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Numbers 12 – Skeptic's Annotated Bible answered

A response and reply to the notes on Numbers 12 in the Skeptic's Annotated Bible (SAB).

King James Version

SAB comment

My comment

1 And Miriam and Aaron spake against Moses because of the Ethiopian woman whom he had married: for he had married an Ethiopian woman.

(12:1, 9-10) "Miriam and Aaron spake against Moses because of the Ethiopian woman whom he had married."
Miriam and Aaron (Moses' brother and sister) criticize Moses for marrying an Ethiopian woman and thus breaking the law of God (see Exodus 34:16, Deuteronomy 7:3, 1 Kings 11:2). But God makes it clear that his rules don't apply to his favorites, and he strikes Miriam with leprosy. Notice that only Miriam is punished, though both she and Aaron complained.
Will God destroy those that intermarry?
The author of the SAB claims that Moses broke God's law. He refers to Ex. 34:16 which is about marrying the daughters of the inhabitants of Canaan (Ex. 34:15). Or to put it in classical form:
  1. God forbade to marry a daughter of the Canaanites.
  2. The Ethiopian woman was the daughter of an inhabitant of Canaan.
  3. Moses married her, therefore he broke God's law
But, as usual I must add, his logic fails with the minor premise: clearly the Ethiopian woman was not a Canaanite. Therefore Moses was free to marry her.
The reason that Miriam was punished is that she was the first to object, and stirred up Aaron, as Aaron in other cases also seem to have been somewhat of a weak figure, not someone with much persuasion of his own, see Ex. 32:23-24.
Lastly, the objection of the author of the SAB against intermarriage fails for the same reason: all the verses he cites are very specifically about the inhabitants of Canaan, see 1 Kg. 11:1-2.

2 And they said, Hath the LORD indeed spoken only by Moses? hath he not spoken also by us? And the LORD heard it.

3 (Now the man Moses was very meek, above all the men which were upon the face of the earth.)

(12:3) "Now the man Moses was very meek, above all the men which were upon the face of the earth."
That's a strange way to describe one of the cruelest men to have ever lived. (If he ever did live, which he probably didn't.) Moses, as he is described in the Bible, is anything but meek (See Numbers 31:14-18 for an example of his "meekness").
The NRSV translates this as: "Now the man Moses was very humble, more so than anyone else on the face of the earth." But if Moses wrote the entire Pentateuch, then he must have written this verse, too. Which seems like a strange thing for the humblest man on earth to say! Was Moses meek?
Who wrote the Pentateuch?
The author of the SAB cites one verse as proof that Moses was one of the cruelest men who ever lived, see chapter 31:15
On the word meek Ernst Wilhelm Hengstenberg first contrasts it with the furious charge of Miriam, and Moses response: he leaves the judgement to the one who says: “Vengeance is mine.” Secondly, Moses has been very open about his faults, can such a person not honestly describe himself? Did not Christ say: “I am meek and lowly of heart?” Hengstenberg ends with: “The more vain and self-complacent any one is, the less will he be satisfied with this passage, just as lewd persons are the loudest in declaiming against the simple and straight-forward manner in which the Scriptures speak of the relation of the sexes.”
The author of the SAB also mentions the claim that Moses wrote the entire Pentateuch, but there are good reasons to assume Moses compiled Genesis (Gen. 1:1), instead of writing it. And obviously the final section of Deuteronomy is more likely to have been written by Joshua as well. But as Moses is asked several times to write things down, we may safely assume that almost everything from Numbers to Deuteronomy is straight from his hand.

4 And the LORD spake suddenly unto Moses, and unto Aaron, and unto Miriam, Come out ye three unto the tabernacle of the congregation. And they three came out.

5 And the LORD came down in the pillar of the cloud, and stood in the door of the tabernacle, and called Aaron and Miriam: and they both came forth.

6 And he said, Hear now my words: If there be a prophet among you, I the LORD will make myself known unto him in a vision, and will speak unto him in a dream.

(12:6) "If there be a prophet among you, I the LORD will ... speak unto him in a dream."
Now there's a reliable way to communicate with someone!
The argument of the author of the SAB would be stronger if he pointed out an instance where God was unreliable when speaking in a dream. And Moses provides a test, so those claiming God spoke to them in a dream while God had not, could be detected. First, their words should be in accordance with what Moses had written, see Deut. 13:1-5 and secondly if he made predictions, they should never not come to pass, see Deut. 18:21-22.

7 My servant Moses is not so, who is faithful in all mine house.

8 With him will I speak mouth to mouth, even apparently, and not in dark speeches; and the similitude of the LORD shall he behold: wherefore then were ye not afraid to speak against my servant Moses?

9 And the anger of the LORD was kindled against them; and he departed.

10 And the cloud departed from off the tabernacle; and, behold, Miriam became leprous, white as snow: and Aaron looked upon Miriam, and, behold, she was leprous.

11 And Aaron said unto Moses, Alas, my lord, I beseech thee, lay not the sin upon us, wherein we have done foolishly, and wherein we have sinned.

12 Let her not be as one dead, of whom the flesh is half consumed when he cometh out of his mother’s womb.

(12:10) "Behold, Miriam became leprous, white as snow."
God strikes Miriam with leprosy.
(In the Bible, leprosy is caused by the wrath of God or the malice of Satan.)
The Bible gives no indication at all that leprosy is caused by God's wrath. God punished Miriam with leprosy, but that does not mean that if that happens in a single instance, this is the reason in every instance. No verse in the Bible can be given that supports that argument.

13 And Moses cried unto the LORD, saying, Heal her now, O God, I beseech thee.

14 And the LORD said unto Moses, If her father had but spit in her face, should she not be ashamed seven days? let her be shut out from the camp seven days, and after that let her be received in again.

(12:14) "And the Lord said unto Moses, If her father had but spit in her face, should she not be ashamed seven days?"
God asks the darndest things!
The meaning is that if a father is wroth with his daughter and she as it were would be covered by the spittle of his rebuking words, would she not be ashamed?

15 And Miriam was shut out from the camp seven days: and the people journeyed not till Miriam was brought in again.

16 And afterward the people removed from Hazeroth, and pitched in the wilderness of Paran.