Numbers 12

The Word Made Fresh

1At Hazeroth Miriam and Aaron began to speak out against Moses because he had married a Cushite woman, not an Israelite. 2They said things like, “Does the LORD only speak through Moses? Doesn’t the LORD speak through us as well?” And the LORD heard it. 3Of course, Moses was the most devoted man in the world. 4The LORD then said to Moses, Aaron, and Miriam, “Come out to the meeting tent,” and they did. 5The LORD descended in a cloud bank to the entrance of the tent and called Aaron and Miriam to step forward. 6The LORD said, “Pay attention to what I’m saying. 7When there are holy people among you I reveal myself to them in visions and speak to them in dreams. 8But not with Moses. I trust him with everything. 9I speak with him face to face directly, not in obscure figures of speech, and he can see me as I am. So, why did you dare to speak against him?” 9The LORD was very angry with them and left them.

10When the cloud lifted Miriam was leprous. Her skin had turned completely white. Aaron saw it, 11and said to Moses, “My lord, we made a foolish mistake. Please don’t punish us so! 12She is as pale as a stillborn child coming from its mother’s womb!”

13Moses cried out to the LORD, “Please make her whole again!”

14But the LORD replied, “If her father had spit in her face wouldn’t she be secluded for a week? Put her outside the camp for seven days, and then she can return.”

15So Miriam was confined outside the camp for a week, and the people did not break camp until she was able to return. 15When she was restored to them they left Hazeroth and camped in the desert of Paran.


1-9: This is the third complaint since they left Sinai. The first complaint was by “the people” (11:1). The second complaint came from “the rabble among them” (11:4). This third complaint, however, is from Moses’ own brother and sister, Aaron and Miriam. All three complaints are challenges to Moses’ leadership. In all three instances, God acts to affirm Moses as the leader.

This is the only place that mentions a Cushite wife for Moses. Zipporah, his wife since before he returned to Egypt, was a Midianite woman. Cush was the territory south of Egypt, what today is known as Upper Egypt and Ethiopia. It may be that their opposition to her reflects some feelings against everyone from the continent of Africa whether Egyptian or not. Aaron and Miriam claim that God has spoken through them, too, perhaps referring to the previous chapter when they, along with the 70 elders are given the gift of prophecy (but only temporarily). God summons the three of them to the meeting tent and explains the difference between prophetic speech and the conversations God has with Moses.

12:10-16: When God departs, Miriam is suddenly leprous. Aaron appeals to Moses and Moses appeals to God – so Aaron has backed down now and has acknowledged Moses’ leadership. God insists that Miriam be quarantined for 7 days (see Lev. 13:5), according to the law given earlier. They camp at Hazeroth until Miriam recovers, then move on to the wilderness of Paran, located just north and east of the center of the Sinai peninsula. Having solidified his leadership, in the next chapter Moses will send spies into Canaan to see what they will be facing.


Even the best leaders are challenged. It’s called “politics.” It is more about who wants to be in charge than about who is in charge.