God rebukes the murmuring of Aaron and Miriam. (1-9) Miriam struck with leprosy, and healed at the prayer of Moses. (10-16)
Verses 1-9 The patience of Moses was tried in his own family, as well as by the people. The pretence was, that he had married a foreign wife; but probably their pride was hurt, and their envy stirred up, by his superior authority. Opposition from our near relations, and from religious friends, is most painful. But this is to be looked for, and it will be well if in such circumstances we can preserve the gentleness and meekness of Moses. Moses was thus fitted to the work he was called to. God not only cleared Moses, but praised him. Moses had the spirit of prophecy in a way which set him far above all other prophets; yet he that is least in the kingdom of heaven, is greater than he; and our Lord Jesus infinitely excels him, ( Hebrews 3:1 ) . Let Miriam and Aaron consider whom it was they insulted. We have reason to be afraid of saying or doing any thing against the servants of God. And those are presumptuous indeed who are not ( 2 Peter. 2:10 ) God's presence is the surest and saddest token of God's displeasure. Woe to us, if he depart! he never departs, till by sin and folly we drive him from us.
Verses 10-16 The cloud departed, and Miriam became leprous. When God goes, evil comes: expect no good when God departs. Her foul tongue, as Bishop Hall says, was justly punished with a foul face. Aaron, as priest, was judge of the leprosy. He could not pronounce her leprous without trembling, knowing himself to be equally guilty. But if she was thus punished for speaking against Moses, what will become of those who sin against Christ? Aaron, who joined his sister in speaking against Moses, is forced for himself and his sister, to beseech him, and to speak highly of him whom he had so lately blamed. Those who trample upon the saints and servants of God, will one day be glad to make court to them. It is well when rebukes produce confession of sin and repentance. Such offenders, though corrected and disgraced, shall be pardoned. Moses made it appear, that he forgave the injury done him. To this pattern of Moses, and that of our Saviour, who said, "Father, forgive them," we must conform. A reason is given for Miriam's being put out of the camp for seven days; because thus she ought to accept the punishment of her sin. When under the tokens of God's displeasure for sin, it becomes us to take shame to ourselves. This hindered the people's progress in their march forward towards Canaan. Many things oppose us, but nothing so hinders us in the way to heaven, as sin.
Numbers 12:1-9 . MIRIAM'S AND AARON'S SEDITION.
1. an Ethiopian woman--Hebrew, "a Cushite woman"--Arabia was usually called in Scripture the land of Cush, its inhabitants being descendants of that son of Ham accounted generally a vile and contemptible race the part of Miriam and Aaron against Moses was the great change made in the government by the adoption of the seventy rulers [ Numbers 11:16 ]. Their irritating disparagement of his wife (who, in all probability, was Zipporah [ Exodus 2:21 ], and not a second wife he had recently married) arose from jealousy of the relatives, through whose influence the innovation had been first made ( Exodus 18:13-26 ), while they were overlooked or neglected. Miriam is mentioned before Aaron as being the chief instigator and leader of the sedition.
2. Hath the Lord indeed spoken only by Moses? hath he not also spoken by us?--The prophetical name and character was bestowed upon Aaron ( Exodus 4:15 Exodus 4:16 ) and Miriam ( Exodus 15:20 ); and, therefore, they considered the conduct of Moses, in exercising an exclusive authority in this matter, as an encroachment on their rights ( Micah 6:4 ).
3. the man Moses was very meek--( Exodus 14:13 , 21:7 , Exodus 32:12 Exodus 32:13 , Deuteronomy 9:18 ). This observation might have been made to account for Moses taking no notice of their angry reproaches and for God's interposing so speedily for the vindication of His servant's cause. The circumstance of Moses recording an eulogium on a distinguishing excellence of his own character is not without a parallel among the sacred writers, when forced to it by the insolence and contempt of opponents ( 2 Corinthians 11:5 , 2 Corinthians 12:11 2 Corinthians 12:12 ). But it is not improbable that, as this verse appears to be a parenthesis, it may have been inserted as a gloss by Ezra or some later prophet. Others, instead of "very meek," suggest "very afflicted," as the proper rendering.
4. the Lord spake suddenly unto Moses, and unto Aaron, and unto Miriam--The divine interposition was made thus openly and immediately, in order to suppress the sedition and prevent its spreading among the people.
5. the Lord came down in the pillar of the cloud, and stood the door of the tabernacle--without gaining admission, as was the usual privilege of Aaron, though it was denied to all other men and women. This public exclusion was designed to be a token of the divine displeasure.
6, 7. Hear now my words--A difference of degree is here distinctly expressed in the gifts and authority even of divinely commissioned prophets. Moses, having been set over all God's house, (that is, His church and people), was consequently invested with supremacy over Miriam and Aaron also and privileged beyond all others by direct and clear manifestations of the presence and will of God.
8. with him will I speak mouth to mouth--immediately, not by an interpreter, nor by visionary symbols presented to his fancy.
apparently--plainly and surely.
not in dark speeches--parables or similitudes.
the similitude of the Lord shall he behold--not the face or essence of God, who is invisible ( Exodus 33:20 , Colossians 1:15 , John 1:18 ); but some unmistakable evidence of His glorious presence ( Exodus 33:2 , 34:5 ). The latter clause should have been conjoined with the preceding one, thus: "not in dark speeches, and in a figure shall he behold the Lord." The slight change in the punctuation removes all appearance of contradiction to Deuteronomy 4:15 .
Numbers 12:10-16 . MIRIAM'S LEPROSY.
10. the cloud departed from the tabernacle--that is, from the door to resume its permanent position over the mercy seat.
Miriam became leprous--This malady in its most malignant form ( Exodus 4:6 , 2 Kings 5:27 ) as its color, combined with its sudden appearance, proved, was inflicted as a divine judgment; and she was made the victim, either because of her extreme violence or because the leprosy on Aaron would have interrupted or dishonored the holy service.
11-13. On the humble and penitential submission of Aaron, Moses interceded for both the offenders, especially for Miriam, who was restored; not, however, till she had been made, by her exclusion, a public example [ Numbers 12:14 Numbers 12:15 ].
14. her father had but spit in her face, should she not be ashamed seven days?--The Jews, in common with all people in the East, seem to have had an intense abhorrence of spitting, and for a parent to express his displeasure by doing so on the person of one of his children, or even on the ground in his presence, separated that child as unclean from society for seven days.
15. the people journeyed not till Miriam was brought in again--Either not to crush her by a sentence of overwhelming severity or not to expose her, being a prophetess, to popular contempt.
16. pitched in the wilderness of Paran--The station of encampments seems to have been Rithma ( Numbers 33:19 ).