Numbers 12 begins with Miriam and Aaron criticizing Moses because of the Ethiopian (Cushite) woman he had married. Many are troubled by this passage because in Exodus, the Bible says Moses had married a Midianite woman named Zipporah. Some people assume that the Ethiopian and Zipporah were one and the same person but this is not the case.
The Targum Pseudo-Jonathan says, “And Miriam and Aharon spake against Mosheh words that were not becoming with respect to the Kushaitha whom the Kushaee had caused Mosheh to take when he had fled from Pharoh, but whom he had sent away because they had given him the queen of Kush, and he had sent her away. [JERUSALEM. And Miriam and Aharon spake against Mosheh about the Kushaitha whom he had taken. But observe, the Kushite wife was not Zipporah, the wife of Mosheh, but a certain Kushaitha, of a flesh different from every creature: whereas Zipporah, the wife of Mosheh, was of a comely form and beautiful countenance, and more abundant in good works than all the women of her age.] And they said, Hath the Lord spoken only with Mosheh, that he should be separated from the married life? Hath He not spoken with us also? And it was heard before the Lord. But the man Mosheh was more bowed down in his mind than all the children of men upon the face of the earth; neither cared he for their words.”[i]
The book of Jasher sheds more light on this subject by explaining that when Moses originally fled from Egypt after murdering an Egyptian there was a great war taking place between the children of Cush and the children of the east and Aram. Apparently, the children of the east and Aram were rebelling against Kikianus, the king of Cush. While Kikianus was at war, Balaam son of Beor convinced the Cushites to rebel against Kikianus when he returned home. To do so, they built walls and ditches around their city and fortified it so no one could enter. When Kikianus returned home and wasn’t allowed in, he and his army fought their own city for 9 years trying to get back in.
Because details are not mentioned in the Bible, many assume that Moses fled straight to Midian when he originally left Egypt but Jasher chapter 72 tells us something different. At the beginning of the nine year period when Kikianus was trying to get back into his city, Moses had escaped from Egypt and joined Kikianus’ camp. Moses was 18 years old when he left Egypt. At the end of the nine year period, Kikianus died of a mortal disease and his men chose Moses to reign over them.
Jasher 72:36-37 says, “And they rose up and blew with trumpets and called out before him, and said, May the king live, may the king live! 37 And all the people and nobles swore unto him to give him for a wife Adoniah the queen, the Cushite, wife of Kikianus, and they made Moses king over them on that day.”
This is most likely the Cushite wife referred to in Numbers 12. Jasher 73:2 tells us Moses reigned over Cush for 40 years beginning when he was twenty seven years old. Under Moses’ leadership, the Cushite city was defeated and Moses reigned in that place while married to Adoniah.
Jasher 73:32-36 gives us specific information about their relationship: “And Moses feared the Lord God of his fathers, so that he came not to her, nor did he turn his eyes to her. 33 For Moses remembered how Abraham had made his servant Eliezer swear, saying unto him, Thou shalt not take a woman from the daughters of Canaan for my son Isaac. 34 Also what Isaac did when Jacob had fled from his brother, when he commanded him, saying, Thou shalt not take a wife from the daughters of Canaan, nor make alliance with any of the children of Ham. 35 For the Lord our God gave Ham the son of Noah, and his children and all his seed, as slaves to the children of Shem and to the children of Japheth, and unto their seed after them for slaves, forever. 36 Therefore Moses turned not his heart nor his eyes to the wife of Kikianus all the days that he reigned over Cush.” During Moses’ reign over the Cushites, he also fought against the children of Aram and the children of the east and brought them under subjection to the children of Cush.
So how did Moses come to leave these people so he could go to Midian? Jasher 76:4-12 answers: “And Adoniah the queen said before the king and the princes, What is this thing which you, the children of Cush, have done for this long time? 5 Surely you know that for forty years that this man has reigned over Cush he has not approached me, nor has he served the gods of the children of Cush. 6 Now therefore hear, O ye children of Cush, and let this man no more reign over you as he is not of our flesh. 7 Behold Menacrus my son is grown up, let him reign over you, for it is better for you to serve the son of your lord, than to serve a stranger, slave of the king of Egypt. 8 And all the people and nobles of the children of Cush heard the words which Adoniah the queen had spoken in their ears. 9 And all the people were preparing until the evening, and in the morning they rose up early and made Menacrus, son of Kikianus, king over them. 10 And all the children of Cush were afraid to stretch forth their hand against Moses, for the Lord was with Moses, and the children of Cush remembered the oath which they swore unto Moses, therefore they did no harm to him. 11 But the children of Cush gave many presents to Moses, and sent him from them with great honor. 12 So Moses went forth from the land of Cush, and went home and ceased to reign over Cush, and Moses was sixty-six years old when he went out of the land of Cush, for the thing was from the Lord, for the period had arrived which he had appointed in the days of old, to bring forth Israel from the affliction of the children of Ham.”
Shortly after Moses left the land of Cush, he went to Midian where the Biblical account continues the story of how Moses met and eventually married Zipporah. The book of Jasher indicates this marriage did not take place right away. It says Reuel (Jethro) did not believe Moses’ story about the Cushites so he imprisoned him for ten years in a pit. During that time, Zipporah had pity on him and brought him bread and water until one day she convinced her father to release him. Eventually, Reuel (Jethro) gave Zipporah to Moses to be his wife and even though Zipporah was a Midianite, the book of Jasher says she was as righteous as the daughters of Jacob (Jasher 78:8).
The Bible indicates Moses’ family left together for Egypt a short time after God spoke to Moses from the burning bush but it doesn’t say how or when Zipporah and her sons returned to her father. According to the book of Jasher, Aaron met them while they were on the road to Egypt and told Moses to send her and Moses’ children back to her father (Jasher 79:17). After the multitude was in the wilderness and prior to the giving of the 10 Commandments, Moses’ father-in-law brought Zipporah and her sons back to Moses (Ex. 18:6). After this time, Zipporah is no longer mentioned in the Bible or the book of Jasher. The only thing we know for sure is that Moses had a very close relationship to the Lord and he was responsible for leading this enormous multitude through the wilderness.
Miriam and Aaron were critical of Moses on account of the Cushite wife he had left and with whom he had never had sexual relations. There is no indication they respected him for maintaining his sexual purity during that time. As previously mentioned, the Targum Pseudo-Jonathan said, “…And they said, Hath the Lord spoken only with Mosheh, that he should be separated from the married life?” The phrase, “And they said” seems to indicate a separate issue in their conversation. It’s possible that even though Zipporah had rejoined him, Moses was avoiding sexual relations with her in order to be closer to the Lord. This behavior may be similar to the suggestion Paul made in 1 Corinthiains 7:5: “Do not deprive one another except with consent for a time, that you may give yourselves to fasting and prayer; and come together again so that Satan does not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.”
The Bible does not say if Moses divorced Zipporah after they were reunited or if he simply refrained from sexual relations for an extended length of time or for short intervals while he led the multitude in the wilderness. We do not know if Moses and Zipporah mutually made this decision to be “separated from the married life.” If they were not divorced and not having sexual relations, we don’t know how Miriam and Aaron found out about it. You would have thought this would have been a private matter. If it was not a mutual decision, it’s possible that Zipporah had complained to Miriam about it. It’s obvious the Lord didn’t think it was any of their business.
As the conversation unfolds, it seems Miriam and Aaron considered themselves equal with Moses since the Lord had also prophesied through them and they believed there was no need for him to refrain from sexual relations or be “separated from the married life.” It’s likely that Miriam and Aaron were not in the habit of separating themselves from their spouses except during the women’s monthly period (niddah – time of impurity). Since the Lord was speaking to them in dreams and visions, they probably assumed there was no need for Moses to separate himself from Zipporah either.
The Lord had heard their conversation and demanded a meeting. The Lord took the time to explain to them that He had a special relationship with Moses because He spoke with him face to face. The Lord made it clear that they were on a lower level than Moses because like other prophets, He spoke to them only in dreams and visions. For slandering Moses, Miriam was struck with leprosy. After seeing her condition, Aaron turned to Moses asking for forgiveness. In turn, Moses asked the Lord to heal her. The Lord healed her immediately but she had to remain outside the camp for seven days similar to how any other healed leper had to stay outside their tent for seven days while being inside the camp (Lev. 14:8).
As we examine the information presented so far, a pattern emerges that we could not have seen if we only read the Bible. You see, Moses did not consummate his marriage with his first wife, Adoniah because she and her people were idolaters. She finally rejected him and he left with the riches of a king. Adoniah represents the northern kingdom of Israel that rejected the Lord and was divorced for idolatry (Jer. 3:8 – spiritual adultery). If the available version of the book of Jasher is a fraud and not actually the one mentioned in the Bible, it sure complements numerous patterns in the Bible quite well.
The original pattern continues as Moses went to the Gentiles in Midian, was imprisoned in a pit but raised out of it after 10 years, and eventually married Zipporah. This part of the pattern depicts Jesus who was killed by the Romans outside of Jerusalem, buried in a tomb, and resurrected after 3 days. Through the ministry of Peter, the Gentiles were brought into the new marriage covenant that was made at Jesus’ last supper.
When Moses was on his way back to Egypt, he sent Zipporah and his children back to his father-in-law but was later reunited with them. This is comparable to Jesus returning to heaven to live with His Father while His bride remains separated from Him on earth until the Father says it’s time to return and gather His bride for the marriage supper of the Lamb.
We must remember that Moses was a type of Jesus. Up until Aaron was consecrated as High Priest, Moses functioned in that manner. After Aaron began his priestly ministry, Moses was still separated to the Lord but probably more in the capacities of a Nazirite, the Holy Spirit, a prophet, and/or a judge. Although there is no mention of abstaining from products made from grapes, we see Moses has “separated himself” from Zipporah for an unspecified length of time in order to be devoted to the Lord and to lead the people through the wilderness. While Jesus is at the right hand of the Father in heaven, it is the Holy Spirit who leads us through the wilderness of life as we live a life of separation from the world and devotion to the Lord.
As mentioned in another post, the Nazirite vow is a time of separation that represents the time in which Jesus is living in heaven and separated from His bride. Its counterpart is the time of niddah or time when a woman is separated from her husband during her monthly time of impurity. This represents her time on earth when she is physically separated from Jesus. The time of Moses’ original separation from Zipporah is comparable to this period of separation when Jesus is separated from the Bride of Christ as well as the time of separation Miriam and Aaron were criticizing Moses for in Numbers 12.
When Miriam and Aaron criticized Moses, they did not know they were essentially criticizing the significance of this period of separation. God responded by striking Miriam with leprosy. When non-believers reject God’s plan of redemption and criticize the way believers live a life of consecration to God, they choose to remain leprous like Miriam who represented the spiritual walking dead. All they need to do is repent so they can experience a new birth instead of remaining outside the camp where they will be separated from the community of faith forever.
Now let’s take this lesson to another level. We should be careful what we think and say about others, especially if they are our spiritual leaders.
With that in mind, are you jealous of those who apparently have a greater following or ministry than you do? Do you find fault with the personal lives of your leaders, their relationship with the Lord, or leadership abilities? If so, could this cause the Lord to be angry with you?
How does God speak to you today? Perhaps you don’t receive any dreams and visions and don’t believe God speaks to His children this way anymore. Please do not speak poorly of those who claim to receive dreams and visions because the Bible says God will pour out His Spirit and speak to our sons and daughters in dreams and visions in the last days (Joel 2:28-29).
If you do believe God still speaks to His people through dreams and visions, are you jealous when someone receives more dreams and visions or prophecies than you do? Does it bother you if your dreams and visions are only personal in nature and not for the larger corporate body of Christ?
Are you jealous or bitter when God imparts wisdom, discernment, and understanding to other believers who fast and/or spend more time in the Word than you do?
If you are, repent! Develop a closer relationship with the Lord and perhaps the Holy Spirit will reveal mysteries to you too. No matter what happens, you must accept the fact that no one experiences the exact same degree of closeness to the Lord. Everyone’s relationship with the Lord is unique! Be grateful for that and don’t let pride get in the way of things.
If the Lord teaches you great things, don’t be disappointed if others aren’t interested in what you have to share—especially if they are steeped in tradition. Don’t be surprised if they don’t agree with you or if they fiercely oppose you. Stay close to the Lord, obey Him, and enjoy your growing relationship in the Lord. As you learn the mysteries of the Word of God, be careful not to throw your pearls before swine. Trust that God will make sure that those who seek truth will find it!