In Numbers 12, Miriam and Aaron together "speak against" Moses:

1 And Miriam and Aaron spake against Moses because of the Ethiopian woman whom he had married: for he had married an Ethiopian woman. 2 And they said, Hath the Lord indeed spoken only by Moses? hath he not spoken also by us? And the Lord heard it. (KJV)

And yet the punishment appears to fall on Miriam alone:

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. 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. 15 And Miriam was shut out from the camp seven days:... (KJV)

Why does God punish Miriam only, and not Miriam and Aaron?

2 Answers 2


Miriam's Role

In order to understand the significance of Miriam's role, and her subsequent judgment, it's necessary to understand the progression of the offence. Rashi makes this comment on verse 1,

She spoke first. Therefore, Scripture mentions her first. How did she know that Moses had separated from his wife? [See below] R. Nathan says: Miriam was beside Zipporah when Moses was told that Eldad and Medad were prophesying in the camp. When Zipporah heard this, she said,“Woe to their wives if they are required to prophesy, for they will separate from their wives just my husband separated from me.” From this, Miriam knew [about it] and told Aaron. Now if Miriam, who did not intend to disparage him [Moses] was punished, all the more so someone who [intentionally] disparages his fellow. — [Tanchuma Tzav 13]

From Keil and Delitzsch's Commentary of the same passage,

Miriam was the instigator of the open rebellion, as we may see both from the fact that her name stands before that of Aaron, and also from the use of the feminine תּדבּר in Numbers 12:1. Aaron followed her, being no more able to resist the suggestions of his sister, than he had formerly been to resist the desire of the people for a golden idol (Exodus 32).

What's more, when the Lord summoned the 3 of them (Moses, Aaron, and Miriam) to the door of the Tabernacle (vs 3) He called Aaron and Miriam and said,

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.

Miriam was identified as a "prophetess" (Ex. 15:20),

And Miriam the prophetess, the sister of Aaron, took a timbrel in her hand; and all the women went out after her with timbrels and with dances.

Consequently, the Lord's words were directed towards her,

"....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.

In other words, the Lord will reveal Himself to her at the time and place of His choosing, whether it be by vision or dream. But with Moses, "...he is faithful in all My house". (From Keil and Delitzsch)

The prophets were consequently simply organs, through whom Jehovah made known His counsel and will at certain times, and in relation to special circumstances and features in the development of His kingdom. It was not so with Moses. Jehovah had placed him over all His house, had called him to be the founder and organizer of the kingdom established in Israel through his mediatorial service, and had found him faithful in His service. With this servant (θεράπων, lxx) of His, He spake mouth to mouth, without a figure or figurative cloak, with the distinctness of a human interchange of thought; so that at any time he could inquire of God and wait for the divine reply.

Miriam's Sin and Judgment

Therefore, God was specifically rebuking Miriam, in explaining the difference between her calling and Moses's calling. The suggestion was Moses was somehow "tainted" by marrying a Cushite, and therefore not 'worthy' of the office he held; God specifically directed His rebuke towards her, reminding her of who He designates as approaching Him, and dare she presume herself to be more 'righteous' than Moses, who in the same passage was said to be,

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

The judgment for her critical spirit was leprosy, which appeared on her flesh as a "whiteness", but a whiteness that is a sign of rotting flesh, the byproduct of leprosy. What was hidden in the inside became evident on the outside.

Aaron, in the passage quoted, readily recognizes his and Miriam's sin. Because he held the office of High Priest, he bore the iniquity not only of himself, but also the whole nation. Ex. 28:38 describes the the mitre on Aaron,

“And it shall be upon Aaron's forehead, that Aaron may bear the iniquity of the holy things, which the children of Israel shall hallow in all their holy gifts; and it shall be always upon his forehead, that they may be accepted before the LORD.”

Aaron, by virtue of his office bore the iniquity of all; including Miriam's. In stating that Miriam's flesh is half consumed, Rashi says,

Since he [the dead one] came out of the womb of the mother of the one who has the power to help him but does not, it is as if half his [the latter’s] flesh is eaten away, since his brother is his own flesh. Another interpretation: Let her not be like the dead-If You do not heal her through prayer, who will confine her? Who will cleanse her? I myself may not examine her, since I am related, and a relative many not examine plague marks [symptomatic of tzara’ath], and there is no other kohen in the world.

Aaron is readily bearing the iniquity of Miriam, and acknowledging his own in the process. It is up to Moses to petition God for mercy on Miriam's behalf; which he does and God answers, yet Miriam must go through a time of impurity, acknowledging her sin and accepting the consequences of it; though the Lord honors Moses's prayer and delivers her.


God directed His anger towards Miriam because she was taking to herself a role that wasn't hers. The same rebuke also applied to Aaron, yet it seems he already acknowledges his sin, and petitions on behalf of Miriam. Aaron, in ministering in the role of High Priest, acknowledges his and Israel's iniquities before God and consequently makes his plea to Moses, who intercedes for them. God restores both of them, and gives them an object lesson lest they forget.


Miriam takes the 'axe' in this situation and it may be for the reasons suggested above. God may have been protecting the office of High Priest, however. If Aaron was unclean by reason of leprosy there would be no High Priest for the people or Miriam for that matter. This is the second time Aaron has skated on punishment. He obviously lied to Moses in regards to who"s fault it was in making the golden calf but where is his punishment? It's just an opinion but maybe God wants us to know and Israel to know that we/they always will have a High Priest who intercedes for us as Aaron did for Miriam.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.