Moses Ethiopian Wife


“Then Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses because of the Ethiopian woman whom he had married; for he had married an Ethiopian woman.” (Numbers 12:1 NKJV)

There are differing opinions regarding the identity of the Ethiopian wife of Moses.

Many commentators believe that the Ethiopian woman that Moses married was a different wife than Zipporah:
•    The Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown Commentary states, “Many commentators, however, suppose this wife to be a different person from Zipporah.” (Numbers 12:1 Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown Commentary)
•    Matthew Henry states, “About his marriage: some think a late marriage with a Cushite or Arabian.” (Numbers 12:1-3 Matthew Henry’s Commentary)
•    The Keil and Delitzsch Commentary on the Old Testament states, “His wife cannot have been Zipporah the Midianite: for even though Miriam might possibly have called her a Cushite, whether because the Cushite tribes dwelt in Arabia, or in a contemptuous sense as a Moor or Hamite, the author would certainly not have confirmed this at all events inaccurate, if not contemptuous epithet, by adding, ‘for he had taken a Cushite wife;’ to say nothing of the improbability of Miriam having made the marriage which her brother had contracted when he was a fugitive in a foreign land, long before he was called by God, the occasion of reproach so many years afterwards. It would be quite different if, a short time before, probably after the death of Zipporah, he had contracted a second marriage with a Cushite woman, who either sprang from the Cushites dwelling in Arabia, or from the foreigners who had come out of Egypt along with the Israelites.” (Numbers 12:1-3 Keil and Delitzsch Commentary on the Old Testament)
•    Barnes’ Commentary states, “It is likely that Zipporah was dead, and that Miriam in consequence expected to have greater influence than ever with Moses. Her disappointment at his second marriage would consequently be very great.” (Numbers 12:1-15 Barnes' Notes)

Many commentators believe that Zipporah is the same person as the Ethiopian woman.
•    Adam Clarke's Commentary labels Zipporah as a “Cushite” [Ethiopian], but focuses on her non-Abrahamic ancestry: “Calmet contends that if Jethro had been of the family of Abraham, either by Jokshan, or Midian, Aaron and Miriam could not have reproached Moses with marrying a Cushite, Zipporah, the daughter of Reuel.” (Exodus 2:15 Adam Clarke's Commentary)
•    Matthew Henry’s Commentary states, “Zipporah, whom on this occasion they called, in scorn, an Ethiopian woman.” (Numbers 12:1-3 Matthew Henry’s Commentary)
•    The Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown Commentary states, “Their irritating disparagement of his wife-who, in all probability was Zipporah.” (Numbers 12:1 Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown Commentary)
•    Adam Clarke's Commentary states “The Cushite, probably meaning Zipporah, who was an Arab born in the land of Midian.” (Numbers 12:1 Adam Clarke's Commentary)
•    The IVP Bible Background Commentary states, “Another possibility connects Cush here with Cushan, identified in Habakkuk 3:7 with Midian. This has been attractive to some because of Moses’ known marriage to a Midianite woman, Zipporah.” (Numbers 12:1 IVP Bible Background Commentary)
•    The Geneva Bible states, “Zipporah, Moses' wife, was a Midianite, and because Midian bordered on Ethiopia, it is sometimes referred to in the scriptures by this name.” (Numbers 12:1 Geneva Notes)
•    The International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia states, “The use of the words, "Cushite woman" in the mouth of Aaron and Miriam may have been merely a description of Zipporah and intended to be opprobrious … The association of Midian and Cushan by Habakkuk (Habakkuk 3:7) more than 700 years afterward may hardly be adduced to prove like close relationship between these peoples in the days of Moses.” (“Zipporah” International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia)

•    This event occurred some time after the beginning of the second year of the Exodus “Now the Lord spoke to Moses in the Wilderness of Sinai, in the first month of the second year after they had come out of the land of Egypt.” (Numbers 9:1 NKJV)
•    This event would be less than a year after Zipporah was brought to Moses, which occurred less than 90 days after the Israelites had left Egypt: “Now he had said to Moses, ‘I, your father-in-law Jethro, am coming to you with your wife and her two sons with her.’” (Exodus 18:5 NKJV) “In the third month after the children of Israel had gone out of the land of Egypt, on the same day, they came to the Wilderness of Sinai.” (Exodus 19:1 NKJV)
•    This event occurred shortly before the twelve spies were sent out, which occurred in the first year after the Israelites left Egypt: “And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Send men to spy out the land of Canaan, which I am giving to the children of Israel; from each tribe of their fathers you shall send a man, every one a leader among them.’” (Numbers 13:1-2 NKJV) Immediately after this event, the Israelites were told they would spend forty years in the wilderness: “Your sons shall be shepherds in the wilderness forty years, and bear the brunt of your infidelity, until your carcasses are consumed in the wilderness. According to the number of the days in which you spied out the land, forty days, for each day you shall bear your guilt one year, namely forty years, and you shall know My rejection.” (Numbers 14:33-34 NKJV)

Those that think that Zipporah had died before Moses married the “Ethiopian wife” would be forced to acknowledge that there was no funeral for Zipporah and that Moses must have married almost immediately after her death. The silence about the funeral for Zipporah would be inconsistent with the pattern of recording the deaths of the other relatives of Moses:
•    Miriam - “Then the children of Israel, the whole congregation, came into the Wilderness of Zin in the first month, and the people stayed in Kadesh; and Miriam died there and was buried there.” (Numbers 20:1 NKJV)
•    Aaron - “Then Aaron the priest went up to Mount Hor at the command of the Lord, and died there in the fortieth year after the children of Israel had come out of the land of Egypt, on the first day of the fifth month. Aaron was one hundred and twenty-three years old when he died on Mount Hor.” (Numbers 33:38-39 NKJV) “Now the children of Israel journeyed from the wells of Bene Jaakan to Moserah, where Aaron died, and where he was buried.” (Deuteronomy 10:6 NKJV) “Go up this mountain of the Abarim, Mount Nebo … just as Aaron your brother died on Mount Hor and was gathered to his people.” (Deuteronomy 32:49-50 NKJV)