Numbers 10-12: From Sinai to Paran

The Israelites leave Sinai, Moses offers a Midianite a place in Israel, while Aaron and Miriam criticize Moses.


On the 20th day of the 2nd month in the 2nd year, the Israelites leave Sinai. From Sinai, God leads them into the wilderness of Paran. The Israelites begin their journey in the order God assigned:
  1. Judah, Issachar, and Zebulun
  2. Sons of Merari and sons of Gershon (with the tabernacle)
  3. Rueben, Simeon, and Gad
  4. Sons of Kohath (with the sanctuary)
  5. Ephraim, Manasseh, and Benjamin
  6. Dan, Asher, and Napthali
During this journey, we will see Moses' sibling's disdain for his choice of wife.

Israelite Calendar

At this point in the books of law, I started to notice that time is described in reference to the exodus in the same manner that we refer to time in reference to Jesus' birth. I wonder if this continues, making the Israelite calendar year a constant reminder of God's favor.

Moses' Father-In-Law, Hobab, and Prayer

The issue of whether Hobab is Moses' father-in-law is discussed in Jehtro vs. Reuel (vs. Hobab). Hobab is identified as the son of Raguel (a variant spelling of Reuel), who is Moses' father-in-law. Moses invites Hobab to join the Israelites. He promises Hobab that the Israelites will be good to him and whatever blessings God gives Israel, Hobab would receive as well. Nonetheless, Hobab rejects Moses' offer and states that will return to his people. Hobab leaves and the Israelites make a 3 day journey. During their journey, the ark goes before the people. While the ark was in motion, Moses would pray for God to scatter their enemies and while ark rested, he prayed God would return to the Israelites. The prayer for His return shows Moses' knowledge that they could only win with God leading them.

Complaints of the People

For what seems like the millionth time, the Israelites begin to complain. Like in Exodus 16, the people complain about food—they don't want God's manna, they want flesh like before. This angers God, yet in the end He still ends up granting the Israelites their wish. This is another example where we can clearly see parallels between God the Father and earthly parents. Often our earthly parents become angry with us, but still provide for us.

The main reason for God's anger lies in the Israelites' ungratefulness. They remember Egypt's food and wish for flesh (what we call meat, today) and in this, they imply that captivity in Egypt is better than freedom with God. Not only is this backward thinking, but it is something that even today we should be mindful of. God's path, while it may lead to ultimate freedom, is not going to be the easiest, most fun, or luxurious path. We had to trust God and keep our eyes forward when He removes us from a situation.

When God becomes angry at the Israelites, He sets fire upon them until Moses' prayer quenches the fire. Today, God may not set fire upon us when He is angry, but that doesn't mean He won't withdraw from our lives to make things more difficult. Because of the Israelites' doubt, God's anger and reaction, Moses names the place Taberah, which means burning.[1] In addition to rousing God's anger, the Israelites' discontentment upsets Moses. As their leader, he feels he should be able to provide and keep the people happy; he doesn't want the burden of them being as his children. In this predicament, he feels as though he doesn't have God's favor because he can't give them what they want. Remember, what we want is not always what God wants for us.

In despair, Moses asks God to kill him so that he can't see his wretchedness—he must have been terribly upset to ask for such a thing. I imagine this journey was particularly grueling for Moses who spent the first 40 years of his life as a prince of Egypt. Instead of complying with Moses' death wish, God appoints 70 elders to help Moses. We see here an implicit condemning of suicide, as God proves it is better to soldier on with help than to give up. The elders were to share the burden so that Moses did not have to do everything alone.

After all this, God orders the people to sanctify themselves because He will give them flesh to eat, however, He also vows to give them so much flesh they become sick of it. Moses worries they will have to slaughter whole flocks to accomplish this, but God reminds Moses His Hand can do anything. God gives the Spirit to the elders once Moses gathers them together, and they begin to prophecy—even Eldad and Medad who did not go before God. This proves God can be in multiple places at one time as He was able be with Eldad and Medad at the same time He was with the other elders. After sharing His Spirit, God upholds His promise and sends quail. As they eat the quail, God also sends a plague. Moses calls the burial ground for those who died in the plague Kibroth-Hattavah. Upon leaving, the journey to Hazeroth.

God's Anger Toward Miriam and Aaron

Image of an Ethiopian woman
Photocredit: Crotty
At some point, Miriam and Aaron speak against Moses because of his marriage to an Ethiopian woman. One question many people have is wether this woman is Zipporah the Midianite or a 2nd wife. Some argue Zipporah was both Midianite and Ethiopian (as I am both Black and American), concluding that it is Zipporah that Moses' siblings do not like.[3] Others believe Zipporah died and the Ethiopian mentioned was actually Moses' second wife.[4] Ethiopia is synonymous with Cush, therefore Miriam and Aaron were complaining about Moses' marriage to a descendant of Ham through his son Cush. Contrarily, a Midianite would be a descendant of Midian, the son of Abraham and Keturah. The only way Zipporah could be both Midianite and Ethiopian would be for her mother being Ethiopian. Moses' father is described as the priest of Midian, implying he is a Midianite.

One writer states that Zipporah was not as faithful to God as Moses, and suggests this is why he remarried.[2] I'm not sure how they came to this conclusion: not only is her father a priest, but it is Zipporah who realizes their son was to be circumcised and does so. How would she have such knowledge if her people weren't worshipping the one true God? The most logical bit of evidence suggests that Zipporah died and he took a second wife. This assumption also explains why Miriam and Aaron were only just then noticing whom he had decided to marry.

God is not happy with Aaron and Miriam's behavior. He reminds them that Moses is a prophet; they were not to speak against him. As punishment, God afflicts Miriam with leprosy for 7 days. Aaron however does not receive this curse. I assume it is because as high priest, to punish him in such a manner would actually be God punishing the whole of Israel (Aaron would have been unable to perform his priestly duties). Both brothers plead with God to heal Miriam, but God is adamant that she suffer for 7 days.

Note, this passage confirms God's approval of interracial marriages.


  1. "Taberah". Bible Study Tools. 2016
  2. Zondervan. "Zipporah". Bible Gateway. 1988
  3. Jacobs, Joseph and Ochser, Schulim. "Zipporah". Jewish Encyclopedia. 1906
  4. "Who was Moses’ wife? Did Moses have more than one wife?". 2016

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