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Exhibit A: Moses Marries a Black Woman

Aaron and Miriam’s Racial Discrimination Against Moses’ Wife: Numbers 12:1-16 Moses’ brother Aaron and their sister Miriam spoke against Moses because of the ethnic identity of his wife. His wife was a Cushite, which means she was from the land of Cush (Num 12:1). The people were descendants of the son of Ham: Cush (see Genesis 10:6). The land of Cush is “south of Egypt, also called Nubia, which includes part of Sudan.”1 The word “Cush” in the Hebrew language of the original biblical text is simply translated “Ethiopia” by modern biblical scholars (Ex: NASB, Ezek. 29:10), though it is not equivalent to modern Ethiopia. The people who lived there were tall with “colored,” smooth skin (cf. Isaiah 18:2, 7; Jeremiah 13:23). In other words, Aaron and his sister Midian spoke against Moses because he married, in modern lingo, a “black” Ethiopian woman.

If ever there was an opportune time for God to teach against interracial marriages and turn this narrative into a parable of sorts—this was it. God could have taught Moses and the rest of the people of Israel a lesson by punishing Moses or at least speaking out against his marrying a woman of another race. However, instead of God pronouncing judgment on Moses for marrying this black woman, and thereby vindicating Miriam and Aaron, God instead struck Miriam with leprosy. The narrative presents the incident as God’s way of teaching a lesson to both Aaron and his sister Miriam for speaking out against Moses. Therefore, Aaron confessed his racial slanders against Moses as “sin” (Num 12:11) and begged that Moses not account their sin to them. Moses cried out on their behalf to God, asking God to heal Miriam of the leprosy. God was merciful to heal her, but He told Moses that she would have to bear her shame by being banished outside the camp for a week (Num 12:14-15).

Conclusion – In answering the question, “What does God think about interracial marriages?” biblically, we must say not only that God has never forbidden such marriages—and did not speak out against the most prominent OT saint for marrying a black Ethiopian woman—but we must also say that He considers it a “sin” to speak against anyone for marrying someone of a different race.2

1 Ronald F. Youngblood, Gen. Ed., Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Dictionary, 318.
2 Of course, there are those who are convinced that the Bible teaches elsewhere that interracial marriages are wrong. Don’t worry, I’m getting there. The validity of this claim will have to be determined by looking at the evidence one piece (i.e. exhibit) at a time in the weeks to come. Feel free to comment and bring to my attention any relevant passages for the discussion.

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11 Comments

  1. van.diesel says:

    Fantastic post. I was visiting some friends in Minneapolis a couple years back and heard John Piper speak on this subject using Moses’ marriage as an example as well.

  2. R. Mansfield says:

    Bradley, I can’t tell, but are you equating Zipporah with Moses’ Cushite wife? It doesn’t alter your main argument, but Zipporah, the Midianite (desended from Abraham through Keturah) was not the same person as his Cushite wife. You may not be implying that, and I may just be misreading. Essentially Moses had two wives, but we do not know if he had them concurrently [i.e., Zipporah may have died causing him to take a second wife, or he may just have followed the culture at the time and had more than one wife].

    In the last sentence of your first paragraph, should that be “where he married one of Jethro’s [or Reuel’s] daughters”?

    In the last sentence of the second paragraph, shouldn’t that be, “Aaron and his sister Miriam“?

    And then, in the third paragraph, shouldn’t that be “a lesson to both Aaron and his sister Miriam?

  3. Bradley says:

    Mansfield – You keep catchin’ me slippin’. I actually wrote this a long time ago, then decided recently to just post it as I had written it then. Now that you mention it, I suppose Zipporah could not have been Moses’ Cushite wife, since she was not from the land of cush, but from the land of Midian—–duh! I bleeped the first paragraph. Thanks. All you other suggestions were also helpful (I am the king of grammatical blunders and typo’s).

  4. Ryan S. says:

    Well Brad, from what I understand the Bible tradition ascribes Zipporah (צִפּוֹרָה literally meaning “Bird”) to be the daughter of Jethro the Priest, and a Midianite. I’m told Reuel (Ex. 2:18) is another name for Jethro (יִתְרוֹ literally meaning “His Excellence.”) Midianites are physically sons of Abraham. This is entirely in the realm of inferential surmising, but I was thinking we may reasonably infer that Jethro betrothed a Cushite (a.k.a. Ethiopian) women, and by implication Moses’ wife Zipporah was regarded as a Cushite for that reason (since she was a product of a mixed marriage.) I think that is more tenable than Moses having a second wife, and there is nothing explicit that gives credence to such a notion. Jethro followed Yahweh, and we may infer that he raised his family accordingly, and his daughter was a believer and heir to the covenant promises. I think all of this is beside the main point.

    Deuteronomy 7 warned the Israelites against marrying pagans (Deu. 7:3). Solomon was judged for marrying foreign women who believed in false gods (1 Kgs. 11:4), and he was judged not simply for marrying foreign women, but rather for embracing unbelievers and their idols (c.f. Ezra 10:10).

    Believers should only seek out fellow believers in marriage. However, there is always a possibility that a Christian marry someone under false presumption, out of ignorance or sin, or that someone converts after marriage. A believer should work out their marriage with an unbeliever exhorting their unbelieving spouse to repent and believe, hence 1 Cor. 7:14.

    The Apostle Paul sums it up nicely in Colossians 3:10-12. The body of Christ is universal and includes people of all nations (Lk. 3:6).

  5. Bradley says:

    Ryan – Interesting. I suppose after reading the narrative about Moses’ marriage and then later about his relative’s remarks, I assumed the Cushite was the same wife (since the Bible doesn’t tell us about any other wife). But I don’t automatically rule out the possibility that she was another wife (since many of the OT saints had more than one wife). I’m not sure. I would like to see what Mansfield has to say about your position.

  6. Ryan S. says:

    For clarification v. 22 in Exodus 2 establishes that Zipporah was the daughter of Reuel (i.e. Jethro.): “Then Moses was content to live with the man, and he gave Zipporah his daughter to Moses.”

  7. Ryan S. says:

    Dude, you didn’t tell me you made it into Christianity Today this past month. Congratulations.

    Young, Restless and Reformed. I couldn’t find it on newsstands when I first heard about it. Now, it’s online.

  8. miKeToWn says:

    brother i just read the Christianity Today article…how great to know that those who make Him famous he in turn shows favor upon them, I’m proud of you. Thank you for living the life, remember you are my brother and I love you man…my prayers are with you…

  9. Bradley says:

    Thanks Ryan & Mike. I hope that my story will be usefull in promoting a healthy calvinism–that is, the kind of calvinists that are still passionate about evangelism, that don’t isolate themselves from all other non-Calvinists and live in their own calvinist bubble, critical of everything that’s not “reformed” or that become ivory tower theologians who don’t invest as much time in people as they do their John Owen, John Calvin, Martin Loyd Jones, and Jonathan Edwards books. Thanks for your support.

  10. Ryan S. says:

    Man, Calvinism, or as I prefer to call it, sovereign grace, is what gave me an enthusiasm for evangelism. Though, I think we should try and make evangelists like Edwards, Spurgeon and Whitefield into our men of God held in highest esteem outside the Bible, rather than Calvin.

  11. Bradley says:

    Or how about William Carey and A. Judson? The fathers of the modern missions movement?

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