Now Mir′i·am and Aaron began to speak against Moses because of the Cush′ite wife he had married, for he had taken a Cush′ite wife. – Numbers 12:1
Numbers 12:1 in the Authorized Version reads: “And Miriam and Aaron spake against Moses because of the Ethiopian woman whom he had married: for he had married an Ethiopian woman.” The New World Translation reads: “Now Miriam and Aaron began to speak against Moses on account of the Cushite wife whom he had taken, because it was a Cushite wife he had taken.” This started off a controversy that quickly led into the complaint by Miriam and Aaron that Moses took too much upon himself as Jehovah’s spokesman. It was more than an objection against Moses’ choice of a wife. The real motive behind it was a desire by Miriam and Aaron for more power in the camp, and especially on Miriam’s part.
Some Bible commentators say that since Moses had been married to Zipporah for a long time she was not the one involved here, as any objection against her would have been raised long before. So they reason that Zipporah had died and Moses had remarried, this time selecting an Ethiopian woman, and that this remarriage was recent and raised the controversy. But the Bible does not say this, and the circumstances do not require such reasoning. Zipporah had been away from Moses, and now she rejoined him in the camp near Mount Sinai. It was soon after the camp began to move that the contention arose. Hence, while the marriage was not recent, the presence of Zipporah in the camp was.—Ex. 18:1-5.
Miriam feared being replaced as first lady in the camp, now that Zipporah had arrived. She got Aaron to join with her in complaining against Moses, first on the grounds of his wife, and then on the related but more general contention that Moses took too much authority to himself. Jealous ambition was involved in both aspects of the complaint, and logically ties together the first verse of Numbers chapter twelve with what follows. Some commentators fail to see this relationship and therefore argue that verse one does not fit with what follows and must be an interpolation.
For these reasons, and in the absence of any record of Zipporah’s death and a remarriage on Moses’ part,it can be concluded that the Cushite woman was Zipporah. But she was the daughter of priest Reuel of the land of Midian, where the descendants of Abraham by Midian lived. She was not an Ethiopian. She was not a Cushite in the sense of being a descendant of Ham’s son Cush, the forefather of the Ethiopians. There were Arabians on the Arabian peninsula called Kusi or Kushim not Ethiopians. This is shown by Habakkuk 3:7 (AT): “The tent-hangings of Cushan were torn to shreds; the hangings of the land of Midian fluttered wildly.” Cushan is made parallel to Midian as the same place. So it seems that “Cushite” was not always limited to descendants of Ham through Cush, but also was applied to some of the peoples of the land of Midian. Therefore Zipporah could be referred to as a Cushite at Numbers 12:1.