ABC:Numbers 12

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Verse 3[edit] claims a contradiction with other verses on wisdom with the heading, "Moses' personality."[1]

Numbers 12:3: Now the man Moses was very meek, above all the men which were upon the face of the earth.

Numbers 31:14-18 And Moses was wroth with the officers of the host, with the captains over thousands, and captains over hundreds, which came from the battle. And Moses said unto them, Have ye saved all the women alive? Behold, these caused the children of Israel, through the counsel of Balaam, to commit trespass against the LORD in the matter of Peor, and there was a plague among the congregation of the LORD. Now therefore kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman that hath known man by lying with him. But all the women children, that have not known a man by lying with him, keep alive for yourselves.

This is a complex passage because multiple issues are involved, (1) why God wanted the people destroyed, (2) whether Moses did so by God's commandment or his own decision, and (3) whether Moses' personality indeed contradicts.

Why the Destruction?[edit]

Jim Meritt rather dishonestly omits from his quote at the crucial v. 16 showing that God wanted evil nations destroyed because they were causing Israelites to sin. The sin was so grievous God sent a huge plague on Israel which killed 24,000 Israelites. Moses afterward in the verses above can be seen screaming at the guilty Israelites for adopting the evil practices that caused God to send the plague, practices they learned from the wicked women, just as God had warned would happen. For a fuller discussion of what happened, see Numbers 25. The Midianite leaders infiltrated Israel and seduced Israelites into committing idolatrous sacrifice with Baal.

Numbers 25:1 And Israel abode in Shittim, and the people began to commit whoredom with the daughters of Moab.
2 And they called the people unto the sacrifices of their gods: and the people did eat, and bowed down to their gods.
3 And Israel joined himself unto Baalpeor: and the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel.
4 And the LORD said unto Moses, Take all the heads of the people, and hang them up before the LORD against the sun, that the fierce anger of the LORD may be turned away from Israel.
5 And Moses said unto the judges of Israel, Slay ye every one his men that were joined unto Baalpeor.

Numbers 25:9 And those that died in the plague were twenty and four thousand.

Numbers 25:16 And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,
17 Vex the Midianites, and smite them:
18 For they vex you with their wiles, wherewith they have beguiled you in the matter of Peor, and in the matter of Cozbi, the daughter of a prince of Midian, their sister, which was slain in the day of the plague for Peor's sake.

What Meritt fails to point out is that Baal sacrifice means CHILD SACRIFICE specifically. THAT was what got God so enraged, that the Israelites were being seduced by evil women into sacrificing their own children by burning them alive. They are also said to have "ate the sacrifices of the dead", meaning that not only did they kill their own children, but may have actually eaten them as well; cannibalism.

Psalms 106:28 They joined themselves also unto Baalpeor, and ate the sacrifices of the dead.
29 Thus they provoked him to anger with their inventions: and the plague brake in upon them.
30 Then stood up Phinehas, and executed judgment: and so the plague was stayed.
31 And that was counted unto him for righteousness unto all generations for evermore.
32 They angered him also at the waters of strife, so that it went ill with Moses for their sakes:
33 Because they provoked his spirit, so that he spake unadvisedly with his lips.
34 They did not destroy the nations, concerning whom the LORD commanded them:
35 But were mingled among the heathen, and learned their works.
36 And they served their idols: which were a snare unto them.
37 Yea, they sacrificed their sons and their daughters unto devils,
38 And shed innocent blood, even the blood of their sons and of their daughters, whom they sacrificed unto the idols of Canaan: and the land was polluted with blood.

39 Thus were they defiled with their own works, and went a whoring with their own inventions.
40 Therefore was the wrath of the LORD kindled against his people, insomuch that he abhorred his own inheritance.

Jeremiah 32:34 But they set their abominations in the house, which is called by my name, to defile it.
35 And they built the high places of Baal, which are in the valley of the son of Hinnom, to cause their sons and their daughters to pass through the fire unto Molech; which I commanded them not, neither came it into my mind, that they should do this abomination, to cause Judah to sin.

2 Kings 21:3 For he built up again the high places which Hezekiah his father had destroyed; and he reared up altars for Baal, and made a grove, as did Ahab king of Israel; and worshipped all the host of heaven, and served them.
4 And he built altars in the house of the LORD, of which the LORD said, In Jerusalem will I put my name.
5 And he built altars for all the host of heaven in the two courts of the house of the LORD.
6 And he made his son pass through the fire, and observed times, and used enchantments, and dealt with familiar spirits and wizards: he wrought much wickedness in the sight of the LORD, to provoke him to anger.

2 Kings 17:16 And they left all the commandments of the LORD their God, and made them molten images, even two calves, and made a grove, and worshipped all the host of heaven, and served Baal.
17 And they caused their sons and their daughters to pass through the fire, and used divination and enchantments, and sold themselves to do evil in the sight of the LORD, to provoke him to anger.
18 Therefore the LORD was very angry with Israel, and removed them out of his sight: there was none left but the tribe of Judah only.

God had specifically stated He would be destroying the evil nations of Canaan for the reasons mentioned in Leviticus 18, which included child sacrifice to Baal/Molech.

Leviticus 18:21 And thou shalt not let any of thy seed pass through the fire to Molech, neither shalt thou profane the name of thy God: I am the LORD...

Leviticus 18:24 Defile not ye yourselves in any of these things: for in all these the nations are defiled which I cast out before you:
25 And the land is defiled: therefore I do visit the iniquity thereof upon it, and the land itself vomiteth out her inhabitants.

Deuteronomy 18:10 There shall not be found among you any one that maketh his son or his daughter to pass through the fire, or that useth divination, or an observer of times, or an enchanter, or a witch,
11 Or a charmer, or a consulter with familiar spirits, or a wizard, or a necromancer.
12 For all that do these things are an abomination unto the LORD: and because of these abominations the LORD thy God doth drive them out from before thee.

God severely commanded the Israelites not to murder their own children like this.

Leviticus 20:1 And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,
2 Again, thou shalt say to the children of Israel, Whosoever he be of the children of Israel, or of the strangers that sojourn in Israel, that giveth any of his seed unto Molech; he shall surely be put to death: the people of the land shall stone him with stones.
3 And I will set my face against that man, and will cut him off from among his people; because he hath given of his seed unto Molech, to defile my sanctuary, and to profane my holy name.
4 And if the people of the land do any ways hide their eyes from the man, when he giveth of his seed unto Molech, and kill him not:
5 Then I will set my face against that man, and against his family, and will cut him off, and all that go a whoring after him, to commit whoredom with Molech, from among their people.

Deuteronomy 12:30 Take heed to thyself that thou be not snared by following them, after that they be destroyed from before thee; and that thou enquire not after their gods, saying, How did these nations serve their gods? even so will I do likewise.
31 Thou shalt not do so unto the LORD thy God: for every abomination to the LORD, which he hateth, have they done unto their gods; for even their sons and their daughters they have burnt in the fire to their gods.

God's constant punishment of Israel, including the Babylonian captivity, was in large part because they insisted upon child sacrifice to Baal and Molech.

Ezekiel 16:20 Moreover thou hast taken thy sons and thy daughters, whom thou hast borne unto me, and these hast thou sacrificed unto them to be devoured. Is this of thy whoredoms a small matter,
21 That thou hast slain my children, and delivered them to cause them to pass through the fire for them?

2 Kings 23:10 And he defiled Topheth, which is in the valley of the children of Hinnom, that no man might make his son or his daughter to pass through the fire to Molech.

Jeremiah 7:30 For the children of Judah have done evil in my sight, saith the LORD: they have set their abominations in the house which is called by my name, to pollute it.
31 And they have built the high places of Tophet, which is in the valley of the son of Hinnom, to burn their sons and their daughters in the fire; which I commanded them not, neither came it into my heart.
32 Therefore, behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that it shall no more be called Tophet, nor the valley of the son of Hinnom, but the valley of slaughter: for they shall bury in Tophet, till there be no place.
33 And the carcases of this people shall be meat for the fowls of the heaven, and for the beasts of the earth; and none shall fray them away.
34 Then will I cause to cease from the cities of Judah, and from the streets of Jerusalem, the voice of mirth, and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom, and the voice of the bride: for the land shall be desolate.

Ezekiel 23:36 The LORD said moreover unto me; Son of man, wilt thou judge Aholah and Aholibah? yea, declare unto them their abominations;
37 That they have committed adultery, and blood is in their hands, and with their idols have they committed adultery, and have also caused their sons, whom they bare unto me, to pass for them through the fire, to devour them.
38 Moreover this they have done unto me: they have defiled my sanctuary in the same day, and have profaned my sabbaths.
39 For when they had slain their children to their idols, then they came the same day into my sanctuary to profane it; and, lo, thus have they done in the midst of mine house.

Ezekiel 20:31 For when ye offer your gifts, when ye make your sons to pass through the fire, ye pollute yourselves with all your idols, even unto this day: and shall I be enquired of by you, O house of Israel? As I live, saith the Lord GOD, I will not be enquired of by you.

God was destroying the nations and forbidding Israelite contact with them because God wanted to destroy this horrible practice and prevent Israelites from adopting it.

Exodus 23:32 Thou shalt make no covenant with them, nor with their gods.
33 They shall not dwell in thy land, lest they make thee sin against me: for if thou serve their gods, it will surely be a snare unto thee.

Exodus 34:11 Observe thou that which I command thee this day: behold, I drive out before thee the Amorite, and the Canaanite, and the Hittite, and the Perizzite, and the Hivite, and the Jebusite.
12 Take heed to thyself, lest thou make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land whither thou goest, lest it be for a snare in the midst of thee:
13 But ye shall destroy their altars, break their images, and cut down their groves:
14 For thou shalt worship no other god: for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God:
15 Lest thou make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land, and they go a whoring after their gods, and do sacrifice unto their gods, and one call thee, and thou eat of his sacrifice;
16 And thou take of their daughters unto thy sons, and their daughters go a whoring after their gods, and make thy sons go a whoring after their gods.
17 Thou shalt make thee no molten gods.

Deuteronomy 7:2 And when the LORD thy God shall deliver them before thee; thou shalt smite them, and utterly destroy them; thou shalt make no covenant with them, nor shew mercy unto them:
3 Neither shalt thou make marriages with them; thy daughter thou shalt not give unto his son, nor his daughter shalt thou take unto thy son.
4 For they will turn away thy son from following me, that they may serve other gods: so will the anger of the LORD be kindled against you, and destroy thee suddenly.

Deuteronomy 20:16 But of the cities of these people, which the LORD thy God doth give thee for an inheritance, thou shalt save alive nothing that breatheth:
17 But thou shalt utterly destroy them; namely, the Hittites, and the Amorites, the Canaanites, and the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites; as the LORD thy God hath commanded thee:
18 That they teach you not to do after all their abominations, which they have done unto their gods; so should ye sin against the LORD your God.

Unfortunately Israel deliberately disobeyed God's commandments to destroy the evil nations around them, and ended up adopting the horrible practice of child sacrifice which spread like a plague to other parts of the world including Israel. Therefore it was very fitting that God at the time punished Israel with a plague for disobeying.

Whose Commandment?[edit]

God never commanded that only female children be left alive. Moses did this of his own decision, just as he is seen to have done elsewhere as well. God originally commanded that the entire nations be wiped out with no exceptions. (Deuteronomy 7:2; Exodus 23:32-33) God also specifically forbade marrying their daughters. (Exodus 34:11-12; Deuteronomy 7:3-4) Moses disobeyed God by not destroying the nations. (Psalms 106:34)

Moses elsewhere disobeyed God's direct commandments. Jesus stated God never intended that Moses allow divorce, for example, but that the seemingly wishy-washy Moses did so for the hardness of their hearts.

Mark 10:2 And the Pharisees came to him, and asked him, Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife? tempting him.
3 And he answered and said unto them, What did Moses command you?
4 And they said, Moses suffered to write a bill of divorcement, and to put her away.
5 And Jesus answered and said unto them, For the hardness of your heart he wrote you this precept.
6 But from the beginning of the creation God made them male and female.
7 For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and cleave to his wife;
8 And they twain shall be one flesh: so then they are no more twain, but one flesh.
9 What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.

Deuteronomy 24:1 When a man hath taken a wife, and married her, and it come to pass that she find no favour in his eyes, because he hath found some uncleanness in her: then let him write her a bill of divorcement, and give it in her hand, and send her out of his house.
2 And when she is departed out of his house, she may go and be another man's wife.
3 And if the latter husband hate her, and write her a bill of divorcement, and giveth it in her hand, and sendeth her out of his house; or if the latter husband die, which took her to be his wife;
4 Her former husband, which sent her away, may not take her again to be his wife, after that she is defiled; for that is abomination before the LORD: and thou shalt not cause the land to sin, which the LORD thy God giveth thee for an inheritance.

For another case of Moses disobeying God, see Exodus 3-4. In summary:

  • God tells Moses to go to Pharaoh to bring the Israelites out of Egypt. (3:7-10)
  • Moses complains that he's a nobody and Pharaoh won't listen. (3:11)
  • God assures Moses He'll be with Moses and Moses will know as a sign that Moses will serve God on the same mountain. (3:12)
  • Moses complains he'll have nothing to tell the Israelites when they ask what God they are to serve. (3:13)
  • God replies that Moses should tell them "I AM", the self-existent God of their forefathers has sent him. (3:14-15) God urges Moses to go tell the Israelites what will happen. (3:16-22)
  • Moses complains that the Israelites won't believe him. (4:1)
  • God tells Moses how to work a miracle with his rod so it becomes a reptile of some kind. Moses then runs away from the reptile and God coaxes him back so it turns back into a rod, and teaches him two other miracles, leprosy and turning water to blood. (4:2-9)
  • Moses complains that he has a speech impediment. (4:10)
  • God replies that He is the maker of the mouth and will give Moses the ability to speak. (4:11-12)

At the end of all this, Moses just basically tells God, "Sorry, send someone else" and God gets mad, and sends Moses' brother Aaron along as a spokesman because Moses refuses to cooperate. (4:13-17)

For another example, God gave Moses an opportunity to glorify God before all Israel as a sign to all future generations, but Moses used it instead to make himself look good.

Numbers 20:10 And Moses and Aaron gathered the congregation together before the rock, and he said unto them, Hear now, ye rebels; must we fetch you water out of this rock?
11 And Moses lifted up his hand, and with his rod he smote the rock twice: and the water came out abundantly, and the congregation drank, and their beasts also.
12 And the LORD spake unto Moses and Aaron, Because ye believed me not, to sanctify me in the eyes of the children of Israel, therefore ye shall not bring this congregation into the land which I have given them.

This last act of disobedience was the final straw for God, probably still peeved at the earlier Moses incidents. God told Moses he wouldn't enter the promised land of Canaan, and Moses ultimately died just outside the country's borders, and Joshua took over as leader. (Deuteronomy 1:37-38, 31:2) It may be that God knew Moses would be very much honored and rewarded in Heaven, but that for the sake of future generations He had to make an example of Moses so it would be apparent how severe Moses' disobedience had been; so that there would be no confusion over how Moses had rejected God's commandments to do what he wanted.

Deuteronomy 32:48 And the LORD spake unto Moses that selfsame day, saying,
49 Get thee up into this mountain Abarim, unto mount Nebo, which is in the land of Moab, that is over against Jericho; and behold the land of Canaan, which I give unto the children of Israel for a possession:
50 And die in the mount whither thou goest up, and be gathered unto thy people; as Aaron thy brother died in mount Hor, and was gathered unto his people:
51 Because ye trespassed against me among the children of Israel at the waters of Meribah-Kadesh, in the wilderness of Zin; because ye sanctified me not in the midst of the children of Israel.
52 Yet thou shalt see the land before thee; but thou shalt not go thither unto the land which I give the children of Israel.

Moses' Personality[edit]

Now, with all of this apparent, does Moses' personality contradict? On the contrary, Moses was meek, so meek he refused to listen to God in Exodus 3-4 and scared of the enormity of the task, told God to go away and send someone else. So meek he didn't stand up to the Israelites and created commandments they wanted which God never intended like allowing divorce and sparing young females of evil nations. His meekness seemingly made him a poor leader, as he didn't stand up to Israel and take charge. As a result his sibling Aaron got a lot of responsibility and ultimately led Israel to rebel against God with idolatry. (Exodus 32)

Moses' initial anger that Israel was disobeying God's commandments does not contradict his meekness, as anyone meek can still get angry. The last part of the verse appears to evidence his giving into the Israelites on an issue as he did with divorce, to disobey God's commandment to destroy the nations and not marry into them. As such it is more confirmation of his meekness rather than a contradiction.


  1. Meritt, Jim (1992). A list of Biblical contradictions. Retrieved from