Moses marries a Cushite woman. Probably, his first wife has died, and this woman is a second spouse. Miriam is critical of her brother’s marriage. Maybe she doesn’t like her new sister-in-law’s black skin, or maybe she feels threatened. As a prophetess Miriam is the “first lady” of Israel and wants to keep it that way.
Aaron joins his sister in criticizing their brother. But Miriam appears to be the chief critic. In the Hebrew text, the biblical story begins with a feminine singular form of the verb “speak.” Miriam speaks against Moses, and Aaron supports her. She wants to know who has given Moses his great authority. Is he the only prophet of the Lord? Hasn’t God also spoken through her and Aaron?
Moses doesn’t say anything. He’s a very humble guy, the humblest man in the world. But God says a thing or two. He summons Moses, Aaron, and Miriam to the tent of meeting. The Lord descends in a pillar of cloud and stands at the tent door. He calls Aaron and Miriam to step forward. They obey. God explains that a typical prophet receives divine revelations in dreams or visions. Moses is different. He’s in a unique prophetic class. God speaks to him as a friend. Plain speech. No spiritual riddles.
The Lord ends his sharp rebuke by asking, “Why then were you not afraid to speak against my servant Moses?” (Num. 12:8). The pillar of cloud begins to ascend. Aaron turns to his sister — and recoils in horror. Miriam has an advanced case of leprosy. Her skin looks rotten and sickly white. The ugliness in her heart is now stamped on her face.
Why weren’t you afraid to speak against my servant Moses? Important question. Miriam isn’t the first person to speak against Moses, and she isn’t the last. Jewish unbelievers in the first century refuse to accept Moses’ prophetic testimony that the Messiah will be a man like himself. The seventh-century false prophet Muhammad implies in his Quran that the Genesis history of Abraham’s family is all mixed up. German theologians in the 19th century claim that Moses isn’t the author of his five books (Genesis-Deuteronomy). And in our own times, atheists and church-goers alike say that the Genesis account of creation is a mere myth.
Why aren’t we afraid to speak against God’s servant Moses?