John Piper pointed out that Yahweh didn’t criticize Moses for marrying a black Cushite woman. However, when Miriam criticized Yahweh’s chosen leader for this marriage he struck her skin with white leprosy. Black was never a biblical symbol for uncleanness. A Cushite is from Cush, a region south of Ethiopia, where the people are known for their black skin.
The narrator wrote that Miriam and Aaron, Moses’ older siblings, were talking against Moses behind his back. Perhaps one of the reasons that Yahweh had chosen Moses instead of Aaron or Miriam to lead his people was because they believed that their own race was superior and had the right to dominate others or that a particular racial group was inferior to the others. Whatever the reason, they were criticizing Moses’s choice of a wife with black skin. Then they extended their condemnation to wonder aloud if Yahweh didn’t speak through them just as much as he did through Moses.
Yahweh heard what they were saying. Yahweh always hears what we say. He even hears what we think, but the narrator pointed out there that he knew what Aaron and Miriam were saying behind Moses’ back. Yahweh knew Moses’ character and the narrator recorded what only Yahweh, who reads the heart, could know for sure about him. He said that Moses was a quietly humble man, more so than anyone living on Earth was. He called Moses, Aaron, and Miriam to the Tent of Meeting and appeared to them in a pillar of cloud at the entrance to the Tent. He called Aaron and Miriam to him and told them to listen carefully to what he was telling them. He told them that he speaks to prophets through visions and in dreams but he spoke to Moses as a servant who has the run of the house. Yahweh assured them that he spoke intimately and in person to Moses and that he pondered the very form of his God. Yahweh wasn’t talking about a physical form – he was talking about his make-up. Moses contemplated the character of Yahweh while others stood afar off. He was a man who deserved reverence and respect because of his close association with Yahweh.
Yahweh left – the cloud moved from the Tent and Miriam’s skin had turned as white as snow. Remember the priests recognized white swelling in the skin with an open sore in it and the hair turning white as a contagious disease and declared the person unclean and sent him or her outside the camp. It was the job of the priest to distinguish between clean and unclean. The laws about tzara’at (serious skin diseases) and ritual impurity are a physical demonstration of a spiritual truth. The unclean are unfit to have a relationship with Yahweh or his community. The unclean are in a hopeless state. Aaron took one look at his sister Miriam and saw that she was a leper!
Aaron pled with his little brother Moses. He said something like, “Please, my Master.” Aaron understood Yahweh when he said that Moses’ position was that of a trusted servant who had the run of the house to mean that Moses was Yahweh’s ambassador and’ therefore, represented him. He didn’t appeal directly to Yahweh for mercy. He entreated Yahweh’s representative, Moses, for mercy. He confessed his sin along with that of his sister.
Moses went directly to Yahweh and pled for his sister’s healing. He knew she had been trying to start trouble for him and had showed disrespect for him and for their God, Yahweh, but he pled for her healing. He was reflecting Yahweh’s character of love and mercy.
Yahweh approached the subject in accord with their culture and understanding. He said, “If her father had spat in her face, wouldn’t she be ostracized for seven days? Quarantine her outside the camp for seven days. Then she can be readmitted to the camp.”
Miriam was in quarantine outside the camp for 7 days and then the nation of Israel left their temporary camp and continued their march to the Wilderness of Paran.
On the march from the Wilderness of Sinai to the Wilderness of Paran Israel had lessons in loyalty to their God, Yahweh when they grumbled and fire broke out; then again when they fell into the sins of covetousness and gluttony. The word about Aaron and Miriam’s disloyal attitudes that led to Miriam’s quarantine outside the camp for 7 days would have spread to the whole camp and the nation of Israel would have had another lesson in loyalty.
Summary of chapter 12
Yahweh called Aaron and Miriam to account for their perfidious and brazen attitudes toward Moses. He confronted them and made it clear that Moses was his agent and instrument and, as such, they needed to respect and honor him. When Yahweh left their presence they discovered that Miriam’s skin had turned white as in a dangerous skin disease. Aaron and Miriam’s disrespectful words and attitude toward Moses’ black wife broke out on Miriam as the pure white evidence of a horrible skin disease. Yahweh healed her but insisted she go through the humiliation of 7 days quarantine outside the camp. Aaron showed that he had learned his lesson when he respectfully pled for healing and admitted that he had sinned to Moses. Moses demonstrated the character of his God, Yahweh, when he immediately forgave his siblings and asked Yahweh to heal Miriam.
Prayer: Yahweh you came to Moses’ rescue when his siblings were out to get him. You came quickly to his side. Those who are out to get him fell all over themselves. Those who relished his downfall you sent down a blind alley. You gave them a taste of their own medicine, those gossips off clucking their tongues. Let those on the hunt for you sing and celebrate. Let all who love your saving way say over and over, “Our God, Yahweh, is mighty!” I know that when I’ve lost it, when my strength is wasted, you will come quickly to my side, and rescue me. You are never late. You are always by my side. Thank you for your faithful love and mercy.
Things to think about
- Some commentators said that Miriam was jealous of Moses wife because she was beautiful and others say that she was a racist and looked down on her because she was black. Do you think it matters to the lesson we are supposed to learn from the incident? Both attitudes are wrong, but what was the main lesson? What did that short incident have to do with gossip? What did it have to do with pride? How many other things can that one incident be used to teach a practical lesson about life and justice?
- What was Miriam and Aaron’s failing that caused them to speak with disrespect against Moses?
- In how many ways did Miriam and Aaron fail to live justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with their God, Yahweh?
- Why do you think Yahweh called all three of them to the Tent of Meeting?
- Why do you think Yahweh punished Miriam with a skin disease? Why do you think he had her quarantined after he healed her?
- What can we learn about the character of Yahweh from this incident? What can we learn about how Yahweh wants us to act and react?
 Psalm 139:1-4
 From Psalm 70