1. an Ethiopian woman--Hebrew, "a Cushite woman"--Arabia was usually called in Scripture the land of Cush, its inhabitants being descendants of that son of Ham (see on Ex 2:15) and being accounted generally a vile and contemptible race (see on Am 9:7). The occasion of this seditious outbreak on the part of Miriam and Aaron against Moses was the great change made in the government by the adoption of the seventy rulers [Nu 11:16]. Their irritating disparagement of his wife (who, in all probability, was Zipporah [Ex 2:21], and not a second wife he had recently married) arose from jealousy of the relatives, through whose influence the innovation had been first made (Ex 18:13-26), while they were overlooked or neglected. Miriam is mentioned before Aaron as being the chief instigator and leader of the sedition.
2. Hath the Lord indeed spoken only by Moses? hath he not also spoken by us?--The prophetical name and character was bestowed upon Aaron (Ex 4:15,16) and Miriam (Ex 15:20); and, therefore, they considered the conduct of Moses, in exercising an exclusive authority in this matter, as an encroachment on their rights (Mic 6:4). 3. the man Moses was very meek--(Ex 14:13 21:7 32:12,13 De 9:18). This observation might have been made to account for Moses taking no notice of their angry reproaches and for God's interposing so speedily for the vindication of His servant's cause. The circumstance of Moses recording an eulogium on a distinguishing excellence of his own character is not without a parallel among the sacred writers, when forced to it by the insolence and contempt of opponents (2Co 11:5 2Co 12:11,12). But it is not improbable that, as this verse appears to be a parenthesis, it may have been inserted as a gloss by Ezra or some later prophet. Others, instead of "very meek," suggest "very afflicted," as the proper rendering. 4. the Lord spake suddenly unto Moses, and unto Aaron, and unto Miriam--The divine interposition was made thus openly and immediately, in order to suppress the sedition and prevent its spreading among the people. 5. the Lord came down in the pillar of the cloud, and stood the door of the tabernacle--without gaining admission, as was the usual privilege of Aaron, though it was denied to all other men and women. This public exclusion was designed to be a token of the divine displeasure.
6, 7. Hear now my words--A difference of degree is here distinctly expressed in the gifts and authority even of divinely commissioned prophets. Moses, having been set over all God's house, (that is, His church and people), was consequently invested with supremacy over Miriam and Aaron also and privileged beyond all others by direct and clear manifestations of the presence and will of God.
8. with him will I speak mouth to mouth--immediately, not by an interpreter, nor by visionary symbols presented to his fancy. apparently--plainly and surely. not in dark speeches--parables or similitudes. the similitude of the Lord shall he behold--not the face or essence of God, who is invisible (Ex 33:20 Col 1:15 Joh 1:18); but some unmistakable evidence of His glorious presence (Ex 33:2 34:5). The latter clause should have been conjoined with the preceding one, thus: "not in dark speeches, and in a figure shall he behold the Lord." The slight change in the punctuation removes all appearance of contradiction to De 4:15. Nu 12:10-16. MIRIAM'S LEPROSY. 10. the cloud departed from the tabernacle--that is, from the door to resume its permanent position over the mercy seat. Miriam became leprous--This malady in its most malignant form (Ex 4:6 2Ki 5:27) as its color, combined with its sudden appearance, proved, was inflicted as a divine judgment; and she was made the victim, either because of her extreme violence or because the leprosy on Aaron would have interrupted or dishonored the holy service. 11-13. On the humble and penitential submission of Aaron, Moses interceded for both the offenders, especially for Miriam, who was restored; not, however, till she had been made, by her exclusion, a public example [Nu 12:14,15]. 14. her father had but spit in her face, should she not be ashamed seven days?--The Jews, in common with all people in the East, seem to have had an intense abhorrence of spitting, and for a parent to express his displeasure by doing so on the person of one of his children, or even on the ground in his presence, separated that child as unclean from society for seven days. 15. the people journeyed not till Miriam was brought in again--Either not to crush her by a sentence of overwhelming severity or not to expose her, being a prophetess, to popular contempt.
16. pitched in the wilderness of Paran--The station of encampments seems to have been Rithma (Nu 33:19).