If there be a prophet - We see here the different ways in which God usually made himself known to the prophets, viz., by visions - emblematic appearances, and by dreams, in which the future was announced by dark speeches, בחידת bechidoth, by enigmas or figurative representations, Numbers 12:8. But to Moses God had communicated himself in a different way - he spoke to him face to face, apparently, showing him his glory: not in dark or enigmatical speeches; this could not be admitted in the case in which Moses was engaged, for he was to receive laws by Divine inspiration, the precepts and expressions of which must all be ad captum vulgi, within the reach of the meanest capacity. As Moses, therefore, was chosen of God to be the lawgiver, so was he chosen to see these laws duly enforced for the benefit of the people among whom he presided.
Miriam, as a prophetess (compare Exodus 15:20-21) no less than as the sister of Moses and Aaron, took the first rank among the women of Israel; and Aaron may be regarded as the ecclesiastical head of the whole nation. But instead of being grateful for these high dignities they challenged the special vocation of Moses and the exclusive authority which God had assigned to him. Miriam was the instigator, from the fact that her name stands conspicuously first Numbers 12:1, and that the punishment Numbers 12:10 fell on her alone. She probably considered herself as supplanted, and that too by a foreigner. Aaron was misled this time by the urgency of his sister, as once before Numbers 12:1
The Ethiopian woman whom he had married - (Hebrew, “Cushite,” compare Genesis 2:13; Genesis 10:6) It is likely that Zipporah Exodus 2:21 was dead, and that Miriam in consequence expected to have greater influence than ever with Moses. Her disappointment at his second marriage would consequently be very great.
The marriage of Moses with a woman descended from Ham was not prohibited, so long as she was not of the stock of Canaan (compare Exodus 34:11-16); but it would at any time have been offensive to that intense nationality which characterized the Jews. The Christian fathers note in the successive marriage of Moses with a Midianite and an Ethiopian a foreshadowing of the future extension to the Gentiles of God‘s covenant and its promises (compare Psalm 45:9 ff; Luke 15:29-30.
Hath the Lord - i. e. Is it merely, after all, by Moses that the Lord hath spoken?
The man Moses was very meek - In this and in other passages in which Moses no less unequivocally records his own faults (compare Numbers 20:12 ff; Exodus 4:24 ff; Deuteronomy 1:37), there is the simplicity of one who bare witness of himself, but not to himself (compare Matthew 11:28-29). The words are inserted to explain how it was that Moses took no steps to vindicate himself, and why consequently the Lord so promptly intervened.
Mouth to mouth - i. e. without the intervention of any third person or thing: compare the marginal references.
Even apparently - Moses received the word of God direct from Him and plainly, not through the medium of dream, vision, parable, dark saying, or such like; compare the marginal references.
The similitude of the Lord shall he behold - But, “No man hath seen God at any time,” says John (John 1:18: compare 1 Timothy 6:16, and especially Exodus 33:20 ff). It was not therefore the Beatific Vision, the unveiled essence of the Deity, which Moses saw on the one hand. Nor was it, on the other hand, a mere emblematic representation (as in Ezekiel 1:26 ff, Daniel 7:9), or an Angel sent as a messenger. It was the Deity Himself manifesting Himself so as to be cognizable to mortal eye. The special footing on which Moses stood as regards God is here laid down in detail, because it at once demonstrates that the supremacy of Moses rested on the distinct appointment of God, and also that Miriam in contravening that supremacy had incurred the penalty proper to sins against the theocracy.
As one dead - leprosy was nothing short of a living death, a poisoning of the springs, a corrupting of all the humors, of life; a dissolution little by little of the whole body, so that one limb after another actually decayed and fell away. Compare the notes at Numbers 12:13
Heal her now, O God, I beseech thee - Others render these words: “Oh not so; heal her now, I beseech Thee.”
If her father - i. e. If her earthly parent had treated her with contumely (compare Deuteronomy 25:9) she would feel for a time humiliated, how much more when God has visited her thus?
Notwithstanding the recent murmurings of the Israelites, and the declaration from God that they should die in the wilderness, they did not walk carefully and humbly before him. 4aSG 27.1
The Lord had made the case of Miriam a special example of warning to the Israelites. They had seen exhibited upon her the wrath of God because of her jealousy and complaints against his chosen servant Moses. The Lord then told them that Moses was greater than a prophet, and that he had revealed himself to Moses in a more direct manner than to a prophet. Said the Lord, “With him will I speak mouth to mouth.” He then inquires of them, “Wherefore then were ye not afraid to speak against my servant Moses?” And Miriam became leprous. The instructions given in this instance to Aaron and Miriam were not intended alone for their benefit, but for the good of all the congregation of Israel. 4aSG 27.2Read in context »
A strong wind blowing from the sea now brought flocks of quails, “about a day's journey on this side, and a day's journey on the other side, round about the camp, and about two cubits above the face of the earth.” Numbers 11:31, R.V. All that day and night, and the following day, the people labored in gathering the food miraculously provided. Immense quantities were secured. “He that gathered least gathered ten homers.” All that was not needed for present use was preserved by drying, so that the supply, as promised, was sufficient for a whole month. PP 382.1
God gave the people that which was not for their highest good, because they persisted in desiring it; they would not be satisfied with those things that would prove a benefit to them. Their rebellious desires were gratified, but they were left to suffer the result. They feasted without restraint, and their excesses were speedily punished. “The Lord smote the people with a very great plague.” Large numbers were cut down by burning fevers, while the most guilty among them were smitten as soon as they tasted the food for which they had lusted. PP 382.2
At Hazeroth, the next encampment after leaving Taberah, a still more bitter trial awaited Moses. Aaron and Miriam had occupied a position of high honor and leadership in Israel. Both were endowed with the prophetic gift, and both had been divinely associated with Moses in the deliverance of the Hebrews. “I sent before thee Moses, Aaron, and Miriam” (Micah 6:4), are the words of the Lord by the prophet Micah. Miriam's force of character had been early displayed when as a child she watched beside the Nile the little basket in which was hidden the infant Moses. Her self-control and tact God had made instrumental in preserving the deliverer of His people. Richly endowed with the gifts of poetry and music, Miriam had led the women of Israel in song and dance on the shore of the Red Sea. In the affections of the people and the honor of Heaven she stood second only to Moses and Aaron. But the same evil that first brought discord in heaven sprang up in the heart of this woman of Israel, and she did not fail to find a sympathizer in her dissatisfaction. PP 382.3
In the appointment of the seventy elders Miriam and Aaron had not been consulted, and their jealousy was excited against Moses. At the time of Jethro's visit, while the Israelites were on the way to Sinai, the ready acceptance by Moses of the counsel of his father-in-law had aroused in Aaron and Miriam a fear that his influence with the great leader exceeded theirs. In the organization of the council of elders they felt that their position and authority had been ignored. Miriam and Aaron had never known the weight of care and responsibility which had rested upon Moses; yet because they had been chosen to aid him they regarded themselves as sharing equally with him the burden of leadership, and they regarded the appointment of further assistants as uncalled for. PP 382.4Read in context »
God intended that these great leaders of His people should be representatives of Christ. Aaron bore the names of Israel upon his breast. He communicated to the people the will of God. He entered the most holy place on the Day of Atonement, “not without blood,” as a mediator for all Israel. He came forth from that work to bless the congregation, as Christ will come forth to bless His waiting people when His work of atonement in their behalf shall be ended. It was the exalted character of that sacred office as representative of our great High Priest that made Aaron's sin at Kadesh of so great magnitude. PP 426.1
With deep sorrow Moses removed from Aaron the holy vestments, and placed them upon Eleazar, who thus became his successor by divine appointment. For his sin at Kadesh, Aaron was denied the privilege of officiating as God's high priest in Canaan—of offering the first sacrifice in the goodly land, and thus consecrating the inheritance of Israel. Moses was to continue to bear his burden in leading the people to the very borders of Canaan. He was to come within sight of the Promised Land, but was not to enter it. Had these servants of God, when they stood before the rock at Kadesh, borne unmurmuringly the test there brought upon them, how different would have been their future! A wrong act can never be undone. It may be that the work of a lifetime will not recover what has been lost in a single moment of temptation or even thoughtlessness. PP 426.2
The absence from the camp of the two great leaders, and the fact that they had been accompanied by Eleazar, who, it was well known, was to be Aaron's successor in holy office, awakened a feeling of apprehension, and their return was anxiously awaited. As the people looked about them, upon their vast congregation, they saw that nearly all the adults who left Egypt had perished in the wilderness. All felt a foreboding of evil as they remembered the sentence pronounced against Moses and Aaron. Some were aware of the object of that mysterious journey to the summit of Mount Hor, and their solicitude for their leaders was heightened by bitter memories and self-accusings. PP 426.3Read in context »
After Moses had told the Lord that he was unable to bear the burden of the people alone, and God had directed him to choose seventy of the elders, and he had put the same spirit upon them which was upon Moses, Aaron and Miriam were jealous because they had not been consulted in the matter. They had not felt reconciled to the act of Moses in so readily receiving the counsel of Jethro, his father-in-law. They feared that he had more influence over Moses than they had. And now, seventy elders had been chosen without their being consulted, and as they had never themselves felt the responsibility and burdens which Moses had borne for the people, they did not see any real necessity for the help of the seventy elders. “And they said, Hath the Lord indeed spoken only by Moses? Hath he not spoken also by us? And the Lord heard it.” 4aSG 19.1
Aaron and Miriam thought that as they had been chosen to aid Moses in the work, that they bore the burden of the work as well as Moses. And as the Lord had spoken by them, as well as by Moses, why should he complain of such heavy burdens as to need seventy of the judges and elders appointed to the work of aiding him. Moses felt his weakness. He felt the great work committed to him, as no other man had ever felt. Aaron had shown his weakness by yielding to the people, and making a molten calf in the absence of Moses. God had ever been Moses’ counselor. 4aSG 19.2
As Miriam became jealous of Moses, she was disposed to find fault with the events of his life which God had especially over-ruled. She complained of Moses because he married an Ethiopian woman, instead of taking a wife from among the Hebrews. The wife of Moses was not black, but her complexion was some darker than the Hebrews. She was of a timid disposition, tender-hearted, and was greatly affected to witness suffering. This was the reason that Moses consented to have her return to Midian, while he was in Egypt, that she might not witness the terrific plagues which the Lord was to bring upon Egypt. After she met her husband in the wilderness, she saw that his burdens and anxieties were liable to wear away his strength, and in her distress she acquainted her father with the matter. Jethro had marked that the care of all the people was upon Moses, and therefore he counseled him to look after the religious interest of the Hebrew host, while worthy men, free from covetousness, should be selected to look after the secular concerns of the people. 4aSG 19.3Read in context »