In the foregoing chapter we had the vexation which the people gave to
Moses; in this we have his patience tried by his own relations.
I. Miriam and Aaron, his own brother and sister, affronted him,
II. God called them to an account for it,
III. Miriam was smitten with a leprosy for it,
IV. Aaron submits, and Moses meekly intercedes for Miriam,
V. She is healed, but put to shame for seven days,
And this is recorded to show that the best persons and families have
both their follies and their crosses.
|Murmuring of Miriam and Aaron.
||B. C. 1490.|
1 And Miriam and Aaron spake against Moses because of the
Ethiopian woman whom he had married: for he had married an
2 And they said, Hath the LORD indeed spoken only by Moses?
hath he not spoken also by us? And the LORD heard it.
3 (Now the man Moses was very meek, above all the men which
were upon the face of the earth.)
I. The unbecoming passion of Aaron and Miriam: they spoke against
If Moses, that received so much honour from God, yet received so many
slights and affronts from men, shall any of us think such trials either
strange or hard, and be either provoked or discouraged by them? But who
would have thought that disturbance should be created to Moses,
1. From those that were themselves serious and good; nay, that were
eminent in religion, Miriam a prophetess, Aaron the high priest, both
of them joint-commissioners with Moses for the deliverance of Israel?
I sent before thee Moses, Aaron, and Miriam.
2. From those that were his nearest relations, his own brother and
sister, who shone so much by rays borrowed from him? Thus the spouse
(Song of Solomon 1:6),
My mother's children were angry with me; and quarrels among
relations are in a special manner grievous. A brother offended is
harder to be won than a strong city. Yet this helps to confirm the
call of Moses, and shows that his advancement was purely by the divine
favour, and not by any compact or collusion with his kindred, who
themselves grudged his advancement. Neither did many of our Saviour's
kindred believe on him,
It should seem that Miriam began the quarrel, and Aaron, not having
been employed or consulted in the choice of the seventy elders, was for
the present somewhat disgusted, and so was the sooner drawn in to take
his sister's part. It would grieve one to see the hand of Aaron in so
many trespasses, but it shows that the law made men priests who had
infirmity. Satan prevailed first with Eve, and by her with Adam;
see what need we have to take heed of being drawn into quarrels by our
relations, for we know not how great a matter a little fire may kindle.
Aaron ought to have remembered how Moses stood his friend when God was
angry with him for making the golden calf
and not to have rendered him evil for good. Two things they quarrelled
with Moses about:--
(1.) About his marriage: some think a late marriage with a Cushite or
Arabian; others because of Zipporah, whom on this occasion they called,
in scorn, an Ethiopian woman, and who, they insinuated, had too great
an influence upon Moses in the choice of these seventy elders. Perhaps
there was some private falling out between Zipporah and Miriam, which
occasioned some hot words, and one peevish reflection introduced
another, till Moses and Aaron came to be interested.
(2.) About his government; not the mismanagement of it, but the
monopolizing of it
"Hath the Lord spoken only by Moses? Must he alone have
the choice of the persons on whom the spirit of prophecy shall come?
Hath he not spoken also by us? Might not we have had a hand in
that affair, and preferred our friends, as well as Moses his?" They
could not deny that God had spoken by Moses, but it was plain he had
sometimes spoken also by them; and that which they intended was to make
themselves equal with him, though God had so many ways distinguished
him. Note, Striving to be greatest is a sin which easily besets
disciples themselves, and it is exceedingly sinful. Even those that are
well preferred are seldom pleased if others be better preferred. Those
that excel are commonly envied.
II. The wonderful patience of Moses under this provocation. The Lord
but Moses himself took no notice of it, for
he was very meek. He had a great deal of reason to resent the affront;
it was ill-natured and ill-timed, when the people were disposed to
mutiny, and had lately given him a great deal of vexation with their
murmurings, which would be in danger of breaking out again when thus
headed and countenanced by Aaron and Miriam; but he, as a deaf man,
heard not. When God's honour was concerned, as in the case of the
golden calf, no man more zealous than Moses; but, when his own honour
was touched, no man more meek: as bold as a lion in the cause of God,
but as mild as a lamb in his own cause. God's people are the meek of
but some are more remarkable than others for this grace, as Moses, who
was thus fitted for the work he was called to, which required all the
meekness he had and sometimes more. And sometimes the unkindness of
our friends is a greater trial of our meekness than the malice of our
enemies. Christ himself records his own meekness
I am meek and lowly in heart), and the copy of meekness which
Christ has set was without a blot, but that of Moses was not.
4 And the LORD spake suddenly unto Moses, and unto Aaron, and
unto Miriam, Come out ye three unto the tabernacle of the
congregation. And they three came out.
5 And the LORD came down in the pillar of the cloud, and stood
in the door of the tabernacle, and called Aaron and Miriam: and
they both came forth.
6 And he said, Hear now my words: If there be a prophet among
you, I the LORD will make myself known unto him in a vision,
and will speak unto him in a dream.
7 My servant Moses is not so, who is faithful in all mine
8 With him will I speak mouth to mouth, even apparently, and
not in dark speeches; and the similitude of the LORD shall he
behold: wherefore then were ye not afraid to speak against my
9 And the anger of the LORD was kindled against them; and he
Moses did not resent the injury done him, nor complain of it to God,
nor make any appeal to him; but God resented it. He hears all we say in
our passion, and is a swift witness of our hasty speeches, which is a
reason why we should resolutely bridle our tongues, that we speak not
ill of others, and why we should patiently stop our ears, and not take
notice of it, if others speak ill of us. I heard not, for thou wilt
The more silent we are in our own cause the more is God engaged to
plead it. The accused innocent needs to say little if he knows the
judge himself will be his advocate.
I. The cause is called, and the parties are summoned forthwith to
attend at the door of the tabernacle,
Moses had often shown himself jealous for God's honour, and now God
showed himself jealous for his reputation; for those that honour God
he will honour, nor will he ever be behind-hand with any that
appear for him. Judges of old sat in the gate of the city to try
causes, and so on this occasion the shechinah in the cloud of
glory stood at the door of the tabernacle, and Aaron and Miriam,
as delinquents, were called to the bar.
II. Aaron and Miriam were made to know that great as they were they
must not pretend to be equal to Moses, nor set up as rivals with him,
Were they prophets of the Lord? Of Moses it might be truly said, He
1. It was true that God put a great deal of honour upon the prophets.
However men mocked them and misused them, they were the favourites and
intimates of heaven. God made himself known to them, either by
dreams when they were asleep or by visions when they were awake, and by
them made himself known to others. And those are happy, those are
great, truly great, truly happy, to whom God makes himself
known, Now he does it not by dreams and visions, as of old, but by
the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, who makes known those
things to babes which prophets and kings desired to see and
might not. Hence in the last days, the days of the Messiah, the sons
and daughters are said to prophesy
because they shall be better acquainted with the mysteries of the
kingdom of grace than even the prophets themselves were; see
2. Yet the honour put upon Moses was far greater
My servant Moses is not so, he excels them all. To recompense
Moses for his meekly and patiently bearing the affronts which Miriam
and Aaron gave him, God not only cleared him, but praised him; and took
that occasion to give him an encomium which remains upon record to his
immortal honour; and thus shall those that are reviled and persecuted
for righteousness' sake have a great reward in heaven, Christ
will confess them before his Father and the holy angels.
(1.) Moses was a man of great integrity and tried fidelity. He is
faithful in all my house. This is put first in his character,
because grace excels gifts, love excels knowledge, and sincerity in the
service of God puts a greater honour upon a man and recommends him to
the divine favour more than learning, abstruse speculations, and an
ability to speak with tongues. This is that part of Moses's
character which the apostle quotes when he would show that Christ was
greater than Moses, making it out that he was so in this chief instance
of his greatness; for Moses was faithful only as a servant, but
Christ as a son,
God entrusted Moses to deliver his mind in all things to Israel; Israel
entrusted him to treat for them with God; and he was faithful to both.
He said and did every thing in the management of that great affair as
became an honest good man, that aimed at nothing else but the honour of
God and the welfare of Israel.
(2.) Moses was therefore honoured with clearer discoveries of God's
mind, and a more intimate communion with God, than any other prophet
whatsoever. He shall,
[1.] Hear more from God than any other prophet, more clearly and
distinctly: With him will I speak mouth to mouth, or face to
as a man speaks to his friend, whom he discourses with freely
and familiarly, and without any confusion or consternation, such as
sometimes other prophets were under; as Ezekiel, and John himself, when
God spoke to them. By other prophets God sent to his people reproofs,
and predictions of good or evil, which were properly enough delivered
in dark speeches, figures, types, and parables; but by Moses he gave
laws to his people, and the institution of holy ordinances, which could
by no means be delivered by dark speeches, but must be expressed in the
plainest and most intelligible manner.
[2.] He shall see more of God than any other prophet: The similitude
of the Lord shall behold, as he hath seen it in Horeb, when God
proclaimed his name before him. Yet he saw only the similitude of the
Lord, angels and glorified saints always behold the face of our Father.
Moses had the spirit of prophecy in a way peculiar to himself, and
which set him far above all other prophets; yet he that is least in
the kingdom of heaven is greater than he, much more does our Lord
Jesus infinitely excel him,
Now let Miriam and Aaron consider who it was that they insulted:
Were you not afraid to speak against my servant Moses? Against my
servant, against Moses? so it runs in the original. "How dare you
abuse any servant of mine, especially such a servant as Moses, who is a
friend, a confidant, and steward of the house?" How durst they speak to
the grief and reproach of one whom God had so much to say in
commendation of? Might they not expect that God would resent it, and
take it as an affront to himself? Note, We have reason to be afraid of
saying or doing any thing against the servants of God; it is at our
peril if we do, for God will plead their cause, and reckon that what
touches them touches the apple of his eye. It is a dangerous
thing to offend Christ's little ones,
Those are presumptuous indeed that are not afraid to speak evil of
2 Peter 2:10.
III. God, having thus shown them their fault and folly, next shows them
The anger of the Lord was kindled against them, of which perhaps
some sensible indications were given in the change of the colour of the
cloud, or some flashes of lightning from it. But indeed it was
indication enough of his displeasure that he departed, and would not so
much as hear their excuse, for he needed not, understanding their
thoughts afar off; and thus he would show that he was displeased.
Note, The removal of God's presence from us is the surest and saddest
token of God's displeasure against us. Woe unto us if he depart; and he
never departs till we by our sin and folly drive him from us.
|Miriam Smitten with Leprosy.
||B. C. 1490.|
10 And the cloud departed from off the tabernacle; and, behold,
Miriam became leprous, white as snow: and Aaron looked upon
Miriam, and, behold, she was leprous.
11 And Aaron said unto Moses, Alas, my lord, I beseech thee,
lay not the sin upon us, wherein we have done foolishly, and
wherein we have sinned.
12 Let her not be as one dead, of whom the flesh is half
consumed when he cometh out of his mother's womb.
13 And Moses cried unto the LORD, saying, Heal her now, O God,
I beseech thee.
14 And the LORD said unto Moses, If her father had but spit in
her face, should she not be ashamed seven days? let her be shut
out from the camp seven days, and after that let her be received
15 And Miriam was shut out from the camp seven days: and the
people journeyed not till Miriam was brought in again.
16 And afterward the people removed from Hazeroth, and pitched
in the wilderness of Paran.
I. God's judgment upon Miriam
The cloud departed from off that part of the tabernacle,
in token of God's displeasure, and presently Miriam became leprous;
when God goes, evil comes; expect no good when God departs. The leprosy
was a disease often inflicted by the immediate hand of God as the
punishment of some particular sin, as on Gehazi for lying, on Uzziah
for invading the priest's office, and here on Miriam for scolding and
making mischief among relations. The plague of the leprosy, it is
likely, appeared in her face, so that it appeared to all that saw her
that she was struck with it, with the worst of it, she was leprous as
snow; not only so white, but so soft, the solid flesh losing its
consistency, as that which putrefies does. Her foul tongue (says bishop
Hall) is justly punished with a foul face, and her folly in pretending
to be a rival with Moses is made manifest to all men, for every one
sees his face to be glorious, and hers to be leprous. While Moses needs
a veil to hide his glory, Miriam needs one to hide her shame. Note,
Those distempers which any way deform us ought to be construed as a
rebuke to our pride, and improved for the cure of it, and under such
humbling providences we ought to be very humble. It is a sign that the
heart is hard indeed if the flesh be mortified, and yet the lusts of
the flesh remain unmortified. It should seem that this plague upon
Miriam was designed for an exposition of the law concerning the leprosy
for it is referred to upon the rehearsal of that law,
Miriam was struck with a leprosy, but not Aaron, because she was first
in the transgression, and God would put a difference between those that
mislead and those that are misled. Aaron's office, though it saved him
not from God's displeasure, yet helped to secure him from this token of
his displeasure, which would not only have suspended him for the
present from officiating, when (there being no priests but himself and
his two sons) he could ill be spared, but it would have rendered him
and his office mean, and would have been a lasting blot upon his
family. Aaron as priest was to be the judge of the leprosy, and his
performing that part of his office upon this occasion, when he
looked upon Miriam, and behold she was leprous, was a sufficient
mortification to him. He was struck through her side, and could not
pronounce her leprous without blushing and trembling, knowing himself
to be equally obnoxious. This judgment upon Miriam is improvable by us
as a warning to take heed of putting any affront upon our Lord Jesus.
If she was thus chastised for speaking against Moses, what will become
of those that sin against Christ?
II. Aaron's submission hereupon
he humbles himself to Moses, confesses his fault, and begs pardon. He
that but just now joined with his sister in speaking against Moses is
here forced for himself and his sister to make a penitent address to
him, and in the highest degree to magnify him (as if he had the power
of God to forgive and heal) whom he had so lately vilified. Note, Those
that trample upon the saints and servants of God will one day be glad
to make court to them; at furthest, in the other world, as the foolish
virgins to the wise for a little oil, and the rich man to Lazarus for a
little water; and perhaps in this world, as Job's friend to him for his
prayers, and here Aaron to Moses.
In his submission,
1. He confesses his own and his sister's sin,
He speaks respectfully to Moses, of whom he had spoken slightly, calls
him his lord, and now turns the reproach upon himself, speaks as one
ashamed of what he had said: We have sinned, we have done
foolishly. Those sin, and do foolishly, who revile and speak evil
of any, especially of good people or of those in authority. Repentance
is the unsaying of that which we have said amiss, and it had better be
unsaid than that we be undone by it.
2. He begs Moses's pardon: Lay not this sin upon us. Aaron was
to bring his gift to the altar, but, knowing that his brother had
something against him, he of all men was concerned to reconcile himself
to his brother, that he might be qualified to offer his gift. Some
think that this speedy submission which God saw him ready to make was
that which prevented his being struck with a leprosy as his sister was.
3. He recommends the deplorable condition of his sister to Moses's
Let her not be as one dead, that is, "Let her not continue so
separated from conversation, defiling all she touches, and even to
putrefy above ground as one dead." He eloquently describes the misery
of her case, to move his pity.
III. The intercession made for Miriam
He cried unto the Lord with a loud voice, because the cloud, the
symbol of his presence, was removed and stood at some distance, and to
express his fervency in this request, Heal her now, O Lord, I
beseech thee. By this he made it to appear that he did heartily
forgive her the injury she had one him, that he had not accused her to
God, nor called for justice against her; so far from this that, when
God in tenderness to his honour had chastised her insolence, he was the
first that moved for reversing the judgment. By this example we are
taught to pray for those that despitefully use us; and not to
take pleasure in the most righteous punishment inflicted either by God
or man on those that have been injurious to us. Jeroboam's withered
hand was restored at the special instance and request of the prophet
against whom it had been stretched out,
1 Kings 13:6.
So Miriam here was healed by the prayer of Moses, whom she had abused,
and Abimelech by the prayer of Abraham,
Moses might have stood off, and have said, "She is served well enough,
let her govern her tongue better next time;" but, not content with
being able to say that he had not prayed for the inflicting of the
judgment, he prays earnestly for the removal of it. This pattern of
Moses, and that of our Saviour, Father, forgive them, we must
study to conform to.
IV. The accommodating of this matter so as that mercy and justice might
1. Mercy takes place so far as that Miriam shall be healed; Moses
forgives her, and God will. See
2 Corinthians 2:10.
2. Justice takes place so far as that Miriam shall be humbled
Let her be shut out from the camp seven days, that she herself
might be made more sensible of her fault and penitent for it, and that
her punishment might be the more public, and all Israel might take
notice of it and take warning by it not to mutiny. If Miriam the
prophetess be put under such marks of humiliation for one hasty word
spoken against Moses, what may we expect for our murmurings? If this
be done in a green tree, what shall be done in the dry? See how
people debase and diminish themselves by sin, stain their glory, and
lay their honour in the dust. When Miriam praised God, we find her at
the head of the congregation and one of the brightest ornaments of it,
Now that she quarrelled with God we find her expelled as the filth and
off-scouring of it. A reason is given for her being put out of the camp
for seven days, because thus she ought to accept of the punishment
of her iniquity. If her father, her earthly father, had but spit in
her face, and so signified his displeasure against her, would she not
be so troubled and concerned at it, and so sorry that she had deserved
it, as to shut herself up for some time in her room, and not come into
his presence, or show her face in the family, being ashamed of her own
folly and unhappiness? If such reverence as this be owing to the
fathers of our flesh, when they correct us, much more ought we to
humble ourselves under the mighty hand of the Father of spirits,
Note, When we are under the tokens of God's displeasure for sin, it
becomes us to take shame to ourselves, and to lie down in that shame,
owning that to us belongs confusion of face. If by our own fault
and folly we expose ourselves to the reproach and contempt of men, the
just censures of the church, or the rebukes of the divine Providence,
we must confess that our Father justly spits in our face, and be
V. The hindrance that this gave to the people's progress: The people
journeyed not till Miriam was brought in again,
God did not remove the cloud, and therefore they did not remove their
camp. This was intended,
1. As a rebuke to the people, who were conscious to themselves of
having sinned after the similitude of Miriam's transgression, in
speaking against Moses: thus far therefore they shall share in her
punishment, that it shall retard their march forward towards Canaan.
Many things oppose us, but nothing hinders us in the way to heaven as
2. As a mark of respect to Miriam. If the camp had removed during the
days of her suspension, her trouble and shame had been the greater;
therefore, in compassion to her, they shall stay till her
excommunication be taken off, and she taken in again, it is probable
with the usual ceremonies of the cleansing of lepers. Note, Those that
are under censure and rebuke for sin ought to be treated with a great
deal of tenderness, and not be over-loaded, no, not with the shame they
have deserved, not counted as enemies
(2 Thessalonians 3:15),
but forgiven and comforted,
2 Corinthians 2:7.
Sinners must be cast out with grief, and penitents taken in with joy.
When Miriam was absolved and re-admitted, the people went forward into
the wilderness of Paran, which joined up to the south border of Canaan,
and thither their next remove would have been if they had not put a bar
in their own way.