Miriam's Leprosy


“So Miriam was shut up outside the camp for seven days, and the people did not move on until Miriam was received again.” (Numbers 12:15 NASU)

The incident of Miriam’s leprosy occurred when she and Aaron challenged God’s decision to elevate Moses: “But when the cloud had withdrawn from over the tent, behold, Miriam was leprous, as white as snow. As Aaron turned toward Miriam, behold, she was leprous. Then Aaron said to Moses, ‘Oh, my lord, I beg you, do not account this sin to us, in which we have acted foolishly and in which we have sinned. Oh, do not let her be like one dead, whose flesh is half eaten away when he comes from his mother’s womb! Moses cried out to the Lord, saying, ‘O God, heal her, I pray!’ But the Lord said to Moses, ‘If her father had but spit in her face, would she not bear her shame for seven days? Let her be shut up for seven days outside the camp, and afterward she may be received again.’ So Miriam was shut up outside the camp for seven days, and the people did not move on until Miriam was received again.” (Numbers 12:10-15 NASU)

The leprosy Miriam emphasized many things

Swift judgment
•    The judgment was to remind the Israelites that God judged sin completely and swiftly:
•    The Keil and Delitzsch Commentary states, “The thought here, therefore, is, ‘Be on thy guard because of the plague of leprosy,’ i.e., that thou dost not get it, have to bear it, as the reward for thy rebellion against what the priests teach according to the commandment of the Lord. ‘Watch diligently, that thou do not incur the plague of leprosy’ (Vulgate); or, ‘that thou do not sin, so as to be punished with leprosy’ (J. H. Michaelis).” (Deuteronomy 24:6-9 Keil and Delitzsch Commentary on the Old Testament: New Updated Edition)

The mercy of God
•    The healing was to remind the Israelites of the tremendous mercy of God in healing Miriam.
•    God could have killed Miriam and Aaron who questioned God for elevating Moses as he would later kill Korah, Dathan and Abiram who questioned God for elevating Moses and Aaron: “Now Korah the son of Izhar, the son of Kohath, the son of Levi, with Dathan and Abiram, the sons of Eliab, and On the son of Peleth, sons of Reuben, took action, and they rose up before Moses, together with some of the sons of Israel, two hundred and fifty  leaders of the congregation, chosen in the assembly, men of renown. They assembled together against Moses and Aaron, and said to them, ‘You have gone far enough, for all the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the Lord is in their midst; so why do you exalt yourselves above the assembly of the Lord?’” (Numbers 16:1-3 NASU)
•    Yet God not only spared the life of Miriam, but healed her.

•    The time of purification was to reinforce that the specific commands of God regarding being set outside the camp set of actions taken by Miriam when she contracted leprosy and was healed.
•    The Pulpit Commentary states, “remembering what the Lord did to Miriam the sister of Moses, how even she was separated from the camp by the express command of God until she was healed (Numbers 12:14).” (Deuteronomy 24:8 The Pulpit Commentary)
•    The New International Commentary on the Old Testament states, “The exhortation at this point thus assumes that the legislation on leprosy is known to the audience, and Moses simply exhorts the people to be diligent in their observation of that legislation … The exhortation to obey the law concerning leprosy is illustrated and emphasized by a call to remember the case of Miriam’s leprosy and the procedure of purification by which the people dealt with it.” (Deuteronomy 24:8–9 The New International Commentary on the Old Testament)
•    The Preacher’s Commentary Series states, “He provided motivation to obey this ceremonial legislation by reminding them of Miriam, who was afflicted with leprosy because of her opposition to Moses” (Deuteronomy 24:5–22 The Preacher’s Commentary Series)
•    The IVP Bible Background Commentary: Old Testament states, “The Deuteronomic injunction simply reinforces the prerogatives and authority of the priests to determine whether a person had the skin condition (probably psoriasis or other skin disease, since Hansen’s disease was unknown in the Near East until the Hellenistic period) and, when it was cured, to perform a purification ritual.” (Deuteronomy 24:9–15 The IVP Bible Background Commentary: Old Testament)

Remember what the Lord your God did to Miriam on the way as you came out of Egypt.” (Deuteronomy 24:9 NASU)