Question: According to Exodus 2:16-21, Moses was married to Zipporah, the daughter of Ruel, the priest of Midian. Does Moses later marry a second wife from Cush (Numbers 12:1)?
Here is the account in Numbers:
Num. 12:1 Miriam and Aaron began to talk against Moses because of his Cushite wife, for he had married a Cushite.
Zipporah, Moses’ one and only wife, was a Cushite from the land of Midian. Here’s how that came about…
“Cush” means “black.” Cush descended from Ham and was the father of Nimrod (Gen. 10:8), who became the founder of Babel and the Assyrian Kingdom.
As you can see from the map above, Cush is shown twice. This map represents the division of peoples who migrated from Babel (Gen. 10). Cush is located on the northwest shore of the Indian Ocean, just below Arphaxad and Elam, and then again on the southwestern shore of the Red Sea (not named on the map) across from Arabia, on the African Continent just south of Mizarim. The reason for this is that the people of Cush (ancestors of the Ethiopians) first settled not far from the Tigris and Euphrates rivers in what is now southern Iraq. They eventually migrated around the Arabian Peninsula to Africa, settling along the coastline as they went.
The Midianites, named after Midian, the fourth son of Abraham (Gen. 25:2), were the principal tribe responsible for the Arab peoples. In Moses’ day, they were nomads who dwelt in the desert of north Arabia, pasturing their flocks on the fertile Sinai Peninsula. The Midianites controlled most of Arabia and the peoples who lived there, including those descended from Cush.
Moses’ wife Zipporah (whose name means “bird”) was the daughter of Ruel, a descendant of Cush (Numbers 12:1) who served as a priest in the land of Midian (Ex. 2:16). Her father is later referred to by the name Jethro (Ex. 18:2), which translates as “Excellency,” and likely refers to his priestly title. This could be compared to an Asian or Hispanic serving today as a Catholic priest in Italy.
When Moses fled Egypt, he found safety in Midian. It was there that he came to the rescue of Zipporah and her six sisters who were threatened by some ruffian shepherds. Out of gratitude, the Midian priest took Moses under his protection and offered him his daughter Zipporah in marriage (Ex. 2:16-21).
Many years later, during the Exodus from Egypt to the Promised Land, Moses’ sister Miriam succumbed to jealousy over Moses’ leadership and attempted to use his mixed marriage as leverage against him:
Num. 12:1 Miriam and Aaron began to talk against Moses because of his Cushite wife, for he had married a Cushite. “Has the LORD spoken only through Moses?” they asked. “Hasn’t he also spoken through us?” And the LORD heard this.
God’s quick and decisive judgment upon Miriam (Num. 12:4-15) highlights several spiritual truths, among them:
Acts 10:34 “…God does not show favoritism but accepts from every nation (Gk. ethne, i.e., “ethnic group”) the one who fears him and does what is right.”
1Sam. 26:9 “…Who can lay a hand on the LORD’S anointed and be guiltless?”