On the Mystery of the Ethiopian Woman

St. Ambrose of Milan ca. 338-397

Miriam the prophetess herself, who with her brothers had crossed the straits of the sea on foot, because, being still ignorant of the mystery of the Ethiopian woman, she had murmured against her brother Moses, broke out with leprous spots, Num. 12:10 so that she would scarcely have been freed from so great a plague, unless Moses had prayed for her. Although this murmuring refers to the type of the Synagogue, which is ignorant of the mystery of that Ethiopian woman, that is the Church gathered out of the nations, and murmurs with daily reproaches, and envies that people through whose faith itself also shall be delivered from the leprosy of its unbelief, according to what we read that: blindness in part has happened unto Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles be come in, and so all Israel shall be saved. Rom. 11:25 (Letter 63:57)


  1. That certainly gives a new light to that story, but I wonder why Aaron was not similarly affected?

  2. St. Ambrose didn’t comment on that specific point but in one of my Protestant commentaries they specifically mention thepatristic interpretation of this episode:

    Miriam, as a prophetess (compare Exo_15:20-21) no less than as the sister of Moses and Aaron, took the first rank among the women of Israel; and Aaron may be regarded as the ecclesiastical head of the whole nation. But instead of being grateful for these high dignities they challenged the special vocation of Moses and the exclusive authority which God had assigned to him. Miriam was the instigator, from the fact that her name stands conspicuously first Num_12:1, and that the punishment Num_12:10 fell on her alone. She probably considered herself as supplanted, and that too by a foreigner. Aaron was misled this time by the urgency of his sister, as once before Exo. 32 by that of the people.
    The Ethiopian woman whom he had married – (Hebrew, “Cushite,” compare Gen_2:13; Gen_10:6) It is likely that Zipporah Exo_2:21 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.
    The marriage of Moses with a woman descended from Ham was not prohibited, so long as she was not of the stock of Canaan (compare Exo_34:11-16); but it would at any time have been offensive to that intense nationality which characterized the Jews. The Christian fathers note in the successive marriage of Moses with a Midianite and an Ethiopian a foreshadowing of the future extension to the Gentiles of God’s covenant and its promises (compare Psa_45:9 ff; Son_1:4 ff); and in the complaining of Miriam and Aaron a type of the discontent of the Jews because of such extension: compare Luk_15:29-30.

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  3. Betmeh yemarel yena konjo

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