Scripture shows that Moses had two wives, Zipporah the Midianite, and much later, the Cushite woman. It is unlikely that he had these two wives at the same time since God clearly gave Moses His approval—and we know from Scripture that God designed marriage to be between one man and one woman.
For some, the account of Moses marrying the Cushite woman in Numbers 12 after marrying Zipporah in Exodus 2 okays the idea of a man having more than one wife. Let’s take a closer look at Moses’ wives, the situations surrounding them, and whether or not God approves of polygamy (multiple wives).
Moses’ First Wife – Zipporah
Moses was an exile. He fled from the scene of a crime—he had murdered an Egyptian for being cruel to an Israelite slave. He came upon the land of Midian and there he met and married one of the daughters of the local priest and stayed for 40 years.
Exodus 2:21 (ESV) And Moses was content to dwell with the man, and he gave Moses his daughter Zipporah.
There are a few things we know about Zipporah.
- Her father was the priest of Midian but appeared to worship the one true God, rather than the pagan gods like the people around him (Ex 18:12).
- She bore Moses two sons and was prepared to follow him into the unknown, like when he went to confront Pharaoh to let God’s people go (Ex 4:20), although Moses sent her and their two sons back to Midian shortly after.
- She understood the Mosaic Law and the importance of circumcision and when Moses had failed to obey The Lord in circumcising his son, and as a consequence became too ill to do it, she followed through (Ex 4:25).
From these accounts in scripture, we can safely say that Zipporah was not a disrespectful wife. She didn’t distract him or lead Moses away from obeying or worshiping God.
Moses’ Second Wife – the Cushite
Forty years later, God used the now 80-year-old Moses to lead the Israelite nation out of slavery in Egypt. He performed miracles through Moses like the parting of the Red Sea, and providing water from the rock. In the desert, the tabernacle had been established, the 10 Commandments issued, and the nation of Israel was yet to enter the Promised Land.
Numbers 12:1 (ESV) Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses because of the Cushite woman whom he had married, for he had married a Cushite woman.
Did the “Cushite woman” refer to Zipporah, Moses’ first wife?
Zipporah came from Midian, not Cush. Calling her a Cushite woman would be incorrect.
It is unlikely that Miriam and Aaron would raise Moses’ marriage to Zipporah as a concern after so many years—their outburst (rooted in their jealousy of Moses’ leadership position) was likely triggered by a new event, in this case, Moses’ new interracial marriage.
What happened to Zipporah?
Scripture doesn’t record exactly what happened to Zipporah, but since she married Moses about 40 years before he married the Cushite woman, it is likely she had passed away, leaving Moses a widower—and free to remarry without displeasing God.
God’s Plan for Marriage
Can we be sure that Moses didn’t have two wives at the same time? Well, scripture makes it very clear what God’s standard for marriage is, from the first marriage in Genesis (Adam and Eve) to the letters to the churches in the New Testament. God’s plan for marriage is the union of one man and one woman—this never changed!
Genesis 2:24 (ESV) Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.
Deuteronomy 17:17 (ESV) And he shall not acquire many wives for himself, lest his heart turn away, nor shall he acquire for himself excessive silver and gold.
1 Timothy 3:2 (ESV) Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach
Moses was aware of God’s design for marriage. After he married the Cushite woman, God in His faithfulness, clearly demonstrated that His favor was still upon Moses, who is in Heaven. Moses had not displeased God, he was still the obedient and rightful leader of Israel, right up until his death and burial. From this we understand that he also upheld God’s design for marriage—he was still the husband of one wife!
Numbers 12:5-9 (ESV) And the Lord came down in a pillar of cloud and stood at the entrance of the tent and called Aaron and Miriam, and they both came forward. And he said, “Hear my words: If there is a prophet among you, I the Lord make myself known to him in a vision; I speak with him in a dream. Not so with my servant Moses. He is faithful in all my house. With him I speak mouth to mouth, clearly, and not in riddles, and he beholds the form of the Lord. Why then were you not afraid to speak against my servant Moses?” And the anger of the Lord was kindled against them, and he departed.