Moses Ethiopian Wife
"And Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses because of the Ethiopian woman whom he had married; for he had married an Ethiopian woman" (Num. 12.1).
Every now and again someone asks how it could be that Moses, the champion of the Lord for the chosen people, could have married an Ethiopian who was therefore of the descendants of Ham, youngest son of Noah. There was strong objection in Israel to such marriages although the assumption that Moses had married before he left Egypt only raises the second question how he later came to marry Zipporah the Midianite when he apparently had left one wife back in Egypt. The word "Ethiopian" is the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew word "Cush" who in Genesis 10.8 is recorded as one of the sons of Ham. The Cushites became the people known to history as the Sumerians. Eventually many of their tribes migrated, some down the eastern side of the Persian Gulf and into India, where they established the Indus civilization which endured from about 2000 BC to 1500 BC. Others moved down the western side and across Arabia and over the Red Sea into Africa where they became the people known to the Egyptians as Cush, living mainly in what is now the Sudan. Jewish legend has it that Moses when at the court of Pharaoh led an invading army into Cush and returned in triumph but there is probably no truth in that.
"Ethiopia" in the A.V. is taken from old Anglo-Saxon versions that were based largely on the Greek Septuagint. It used this word to translate the Hebrew "Cush", but to the Greeks the whole of the southern world from Africa to India was denoted by the word Ethiopia (English travellers as late as the 17th Century still used the name in that sense). The Egyptians despised the Cushites and called them "vile Cush" and lost no opportunity of waging war on them. It would have been social suicide for Moses to marry into that nation while still at the Egyptian court and most unlikely. Another factor is that by deduction from Scripture records, at that time in history a man was rarely below the age of fifty at marriage, and since Moses fled to Midian at age forty, his marriage whilst there and return forty years later with two sons is perfectly logical. There is no evidence aside from this questionable statement in Num. 12.1 that he had been married before.
Zipporah, his Midianite wife (Exodus 2.15-22) was a descendant of Abraham through his wife Keturah. She was therefore of Semitic race and there would be no valid objection on that score against the union. Midianites were scattered all over the lands south of Canaan and the tribal name of the Sinai Midianites was Cushan (referred to only once in the O.T. in Habakkuk 3.7 "I saw the tents of Cushan in affliction and the curtains of the land of Midian did tremble". The almost certain explanation of Num. 12.1 is that by an early copyist's mistake Cushan was turned into Cush by the omission of the final N. The archaic Hebrew N in the days before Ezra was a very insignificant little "squiggle" and could easily have been missed. On this basis the text tells us that Moses had married a Cushan Midianite, which is what Exodus 2 says anyway. The objection raised by Aaron and Miriam to the nationality of his wife was probably evoked by jealousy. They feared that one of Moses' own sons by Zipporah would be appointed by him to succeed him as Israel's leader when the time came. They, and probably most of their fellows, would much prefer a full blooded son of Israel. They need not have worried; when the time did come, the Lord brought forth His own choice for leader, the stalwart Joshua. This is one of the lessons we all find hard to learn, that the Lord is perfectly able to raise up His own instrument to carry on any section of His work when the torch begins to fall from failing hands. We need not plan and devise and agonize for the continuance of that which He has left in our charge for a space of time.
One has to realise that many of the women of the Old Testament history were not of Israel, although of Semitic race Isaac married Rebecca who was of Nahor, brother to Abraham. Jacob married Rachel and Leah of the same stock. Salmon prince of Judah at the entry to the Land married Rahab of Jericho whose name shows she was Semitic, either of Abraham through Esau, Ishmael or Keturah, or of Nahor. Tamar who carried on the Messianic line from Judah was not of Jacob but her name too reveals that she was Semitic. Ruth who married Boaz was a Moabite, from Lot the son of Haran another brother of Abraham. There was no inconsistency therefore in the case of Moses.
There are theories that assert that the name "Cush" means black and that he was a black man, the ancestor of the African races. While it is true that purely Hebrew names often have a meaning which can be traced by the construction of the word as for example Jesus in Greek is the Hebrew Joshua, or more properly Jehoshua, which means God is Saviour, the same practice cannot be applied to non-Hebrew names. There is no Hebrew word closely resembling Cush that means black. Cush was given his name long before there were any Hebrews or any Hebrew language. He was certainly the ancestor of the Sumerians and that language is the oldest one that is now known, but the Sumerian word for black is "gig" - not very similar. No one knows what the nature of the language spoken by Noah and his sons was and only that later languages were derived from it. It is probably true that many of the black peoples of Africa are descended from Cush but their black colour developed after they had settled in Africa and not before. The various, colours of men in different climes are the result of long habitation under specialised conditions of climate and food, and probably other factors not yet completely understood. There is no reason for thinking that Noah had grandsons in a variety of colours,. In fact there is evidence to the contrary. According to Genesis 10, Cush had a brother named Phut. The Phutites in later generations also crossed into Africa and colonised the north, right across the continent to the Atlantic in days when the present Sahara desert was a fertile well-watered country abounding in forests and animal life. Today there are cave-paintings still existing in that barren and uninhabited waste executed by, and depicting, those Phutites of four thousand years ago but they are not shown as black. They are painted with red and yellow skins; their descendants today are deep brown.
There is no means of determining the colour of the first men, nor yet that of Noah and his sons. The white races tend to think that they must have been white; but the Chinese insist, quite as logically, that they were yellow. We just do not know. What we do know is that God "hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on the face of the earth. (Acts 17.16) and that all men everywhere, of whatever colour, are able to propagate their own kind with each other.. Perhaps the Lord, who is the supreme Artist in creation, sees some advantage in having men ultimately develop five outward colours, whilst still being men inside, just as He has ordained variety in the rest of His Creation.
Coming back to the main point, there is not much doubt that the only woman Moses married, the mother of his children was the daughter of the Midianite Chieftain. Jethro gave him hospitality during his term of exile and proved to be as much a reverential worshipper of the true God as was Moses himself.