Notes & Commentary:
Ver. 1. Ethiopian. Sephora, the wife of Moses, was of Madian, which bordered upon the land of Chus, or Ethiopia; and therefore she is called an Ethiopian: where note, that the Ethiopia here spoken of, is not that of Africa but that of Arabia, (Challoner) on the east side of the Red Sea, Exodus ii. 15. Jealousy instigated Aaron and his sister on this occasion. (Calmet) — Perhaps Sephora had claimed some pre-eminence on account of her husband’s glory, in being a mediator between God and his people, and therefore they pretend to the same honour, ver. 2. (Haydock) — The Hebrew insinuates, that they laid hold on the pretext of Moses having married, or received again, a woman of a different nation contrary to the law which he had promulgated, “for it adds, he had married or retaken an Ethiopian woman.” Others believe that he had put her away, and that Aaron and Mary stood up in her defence. “Mary and Aaron murmured against Moses, on account of the wife whom he had taken, who was a perfect beauty, because he had separated himself from his beautiful wife.” (Onkelos) — Some are of opinion, that this woman was Tarbis, the daughter of the king of Ethiopia, whom Moses espoused after he had terminated the wars between him and the Egyptians, before he retired to Madian. But this account of Josephus, (Antiquities ii. 5,) and the explication of Onkelos, and of the Rabbins, seem to be destitute of any solid foundation. (Calmet)
Ver. 3. Exceeding meek. Moses being the meekest of men, would not contend for himself; therefore God inspired him to write here in his own defence: and the Holy Spirit, whose dictate he wrote, obliged him to declare the truth, though it was so much to his own praise. (Challoner) — So he mentions his defects without reserve. (Calmet) — There are occasions when a person may be not only authorized, but in a manner forced to declare what may be to his own praise. Moses was in such a situation. The peace of the whole nation was in danger, when false insinuations were thrown out against the lawgiver and king, by his own nearest relations, and by them who were next in authority to himself. Aaron, the high priest, countenanced at least the remarks of his sister, who seems to have been the most to blame, as she alone is punished with the leprosy. (Haydock) — Some have suspected, that this verse has been inserted by a later inspired writer. (Conrnelius a Lapide) — But whether it was or not, there is no reason to infer with Thomas Paine, that Moses was either “a vain and arrogant coxcomb, and unworthy of credit, or that the books (attributed to him) are without authority.” For if he did not write this verse, it does not follow that he wrote none of the Pentateuch; and if he did write it, he was justified by the predicament in which he stood, to do so. Paine scruples not to write of himself: “the man does not exist, that can say….I have in any case returned evil for evil:” and is not this praising himself as a very meek man, when at the same time he is writing to cause all the mischief he can both in church and state, and thus during the heat of revolutionary madness, to involve thousands in ruin? (Watson) (Haydock)
Ver. 5. Come to the door of the tabernacle, where Moses also was standing.
Ver. 6. Vision. Other prophets were inspired in a more mysterious manner: Moses, though he saw not the majesty of God in any corporeal figure, was instructed by him in the most secret things with the utmost perspicuity, (Calmet) as if a man were explaining his sentiments to his most intimate friend, Exodus xxxiii. 19. (Haydock)
Ver. 7. Faithful: Hebrew Neeman, steward or master of the palace. Such was Samuel, 1 Kings iii. 20; David, (Calmet) 1 Kings xxii. 14; Naaman, the general of Syria, 2 Kings v.; and Bacchides, 1 Machabees vii. (Haydock) — Ambassadors had this title, (Proverbs xiii. 17,) and fidelity often denotes an office, 1 Paralipomenon ix. 22. Job (xii. 20,) speaks of the Namonim. (Calmet) — But none among the Israelites was more justly entitled to this honour than Moses. He announced the word of God without any mixture of falsehood, and did not arrogate to himself more than his due, as Aaron seems to have done, ver. 2. (Haydock)
Ver. 10. Departed from the door to its former place, (Calmet) as if in abhorrence of Mary’s leprosy, (Hiscuni) and still more of the sin, which had brought upon her that punishment. (Calmet) — Perhaps the cloud was raised higher in the air than usual, but did not proceed forward; (Menochius) otherwise the Israelites would have decamped. They remained at Haseroth till Mary was returned into the camp, ver. 15. (Haydock) — Leprosy, of an incurable kind, like that of Gieze, 4 Kings v. 27. It covers the whole skin with a white scurf, Leviticus xiii. 10. Aaron is spared, either because he had sided with his sister only out of complaisance, without any formal malice against his brother; or because God, in consideration for his priestly character, would not render him contemptible in the eyes of all people, intending to punish him in a more secret manner: for we are not always to judge of the grievousness of a fault, by its present punishment. Perhaps Aaron obtained pardon by his speedy repentance, ver. 11. (Calmet)
Ver. 12. Dead; consumed by leprosy, or incapable of performing the duties of life. (Menochius) — Hebrew, “an abortive, whose flesh is half consumed before he comes forth from his mother’s womb.” Septuagint, “he eateth half her flesh.” “Permit not her to be separated from us, I beseech you, for she is our sister: pray, I beg, that her flesh may be healed,” Chaldean.
Ver. 14. Answered him. The force of this reply must be very obvious. If a father had been so irritated by his daughter, as to shew his indignation in the strongest manner, (see Job xxx. 10.; Mark xiv. 65,) she would surely keep out of sight for a time: and can she complain, if I, who have been more injured in the person of my minister, exclude her from society seven days, after having covered her with the leprosy as with spittle. (Calmet) — The excommunication, in the Christian Church, bears some resemblance with this exclusion. Mary did not undergo all the legal purifications, (Leviticus xxxiv.) as the miraculous cure dispensed her from them. (Menochius) — Origen (hom. vi. 7,) and other Fathers, explain the mystery of this historical event. Moses, taking to wife the Ethiopian, represents Christ calling the Gentiles, which excites the murmurs of the synagogue. Mary shews the deformity of the latter religion at the present day, without head or sacrifice. The encomiums bestowed upon the Jewish legislator, belong in a still stricter sense to Jesus Christ, the mildest of men, fully acquainted with all the secrets of God, and the most faithful in all his house. (St. Jerome, ep. ad Fab. mansion xiv.)
Bible Text & Cross-references:
Mary and Aaron murmur against Moses, whom God praiseth above other prophets. Mary being struck with leprosy, Aaron confesseth his fault. Moses prayeth for her, and after seven days’ separation from the camp, she is restored.
1 And Mary and Aaron spoke against Moses, *because of his wife the Ethiopian,
2 And they said: Hath the Lord spoken by Moses only? hath he not also spoken to us in like manner? And when the Lord heard this,
3 (For Moses was a man exceeding meek above all men that dwelt upon earth)
4 Immediately he spoke to him, and to Aaron and Mary: Come out you three only to the tabernacle of the covenant. And when they were come out,
5 The Lord came down in the pillar of the cloud, and stood in the entry of the tabernacle, calling to Aaron and Mary. And when they were come,
6 He said to them: Hear my words: If there be among you a prophet of the Lord, I will appear to him in a vision, or I will speak to him in a dream.
7 But it is not so with my servant Moses, *who is most faithful in all my house:
8 *For I speak to him mouth to mouth: and plainly, and not by riddles and figures, doth he see the Lord. Why then were you not afraid to speak ill of my servant Moses?
9 And being angry with them, he went away:
10 The cloud also that was over the tabernacle departed: *and behold Mary appeared white as snow with a leprosy. And when Aaron had looked on her, and saw her all covered with leprosy,
11 He said to Moses: I beseech thee, my lord, lay not upon us this sin, which we have foolishly committed:
12 Let her not be as one dead, and as an abortive that is cast forth from the mother’s womb. Lo, now one half of her flesh is consumed with the leprosy.
13 And Moses cried to the Lord, saying: O God, I beseech thee heal her.
14 And the Lord answered him: If her father had spitten upon her face, ought she not to have been ashamed for seven days at least? Let her be separated seven days without the camp, and afterwards she shall be called again.
15 Mary, therefore, was put out of the camp seven days: and the people moved not from that place, until Mary was called again.
1: Year of the World 2514.
7: Hebrews iii. 2.
8: Exodus xxxiii. 11.
10: Deuteronomy xxiv. 9.