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Bible Commentaries

The Church Pulpit Commentary

Numbers 12

Verses 1-2


‘And Miriam and Aaron spake against Moses … And the Lord heard it.’

Numbers 12:1-2

We have the ostensible cause of this ‘speaking against Moses’ in the first verse, the real cause in the second. The ostensible cause was ‘the Ethiopian woman whom he had married’—the real cause was jealousy. ‘Hath the Lord, indeed, spoken only by Moses? hath He not also spoken by us?’ Here, you see, the jealousy comes out too palpably. I don’t know a more humbling verse in the Bible—for not one of us can come out unscathed—but if humbling, it is calculated to be deeply instructive.

It is possible that Miriam and Aaron may have been angry at the appointment of ‘the Seventy’ who were chosen to work with Moses, whilst they themselves were not brought into such prominence as they might have expected. Then, when their anger was roused, they looked for something that might excuse it. Moses, as far the history tells us, had done nothing to provoke them. Let us gather from the narrative some lessons.

I. God regards what is done to His people as done to Himself.—We see it not only here, but throughout the teaching of Scripture. We often forget this. When we are giving out our slashing judgments upon some of the Lord’s children who have displeased us, we do not realise that God loves them as He loves His Son, that He is dealing with them as members of Christ, and that He says of them, ‘He that toucheth you, toucheth the apple of Mine eye.’

II. How much apparent zeal for God may be traced to personal feeling!—We may seem to be very jealous for the honour of Christ; to stand nobly forward as champions for the truth; to be very keen in detecting evil, when all the while, because of a selfish motive at the bottom, we are only champions of our own interests or prejudices. While we professedly contend for one thing, we may be really aggrieved by another.

III. The cause that meekness leaves in His hands God takes up.—How much better, if we are the assaulted ones, to let God plead for us, than to try to justify ourselves! There are, of course, times when, in cases of misapprehension, facts may have to be explained; but when, as in this instance—for Moses had nothing to explain—we are merely ‘spoken against,’ let us show out of a good conversation our works with meekness of wisdom, and wait for our God to speak. He is so jealous for His own honour, that we may well trust it in His hands.

IV. How much is implied in the words, ‘The Lord heard it!’—By looking at other passages of Scripture, we see that a very important truth underlies, when it is said, ‘the Lord heard.’ We are sure it does not simply affirm His hearing in the sense of His knowledge of every word spoken on earth by human lips; it has a meaning beyond this; it tells us of the Lord hearing with indignation, and putting it by, as it were, for judgment.


(1)‘O let thy words be calm and kind;

In life so much of evil lies

With power to darken o’er the mind,

And check its gentler sympathies;

That never human lip or heart,

In carelessness should fling the dart,

Which for a moment’s space may rest,

Or rankle in another’s breast.’

(2) ‘I do not suppose any sin is so common in the Church of Christ, or so constantly grieving the Spirit of God, as this thoughtless breaking of the family relationship by an unguarded tongue. If in our earthly homes a brother or sister whom we love dearly fall into sin, we are touched in a very tender part; we do not deny the fault, but we do not proclaim it upon the housetops; we keep it very solemnly, and sacredly, and painfully to ourselves. It is useless to say we love people if we allow ourselves to wound both their honour and their feelings, and when the “speaking” concerns those who belong to the Lord, it implicates His honour, and touches His heart.

If the world alone were chargeable with this sin, we should have little to fear; but the sad thing is that Christians are so addicted to speaking disparagingly of one another.’

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Bibliographical Information
Nisbet, James. "Commentary on Numbers 12". The Church Pulpit Commentary. 1876.