In the Hebrew bible we read that Moses did marry a Cushite:

Miriam and Aaron began to talk against Moses because of his Cushite wife, for he had married a Cushite. (Numbers 12:1, NIV)

Later intermarriages is banned by God:

1 When the Lord your God brings you into the land you are entering to possess and drives out before you many nations—the Hittites, Girgashites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites, seven nations larger and stronger than you— 2 and when the Lord your God has delivered them over to you and you have defeated them, then you must destroy them totally. Make no treaty with them, and show them no mercy. 3 Do not intermarry with them. Do not give your daughters to their sons or take their daughters for your sons, 4 for they will turn your children away from following me to serve other gods, and the Lord’s anger will burn against you and will quickly destroy you. 5 This is what you are to do to them: Break down their altars, smash their sacred stones, cut down their Asherah poles and burn their idols in the fire. 6 For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on the face of the earth to be his people, his treasured possession. (Deuteronomy 7:1-6, NIV, emphasize mine)

It is strange that God first defend Moses when he took a Cushite wife - especially when Moses and God has such a close relation (Numbers 12:6-8) - but then condemn it so hard. Is there any hints in the texts to why Moses "got away" with it other then that Moses marriage was before this instruction was given?

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    God did not forbid intermarriages per se, he forbade marriage with unbelievers, generally speaking the people of the other tribes where heathens but there where a few people who followed the religion of the Israelite Commented Jan 13, 2014 at 20:01
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    The Jewish rabbinical answer is that Tzipporah converted before marrying Moshe Rabbeinu. Secondarily, I don't believe Cushites are on the list--part of which you site--of groups that are most strictly prohibited for marriage (that is, even after conversion...)
    – SAH
    Commented Jan 22, 2017 at 16:57
  • There does not seem to be any contradiction between the two quoted passages.
    – Lucian
    Commented May 11, 2018 at 22:50
  • Btw, this is numbers 12, not 4
    – user22655
    Commented Jun 11, 2018 at 12:07

3 Answers 3


I will show three things:
1) The law has no retroactive force: a man is not condemned for breaking a law which did not exist until later.
2) Moses did not break the law you quote.
3) God did not defend Moses' marriage, but his person.

Abraham married his half-sister.

Lev 20:17 ‘If a man takes his sister, his father’s daughter or his mother’s daughter, and sees her nakedness and she sees his nakedness, it is a wicked thing. And they shall be cut off in the sight of their people. He has uncovered his sister’s nakedness. He shall bear his guilt.'

Jacob married two sisters.

Lev 18:18 "'Do not take your wife's sister as a rival wife and have sexual relations with her while your wife is living.'"

Joseph married a non-Israelite, just as Moses did - though this was not, as I will argue, in itself against the law. The law you quote is in Deuteronomy, which was not yet in existence when Moses married the Cushite - it was spoken at the very end of Moses' life (Deut 4:44-5:1). So just as Abraham's marriage could not be condemned by legal standards established centuries later, and just as you were not in 2003 required to pay taxes according to the reforms of 2009, Moses could not be required to keep a law not yet given.

The law you quote, according to Deut 7:1, applies to the "the Hittites, Girgashites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites." These are all people groups who were living in the promised land and were removed from it. Moses' wife was a Cushite (i.e. from the region of Ethiopia). The Israelites were not forbidden from intermarrying with other nations, on certain conditions (cf. e.g. Deut 21:10-14). Thus even according to the later standards of the law, Moses does not seem to have transgressed.

God said in Num 12:6-8,

“Hear now My words:
If there is a prophet among you,
I, the Lord, make Myself known to him in a vision;
I speak to him in a dream.
Not so with My servant Moses;
He is faithful in all My house.
I speak with him face to face,
Even plainly, and not in dark sayings;
And he sees the form of the Lord.
Why then were you not afraid
To speak against My servant Moses?”

Thus Miriam and Aaron, because they perceive Moses as having sinned against themselves or against God, come out against Moses and malign his character. It is Moses' character that God defends, not his marriage. So even if one does argue that Moses sinned, God never says otherwise - He simply rebukes Aaron and Miriam for putting themselves above (or even making themselves equal with) Moses to condemn him for a single (perceived) error.

CONCLUSION Either of these three points in themselves suffice to resolve this apparent difficulty. I am personally unsure of whether or not Moses was wrong to marry the Ethiopian. If he was, there's no reason to think less of him for it - God made him remain the leader of the congregation even after disobeying his direct command in Num 20:1-13.


The "inter-marriages" banned by G-D in Devarim (Deuteronomy) were because of the idolatrous practices of those seven nations; of which the Cushites were not a part so Moshe (Moses) did not violate any Torah prohibition by marrying Zipporah.

It might be stressed that Avraham prohibited Eliezer from taking a wife for Yitzchaq (Isaac) from among the Canaanites because they did not speak the same language ("...for they will turn away your sons from following Me...." Devarim 7.4) (Nehemiah 13.24)("and their children spoke half in the speech of Ashdod, and could not speak in the Jews' language, but according to the language of each people." ) and thus the children from such "mixed marriages" would result in offspring that would continue in idolatry.


Cush and Midian are very different places. Cush is in Africa, in the area of present day Sudan and Ethiopia, Midian is in the area of present day Jordan and Saudi Arabia. But that is not the issue to me. The issue is the Bible only ever mentions Moses having one wife - that is enough for me, but it might not be for you so I will be kind enough to share my thoughts.

The time between when Moses went to Midian and left to deliver the children of Egypt was at least 50 years. We see in the bible text that he left Egypt a young man and when he went back he was 80. Between that time what is revealed to us about him was that he was only in Midian tending the flock of Jethro. Never in Cush. My conclusion is that the Cushite woman and Zippora are one and the same person.

If she was from Midian why did they call her a Cushite? Since the text is silent I must make an inference here. Cushites were Ethiopian and very differenly complected then Israelites - they were black. This fact would make the reference to being from Ethiopia instead of being a Midianite something that would have naturally been said. Secondly, I know historically during that period and specifically in that part of the world people were very nomadic, so I further come to the second conclusion that Jethro was originally from the land of Kush and nomadically moved to Midian and settled by the mountain of God due to an encounter with the living God at this mountain and the faith he found in him.

When I read Exodus 10:29-33 you see that Moses father-in-law was promised land by God also and he told Moses to go with him, but Moses said that he had his own land that he was to take with his relatives. Moses's father-in-law new that God was protection for them as they moved on in the wilderness and asked if they could go with him for protection - so they went. Due to these verses and the fact that Miriam and Aron were Moses's brother and sister I believe this could have been a family feud. I am sure his wife Zippora (the Cushite) would have wanted to go with her father and her family and bring all the Israelites with them - then they all could be together (her possible reasoning). Miriam an Aaron began to complain about her, worried that Moses - there deliverer and leader, would possibly go with her and her family. Remember Miriam was the one that put the baby Moses in the basket to save his life, and had very recently received her brother back after so many years. If you know anything about wives and there sister in laws, this seems to me to be a very simple and natural/normal solution to this dilemma. To generalize, women are very typically sources of division and in fighting between families. I also find it telling that only Miriam was struck with leprosy not Aaron, and I think this to adds weight to my conclusion.

Furthermore, I don't believe that this was a brand new wife because since the burning bush Moses was consumed with the almighty and not these issues of marrying - not to mention he was over 80 years old at this point.

2nd Post:

A couple more thoughts. If you look at Ex 18 and see Jethro's, the father of Zipporah's, spirituality and faith. It is obvious he believes and worships the same God of Moses. Also if you think about it for a minute Jethro was the one that lived at or near the mountain where God met Moses in the burning bush. I feel it is safe to say that it is very probable that Jethro knew in the sense of worshipping / serving Jehovah before Moses did. Secondly He - Jethro was probably the only one that ever corrected and counseled Moses in his leading of the people (Ex !8). Obviously from this text we see Jethro was like a Father to Moses in spiritual things. Because of these texts I could and would conclude that Zipporah was of the same faith as Jethro / Moses and probably preceded Moses in following Jehovah.

Another thought based on the previous texts and conclusion but also from what is known from history - the custom of that day was not to give a younger daughters hand in marriage before the older. Zipporah, being the daughter given to Moses and therefore the oldest, she would have been the one to show Moses the ropes of being a shepherd, and I would bet the things revealed to her through her father about God, especially before the burning bush experience.

Secondly, the covenant made with the children of Abraham was circumcision. We see in Ex 4:25 Moses wife circumcises there son in an act of obedience to the pre Mosaic covenant of God made through Abraham. Although it seems she complained about it.

Thirdly Moses was a sojourner in a foreign land, who else would he have married?Ex 2:21-22

Finally in the law we have to understand the "spirit" of it not the letter of it (Matt 23:23, 2Cor 3:6)which in the passage you sited was Israel going in to possess the promised land and set up an earthly government and culture. Intermarrying with other nations would have quickly corrupted the people and nation of God specifically because they served and worshipped other Gods. Therefore the law was created to protect the people and the nation. Moses's experience and situation was completely different completely (I did that for emphasis)! That is why when we talk about the law we have to understand God's purposes in establishing that rule. Furthermore the law of God always works in conjunction with what is best and applicable to the people and their specific situation. The problem isn't with the law it is holy and good (Rom 7:12), the problem is the hearts of sinful men, but that is another story for another day.

I hope this helps! Please - Give me some feed back Niclas Nilsson.

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    Why do you post multiple answers rather than editing your original? If it is truly a different answer that is fine, but if not, don't do this as we are a Q&A site and not a forum. Note also that we are not a Christian site and we expect assertions to show their work, i.e. cite sources or logically build from the text.
    – Dan
    Commented Jan 26, 2014 at 15:11
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    I removed your non-constructive diatribe at the end of this as well. Be sure to take our site tour to learn more about us. We're a little different from other sites.
    – Dan
    Commented Jan 26, 2014 at 15:13
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