9 May 2016

Numbers 12:1-8

“When there are prophets among you, I the LORD make myself known to them in visions; I speak to them in dreams. Not so with my servant Moses ...” (vv. 6-7)

Psalm: Psalm 88


For the next few days we have five fascinating adventure stories from the book of Numbers to stretch our understanding of God and of ourselves too. We are handling ancient material and must not be too surprised if we encounter some difficulties - both textual and cultural. This little insight into the family life of Moses reveals something most families encounter at times - sibling rivalry. Miriam and Aaron rebel against Moses, who, despite being their younger brother, clearly has the primary leadership role.

"Cushite" (v. 1) normally refers to someone from Ethiopia (in which case the complaint could be construed as racist; this understanding would also mean it refers to a second wife of Moses). Alternatively, it could refer to a region in the north of Arabia (see also Habbakuk 3:7) in which case the wife referred to is Zipporah, a Midianite. There are several other references to Zipporah and maybe (see Exodus 4:24-26) her in-laws thought she was taking too much responsibility herself. Grumbling against leaders is also an age-old practice and the story may resonate more than we would wish with situations we have known. Perhaps Miriam and Aaron have a point - for they too are prophets, they too have been entrusted with the word of God at various times as are others during these wilderness years. But at heart they are jealous, their jealousy distorts the truth (verse 2) and, very much in the manner of small children about to be reprimanded by their parents, the three siblings are summoned to the tent of meeting (verse 4). Perhaps Miriam and Aaron are expecting that Moses will be cut down to size by God, but if so they are disappointed - God unequivocally champions Moses and his unique status before God.

God appears in a pillar of cloud, (cf Exodus 13:21) and explains how most prophets receive their revelation through visions and dreams, but with Moses God speaks "face to face" (v. 8). Throughout Old Testament history there is an understanding that to encounter God in this intimate way inevitably spells death, but not for Moses. It is also worthy of note that, despite this favoured relationship with God which might make most leaders proud, Moses is noted for his humility. God also notes here that Moses has the responsibility of "all my house" (v. 7) - no mean task; perhaps if his sister and brother had reflected more on the weight of Moses' burden they would not have been so quick to criticise.

To Ponder

  • Moses is described as the most humble man on earth (verse 3) and also has this uniquely close relationship with God. Do you think these two facts might be related? In what way? How does pride/humility operate in your relationship with God?
  • Clouds have an aura of mystery and hiddenness about them, but in Scripture are often also the medium of revelation. Notice the clouds today and ponder what God might be hiding from you and what guiding light God might be trying to reveal to you.
  • Reflect on the hymn 'How shall I sing the majesty' (StF 53), which contrasts our partial vision and understanding of God with the more complete revelation enjoyed by the angels. 

Bible notes author

Jill Baker

Jill Baker lives in Glasgow and is glad to be part of the small but distinctive Methodist Church in Scotland. She is a local preacher and local preachers’ tutor in the Strathclyde Circuit, where her husband Andrew is superintendent minister. For Jill, the past 20 years have included all sorts of roles within Methodism – further afield (as a mission partner in the South Caribbean) and closer to home (with WFMUCW, MWiB, leading pilgrimages and as part of various committees and groups) and is currently the Vice-President of the Conference 2017/2018. When not engaged in these ways, Jill enjoys walking in the beautiful mountains of Scotland, gardening and writing; she blogs at and "Thanks, Peter God", her book about the life of her son, Peter, who died in 2012, was published in 2016.