Study Notes

Numbers 12:1-16

12:1-2 Miriam

Remember that Miriam and Aaron are Moses' older sister and brother.

We were introduced to Miriam back in Exodus 2 - she was the one who stood at a distance to find out what would happen to the baby Moses when his mother put him in a wicker basket and set it among the reeds by the bank of the Nile.

Then, in Exodus 15, she is called,

Exod. 15:20 ...Miriam the prophetess...

God had used her Miriam at times to speak His heart to people. We see her also as a worship leader, leading the congregation in praise singing once they were through the Red Sea.


Aaron, too, was being used by God. He had been appointed as Moses' mouthpiece in Egypt, and as the first high priest in the tabernacle. The Lord had spoken to Aaron personally...

Exod. 4:27 Now the LORD said to Aaron, "Go to meet Moses in the wilderness"...

And Aaron had faithfully gone out to the wilderness to find Moses.

But we also see major character flaws in Aaron. As Moses was going up to meet with God on Mt. Sinai, he put Aaron and Hur in charge. When Moses had been gone for over a month, the people came to Aaron and said,

Exod. 32:1 ..."Come, make us a god who will go before us; as for this Moses, the man who brought us up from the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him."

Aaron should have said, "Don't you remember what God spoke to us from the mountain? Don't you remember that He said, 'You shall not make for yourself an idol'?" But instead he...

Exod. 32:2-4 ...said to them, "Tear off the gold rings which are in the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring {them} to me." Then all the people tore off the gold rings which were in their ears, and brought {them} to Aaron. And he took {this} from their hand, and fashioned it with a graving tool, and made it into a molten calf...

Not only did he compromise here, but when he was confronted by Moses,

Exod. 32:22-24 ...Aaron said, "Do not let the anger of my lord burn; you know the people yourself, that they are prone to evil. For they said to me, 'Make a god for us who will go before us; for this Moses, the man who brought us up from the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.' And I said to them, 'Whoever has any gold, let them tear it off.' So they gave {it} to me, and I threw it into the fire, and out came this calf."

Aaron blamed the people and lied about his involvement. You get the impression that he tends to be a bit spineless - following the crowd rather than standing up for righteousness.

Speaking Against Moses

As we come into chapter 12, we encounter an interesting sentence.

Num. 12:1 Then Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses

Notice that Miriam is listed first. The verb "spoke" is also in the feminine form. Finally, when God judges this sin, it is Miriam who is judged. So it would seem that it was Miriam who was doing the speaking against, and Aaron tagging along, agreeing with her, as he seemed to do with everything in his life.

The Cushite Woman

The problem is centering around the fact that Moses had married a Cushite woman. Cush was a grandson of Noah and son of Ham. Of the three sons of Noah, Ham was the one you'd least want to be descended from. Ham, you may remember, was the one who saw his father's nakedness and shamelessly told his two brothers. Ham's descendants included the Ninevites and the Philistines. The family tree included people like Nimrod, Goliath, and Anak. You can certainly see where Miriam's prejudice came from - she probably thought that having a Cushite for a sister-in-law was one of the worst things that could happen in a family!

Has He Not Spoken Through Us As Well?

Miriam didn't like the fact that her younger brother who was leading the nation of Israel wasn't living up to her standards. After all, she was a prophet as well, right? Hadn't God used her to speak His truth? Hadn't she led worship for the congregation?

It is a sad but true statement that many who are used powerfully by God begin to believe that they are above being submitted to spiritual leadership. They start thinking, "Hey, God's used me. Why aren't I in the pulpit? Why am I not the leader here?" But beware - when you get to that point, you are what the Bible calls a wolf. Paul warned the Ephesian elders,

Acts 20:29-30 "I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them.

When you're rebelling against the spiritual authority over you, seeking to build your own kingdom rather than God's kingdom, you're ripe for judgment.

This prideful self-exaltation is of course the sin that the devil fell into. The Lord says to the devil in Ezekiel 28,

Ezek. 28:16 "By the abundance of your trade You were internally filled with violence, And you sinned; Therefore I have cast you as profane From the mountain of God...

What was his trade? It would seem that he was the leader of musical worship in heaven. In Isaiah 14 we read,

Isa. 14:11-14 "Your pomp {and} the music of your harps Have been brought down to Sheol; Maggots are spread out {as your bed} beneath you, And worms are your covering.' How you have fallen from heaven, O star of the morning, son of the dawn! You have been cut down to the earth, You who have weakened the nations! But you said in your heart, I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God, And I will sit on the mount of assembly In the recesses of the north. I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High."

As Lucifer was being used in a ministry, he began to see himself as more than he was. He started to think, "Hey, why should I be directing this worship towards God? I'm beautiful, I'm talented, I'm popular." And that was the beginning of his end.

Miriam is essentially doing the same thing. "I'm a worship leader, I'm a prophetess. I've been used by God. Look at my little brother Moses - he's in sin, he's defiled his ministry. I think I should be the one to have the glory of leading this congregation."

12:3 Moses Was Humble

I love the fact that this is inserted in here - remember, Moses is the one writing this! "By the way, I'm the most humble guy in all the world!"

All kidding aside, I believe that he inserted this to make sure that we knew he wasn't saying, "The Lord has spoken only through me."

As a matter of fact, Moses doesn't even say anything in his defense. He entrusts himself to the Lord. Remember that he had told the people when their backs were to the Red Sea,

Exod. 14:14 "The LORD will fight for you while you keep silent."

Now he practices what he preaches by allowing God to make any defense that might need to be made.

Jesus also showed us this example. After Jesus was arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane, many were giving false testimony against Him,

Mark 14:60-61 ...the high priest stood up {and came} forward and questioned Jesus, saying, "Do You make no answer? What is it that these men are testifying against You?" But He kept silent, and made no answer...

Just as Isaiah had prophesied,

Isa. 53:7 He was oppressed and He was afflicted, Yet He did not open His mouth; Like a lamb that is led to slaughter, And like a sheep that is silent before its shearers, So He did not open His mouth.

This is a lesson that we all need to learn. Ecclesiastes says that there is...

Eccl. 3:7 ...a time to be silent, and a time to speak.

Sometimes we need to speak up. Most of us have a handle on that. But there are many times that it would be best to remain silent. Specifically the times that we are being falsely accused. Let's learn to silently wait on the Lord's deliverance and defense, instead of trying to deliver and defend ourselves. The psalmist wrote,

Ps. 62:1-2 MY soul {waits} in silence for God only; From Him is my salvation. He only is my rock and my salvation, My stronghold; I shall not be greatly shaken.

Moses lived this, and kept silent in the face of this attack from his siblings about his wife.

12:4-8 Moses Is My Man

The Lord calls the three of them to the tent of meeting, then openly rebukes Miriam and Aaron.

God also says that Moses' position is far above any of the prophets. "Yes, I give people visions and dreams - even to you two. But with Moses, I speak openly."

12:9-14 Miriam's judgment

Miriam is judged for speaking against Moses. When God leaves, she is stricken with leprosy. The disease of the walking dead, leprosy would forever keep Miriam out of the tabernacle and the camp. All social and religious aspects of her life would be gone for the rest of her life. This is how seriously God takes the sin of speaking against spiritual authority.

Moses' Intercession

Fortunately for Miriam, Moses was an intercessor - someone who stands in the gap between God and a person, and pleads for mercy. I believe that the biggest reason God called Moses to lead His people was that Moses was a man who interceded in prayer for people. Just last week, we saw in chapter 11, when God sent fiery judgment upon complaining people,

Num. 11:2 The people therefore cried out to Moses, and Moses prayed to the LORD, and the fire died out.

Moses interceded for all the people, and he interceded for his sister.

Miriam's Shame

Even though Moses interceded, God says,

Num. 12:14 ..."If her father had but spit in her face, would she not bear her shame for seven days?.."

What does this mean? Spitting in someone's face was the ultimate in putting shame upon a person. In Deuteronomy, we read of the law that says a man should marry his brother's widow. But if...

Deut. 25:8-9 ...he persists and says, 'I do not desire to take her,' then his brother's wife shall come to him in the sight of the elders, and pull his sandal off his foot and spit in his face; and she shall declare, 'Thus it is done to the man who does not build up his brother's house.'

So, God has placed a terrible shame upon Miriam for her words. She bears her shame for seven days outside the camp.

12:15-16 The People Did Not Move On

But notice too that God waited until Miriam's shame was through before He moved the congregation along. Maybe you're sitting in the penalty box right now for some sin. Maybe you're suffering a time of shame for having rebelled against God's command. Be encouraged that none of us as parents ever gave our children a "time out," and then moved away while they sat on their beds! God loves you so much, and He is waiting for your restoration. You haven't missed out - He will never leave you, nor will He ever forsake you.

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