The people come to Zin, They murmur for water, Moses directed to smite the rock, The infirmity of Moses and Aaron. (1-13) The Israelites are refused a passage through Edom. (14-21) Aaron reigns the priest's office to Eleazar, and dies in mount Hor. (22-29)
Verses 1-13 After thirty-eight years' tedious abode in the wilderness, the armies of Israel advanced towards Canaan again. There was no water for the congregation. We live in a wanting world, and wherever we are, must expect to meet with something to put us out. It is a great mercy to have plenty of water, a mercy which, if we found the want of, we should more own the worth of. Hereupon they murmured against Moses and Aaron. They spake the same absurd and brutish language their fathers had done. It made their crime the worse, that they had smarted so long for the discontent and distrusts of their fathers, yet they venture in the same steps. Moses must again, in God's name, command water out of a rock for them; God is as able as ever to supply his people with what is needful for them. But Moses and Aaron acted wrong. They took much of the glory of this work of wonder to themselves; "Must we fetch water?" As if it were done by some power or worthiness of their own. They were to speak to the rock, but they smote it. Therefore it is charged upon them, that they did not sanctify God, that is, they did not give to him alone that glory of this miracle which was due unto his name. And being provoked by the people, Moses spake unadvisedly with his lips. The same pride of man would still usurp the office of the appointed Mediator; and become to ourselves wisdom, righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption. Such a state of sinful independence, such a rebellion of the soul against its Saviour, the voice of God condemns in every page of the gospel.
Verses 14-21 The nearest way to Canaan from the place where Israel encamped, was through the country of Edom. The ambassadors who were sent returned with a denial. The Edomites feared to receive damage by the Israelites. And had this numerous army been under any other discipline than that of the righteous God himself, there might have been cause for this jealousy. But Esau hated Jacob because of the blessing; and now the hatred revived, when the blessing was about to be inherited. We must not think it strange, if reasonable requests be denied by unreasonable men, and if those whom God favours be affronted by men.
Verses 22-29 God bids Aaron prepare to die. There is something of displeasure in these orders. Aaron must not enter Canaan, because he had failed in his duty at the waters of strife. There is much of mercy in them. Aaron, though he dies for his transgression, dies with ease, and in honour. He is gathered to his people, as one who dies in the arms of Divine grace. There is much significancy in these orders. Aaron must not enter Canaan, to show that the Levitical priesthood could make nothing perfect; that must be done by bringing in a better hope. Aaron submits, and dies in the method and manner appointed; and, for aught that appears, with as much cheerfulness as if he had been going to bed. It was a great satisfaction to Aaron to see his son, who was dear to him, preferred; and his office preserved and secured: especially, to see in this a figure of Christ's everlasting priesthood. A good man would desire, if it were the will of God, not to outlive his usefulness. Why should we covet to continue any longer in this world, than while we may do some service in it for God and our generation?
Numbers 20:1-29 . THE DEATH OF MIRIAM.
1. Then came the children of Israel . . . into the desert of Zin in the first month--that is, of the fortieth year (compare Numbers 20:22 Numbers 20:23 , with Numbers 33:38 ). In this history only the principal and most important incidents are recorded, those confined chiefly to the first or second and the last years of the journeyings in the wilderness, thence called Et-Tih. Between Numbers 19:22 and Numbers 20:1 there is a long and undescribed interval of thirty-seven years.
the people abode in Kadesh--supposed to be what is now known as Ain-el-Weibeh, three springs surrounded by palms. of thirty-eight years ( Deuteronomy 1:19 ). The old generation had nearly all died, and the new one encamped in it with the view of entering the promised land, not, however, as formerly on the south, but by crossing the Edomite region on the east.
Miriam died there--four months before Aaron [ Numbers 33:38 ].
2-13. there was no water for the congregation--There was at Kadesh a fountain, En-Mishpat ( Genesis 14:7 ), and at the first encampment of the Israelites there was no want of water. It was then either partially dried up by the heat of the season, or had been exhausted by the demands of so vast a multitude.
6. Moses and Aaron went from the presence of the assembly--Here is a fresh ebullition of the untamed and discontented spirit of the people. The leaders fled to the precincts of the sanctuary, both as an asylum from the increasing fury of the highly excited rabble, and as their usual refuge in seasons of perplexity and danger, to implore the direction and aid of God.
8. Take the rod--which had been deposited in the tabernacle ( Numbers 17:10 ), the wonder-working rod by which so many miracles had been performed, sometimes called "the rod of God" ( Exodus 4:20 ), sometimes Moses' ( Numbers 20:11 ) or Aaron's rod ( Exodus 7:12 ).
10. [Moses] said unto them, Hear now, ye rebels; must we fetch you water out of this rock?--The conduct of the great leader on this occasion was hasty and passionate ( Psalms 106:33 ). He had been directed to speak to the rock [ Numbers 20:8 ], but he smote it twice [ Numbers 20:11 ] in his impetuosity, thus endangering the blossoms of the rod, and, instead of speaking to the rock, he spoke to the people in a fury.
11. the congregation drank, and their beasts--Physically the water afforded the same kind of needful refreshment to both. But from a religious point of view, this, which was only a common element to the cattle, was a sacrament to the people ( 1 Corinthians 10:3 1 Corinthians 10:4 )--It possessed a relative sanctity imparted to it by its divine origin and use.
12. The Lord spake unto Moses and Aaron, Because ye believed me not, &c.--The act of Moses in smiting twice betrayed a doubt, not of the power, but of the will of God to gratify such a rebellious people, and his exclamation seems to have emanated from a spirit of incredulity akin to Sarai's ( Genesis 18:13 ). These circumstances indicate the influence of unbelief, and there might have been others unrecorded which led to so severe a chastisement.
13. This is the water of Meribah--The word "Kadesh" is added to it [ Deuteronomy 32:51 ] to distinguish it from another Meribah ( Exodus 17:7 ).
14-16. Moses sent messengers . . . to the king of Edom--The encampment at Kadesh was on the confines of the Edomite territory, through which the Israelites would have had an easy passage across the Arabah by Wady-el-Ghuweir, so that they could have continued their course around Moab, and approached Palestine from the east [ROBERTS]. The Edomites, being the descendants of Esau and tracing their line of descent from Abraham as their common stock, were recognized by the Israelites as brethren, and a very brotherly message was sent to them.
17. we will go by the king's highway--probably Wady-el-Ghuweir [ROBERTS], through which ran one of the great lines of road, constructed for commercial caravans, as well as for the progress of armies. The engineering necessary for carrying them over marshes or mountains, and the care requisite for protecting them from the shifting sands, led to their being under the special care of the state. Hence the expression, "the king's highway," which is of great antiquity.
19. if I and my cattle drink of thy water, then I will pay for it--From the scarcity of water in the warm climates of the East, the practice of levying a tax for the use of the wells is universal; and the jealousy of the natives, in guarding the collected treasures of rain, is often so great that water cannot be procured for money.
21. Edom refused to give Israel passage through his border, &c.--A churlish refusal obliged them to take another route. see also 1 Samuel 14:47 , 2 Samuel 8:14 , which describe the retribution that was taken.)
22. the children of Israel . . . came unto mount Hor--now Gebel Haroun, the most striking and lofty elevation in the Seir range, called emphatically "the mount" ( Numbers 20:28 ). It is conspicuous by its double top.
24-28. Aaron shall be gathered unto his people--In accordance with his recent doom, he, attired in the high priest's costume, was commanded to ascend that mountain and die. But although the time of his death was hastened by the divine displeasure as a punishment for his sins, the manner of his death was arranged in tenderness of love, and to do him honor at the close of his earthly service. His ascent of the mount was to afford him a last look of the camp and a distant prospect of the promised land. The simple narrative of the solemn and impressive scene implies, though it does not describe, the pious resignation, settled faith, and inward peace of the aged pontiff.
26. strip Aaron of his garments--that is, his pontifical robes, in token of his resignation. (See Isaiah 22:20-25 ).
put them on his son--as the inauguration into his high office. Having been formerly anointed with the sacred oil, that ceremony was not repeated, or, as some think, it was done on his return to the camp.
28. Aaron died there in the top of the A tomb has been erected upon or close by the spot where he was buried.
29. When all the congregation saw that Aaron was dead--Moses and Eleazar were the sole witnesses of his departure ( Numbers 20:28 ). According to the established law, the new high priest could not have been present at the funeral of his father without contracting ceremonial defilement ( Leviticus 21:11 ). But that law was dispensed with in the extraordinary circumstances. The people learned the event not only from the recital of the two witnesses, but from their visible signs of grief and change; and this event betokened the imperfection of the Levitical priesthood ( Hebrews 7:12 ).
they mourned for Aaron thirty days--the usual period of public and solemn mourning.