info This commentary was written by a volunteer for our Bible translation project. It’s not an official view of our project; we are not a religious denomination and we do not establish doctrine. These commentaries reflect a variety of views and some disagree with each other.
In harmony with the statement found at Numbers 12:3, Moses must truly have been ‘the humblest man on the earth,’ because we actually know very little about him and his personal life.
We know that he was married to a Midianite woman named ZipPorah (the daughter of RaguEl), and that he had at least two sons by her, Gersam and EliEzer. So it comes as no surprise that there is quite a bit of controversy about the exact reason why Miriam and Aaron were so upset over Moses’ wife, whom the account at Numbers 12:1 describes as an ‘Ethiopian woman.’
Was this ZipPorah, or had he taken another wife? And if it was another wife, what happened to ZipPorah?
Unfortunately, we don’t know who this wife was for sure, because the Bible simply doesn’t tell us. However, at least religious one source claims that the woman was ZipPorah, and that her being called an ‘Ethiopian’ wasn’t unusual, because people that lived in the Arabian Peninsula ‘were often referred to as Ethiopians.’
However, Moses had been married to ZipPorah for at least forty years prior to the time that this problem arose. So, is it likely that Miriam and Aaron would have suddenly turned against Moses and start condemning him over her? Rather, the fact that they started questioning his right to represent God at that late date (after ZipPorah was likely a great grandmother) indicates that wife was a recent new arrival. Otherwise, the actions of Miriam and Aaron seem very strange.
Also, ZipPorah was one of the Midianites, who were descendants of AbraHam (see Genesis 25:1) and close relatives of the IsraElites. This makes it very hard for us to believe that the Bible writer would have referred to her as ‘an Ethiopian,’ or as the Hebrew text says, ‘a Cushite.’ Both terms refer to a dark-skinned race that descended through Noah’s son Ham (see Genesis 10:7). This term implies that his new wife was a black person, not an olive-skinned descendant of AbraHam.
Then, what was it about this woman that so upset Miriam? Well, Miriam was Moses’ older sister (the one that had followed him as a baby and that spoke to Pharaoh’s daughter), so perhaps she was protective of her younger brother. Also, the woman he married wasn’t an IsraElite, and her skin was likely much darker than that of many others in the camp; perhaps there was some racial bias.
Where was ZipPorah at the time? The Bible just doesn’t tell us.
Had ZipPorah died? Had she left Moses? Or could he have possibly taken a second wife? Again, we just don’t know.
However, just look at the mathematics: Moses married ZipPorah when he was 40 years old, so she was at least 20 years old when they married. Then 40 years later, Moses went before Pharaoh and led the IsraElites out of Egypt. So ZipPorah had to be at least 60 years old at the time; so she could have died, and Moses could have remarried.
Also, it’s possible that ZipPorah didn’t live with Moses during the 40-year trek. The only mention of her during that period is when she and her sons came to visit Moses along with her father (Exodus 18:2-3). The account says that she wasn’t living with him because he had ‘sent her away.’
So we don't know what the relationship was like!
However, even if ZipPorah was alive, and even if she was living with him, Moses could have easily taken a second wife. This wasn’t against God’s Law (see the subheading ‘Polygamy’ in the commentary, Christian Morality), and the Scriptures prove that Moses still had God’s approval.