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Sunday, July 14th, 2024
the Week of Proper 10 / Ordinary 15
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Bible Commentaries
Numbers 12

Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New TestamentsSutcliffe's Commentary

Verses 1-16

Numbers 12:1 . The Ethiopian woman; that is, the Cushite, the daughter of Jethro. Miriam and Aaron seem to have been offended because Moses had honourably received her as his wife. But Josephus affirms, that while Moses enjoyed the confidence of Pharaoh, he had carried his victorious arms into Ethiopia, and married a princess of that nation. There is however little probability that this was the woman. Some rabbins have contended, that this woman was called Tharba. If so, she must have lived in Egypt till the emancipation, and could not now be less than seventy years of age.

Numbers 12:3 . Now the man. Moses, obliged here to speak in his own praise, does it in the third person, as St. John, who says, “that disciple whom Jesus loved.”

Numbers 12:8 . With him will I speak mouth to mouth. See on Exodus 33:11; Exodus 33:23.


Life is a chequered scene, and deeply shaded with troubles and afflictions. Moses had just seen the murmurers burnt in Tuberah; and had scarcely buried those, who preferring Egypt to Canaan, lusted for flesh in Kibroth- hataavah, before Miriam bitterly disturbed his private and public repose. Previous to the arrival of Zipporah she had reigned as princess of her brother’s pavilion. Now she was relieved of her charge. What a pity that religious people, and especially public characters should not have grace to bear privations with resignation, and in particular, when no real injury is done to the party.

Mark the means which this woman adopted to obtain revenge. She endeavoured to degrade her brother as a man, in marrying with a Cushite; she endeavoured to degrade him as a prophet, by equalling other inspired persons to him; and what is worse, she engaged Aaron in her faction, and would have made no scruple to engage all Israel in the design to ruin her brother, and illustrious benefactor. A strange temper of mind for a woman in the hundredth year of her age: and a woman too, who had maintained a high religious character! Let this be instructive to families who may happen to have disputes. Let brothers and sisters, if they choose, contend for their rights; explain with independence of character; but let them never, in a moment of anger, injure and degrade one another before the public, nor expose one another’s secrets. Let them pray for grace so to conduct themselves with decency and temper, that when the subject of dispute is removed, they may be brothers and sisters still, and united by all their former good affections.

Moses was a meek man; he took no malignant notice of his sister’s conduct, nor did her the slightest harm; but wholly left his cause with God. Some warm men, when slandered, make their opponents pay dear for it on the ground of retaliation. But others, like Moses, suffer their opponents to wear off their tinsel till the base alloy appears, and till their own tarnished worth recovers its lustre by the polish. The latter do honour to religion, and carry christian virtues to the highest perfection.

Good and quiet men, labouring under calumny and reproach, need not be solicitous about the issue, for God will undertake their defence. He here summoned the parties to the door of the tabernacle, the usual place of judgment in higher cases. Miriam had degraded her brother as an offender; and God acquits him of blame, or rather applauds his conduct; for he returned to Jethro’s family nothing but kindness for kindness. She had levelled him with the lowest of prophets, and God exalted him above them all, not only in regard to the frequency of his revelations, but in regard to the superior manner in which they were conveyed. And before he dismissed her from his bar, he smote her with leprosy, and expelled her from the camp, to convince her of the leprosy of envy she had suffered to corrode her heart. Surely the slandering tongue will tremble at the sentence which awaits it from the God of truth. Happy if the sinner shall find in the offended, a Moses to pray that God would forgive and heal the sinner.

The whole camp of Israel stopped and waited while Miriam was shut out. Yes, and so it is still. Envy, jealous feuds and quarrels, obstruct our progress to the better Canaan: and what is worse, they sometimes turn the weak entirely out of the way. Let us in honour prefer one another. Let us live in peace and love; and the God of peace and love will be with us.

Bibliographical Information
Sutcliffe, Joseph. "Commentary on Numbers 12". Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jsc/numbers-12.html. 1835.
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