3.36 Numbers -- Significance of this Marriage
Why spend all this time on a single Bible verse that isn't even the main point of the argument within Moses' family? There are two extremely important consequences of Moses' second marriage:
a. Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses. According to some modern interpreters, they objected to the black skin of the Cushite woman. This assumes that the woman was African. But the greater error is to impose modern racial values on people who lived 3000 years ago. This is not reading the text, it is "reading into" the text -- which is the original sin of Bible scholars. The context of the passage makes it very clear that the marriage was only a trigger event, and their anger was not about race at all. The controversy was about leadership and jealousy.
What we really have here is a replay of the famous Old Testament theme -- who is the favored son? Who gets the rights of the firstborn? Through whom will the Promise be passed on? And again, the answer is -- the younger son. Miriam looked after Moses when he was in the basket hidden in the reeds (Ex 2:4). Aaron was the older brother by three years (Ex 7:7). But Moses was the chosen one. His siblings have seen that their younger brother had an "in" with God and was His sole mouthpiece. All decisions, all appointments, came through Moses. They got the leftovers: Aaron was made chief priest, Miriam was designated a prophetess (Ex 15:20). She apparently never married. (There are two traditions of Miriam’s marriage, both extra-Biblical: one, that she married Hur (Josephus); two, that she married Caleb (Talmud)). So it is possible that there was building in them for some time a spirit of resentment and entitlement.
Without committing the same error of reading modern motives into ancient actions, we might guess that Moses' decision to marry again was the last straw for his brother and sister. Perhaps without consulting his family, he brought an outsider into the inner circle. His siblings felt demoted, insulted. By enlarging the family circle, he diluted their own influence. The poor Cushite woman became the focus of their hostility, but not because of her race, African or Arabian. An Egyptian woman would have caused the same reaction. Their target was Moses' intimacy with God, not with his wife.
This is made clear by God's reaction. He never mentioned the woman. He talked about modes of revelation:
He said, "Listen to my words: "When a prophet of the Lord is among you, I reveal myself to him in visions, I speak to him in dreams. But this is not true of my servant Moses; he is faithful in all my house. With him I speak face to face, clearly and not in riddles; he sees the form of the Lord" (Num 12:6-8).
This is fascinating: men honor prophets because they can hear from God, but God says He speaks to prophets obscurely, in dreams, visions, riddles. But to Moses He spoke face to face, and "he sees the form of the Lord." The phrase "face to face" is repeated in Moses' eulogy (Deut 34:10). In fact, God was affirming the priority of Moses as the keeper of the Covenant.
Moses' response to this attack is notable: there wasn't one. Scripture records no reply, but comments on his character:
(Now Moses was a very humble man, more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth) (Num 12:3). *1
The result is that Moses kept silent when accused by Aaron and Miriam, and God defended him. This was bad for Miriam and Aaron: a time for purging had come. What God was protecting was not merely Moses' reputation, it was the sacrosanct relationship between Himself and Moses. The siblings' attack on Moses was actually a veiled rejection of God's plan, on God's transfer of the rights of the firstborn to Moses. Since they did not dare impugn God directly, they criticized His human instrument. (But since they did not dare attack Moses directly, they slammed his new wife -- the Cushite woman!).
God's declaration in Num 2:6-8 foreshadows Luke 3:22:
And a voice came from heaven: "You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased."
In both cases, God publicly affirmed His choice. In Numbers, judgment immediately followed. Miriam was stricken with leprosy, and evicted from Israel for 7 days. This was just a "reality check" for her -- she had time to realign her thinking with objective reality: she now knew where she stood with God. Repentance is healthy. Furthermore, God had spoken to her, and God must speak "to" a person before He can speak "through" a person. She could yet attain her desire to be a vessel of His Word. It is not a bad desire, when the motives for seeking it are right.
An added note of humiliation for both Aaron and Miriam was that it was only through the intercession of Moses that Miriam's illness was temporary (Num 12:11). They were forced to appeal to the very one they attacked in order to be restored! Once again, the stars bowed down to one star, and the sheaves to one sheaf (Gen 37:5-9). Aaron's plea echoed that of Joseph's brothers coming to Egypt to bow before Joseph, depending for very life upon the one they had despised (Gen 42:6).
Some believe it was unfair for God to judge Miriam and not Aaron. But God could not afflict a priest with leprosy and have him remain a priest (Lev 21:21). In fact, Aaron did share in the main punishment:
The anger of the Lord burned against them, and he left them (Num 12:9).
Compare 1 Sam 16:14:
Now the Spirit of the Lord had departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the Lord tormented him.
This is the ultimate punishment, when the Lord is angry with someone and leaves him. Any physical or financial consequences that follow are just ripples from the rock falling in the pool -- the problem isn't the ripples, but the rock. This rock of God's anger and His departure fell on both Aaron and Miriam. "He left them" -- three words of utter deprivation. This state is the opposite of the priestly blessing (Num 6:23-27): "The Lord make His face shine upon you and be gracious to you." When He turns his face away, man's life force dries up.