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Aaron and Miriam Jealous of Moses


While they were at Hazeroth, Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses because of the Cushite woman whom he had married (for he had indeed married a Cushite woman); 2and they said, “Has the L ord spoken only through Moses? Has he not spoken through us also?” And the L ord heard it. 3Now the man Moses was very humble, more so than anyone else on the face of the earth. 4Suddenly the L ord said to Moses, Aaron, and Miriam, “Come out, you three, to the tent of meeting.” So the three of them came out. 5Then the L ord came down in a pillar of cloud, and stood at the entrance of the tent, and called Aaron and Miriam; and they both came forward. 6And he said, “Hear my words:

When there are prophets among you,

I the L ord make myself known to them in visions;

I speak to them in dreams.


Not so with my servant Moses;

he is entrusted with all my house.


With him I speak face to face— clearly, not in riddles;

and he beholds the form of the L ord.

Why then were you not afraid to speak against my servant Moses?” 9And the anger of the L ord was kindled against them, and he departed.

10 When the cloud went away from over the tent, Miriam had become leprous, as white as snow. And Aaron turned towards Miriam and saw that she was leprous. 11Then Aaron said to Moses, “Oh, my lord, do not punish us for a sin that we have so foolishly committed. 12Do not let her be like one stillborn, whose flesh is half consumed when it comes out of its mother’s womb.” 13And Moses cried to the L ord, “O God, please heal her.” 14But the L ord said to Moses, “If her father had but spit in her face, would she not bear her shame for seven days? Let her be shut out of the camp for seven days, and after that she may be brought in again.” 15So Miriam was shut out of the camp for seven days; and the people did not set out on the march until Miriam had been brought in again. 16After that the people set out from Hazeroth, and camped in the wilderness of Paran.

1. And Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses. This relation is especially worthy of observation for many reasons. If Aaron and Miriam had always quietly and cordially supported the honor of their brother, and had not been carried away by perverse and ungodly jealousy, their harmony, however holy it was, would have been perverted by the injustice of many, and alleged against them as a deceitful and insidious conspiracy. It came to pass, then, in the wonderful providence of God, that his own brother and sister set on foot a contention with respect to the supremacy, and endeavored to degrade Moses from the position in which God had placed him: for thus all suspicion of family favor was removed, and it was clearly shown that Moses, being opposed by his own belongings, was sustained by the power of God alone. At the same time it may be perceived how natural is ambition to the minds of almost all men, and also how blind and furious is the lust of dominion. Aaron and Miriam contend with their own brother for the supremacy; and yet they had received the most abundant proofs, that lie, whom they desire to overthrow, had been elevated by the hand of God, and was thus maintained in his position. For Moses had arrogated nothing to himself; and, therefore, it was not allowable that man should attempt to undermine the dignity of that high office, which God had conferred upon him. Besides, God had ennobled their own house and name in the person of Moses, and out of favor to him they had also been endued with peculiar gifts of their own. For by what right had Miriam obtained the gift of prophecy, except for the fuller ratification of her brother’s power? But the arrogance and ingratitude of Aaron was still more disgraceful. He had been by his brother associated with himself: Moses had allowed the high-priesthood to be transferred to him and his descendants, and rims had placed his own in subjection to them. What, then, was there for Aaron to begrudge his brother; when so exalted a dignity was vested in his own sons, whilst all the race of Moses was degraded? Still he was so blinded as to deem the honor of his brother a reproach to himself; at any rate, he could not endure to be second to him in dignity, although he was his superior in right of the priesthood. By this example, then, we are taught how anxiously we should beware of so baneful a plague (as ambition). The wicked brother 3838     They are the words of Eteocles in the Phoenissae of Euripides: —
   Εἴπερ γὰρ ἀδικεῖν χρὴ, τυραννίδος πέρι
Κάλλιστον ἀδικεῖν· τἄλλα δ ᾿ εὐσεβεῖν. — 538.9

   Cicero refers to them, De Off. 3:21.

   Nam, si violandum est jus, regnandi gratia,
Violandum est: aliis rebus pietatem colas.
in the tragic Poet says: —

“For, if injustice must at all be done,
‘Tis best to do it for dominion;”

that, under this pretext, he might through treachery and murder proceed against his own blood with impunity. Now, although we all hold this sentiment in detestation, still it plainly shows that, when the lust for rule takes possession of men’s hearts, not only do they abandon the love of justice, but that humanity becomes altogether extinct in them, since brothers thus contend with each other, and rage, as it were, against their own bowels. Indeed it is astonishing that, when this vice has been so often and so severely condemned in the opinion of all ages, the human race has not been ever freed from it; nay, that the Church of God has always been infested by this disease, than which none is worse: for ambition has been, and still is, the mother of all errors, of all disturbances and sects. Since Aaron and his sister were infected by it, how easily may it overspread the multitude! But I now proceed to examine the words.

Miriam is here put before Aaron, not by way of honorable distinction, but because she stirred up the strife, and persuaded her brother to take her side; for the ambition of the female sex is wonderful; and often have women, more high-spirited than men, been the instigators not merely of squabbles, but of mighty wars, so that great cities and countries have been shaken by their violent conduct. Still. however, this does not diminish the guilt of Aaron, who, at the instance of his foolish sister, engaged in an unjust and wicked contest with his brother, and even declared himself an enemy to God’s grace. Further, because they were unable to allege any grounds, upon which Moses in himself was not far their superior, they seek to bring disgrace upon him on account of his wife; as if in half of himself he was inferior to them, because he had married a woman who was not of their own race, but a foreigner. They, therefore, cast ignominious aspersions upon him in the person of his wife, as if it were not at all becoming that he should be accounted the prince and head of the people, since his wife, and the companion of his bed, was a Gentile woman. I do not by any means agree with those who think that she was any other than Zipporah, 3939     Josephus (Antiq. 2:10) has led some to suppose that she was Tharbis, daughter of the king of Ethiopia. Augustin, however, (Quaest. in Numbers 20.,) and the great majority of commentators, agree with C. in believing that she was Zipporah, and not a second wife, as contended by Rosenmuller, Michaelis, and others, The main difficulty arises from her being called a Cushite, which our translators have followed 70. and V. in rendering “the Ethiopian.” Bochart endeavors to prove that the Cushites and Midianites were the same people; and Shuckford (vol. 1, p. 166, edit. 1743) states his opinion that “by the land of Cush is always meant some part of Arabia.” Habakkuk 3:7, in which “the tents of Cushan,” and “the land of Midian,” are mentioned together, seems to corroborate this view. since we hear nothing of the death of Zipporah, nay, she had been brought back by Jethro, her father, only a little while before the delivery of the Law; whilst it is too absurd to charge the holy Prophet with the reproach of polygamy. Besides, as an octogenarian, he would have been but little suited for a second marriage. Again, how would such a marriage have been practicable in the desert? It is, therefore, sufficiently clear that they refer to Zipporah, who is called an Ethiopian woman, because the Scripture comprehends the Midianites under this name: although I have no doubt but that they maliciously selected this name, for the purpose of awakening greater odium against Moses. I designedly forbear from adducing the frivolous glosses in which some indulge. 4040     “The Hebrew doctors make his not companying with his wife to be the occasion,” etc. — Ainsworth. So also De Lyra. Moses, however, acknowledges that it 4141     “Qu’il n’a pas eu ce bien et honneur;” that he had not the advantage and honor. — Fr. was not accorded to him to have a wife of the holy race of Abraham.

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