sn In this short chapter we find a prime example of jealousy among leaders and how God dealt with it. Miriam and Aaron are envious of Moses’ leadership, but they use an occasion—his marriage—to criticize him. Often the immediate criticism is simply a surface issue for a deeper matter. God indicates very clearly he will speak through many people, including them, but Moses is different. Moses is the mediator of the covenant. The chapter is a lesson of what not to do. They should have fulfilled their duties before God and not tried to compete or challenge the leader in this way. There is a touch of divine irony here, for Miriam is turned white with leprosy. The chapter falls easily into the sections of the story: the accusation (vv. 1–3), the Lord’s response (vv. 4–10), the intercession of Moses (vv. 11–16). For further information, see J. S. Kselman, “A Note on Numbers 12:6–8,” VT 26 (1976): 500–504.
tn The preposition bet (בְּ) has the adversative sense here, “[speak] against” (see also its use for hostile speech in 21:5, 7). Speaking against is equal to the murmuring throughout the wilderness period. The verb of the sentence is וַתְּדַבֵּר (vattédabber), the feminine form of the verb. This indicates that Miriam was the main speaker for the two, the verb agreeing with the first of the compound subject.
sn It may be that Miriam was envious of the Cushite woman Moses married. And, in view of the previous chapter’s content about others being given a portion of the Spirit to share in the leadership role, she may have seen this as her chance finally to become just as important in the nation as her younger brother. After all, she safeguarded his birth and early years (Exod 2). But there are two issues here—the reason she gives (“does the Lord only speak through Moses?”), and the reason the text gives (the Cushite woman).
tn The Hebrew text has הַכֻּשִׁית (hakkushit, “the Cushite”) as the modifier of “woman.” The Greek text interpreted this correctly as “Ethiopian.” The word Cush in the Bible can describe the Cassites, east of Babylon of the later period (Gen 10:18), or Ethiopia (Isa 20:3; Nah 3:5; et al). Another suggestion is that it would refer to Cushan of Hab 3:7, perhaps close to Midian, and so the area Moses had been. This would suggest it could be Zipporah—but the Bible does not identify the Cushite as Zipporah. The most natural understanding would be that it refers to an Egyptian/Ethiopian woman. The text does not say when Moses married this woman, or what Miriam’s problem with her was. It is clear that it was a racial issue, by virtue of the use of “Cushite.” Whether she was of darker skin than the Hebrews would be hard to say, since the Bible gives no further detail. Neither does it say if this is a second wife, or a woman Moses married since Zipporah went home (Exod 18:2). These do not seem to be the issues the text wishes to elaborate on; it is simply stating that this woman was the occasion for a deeper challenge.
tn Heb “taken.”