I wasn’t thinking about this chapter when I ended my last post talking about Moses seeing God face-to-face. But yes, immediately after the episode where the burden Moses’ spiritual gift is partially transferred to others among the Israelites, we have God give an explanation to Miriam and Aaron about why Moses is different.
While in the story this is about Moses compared to Miriam, Aaron, and the 70 elders, you can also read it as a statement about Moses and his revelation (the Torah) versus all other prophetic literature. It’s establishing that Moses and his words are superior, of a higher order of revelation. Other prophets have visions and dreams, but with Moses God speaks “face to face—clearly, not in riddles; and he beholds the form of the Lord.” (v 8)
This also reminds me again of Plato and the idea of shadows and forms. Plato believed that there was another immaterial unchanging realm of Forms, archetypes of reality, of which the material universe contained only partial reflections. Through the intellect, Plato believed that we could gradually come to understand the realm of Forms, and even the ultimate Form that all the Forms came from, the Form of Good.
Later Platonic thinkers like Plotinus treated the Good as a sort of monistic God, but Christians interpreted the Good to be the personal God of the Israelites. When Paul talks about “now we see in a mirror, dimly,but then we will see face to face” (1 Cor. 13:12), most commentators I’ve seen believe he’s referencing Plato for his Greek audience.
But that word “dimly” literally means “in a riddle,” which is the exact turn of phrase used here. Paul may have been a Hellenized Jew, but he certainly knew his scripture backwards and forwards. He must have known about this passage, and it could equally have been his inspiration. In which case, like I said in the last chapter, Paul sees the future reign of God after Christ’s return as fulfilling Moses’ dream that we’d all be prophets like him. Rather than the responsibility of being conduit to God resting on one man, all of us could experience God directly.
If you consider 1 Cor. 13:12 to be Paul’s reflection on Moses, then the second half of the verse also seems relevant: “Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.” It’s a fair question to wonder why God chose someone like Moses, someone raised polytheist, a murderer, who begged God not to send him to Egypt. But the idea that God “fully knows” him in a way that the rest of us don’t may play into why he did. For all his other faults, for example, the Bible notes that Moses was “very humble, more so than anyone else on the face of the earth.” (v 3) Whereas we might see cowardice, God sees someone without pretension, someone who knows his own weaknesses.
Now to get my geek on for a bit: who’s the Cushite wife? Apparently there are two theories. The first is that it’s Zipporah. The Midianites, descended from Keturah, are of unclear origin thanks to her lack of biography, and one argument is that they’re “Cushite.” The second is that she’s actually Moses’ first wife, a Cushite noblewoman who he married while living as an Egyptian who he brought with him when they left, having reunited while he was separated from Zipporah.
I’m inclined to think it’s Zipporah because Miriam and Aaron’s sudden dislike for the “Cushite wife” makes more sense that way. I mentioned that the origin of the unrest from last chapter was with non-Israelites in the camp, and the only ones we’re told are there are Moses’ in-laws. Miriam and Aaron may be thinking she should go because that would mean the in-laws would go too, leaving a “pure” Israelite camp free from those meddling foreigners.
In the context that the Bible was redacted in, the status of mixed marriages was controversial; they get broken up in the book of Ezra for example. But here the text seems to clearly say that there’s nothing inherently wrong with Moses marrying a non-Israelite woman – and since Moses is being held up a model person, presumably with anyone else doing the same.
The Japanese: masaru “to surpass, to outdo,” kenson “modesty, humility” (v 3), tadachi ni “at once, right away” (v 4), shin’rai “trust, confidence” (v 7), arawa ni “bare, disclosed,” naniyue “why?” (v 8), nakaba “partly” (v 12), tsutsushimu “to be careful, to refrain oneself from overdoing,” kakuri “separate” (v 14).