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Bible Commentaries

Joseph Benson's Commentary of the Old and New Testaments
Numbers 12

 

 

Verse 1

Numbers 12:1. And Miriam — Miriam seems to be first named, because she was the first mover of the sedition; wherefore she is more eminently punished. The Ethiopian — Either, 1st, Zipporah, who is here called an Ethiopian, in the Hebrew, a Cushite, because she was a Midianite: the word Cush being generally used in Scripture, not for Ethiopia, properly so called, above Egypt, but for Arabia. If she be meant, probably they did not quarrel with him for marrying her, because that was done long since, but for being swayed by her and her relations, by whom they might think he was persuaded to choose seventy rulers; by which copartnership in government they thought their authority and reputation diminished. And because they durst not accuse God, they charge Moses, his instrument, as the manner of men is. Or, 2d, Some other woman whom he married, either while Zipporah lived, or rather because she was now dead, though that, as many other things, be not recorded. For, as the quarrel seems to have been about marrying a stranger, it is probable it was a flesh occasion about which they contended. And it was lawful for him as well as any other to marry an Ethiopian or Arabian woman, provided she were a sincere proselyte.


Verse 2

Numbers 12:2. By us — Are not we prophets as well as he? So Aaron was made, (Exodus 4:15-16,) and so Miriam is called, Exodus 15:20. And Moses hath debased and mixed the holy seed, which we have not done. Why then should he take all power to himself, and make rulers as he pleaseth, without consulting us? The Lord heard — Observed their words and carriage to Moses.


Verse 3

Numbers 12:3. The man Moses was very meek — This is added as the reason why Moses took no notice of their reproach, and why God did so severely plead his cause. Thus was he fitted for the work he was called to, which required all the meekness he had. And this is often more tried by the unkindness of our friends, than by the malice of our enemies. This meekness of Moses was a great aggravation of the sin or his brother and sister, namely, that they should behave so insolently toward a man of his mild and sweet disposition, who was farthest of all men living from abusing his power, slighting any person beneath him, or harbouring the least malice for personal affronts. Probably this commendation was added, as some other clauses were, by some succeeding prophet. But how was Moses so meek, when we often read of his anger? Not to mention that the law made nothing perfect, (Hebrews 7:19,) it must be observed, true meekness does not exclude every kind of anger, but only such as is sinful. We may and ought to be angry when God is dishonoured, in the sense in which Christ was when he looked round about upon the people with anger, grieved for the hardness of their hearts, Mark 3:5. Displeasure or grief on account of the sin or folly of another, if it be not immoderate, and imply no resentment, is not sinful, but commendable, Ephesians 4:26.


Verse 4-5

Numbers 12:4-5. The Lord spake suddenly — To stifle the beginnings of the sedition, that this example might not spread among the people, the divine voice from the Shechinah interrupts them in the midst of their dispute, commanding Aaron and his sister to come forth from their tents to meet Moses immediately at the door of the tabernacle, which they did accordingly. The Lord stood in the door — While they stood without, Aaron not being admitted into the tabernacle as he used to be, a sign of God’s displeasure.


Verse 6

Numbers 12:6. If there be a prophet among you — If you be prophets, yet know there is a difference among prophets, nor do I put equal honour upon all of them. In a vision — To some the divine will was communicated by strong impressions upon their imaginations when they were awake, but in an ecstasy, as in the case of Abraham, Genesis 15:1; Jacob, Genesis 46:2; and Daniel 8:1-15. Now we never read that Moses was thus entranced in a prophetic vision. He was always awake and quite master of himself when conversing with God, or receiving communications from him. In a dream — To others God revealed his mind by figurative, enigmatical representations, exhibited to them in their sleep; as the ladder which was represented to Jacob in a dream, Genesis 28:12.


Verse 7

Numbers 12:7. My servant Moses is not so — He is a prophet of a higher rank.

To him I impart my mind in a far more noble and clear way. Who is faithful in all my house — God had set him over all Israel, who were his house, his family, or chosen people, and Moses was faithful in the performance of the trust reposed in him, executing all the divine commands, and doing nothing partially or of himself, as he was now falsely accused. In this he was an eminent type of Christ, as the apostle represents him, Hebrews 3:1-6.


Verse 8

Numbers 12:8. Mouth to mouth — In a most familiar manner, distinctly, and by an articulate voice, as one friend discourses with another, or as two friends in conversation hear and answer each other by turns. Moses enjoyed this singular privilege, which was vouchsafed to no other of the prophets, that God spoke to him immediately, and not by an interpreter, nor by shadows, and representations in his fancy, as in visions and dreams, but by a distinct audible voice, and that upon all occasions. Even apparently — Plainly and certainly, so that there was no difficulty to apprehend his meaning. Not in dark speeches — Not in parables, similitudes, dark resemblances; as by showing a boiling pot and an almond-tree to Jeremiah; a basket of summer fruits to Amos; a chariot with wheels, &c., to Ezekiel. The similitude — Not the face or essence of God, which no man can see and live, (Exodus 33:20,) but some singular manifestation of his glorious presence, as that spoken of Exodus 33:11-23. Yea, the Son of God, it seems, appeared to him in a human shape, which he assumed for a time, that he might give Moses a fore-token of his future incarnation. Against my servant Moses — Who is such in so eminent and extraordinary a manner and degree.


Verse 9

Numbers 12:9. He departed — From the door of the tabernacle, in token of his great displeasure; not waiting for their answer. The removal of God’s presence from us is the saddest token of his displeasure. And he never departs till we, by our sin and folly, drive him from us.


Verse 10

Numbers 12:10. From off the tabernacle — Probably not the whole tabernacle, but from that part to which it had come, to that part which was directly over the mercy-seat, where it constantly abode. Or, perhaps, it quite disappeared, or stood at a great distance till Miriam was removed from the tabernacle, and carried out of the camp. Miriam became leprous — The original expresses the fact here recorded with much more spirit and force. The cloud departed — and behold, Miriam became leprous — She, and not Aaron, either because she was chief in the transgression, or because God would not have his worship interrupted or dishonoured, which it must have been if Aaron had been leprous. White — This kind of leprosy was the most virulent and incurable of all. It is true, when the leprosy began in a particular part, and thence spread itself over all the flesh by degrees, and at last made it all white, that was an evidence of the cure of the leprosy, (Leviticus 13:12-13,) but it was otherwise when one was suddenly smitten with this universal whiteness.


Verse 11-12

Numbers 12:11-12. Lay not the sin — Let not the guilt and punishment of this sin rest upon us, upon her in this kind, upon me in any other kind, but pray to God for the pardon and removal of it. As one dead — Because part of her flesh was putrefied and dead, and not to be restored but by the mighty power of God. Like a still-born child, that hath been for some time dead in the womb, which, when it comes forth, is putrefied, and part of it consumed.


Verse 14

Numbers 12:14. If her father had but spit in her face — That is, had expressed some eminent token of indignation and contempt, in consequence of her having provoked him to anger by some undutiful behaviour. See Job 30:10; Isaiah 50:6. Should she not be ashamed seven days — And withdraw herself from her father’s presence, as Jonathan did on a like occlusion? 1 Samuel 20:34. And how much more ought she to be ashamed when she lies under this severe mark of the divine displeasure! So, though God had healed her according to Moses’s request yet he would have her publicly bear the shame of her sin, and be a warning to others to keep them from the same transgression.


Verse 15

Numbers 12:15. Journeyed not — Which was a testimony of respect to her both from God and from the people; God so ordering it, partly lest she should be overwhelmed by such a public rebuke from God, and partly lest, she being a prophetess, the gift of prophecy should come into contempt.

 


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Bibliography Information
Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on Numbers 12:4". Joseph Benson's Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/rbc/numbers-12.html. 1857.

Lectionary Calendar
Saturday, July 20th, 2019
the Week of Proper 10 / Ordinary 15
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