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Bible Commentaries
Numbers 12

The Biblical IllustratorThe Biblical Illustrator

Verses 1-2

Numbers 12:1-2

Miriam and Aaron spake against Moses.

Miriam and Aaron’s sedition

1. The noblest disinterestedness will not preserve us from the shafts of envy. The poet has said, in regard to another virtue, “Be thou as chaste as ice, as pure as snow, thou shalt not escape calumny”; and no matter how unselfish we are, we may lay our account with some envenomed attacks which shall plausibly accuse us of seeking our own things and not the things that are Jesus Christ’s. Nay, the more conspicuous we are for devotion to the public good, we may be only thereby more distinctly marked as a target for the world’s scorn. “I am weary of hearing always of Aristides as the Just,” was the expression of one who plotted for that patriot’s banishment; and if a man’s character be in itself a protest against abounding corruption, he will soon be assailed by some one in the very things in which he is most eminent.

2. This envy of disinterested greatness may show itself in the most unexpected quarters. If Aaron and Miriam were capable of such envy, we may not think that we are immaculate. It asks the minister to examine himself and see whether he has not been guilty of depreciating a brother’s gifts, because he looked upon him as a rival rather than as a fellow-labourer; it bids the merchant search through the recesses of his heart, if haply the terms in which he refers to a neighbour, or the tales he tells of him, be not due to the fact that, either in business or in society, he has been somehow preferred before him; it beseeches the lady, who is engaged in whispering the most ill-natured gossip against another in her circle, to inquire and see whether the animus of her deed be not the avenging of some fancied slight, or the desire to protest against an honour which has been done to the object of what Thackeray has called “her due Christian animosity.” Ah! are we not all in danger here? How well it would be if we repelled all temptations to envy as John silenced those who tried to set him against Jesus; for, as Bishop Hall has said, “That man hath true light who can be content to be a candle before the sun of others.”

3. The utter meanness of the weapons which envy is content to employ. A man’s house is his castle. No personal malice should enter into it with its attack; and no mean report should be received from the eavesdroppers who have first misunderstood and then misrepresented. If a man’s public life has been blamable, then let him be arraigned; but let no Paul Pry interviewer cross his threshold to get hold of family secrets, or descend into the area to hear some hirelings’ moralisings. Even the bees, when put into a glass hive, go to work at the very first to make the glass opaque, for they will not have their secrets made common property; and surely we busy human beings may sometimes be allowed to be by ourselves.

4. The assaults of envy are always best met by a silent appeal to Heaven. Let the victims of unjust assault take comfort, for God will be their defence. But let the envious ones take heed, for God hears their words, and He will one day confront them with His judgment. He may do that long before the day of final assize. He may meet them in His providence, and give them to understand that they who touch His faithful servants are touching the apple of His eye; nay, He may bring such trouble upon them that they will be glad to accept of the intercession of those whom they have maligned. (W. M. Taylor, D. D.)

The sin of Miriam and Aaron: evil speaking, Divine hearing, and saintly silence

The sin of Miriam and Aaron.

1. Its root: jealousy and vaulting ambition.

2. Its occasion.

3. Its expression.

The divine cognisance of their sin. “And the Lord heard.” No one utterance of all the myriads of voices in His universe ever escapes His ear. There is a Divine hearer of every human speech. This is clear from--

1. His omnipresence (Psalms 139:7-12).

2. His infinite intelligence.

3. His interest in His servants.

The commendable conduct of Moses under the provocation of their sin.

1. He was sorely tried (cf. Psalms 55:12-15)


2. He bore his sore trial most nobly.


1. In the conduct of Miriam and Aaron we have a beacon. Let us shun their sin, &c.

2. In the conduct of Moses we have a pattern. Let us imitate his meekness. (W. Jones.)

The modern application of an ancient incident

. The possession of the greatest gifts does not exempt men from the liability to meanness and sin.

The most excellent and eminent servants of god are not exempt from the reproaches of men.

Our greatest trials sometimes arise from the most unlikely quarters.

The lord takes cognisance of the reproaches which are cast upon his servants.

The servants of the Lord do well in bearing patiently the reproaches which are cast upon them. (W. Jones.)

Miriam’s sin


Miriam’s sin.

1. Jealousy.

2. Envy.

3. Evil-speaking. Privately sought to undermine the power of Moses among the people.

4. Folly. Could she have succeeded in destroying the power of Moses, she would have failed in getting them to recognise her as their leader. She did not see that she shone in the borrowed light of her great brother.

5. Rebellion against God. Moses was the servant of God: to resist him was to resist the Master.

6. Vain excuses. “Because,” and because . . . Sinners are often prolific in excuses; called by them reasons.

Miriam’s detection. “And the Lord heard it.” Moses may have heard of it. This seems to be implied By the allusion to his meekness (Numbers 12:3). If the Lord hear, then no sin passes undetected. Moses gave himself no concern about it. Could Miriam meet her brother without shame? The Lord spake suddenly. God pronounced Moses “faithful.” What must Miriam have thought of her faithfulness?

Miriam’s punishment. She was smitten with leprosy, and under circumstances that much heightened the effect of the punishment.

1. It was in the presence of the person she had injured.

2. In the presence of her fellow-conspirators.

3. By the great God, against whose authority she had rebelled.

4. Was excluded from the camp publicly.

5. Humbled, by being cleansed in answer to the prayer of him she had wronged.


1. The great sin of evil-speaking. Especially against ministers of religion, whose influence for good ought to be preserved not only by themselves but by all about them. The character of public men is their strength. Destroy their character, their power is gone. By this loss the public itself is impoverished and injured. Hence such slander is suicidal.

2. God the defender of His servants. The severe punishment--and upon no other than Miriam--shows the Divine abhorrence of the sin.

3. Moses, leaving the exposure and punishment with God, and interceding for Miriam, teaches us how to regard attacks upon our character, and act under them, and towards such unhappy offenders. (J. C. Gray.)

Envy and pride meekly met

. “what sinful principles will prompt a man to do. Here we see the ties of nature disregarded; the bonds of professed fellowship burst asunder; God’s interest disregarded. Pride and envy had entered the heart, and all consequences were unheeded, even though Moses should be brought into contempt before the whole congregation. Let us fear lest such principles should ever get possession of our minds; the first feeling must be mourned over and prayed against.

What divine grace will enable us to bear. If we imbibe the spirit of our Lord and Master we shall offer prayer for those who use us ill. If the approbation of God be ours, though all the world be against us it will do us no harm. It was said of one of the martyrs that he was so like Christ that he could not be roused by injuries to say one word that was revengeful. Oh, if this spirit were universal, what a happy world would this be! See how the grace of God can enable us to return good for evil, and thus feel an indescribable peace and happiness in our own spirit, walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Ghost. The power of man can never impart this meek and quiet spirit; it can alone come from the blessed influence of the Holy Spirit. (George Breay, B. A.)

The great evil of ambition

The true cause of this their murmuring was pride and ambition, self-love, ostentation, and vainglory. Hereby we learn that there cometh no greater plague to the Church of God than by ambition and desire of pre-eminence. The ambition and pride of Amaziah, the priest of Beth-el, would not suffer the prophet Amos in the land of Israel, but he commanded him to fly away into the land of Judah and prophesy there (Amos 7:10; Amos 7:12). We see this apparently afterward (Numbers 16:1-50.) in Korah, Dathan, and Abiram. Neither is this evil dead with these; for this is a great plague of the Church to this day, and very pernicious. Nothing hath more ruined the Church of God, overthrown piety, corrupted religion, hindered the gospel, discouraged the pastors and professors of it, nothing hath more erected the kingdom of anti-Christ than these petty popes, the true successors of Diotrephes, such as desire to be universal bishops and to reign alone. The mischief hereof appeareth by sundry reasons.

1. It causeth a great rent and division in the Church, and disturbeth the peace of it (Numbers 16:1).

2. It setteth up men and putteth down the Lord and His ordinances, urging, compelling, and commanding against the truth (Acts 4:18-19).

3. It proceedeth from very evil roots, and bringeth forth very evil effects, as an evil tree bringeth forth evil fruits. The causes from whence it floweth are Satan, pride, disdain of others, self-love, no love of the truth, no zeal of God’s glory, no desire of the good of the Church.

The effects thereof are trouble, disquietness, fear, flattery, envy, and subtilty. Let us come to the uses.

1. It reproveth those who bear themselves as lords over the flock of Christ.

2. Acknowledge this ambition to be a general corruption, the remainders whereof are in all the servants of God, yea, in all the children of Adam; we have drawn it from him, and thereby it hath leavened and corrupted all mankind. If any man ask what it is, I answer, It is an immoderate desire after dignity, and of dignity upon dignity; it is a thirst that never can be quenched; for as the covetous person hath never enough money, so the ambitious hath never enough honour. It is a secret poison, a hidden plague, the mother of hypocrisy, the father of envy, the fountain of vices, the moth of piety, a blind guide and leader of the hearts of men. The farther we think ourselves from it the nearer commonly it cometh unto us; and therefore let nothing be done through strife and vainglory, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves (Philippians 2:3).

3. Lastly, let all learn to beware of this evil. (W. Attersoll.)

Claiming equality

If the Lord did speak by Miriam and Aaron, what then? The Lord Himself acknowledges that He speaks in different ways to different men. To some--perhaps to most--He comes in vision and in dream; things are heard as if they were spoken beyond the great mountain; they are echoes, wanting in shape and directness, yet capable of interpretations that touch the very centres and springs of life, that make men wonder, that draw men up from flippancy, and write upon vacant faces tokens of reverence and proofs that the inner vision is at the moment entranced by some immeasurable revelation. To other men God speaks “apparently”--that is, in broad and visible figure. He is quite near; it is as if friend were accosting friend, as if two interlocutors were mutually visible and speaking within hand-range of one another. There is nothing superstitious about this; it is the fact of to-day. Take a book of science--what do you find in that rational and philosophical bible? You find certain names put uppermost. Why should not every boy that has caught his first fly, or cut in two his first worm, say, “Hath not the Lord spoken unto me as well as unto Darwin, or Cuvier, or Buffon?--who are they?” But it does so happen that outside the Bible we have the Moses of science--the chief man of letters, the prince of song. Take the history of music, and we find names set by themselves like insulated stars-great planetary names. What would be thought of a person who has just learned the notes of music, saying, “Hath not the Lord spoken unto me as well as unto Beethoven?” He has; but He has not told you so much. There is a difference in kind; there is a difference in quality. We find this same law operating in all directions. There are books that say, “Are not we inspired as well as the Bible?” The answer is, “Certainly you are.” The Lord had spoken to Miriam and to Aaron as certainly as He had spoken to Moses, but with a difference; and it is never for Moses to argue with Miriam. Moses takes no part in this petty controversy. He would have disproved his superior inspiration if he had stooped to this fray of words. So some books seem to say, “Are not we also inspired?” The frank and true answer is, “Yes.” Is not many a sentence in the greatest of dramatists an inspired sentence? The frank, Christian, just answer is, “Yes.” Is not many a discovery in the natural world quite an instance of inspiration? Why hesitate to say, “Yes; but always with a difference”? The Bible takes no part in the controversy about its own inspiration. The Bible lives--comes into the house when it is wanted, goes upstairs to the sick-chamber, follows the lonely sufferer into solitude, and communes with him about the mystery of disappointment, discipline, pain of heart; goes to the grave-side, and speaks about the old soldier just laid to rest, the little child just exhaled like a dewdrop by the morning sun. It lives because no hand can slay it; it stands back, or comes forward, according to the necessity of the case, because of a dignity that can wait, because of an energy that is ready to advance. Some books claim to be as inspired as the Bible. Then they become leprous, and all history has shown that they are put out of the camp. Many books have arisen to put down the Bible; they have had their day: they have ceased to be. We must judge by facts and realities. When a man who has no claim to the dignity asserts that he is upon an equality with the great musician, the great musician takes no part in the fray; when the competitor has played his little trick, one touch of the fingers regulated by the hand Divine will settle the controversy. By this token we stand or fall with our Christianity, with our great gospel. (J. Parker, D. D.)

Hatred between brothers and sisters

What were Aaron and Miriam to Moses? Even his own brother and sister. And cannot such agree? Will there be jars and grudgings in such? Would God it were not too true. Nay, such is our corruption, if the Lord lead us not with His loving Spirit, that not only we disagree being brothers and sisters, but with a far more bitter and implacable wrath than others that are farther off. What a venom was in Cain to his brother Abel when nothing but blood would appease it? What was in Esau’s heart towards his brother Jacob? Oh, what venom is this that lurketh in our nature if God leaves us to ourselves! May we not justly marvel at some men, otherwise of great wisdom and judgment, that dare break out unto the praise of these perturbations as virtues and badges of noble minds? For what is this but as if a man would praise the diseases of the body and the nettles and weeds and hurtful plants of the earth. Should not he be accounted mad that would set his own house on fire? And I pray you what be that will cast fire into his own heart to set it on a flame? Saint Augustine was wont to say, “Look how vinegar put into a vessel thereby is made sour and corrupted”; so is the malicious person by his own anger made filthy and most distasteful to all good men. And if thus among strangers, oh, what among brothers and sisters! Wherefore what council is given to refrain all anger, venom, and hatred, let it in particular be applied to bridle all rage or dislike among such near ones as now we speak of. (Bp. Babington.)

Verse 3

Numbers 12:3

The man Moses was very meek.

The grace of meekness

How beautiful a grace is meekness! It may be somewhat difficult to define; but whenever we see we cannot fail to know and to feel its gentle and winning power. It is a grace that implies so very much in the heart. It is the beautiful result of many other graces; whilst its place in the beatitudes shows that it is the root on which others grow. Meekness is quite consistent with power and authority; for Moses had great power and authority in Israel, and yet, altogether unspoilt by it, he was the meekest of men. But we may look to another example, far greater than Moses, who said, “All power is given to Me in heaven arid on earth”; and yet added, “I am meek and lowly in heart.” It is in such lofty places that meekness is the most beautiful, because it then can, and does, stoop very low. But though this grace is evidently consistent with any power and authority, however exalted, it is altogether inconsistent with the love of power and with the love of authority. Meekness can only grow upon the ruins of selfishness in all its forms, whether it be selfishness towards God--that is, unbelief--or whether it be selfishness towards man, either in its form of pride, love of our own way, love of ease, love of money. But we may trace another feature in meekness from the example of Moses, and learn that this grace is not the attribute of a weak character, but the ornament of a firm and comprehensive spirit. Indeed, we seldom find real meekness in vacillating characters; for such yield when they ought not to yield, and then, rebuked by conscience for yielding, they become angry. Meekness will more often be found in the resolute character when it is sanctified by the Spirit of God, and obstinacy is purged out. Moses was a beautiful example of extraordinary strength of character. His one will was stronger than the united wills of all Israel. And yet amongst them all there was not one to be found so meek as he; and the reason was, because his will rested on the will of God. It was an unselfish will, and therefore it was that its uncommon power did not exclude meekness. We all need this grace in every relationship of life. As parents, for meekness should be the border and fringe of every act of authority; as mistresses, for in the carlessness and want of conscientiousness of servants your spirit may be tried nearly every day; as Christians, for St. Peter exhorts us (1 Peter 3:15) to “be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear”; as teachers, for St. Paul says (2 Timothy 2:24-25). In these days of collision between system and system, and of sad confusion of views of Divine truth, we specially seem to need the spirit of meekness. For it is not rude attacks upon error, but truth spoken in meekness and love that avails and has most power. Meekness should be the handmaid of zeal. All of us must feel, if we have only made the experiment, how difficult of attainment is this grace; and yet there is great encouragement to seek it. It appears in the cluster of graces described as the “fruit of the Spirit.” It is the last but one, perhaps to show us the height at which it grows. There is a beautiful promise of guidance to the meek “The meek will He guide in judgment: and the meek will He teach His way” (Psalms 25:9); and in Psalms 149:4 is a larger promise still--“He will beautify the meek with salvation.” And then we cannot forget the beatitude uttered by the lips of Him whose meekness never failed--“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth!” (G. Wagner.)

Moses the meek

Who records this? The popular answer is, Moses. He is the reputed author of the Pentateuch. Moses tells us, therefore, that Moses was the meekest of men. But if so, what becomes of his humility? Some meet the difficulty by reminding us that the verse is a parenthesis. It is enclosed in brackets. Perhaps it was added afterwards by another hand. This, of course, is possible. At the same time it is a desperate mode of dealing with the case. Supposing that Moses did indite it, what then? It is not necessarily a display of vanity. There are two kinds of egotism--the false and the true. If a man refers to himself simply as a historian, and merely because the circumstances of the case call for it, that is quite a lawful, righteous egotism. If, on the contrary, he does it out of conceit, he thereby manifests “vain glory,” and merits our scorn. A consciousness of integrity will sometimes impel its possessor to assert it, especially when it is misunderstood and persecuted. The uprightness of Job led him to exclaim, “When I am tried I shall come forth as gold.” “The man Moses was very meek.” But was he always such? Are we to regard his meekness as constitutional? There appear to be solid reasons for thinking that Israel’s distinguished lawgiver was originally impulsive and even passionate! At first, he was anything but slow to anger. And, as we read the narrative of his life, we mark the old disposition ever and anon asserting itself. Just as you sometimes see, in the midst of green pastures and yellow corn, patches of rock, fern, and heather, reminding you of the pristine state of the ground, so now and then the hasty spirit of Moses got the better of him. These were lingering and occasional outbreaks on the part of what the apostle would call “the old man.” They were exceptional. So faithfully had he watched against his besetting sin, so prayerfully had he exercised vigorous self-control, that the naturally irritable man became “very meek above all the men who were on the face of the earth.” As a certain author admirably writes: “A traveller, giving an account of an ancient volcano, tells of a verdurous cup-like hollow on the mountain summit, and, where the fierce heat once had burned, a clear, still pool of water, looking up like an eye to heaven above. It is an apt parable of Moses. Naturally and originally volcanic, capable of profound passion and daring, he is new-made by grace till he stands out in calm grandeur of character with all the gentleness of Christ adorning him. The case of Moses is representative. It does not stand alone in grand isolation. That our weakest point may become our strongest is one of the most obvious and inspiring teachings of the Bible. Peter Thomas, a physiognomist, closely scanning the face of Socrates, pronounced him to be a bad man. He even went so far as to specify his vices and faults. “Proud, crabbed, lustful,” were the charges brought against him. The Athenians laughed this to scorn. Everybody knew its falsity. The distinguished sage was the exact opposite of the description. To their amazement, however, Socrates hushed them, and declared that no calumny had been uttered. “What he has said,” be remarked, “accurately describes my nature, but by philosophy I have controlled anti conquered it.” Let us be of good cheer. Philosophy is good, but we have something better--“the grace of God which bringeth salvation.” Let us but make it our own, and we shall joyfully experience its victories. (T. R. Stevenson.)


What is meekness? It is not the repudiation of self-defence. Everything that is made has a right to exist, or God would not have matte it; and, if any other creature trespasses on this its birth-charter, it is justified in defending itself. Neither is meekness a mental incapacity to discern insults and injuries. A man who cannot do that is not meek but stupid. Nor is meekness a natural mildness which is incapable of being provoked. There are people of such a temper--or, rather, non-temper. It is no credit to them. We may call such people soft; but it would be a misnomer to call them meek. In fact, unless they can be stirred up, they are incapable of meekness; for the more natural fierceness a man has the more capable he is of meekness, and he upon whom anybody that comes along may make his scratch is anything but a meek person. Neither are they meek who are restrained from exhibiting resentment by fear or self-interest. They are cowards. All these are negative qualities. And it is impossible that meekness should belong to this tribe; for it must be immensely positive and tremendously energetic since it is to subjugate the earth and inherit it. The first element in meekness is docility--a willingness to learn, a readiness to go through the drudgery and labour connected with learning, a disposition to suppress the impatience which prevents us from learning. The second element is self-restraint, both toward God and toward man. The tendency of trouble is to irritate, to render the soul peevish, angry, morose, rebellious. But the meek soul has learned in the school of Christ. It accepts the truth that “all things work together for good to them that love God”; and, therefore, disciplines itself to patience under trial. Meekness educates man up to a Godlike standard. It stores up strength in the soul--a strength that shall prove available in the emergencies of life. The meek men are the men of might. They have broad shoulders and strong backs, or they could not carry this load of other men’s ignorance, infirmity, and sin; and it is meekness that squares their shoulders, toughens their tendons, and develops their muscles. The meek men are, if the exigency arises, the most terrible of the earth. There are bounds to the exercise of meekness. Paul indicates this when he says: “What will ye? Shall I come unto you with a rod, or in love?” When the meek man does take the rod, he lays it on until the work is thoroughly done. (H. M. Scudder, D. D.)

Verses 5-10

Numbers 12:5-10

The Lord came down.

God’s vindication of Moses

There are several circumstances of the Lord’s proceedings laid down in the text.

1. As, first, His speed. By and by the Lord called them; so showing us how fitting a thing, yea, how pleasing to Him, convenient expedition is in justice, and how displeasing, needless, and sinister delays. It showeth also what a tender feeling God hath of the wrongs of His children, not only of some, but by name of magistrates’ and governors’ wrongs, when they are spoken against without cause. Surely He so feeleth it, that even by and by He will undertake the righting of them, and cannot hold from punishing such offenders as so lightly regard His holy ordinance. We think that unless we keep ado in our own causes it is not well (and I condemn not all care this way), but certainly none have been sooner and better righted than such as patiently have endured a time and committed things to the justice of God.

2. He calleth the two offenders by themselves, leaving Moses to hear and see for his comfort the Lord’s care for him. And this also is a great point of justice, to call persons that have done amiss, not carrying matters in secret and condemning without hearing.

3. He speaketh to them and biddeth them hear His words as He had heard theirs. Which likewise showeth that true justice chargeth men, and doth not hoard up in heart what cutteth off love and liking; giving good words outwardly, and yet inwardly thinking most evil things. Oh, let us hear your words if you have conceived any offence, and then will either confession or true purgation give satisfaction? The contrary course may have policy in it, but who shall justify it for piety, charity, or any virtue?

4. In His words He setteth down the difference of prophets, showing that all have not alike measure vouchsafed of Him, and therefore may not argue, I am a prophet as well as he; ergo, as good as he. Such kind of reasonings have in all times disquieted the Church and peace of the godly. The differences which God layeth down you see in the text. To some by vision; to some by dream; to some in darker words, to some in plainer; but to Moses mouth to mouth; that is in a more excellent measure of grace, and familiar favour than ever to any. Therefore, although the Lord had also spoken by them; yet forasmuch as it was not in that degree as to Moses, they should not have compared themselves with him, but yielded him a reverence above themselves. Yea, how were ye not afraid, saith the Lord, to speak against My servant Moses, even against Moses? So showing that imparity of grace and gifts from the Lord should work ever an imparity of honour and regard by all that will walk rightly, though in some other respect there may be a parity. (Bp. Babington.)

Verses 10-16

Numbers 12:10-16

Miriam became leprous.

The punishment of Miriam and Aaron

The divine judgment because of the sin of Miriam and Aaron.

1. The punishment was inflicted by the Lord.

2. The punishment was appropriate to the sin.

3. The punishment fell most severely upon Miriam.

(1) She was the instigator of the sin.

(2) Aaron’s office of high priest also probably helped to shield him.

Had he been smitten with leprosy he would have been disgraced in the eyes of the people, and his holy office would probably have been brought into disesteem amongst them.

(3) Yet Aaron was not altogether exempted from punishment.

As priest he had to examine Miriam and pronounce her leprous. Again he had to examine her and pronounce her clean before she was readmitted to the camp. That he deeply realised his painful position is evident from the narrative (Numbers 12:10-12). Let us remember that there is judgment with God.

The divine judgment leading to personal humiliation.

1. Humble acknowledgment to Moses.

2. Confession of sin.

3. Entreaty for the removal of the judgment from Miriam.

The remarkable acknowledgment of the eminence of Moses the servant of the lord.

1. In the manner in which he was addressed by Aaron.

2. In the appeal which was made to him by Aaron. This appeal implies on the part of Aaron--

(1) Faith in the magnanimity of Moses--that he would not retaliate upon them for their attack upon him; that he was forgiving and generous.

(2) Faith in the influence which Moses had with God.

The distinguished magnanimity and grace of Moses. “And Moses cried unto the Lord, saying, Heal her now, O God, I beseech Thee.” There was no resentment in his heart, but fullest forgiveness and sincerest pity. His prayer for Miriam is an anticipation of the precept of our Lord, “Pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you” (Matthew 5:44).

The great power of the intercession of good men.

The justice and mercy of god as manifested in his treatment of Miriam.

The sin of one person checking the progress of an entire nation. (W. Jones.)

Miriam smitten with leprosy: transfiguration through transgression

. This transfiguration was brought to pass on account of the jealousy of Miriam of Moses, and the jealousy of god for Moses.

The transformation was in keeping with the expressed jealousy of God and of Miriam (W. Jones.)

The punishment of wrong doers

. That both God and man express their displeasure towards wrong doers on this earth.

1. God, in many ways.

(1) Providential afflictions.

(2) Moral remorses.

2. Man, also, in many ways.

(1) Sometimes in his personal, capacity, by denunciatory language and physical chastisement.

(2) Sometimes in his corporate capacity, as a member of the State, by pains and penalties.

That the wrong-doers are generally far more affected by the expression of man’s displeasure than with that of God’s.

1. Most irrational.

2. Most impious.

3. Most perilous. (Homilist.)

The leprosy of Miriam

1. We should humbly submit to the will of Heaven.

2. We should remember that in the distribution of gifts, what is best for one may be destruction for another.

3. To covet the gift of a neighbour is a wrong to him and an offence to God.

4. Each man’s duty is to develop the gift that is in him. (Homiletic Monthly.)

Miriam and Moses

Was this weakness, as some would say? Nay, verily, it was the exhibition of colossal spiritual strength. It is the weak man who gives blow for blow, who blurts out his wrath, who cannot control the passion of his spirit. It may be well to give some closing rules as to the attainment of this meek and quiet spirit, which in sight of God is of great price.

1. Let us claim the meekness of Christ. This, of course, was not possible for Moses in the direct way in which it is for us. And yet there was no doubt in his case also a constant appeal for heavenly grace. And in moments of provocation there is nothing better than to turn to Him and claim His calm, His sweet silence, His patience and meekness, saying, “I claim all these, my Lord, for the bitter need of my spirit.”

2. It is acquired, next, by cultivating the habit of silence. Express a thought, and you give it strength; repress it, and it will wither and die. You will often hear it said that the best way of getting rid of an importunate passion is to let it out and have done with it. It is, however, a very mistaken policy. Silence will kill it as ice kills fish when there are no ventholes by which they can come up to breathe. Learn to be still, to keep the door of the lips closed.

3. Next, by considering the harm done by the aggressors to themselves. The cloud removed from over the tent, as if it must leave the very spot where the culprits stood; and behold, Miriam was leprous, white as snow. There is a profound piece of instruction here; you cannot say unkind or bitter things about another without hurting yourself more than you hurt him. Like the boomerang of the savage, curses come back to the spot from which they start.

4. In allowing God to vindicate our cause. Moses let God vindicate him, and the Almighty God rode upon a cherub and did fly, and flew on the wings of the wind. This is the secret of rest, to cultivate the habit of handing all over to God, as Hezekiah did, when he spread out Sennacherib’s letter in the house of the Lord. Commit yourself to Him that judgeth righteously.

5. Also in intercessory prayer. Moses cried unto the Lord, saying, “Heal her, O God, I beseech Thee.” When we pray for those who have despitefully used and persecuted us, it is marvellous how soon the soul gets calm and tender. And the Lord heard His servant’s prayer, and healed Miriam; but the whole host was delayed a week through her sin. We may be forgiven, but these outbreaks of sin always entail disaster and delay. Neither we nor others can be where we might have been had they not occurred. (F. B. Meyer, B. A.)

Miriam’s punishment humiliating

The punishment was as humiliating as it was public. Her tongue, so free upon her brother’s conduct, is mute enough now, except to cry if any approached her, “Unclean! Unclean!” She who aspired to be Queen of Israel is cast forth as an unclean thing from the camp. When the dreadful punishment was finished, she came back to the camp humbled, and no doubt strengthened in her soul by the correction she had received. (S. Robinson, D. D.)

Shame for the envious

The lesson here has a very close application to all who engage as the Lord’s instruments and agents in the work of building up Christ’s kingdom. When those so engaged forget the nature of their calling, and fall into contentions and bickerings about their relative position as agents for Jehovah, the result must in the end be shame and humiliation for the envious and jealous, and damage to the cause of Christ, about which He will surely make inquisition. How much of the strifes and bickering between Christians of the same Church, and between different sects comes not from earnestly contending for the faith, but from the narrow jealousies and envyings wholly personal with those who indulge them! How often is it simply the Miriams and Aarons giving way to their petty jealousy under cover of scruples of conscience! (S. Robinson, D. D.)

Such as have the chief hand in sin, are principally subject to punishment

Aaron was accessory to this mutiny against Moses, but Miriam was chief in the sin, and therefore is also chief in the punishment. Simeon and Levi were not the only murderers of the Sichemites and invaders of the city, but they were the chief ringleaders, and therefore are only named (Genesis 34:25), and punished (Genesis 49:5). Whosoever practiseth any evil, whether he be principal or accessory, is guilty in the sight of God, and therefore such as are ministers of other men’s evils are oftentimes punished, whether they be reasonable or unreasonable creatures (Genesis 3:14; Leviticus 20:15; Exodus 21:28-29; Exodus 21:32; Joshua 6:17; Isaiah 30:22). As God is just, so He punisheth the instruments of injustice. Notwithstanding, though the instruments do offend and not escape, the chief punishment is ever reserved for the chief offender.

1. For such as are chief in government ought to stay their inferiors from evil, as the head governeth the members. Eli is charged with the wickedness of his sons (1 Samuel 3:13). Such governors make themselves the tail and not the head, whereas they should order those of their house as the soul ruleth the body.

2. God will require the blood of those that perish at the hands of the governors; the magistrate is the watchman of the commonwealth; the minister is the watchman of the Church; the householder is the watchman of the family; all set as it were in their watch-tower, and all must give an account for such as are under them.

3. The sin of those that have the chiefest hand in it is greater than of others, so it deserveth the greater punishment; forasmuch as the sin and punishment shall be suitable one to the other.


1. It belongeth to all, especially to such as are superiors, to consider this; they think themselves absolute, and that they ought of right to command what they list to their inferiors. But as they are superior in place, so they shall also be superior in punishment, if they command anything against God and His Word.

2. It is the duty of all householders to be careful to order their families aright, and to compel them to serve the Lord.

3. Lastly, there cometh a great blessing upon their heads that are the chief in any good work, that encourage others in the ways of godliness, for they shall have a principal reward. Happy and blessed therefore are they that govern their charges as becometh them (Genesis 18:18). This is a notable commendation of Abraham, he was chief, and one that went before the rest in good things, and therefore he should chiefly be rewarded. This should stir us up, not only to do good, but to be chief in doing good, to go before others, to lead them the way, that so we may have the greater and better reward in that great day, (W. Attersoll.)

Miriam’s degradation

A striking spectacle was once Witnessed in the Four Courts of St. Louis. A young man was under arrest for some crime. Before being committed to prison, he was taken to the photographer’s rooms, and his picture taken to be sent to the various cities keeping “rogues’ galleries,” to be hung up on the walls with the faces of other criminals kept there. The description of the feeling manifested by the young man on this occasion is both touching and suggestive. “Big tears formed in his eyes and fell down on his cheeks. He dropped his head on his breast and cried. He was so overcome with emotion that he could not speak until he was again placed in his cell in the gaol. After swallowing great lumps in his throat, he said he now felt he had dropped from the role of a gentleman to that of the lowest criminal; and the thought of his picture being placed in the rogues’ gallery was more than he could bear.” How dreadful to be classed with the workers of iniquity, and to become the spectacle before man and angels of one who rejected light and truth, and basely sinned against a great and gracious God. (S. S. Chronicle.)

Heal her now, O God, I beseech Thee.

The prayer of Moses for Miriam

. The prayer.

1. Explicit. Nothing vague.

2. Earnest.

3. Generous.

4. Well-timed.

The answer.

1. Most gracious.

2. Most wise.

3. Most speedy. (R. A. Griffin.)

Moses’ generosity

Miriam would have wounded Moses with her tongue; Moses would heal her with his: “O Lord, heal her now.” The wrong is the greater, because his sister did it. He doth not say, I sought not her shame, she sought mine; if God have revenged it, I have no reason to look on her as a sister, who looked on me as an adversary; but, as if her leprosy were his, he cries out for her cure. Oh, admirable meekness of Moses! His people, the Jews rebelled against him; God proffers revenge; he would rather die than they should perish. His sister rebelled against him; God worlds his revenge; he will not give God peace till she be re-cured. Behold a worthy and noble pattern for us to follow! (Bp. Hall.)


Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Numbers 12". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/tbi/numbers-12.html. 1905-1909. New York.
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