received 13 cities along with pasturage from the tribes of Judah, Simeon, and Benjamin (Josh. 21:4,9-19).

Kohath fathered Amram, the father of Moses, Aaron, and Miriam.  Amram was a Levite married to the daughter of Levi, Jochebed (Ex. 2:1).  Therefore, Amram, father of Moses, was married to his father’s sister.  Jochebed must have been far advanced in age by the time she gave birth to her children. Unlike many leading characters of ancient literature there was no supernatural element to the birth of Moses.  The only unusual element may have been that his mother was beyond what was thought of as customary age of child bearing.3

Regardless, Moses was most definitely of the tribe of Levi.  He came from a line of people to God’s heart but tempestuous, impulsive, and wrathful.  The murder by Moses of the Egyptian overseer did not strain the imagination of anyone who knew his lineage.  His faithfulness to God’s people over Pharaoh’s daughter also matched the loyalty of his tribe to Noses in the golden calf-event.

Moses’ Siblings

Miriam and Aaron were Moses’ two renowned siblings.  Miriam appeared first, in untitled fashion, as the sister who watched Moses as he bobbed safely in the tiny ark his mother prepared (Ex. 2:4).  Aaron came to fame later as the spokesman for Moses before Pharaoh (Ex. 6:20; 7:7).

Miriam led the women of Israel in a dance before the Lord after the triumphant passage between the waters (Ex. 15:20-21).  Miriam rebelled against Moses when he married a Cushite woman.  She asserted herself at that time as an oracle, or spokesperson of the Lord.  This was apparently in error because God rebuked her.  Miriam was stricken with leprosy and was cleansed only after Moses’ intercession and an additional seven-day period of restoration (Num. 12).  Miriam was not mentioned after her restoration until her death and burial at Kadesh (Num. 20:1).  Miriam was remembered as a godly leader (Mic. 6:4) and as an example to Israel regarding cleansing from leprosy (Deut. 24:9).

Aaron served as Moses’ spokesman before God because Moses considered himself a poor speaker (Ex. 7:2).  Aaron was the first high priest.  He led the people of Israel in consort with Moses.  His sons were consecrated with him as priests (Lev. 8).  Aaron withstood various tests of his call (Num. 16–17) and became recognized as one whose priesthood would be a perpetual statute (Ex. 29:9).

Aaron threw down the rod that turned to a snake during the time before Pharaoh (Ex. 7:10-12).  Aaron also held out his staff to trigger the first three plagues on Egypt (Ex. 7:19-20; 8:1-2,5-6,12-13,16-17).  According to tradition, Aaron was a lover of peace.  His participation in the golden-calf incident illustrates his desire to avoid conflict.

Wives and Children

Moses married Zipporah, the daughter of Jethro.  The name Zipporah means “little bird.”  Jethro was a priest of Midian.  The Midianites descended from Midian, the son of Abraham by his second wife, Keturah.  They worshiped Yahweh and practiced circumcision.4

Zipporah presented Moses with two sons.  The first was Gershom, whose name carries the meaning of being a stranger in a foreign land.  The second son was Eliezer, whose name means “God is my helper.”5

Moses also married a Cushite woman (Num. 12:1-16).  Ancient Cush is identified with Ethiopia.  Cush and Midian, the home of Zipporah, had some relationship in ancient times.  Some scholars assume that the Cushite woman was actually Zipporah.  However, that assumption must be made from silence because there is no biblical corroboration that linked Zipporah with the Cushite woman.

Miriam and Aaron took Moses to task about his marriage to the Cushite woman.  If the Cushite and Zipporah were one and the same, it would seem curious that Moses’ siblings waited for so long to express a concern about their brother’s marriage.

The Scripture barely mentions the Cushite woman.  We read about her in Numbers 12.  She disappeared from history thereafter.6  Moses’ position was not transferable to his sons.  His successor was Joshua rather than Eliezer or Gershom. 

1.  Irving Greenberg, The Jewish Way (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1988), 85.

2.  http://encarta.msn.com. Levites. Microsoft Encarta Online Encyclopedia 2000, 1997-2000 Microsoft Corporation.

3.  http://hadassah.org.Moses.

4.  John D. Davis, Davis Dictionary of the Bible (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1966), 839.

5.  Davis, 202,225.

6.  Philip J. Budd, Numbers in Word Biblical Commentary, vol. 5 (Waco, Texas: Word, Incorporated, 1984), 32.

SOURCE: Biblical Illustrator; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; Nashville, TN 37234; Winter 2001-02




(6.413)  What Is The Answer To & Where In The Bible Is This Week’s Trivia Question Found? What NT prophet predicted a worldwide famine? Answer Next Week:

Last week’s question: What nation did God toss His shoes upon?  Answer: Edom—“Over Edom will I cast out my shoe” (Psalm 60:8).