Numbers 12:1-16 Exploring the Passage

Below are some preliminary questions to assist in the study of this passage. For a comprehensive study of the passage, download the Study Guide (PDF download).

1. Why did Miriam and Aaron speak against Moses? Was their criticism justified? See Numbers 12:1 (printed below)

Then Miriam and Aaron began to speak against Moses because of the Cushite woman whom he had married—for he had married a Cushite woman. (Numbers 12:1)

Here in Numbers 12 we find an evil accusation being brought against Moses by his own brother and sister. According to verse 1, Aaron and Miriam spoke against Moses because he had married a Cushite (Ethiopian) woman. They make no charge of immoral conduct against Moses for taking this woman to be his wife—apparently Zipporah had died; no further mention is made of her and she must have been in her eighties as was Moses himself. Miriam and Aaron speak against Moses simply because he has chosen to marry a foreigner—a woman who was not born within the Israelite community.

2. What does Miriam and Aaron’s question in verse 2 (printed below) have to do with their criticism in verse 1 (printed above under question #1?)

They said, Has Jehovah spoken only through Moses? Has he not also spoken through us? And Jehovah heard what they were saying. (Numbers 12:2)

In verse 2 we overhear Miriam and Aaron asking the rhetorical question, “Has Jehovah spoken only through Moses? Has he not also spoken through us?” Indeed, Miriam was a prophetess (Exodus 15:20) and Aaron had received the instruments of divination (Exodus 28:30); but Moses was God’s main representative, the one with whom the Lord spoke face to face. What does Miriam and Aaron’s question in verse 2 have to do with their criticism spoken in verse 1? Apparently, they viewed Moses’ marriage to this Cushite woman as an act of arrogance. Who does Moses think he is? He must think that he has a special relationship to God that permits him to do anything he desires!

3. What are we told about Moses’ character in verse 3 (printed below?) How does Moses handle this criticism from Miriam and Aaron?

Now Moses was a very meek man, meeker than anyone else on the face of the earth. (Numbers 12:3)

We are told that Moses was very meek. What does that mean? What did he do? He kept quiet and trusted the Lord to address the matter. He did not take matters into his own hands; he put them into the Lord’s hands and left them with God.

4. When the Lord summons Moses and Aaron and Miriam to appear before Him, what does He do for Moses (see verses 6-8 printed below?) What happens to Miriam (see verses 10 and 15 printed below?)

He said to them, Listen to my words: When there is a prophet among you, I, Jehovah, will reveal myself to him in a vision, I will speak with him in a dream. (7) But this is not the case with my servant Moses, he is faithful in all my house. (8) With him I will speak face to face, plainly and not in riddles; and he shall see the form of Jehovah. Why then were you not afraid to speak against my servant Moses? (Numbers 12:6-8)

When the cloud was lifted from over the Tent, there stood Miriam—leprous, as white as snow. Aaron looked at Miriam and saw that she had leprosy…(15) So Miriam was confined outside the camp for seven days, and the people did not break camp until Miriam was brought back again. (Numbers 12:10,15)

The Lord suddenly summoned Moses, Aaron and Miriam to appear before Him (verse 4). Moses is exonerated and exalted (verses 5-8); he is called a faithful servant (verse 7). The Lord declares that He will speak with Moses face to face (verse 8). Miriam, the instigator of this slander, is ostracized and put to shame: she is struck with the plague of leprosy that requires that she be removed from the camp. To her shame, the whole congregation must wait seven days for her restoration before they proceed on their journey (verses 9-15).

5. When Aaron witnesses what the Lord has done to Miriam what does he say to Moses (see verses 11-12 printed below?) What does Moses do (see verse 13 printed below?)

Then Aaron said to Moses, O my lord, do not hold against us the sin we have so foolishly committed. (12) Do not let her be like a stillborn infant that comes from his mother’s womb with his flesh half eaten away. (Numbers 12:11-12)

So Moses cried out to Jehovah, O God, I beg you, please heal her. (Numbers 12:13)

When Aaron witnesses the Lord’s indignation and that Miriam has become leprous, he confesses to Moses that they have done foolishly and have sinned (verse 11). In response to Aaron’s confession and his plea for Miriam, Moses intercedes with the Lord on her behalf (verse 13). By so doing, Moses is demonstrating a truly Christ-like spirit, he is willing to forgive those who have treated him wrongfully and seek the Lord’s mercy for them.