Yesterday we looked at the reading from Numbers 11. One detail that jumped out at me that I left out was the Spirit//Wind interplay. A strong wind blew in the birds and the Spirit of prophecy fell on the seventy. That interplay of word (ruah) is a common feature of Scripture, in particular the Hebrew writings. I have mentioned this before and usually include that in contemporary American English we are not prone to such word play. Reading today into chapter 12, I picked up several rabbinic commentaries on Torah. Apparently much of the text in these two chapters feature an on-going play on the root SP, which is the verb 'gather.' One term which is a negative term for a gathering of problem people (sort of like "riff-raff") starts us off, but that verb is also present at the end of today's reading when Miriam is 'gathered back' to the people, showing that the 'rebellion' is across the people from the social misfits all the way to the inner family circle of Moses.
Chapter 12 begins with Miriam and Aaron speaking out against Moses. It is noteworthy that in Hebrew the verb is feminine and singular, implying Miriam is the primary and Aaron is her passive partner.They speak out against Moses because he married a "Cushite" woman. Herein lies the key. The Cushites are Ethiopians, so Moses has taken on a second wife who is Black. Note that Miriam's punishment is a "leprosy" which turns her "white as snow." As several commented, it seems that her problem with black skin is punished by turning her skin totally white.(Although some say this type racism is a more recent phenomenon) Aaron, the high priest, pleads to Moses on her behalf, confessing his share in the sin, and Moses makes a simple plea for God to heal.
There is not much in the Bible about racism as we understand it today. However, I found myself taking note of the foreign wife of Moses because there is another stream in the Jewish Bible which strongly opposes intermarriage with foreigners. In fact, the Israelites are strongly warned to avoid such marriages. The two streams, in many ways in tension with one another, are a reminded that the authority of Scripture means the whole "Book" and not simply verses here or there. The Ezra/Nehemiah approach to intermarriage must be read with this story, the story of Ruth and, perhaps, the short story of Jonah as a corrective. These are meant to remind us that while there are hard and fast rules, the application of the 'instruction' in a particular time and place is always affected by context.
There is not much about Moses personal life, and this small snippet is a reminder that sibling rivalry and intermarriage and God at work in and through human agents is fraught with sin and grace. What I read today did not make all things clear for me. Like the rabbis of old, the more I read the more I wonder. Perhaps, part of the answer is found in God's words to Miriam and Aaron about Moses.
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...with him I speak face to face--clearly, not in riddles and he beholds the form of the Lord
One is reminded of Jesus' use of parables and the head scratching bewildering quality of much of revelation. We are not given "The Answers" as much as invited into a relationship of trust. He is in charge, not us. He leads with little explanation and without giving us all the details which we love to have (so as to control things). So we do well not to overstep our place and we do well to listen to God's servants.