In the next several blog posts we will be reading in Numbers, chapter 12. At the beginning of Numbers 12, we are saddened to find that those closest to Moses also grumble and rebel:
- Aaron, the High Priest (Moses’ brother), and
- Miriam (Moses’ sister) who is the leader of the women of Israel.
As we read Numbers 12, we will also see some significant patterns develop around Moses that will in time transpose to Jesus Christ. Moses is a mediator for God Our Father and humankind, as will be Jesus.
The Complaints of Miriam and Aaron
The High Priest Aaron and his sister, the prophetess Miriam, challenge Moses’ position and authority. And, verse 1 tells us that the catalyst for their rebellion was Moses’ wife. Moses’ wife is referred to here by many bibles as “that Ethiopian woman.” Some versions will say “that Cushite woman.”
Which is correct and what is the difference? The disagreement comes from whether one believes that Ethiopia in North Africa was indeed the territory founded by Cush, or was Cush’s land the area that included Midian? In fact, the original Hebrew is Kuwshith, which means Cushite.
So what did Aaron and Miriam have against Moses’ wife, the Cushite woman? If we take this verse at face value, it may have been a racial issue.
There’s been a lot of speculation by Rabbis and Sages and scholars over just what is meant by “Cushite” as used in this verse. For sure, it is referring to the family tree of Cush, who was a member of the lineage of the cursed Ham. And, we know that Cushites were black-skinned people, usually identified with ancient Ethiopia (but not agreed to by all scholars).
However, this all presents a problem because, in the book of Exodus, Moses was married to Tzippora, a Midianite woman. Midianites and Cushites were two separate tribes, and Midianites were not a race of black people.
There are a couple of general lines of thoughts on the matter:
- First, is that perhaps the Cushites occupied Midian at this point in history, and not Ethiopia yet?
- Next, is that the woman spoken of here is ANOTHER wife of Moses, not Tzippora Moses’ first wife.
I’m afraid that both of these are speculation and plausible to one degree or another. However, this only illusion to this Cushite woman is all there is in all Scripture to even hint that possibly Moses had more than one wife, so I’m not too convinced that was the case.
What is becoming clearer over time is that the term Cushite at some very early point in history became more of a racial identification than tribal. In other words, while we recognize that black humans, in general, come from Africa, the scientific anthropologic term for them, does not identify a particular tribe but a race with skin color as the primary characteristic.
That said technically DNA study shows that all black skin folks did have an ancient common ancestral line, and while the FIRST black person has not been pinpointed in the scientific community the Bible indicates that it was probably Cush (perhaps it was Ham, his father).
Thus it is not unreasonable to speculate that Moses’ wife Tzippora was indeed a very dark skin person who on the one hand would have been racially described as a Cushite but tribally as a Midianite. Midianites were typically dark skin, but other physical features were different enough from the African people so as not to be identified as a tribe of racially black people.
But as we ought to have learned by now, racial and tribal intermarriage was completely normal so it would not have surprised anyone of that era that a very dark skinned woman belonged to the Midianite tribe.
Discounting the possibility that Moses had a 2nd wife, a Cushite woman, some have wondered WHY, just now, would Aaron and Miriam express such shock over Moses’ choice of Tzippora as a wife, since he married her quite some time earlier, before the Exodus from Egypt.
But, that is easily solved. Tzippora did NOT accompany Moses to Egypt but rather went to rejoin him on Israel’s march out in the Wilderness.
So, it could well be that Aaron and Miriam had just now met the woman, and found her obviously to be NOT Hebrew, not even Semitic, and so unacceptable to them. That would make sense to me.
After all, the rebellion of the non-Hebrews, the resident aliens, (Numbers 11) had just occurred and caused much death and destruction within Israel’s camp. So, for Moses to show up with a non-Hebrew wife, even non-Semitic, would have been a sensitive issue right about now.
Ah. But the REAL reason for Miriam and Aaron’s lashing out was not Moses’ wife at all; it was that they were jealous of Moses’ close relationship with God. As they said in verse 2,
“Has the Lord spoken only through Moses? Hasn’t he spoken through us, too? But the Lord heard them.”
The great Rabbis say that Moses did not overhear this grumbling of his siblings because they did not come to him with their complaints but God heard them. Therefore, that is why we don’t see any reference to Moses going to God with the problem and complaint of Aaron and Miriam, as he had with the earlier complaints from the general population of Israel.
And, the text immediately follows up, in verse 3, by letting all of us know that the charges implicit in their grumbling were false; that Moses was doing nothing wrong and did not hold himself up as special or aloof, and in fact was “the humblest man in all the earth.”
The Lord now calls Aaron and Miriam on the carpet; He summons them, and Moses, to the Tent because this matter must be dealt with in a legal way.
Suddenly the Lord said to Moses, Aaron, and Miriam, “Come out, you three, to the tabernacle of meeting!” So the three came out. Numbers 12:4
But a question that raises some real interesting issues arises here: which tent is he speaking about? They are both at times called the Ohel Moed, which means tent of meeting. The tent (or two tents) was where God would meet with the man. In earlier chapters, it spoke of a tent on the outskirts of the camp.
The Lord said to Moses, “Is the Lord’s hand (ability, power) limited (short, inadequate)? You shall see now whether My word will come to pass for you or not.”
So Moses went out and spoke to the people the words of the Lord, and he gathered seventy men from among the elders of the people and stationed them around the Tent (tabernacle). Then the Lord came down in the cloud and spoke to him; and He took some of the Spirit who was upon Moses and put Him upon the seventy elders. When the Spirit rested upon them, they prophesied [praising God and declaring His will], but they did not do it again.
But two men had remained in the camp; one named Eldad and the other named Medad. The Spirit rested upon them (now they were among those who had been registered, but had not gone out to the Tent), and they prophesied in the camp. ~Numbers 11:23-26
And there was also a tent located at the center of the encampment where the Priesthood operates.
Arrangement of the Camps
The Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying, “The sons of Israel shall camp, each by his own standard, with the banners of their fathers’ households; they shall camp around the Tent of Meeting (tabernacle), but at a distance. Those who camp on the east side toward the sunrise shall be of the standard of the camp of Judah, by their armies; and Nahshon the son of Amminadab shall lead the sons of Judah, and his army as numbered totaled 74,600. Next to Judah [on the east side] the tribe of Issachar shall encamp; and Nethanel the son of Zuar shall lead the sons of Issachar, and his army as numbered totaled 54,400. Then [also on the east side] the tribe of Zebulun; and Eliab the son of Helon shall lead the sons of Zebulun, and his army as numbered totaled 57,400. The total of the numbered men [in the three tribes on the east side] in the camp of Judah was 186,400, by their armies. They shall move out first [on the march]. ~Numbers 2:1-9
Most Gentile Christian scholars say it was the same tent, only at some point the one on the outskirts got moved to the center of the encampment. Ancient Rabbinical sources say that it was indeed two separate tents for two distinct purposes.
We are clearly told that the Wilderness Tabernacle is the tent at the center with the Levites immediately surrounding it and then the other tribes forming an outer circle.
When we look very carefully at Holy Scripture, we find some distinct differences in how the meeting between God and man took place, depending on which tent it occurred. It is only at the Priestly Tent, the Wilderness Tabernacle proper, where only Moses could hear God’s voice (while Moses was inside the Holy Place), but on occasion, Aaron could hear God’s voice but ONLY when Aaron was in the courtyard and NOT inside the tent.
But ANYONE (not just Moses and Aaron) could seek an oracle from God at the tent located on the outskirts of the camp.
Now Moses used to take his own tent and pitch it outside the camp, far away from the camp, and he called it the tent of meeting [of God with His own people]. And everyone who sought the Lord would go out to the [temporary] tent of meeting which was outside the camp. ~Exodus 33:7 (AMP)
Now, the real $64,000 question in all this is: where was the Ark located? Was it in the outer tent or the one at the center of the camp? The common argument is that it had to be located at the Wilderness Tabernacle in the center of the camp. We find that Joshua was stationed permanently inside the outer tent (probably as a guard) and we find the same thing with Samuel hundreds of years later.
The Presence of God was ALWAYS in a tent, and as far as we know it was ALWAYS above the Ark; but there is much doubt as to whether or not there was ONLY one authorized tent for the Ark.
For sure the Ark always required a shelter to be far from the gaze of ANY human, including Moses and the High Priest (except for once per year on Yom Kippur).
Moses, by the way, did NOT enter the Holiest Place to communicate with God; He remained on the outside of Parokhet, the inner veil that separated the Holy Place from the Holy of Holies.
I suspect though not specifically mentioned that the Ark was moved back and forth at God or Moses’ command. One thing seems clear, though it is not necessarily (as is usually taught) that the ONLY divinely authorized place for the Ark of the Covenant was in the Tabernacle. Apparently, the Lord on somewhat of a case-by-case basis could determine WHERE it resided.
Thus a long time into the future we find King David calling for the Ark to be brought to him in Jerusalem. It first goes to the personal home of a Levite named Obed-Edom, and then in time it was housed in a tent that David erected in Jerusalem especially for it.
This tent for sure was not the Wilderness Tabernacle, and specifically told that as a result of the Ark being in Obed-Edom’s home, his whole household was blessed; and there is NO consequence or negative statement about David later housing it in a tent that he built for it. So there is a lot of mystery about this, and we must also be careful not to be too rigid on the subject.
However, God is thoroughly upset with Moses’ sister and brother for openly questioning Moses’ station with the Lord, and now God is going to handle it His way. Moses is the accused and Aaron and Miriam, the accusers, so all must be present before the Great Judge of the Universe, Yehoveh. In my next blog, we are going to talk about how God directly speaks to Miriam and Aaron.