Numbers 20

Listen to Numbers 20

The Death of Miriam

1 And the people of Israel, the whole congregation, came 1into the wilderness of Zin in the first month, and the people stayed in Kadesh. And 2Miriam died there and was buried there.

The Waters of Meribah

2 3Now there was no water for the congregation. 4And they assembled themselves together against Moses and against Aaron.
3 And the people 5quarreled with Moses and said, "Would that we had perished 6when our brothers perished before the LORD!
4 Why have you brought the assembly of the LORD into this wilderness, that we should die here, both we and our cattle?
5 And 7why have you made us come up out of Egypt to bring us to this evil place? It is no place for grain or figs or vines or pomegranates, and there is no water to drink."
6 Then Moses and Aaron went from the presence of the assembly to the entrance of the tent of meeting and 8fell on their faces. 9And the glory of the LORD appeared to them,
7 and the LORD spoke to Moses, saying,
8 10"Take the staff, and assemble the congregation, you and Aaron your brother, and tell the rock before their eyes to yield its water. So 11you shall bring water out of the rock for them and give drink to the congregation and their cattle."
9 And Moses took the staff 12from before the LORD, as he commanded him.

Moses Strikes the Rock

10 Then Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly together before the rock, and he said to them, 13"Hear now, you rebels: shall we bring water for you out of this rock?"
11 And Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock with his staff twice, 14and water came out abundantly, and the congregation drank, and their livestock.
12 And the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, "Because 15you did not believe in me, 16to uphold me as holy in the eyes of the people of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them."
13 17These are the waters of Meribah,[a] where the people of Israel quarreled with the LORD, and through them he showed himself holy.

Edom Refuses Passage

14 18Moses sent messengers from Kadesh to 19the king of Edom: "Thus says 20your brother Israel: You know all the hardship that we have met:
15 21how our fathers went down to Egypt, 22and we lived in Egypt a long time. 23And the Egyptians dealt harshly with us and our fathers.
16 And 24when we cried to the LORD, he heard our voice and 25sent an angel and brought us out of Egypt. And here we are in Kadesh, a city on the edge of your territory.
17 26Please let us pass through your land. We will not pass through field or vineyard, 27or drink water from a well. We will go along the King's Highway. We will not turn aside to the right hand or to the left until we have passed through your territory."
18 But Edom said to him, "You shall not pass through, lest I come out with the sword against you."
19 And the people of Israel said to him, "We will go up by the highway, 28and if we drink of your water, I and my livestock, 29then I will pay for it. Let me only pass through on foot, nothing more."
20 But he said, 30"You shall not pass through." And Edom came out against them with a large army and with a strong force.
21 Thus Edom 31refused to give Israel passage through his territory, so Israel 32turned away from him.

The Death of Aaron

22 And they journeyed from 33Kadesh, and the people of Israel, the whole congregation, came to 34Mount Hor.
23 And the LORD said to Moses and Aaron at Mount Hor, on the border of the land of Edom,
24 35"Let Aaron be gathered to his people, for he shall not enter the land that I have given to the people of Israel, because 36you rebelled against my command at the waters of Meribah.
25 Take Aaron and Eleazar his son and bring them up to Mount Hor.
26 And strip Aaron of his garments and put them on Eleazar his son. And Aaron 37shall be gathered to his people and shall die there."
27 Moses did as the LORD commanded. And they went up Mount Hor in the sight of all the congregation.
28 38And Moses stripped Aaron of his garments and put them on Eleazar his son. And Aaron died there 39on the top of the mountain. Then Moses and Eleazar came down from the mountain.
29 And when all the congregation saw that Aaron had perished, 40all the house of Israel wept for Aaron thirty days.

Numbers 20 Commentary

Chapter 20

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?

Cross References 40

  • 1. See Numbers 13:21
  • 2. Numbers 12:1; Numbers 26:59; Exodus 15:20
  • 3. [Exodus 17:1]
  • 4. Numbers 16:19, 42
  • 5. Numbers 14:2; [Exodus 17:2]
  • 6. Numbers 11:1, 33; Numbers 14:37; Numbers 16:32, 33, 35, 49
  • 7. [Exodus 17:3]
  • 8. Numbers 14:5; Numbers 16:4, 22, 45
  • 9. See Leviticus 9:23
  • 10. [Exodus 17:5]
  • 11. See Exodus 17:6
  • 12. Numbers 17:10
  • 13. Psalms 106:32, 33
  • 14. [See ver. 8 above]
  • 15. Numbers 27:14; Deuteronomy 1:37; Deuteronomy 3:26; Deuteronomy 32:51
  • 16. Ezekiel 20:41; Ezekiel 36:23; Ezekiel 38:16
  • 17. Numbers 27:14; Exodus 17:7; Deuteronomy 32:51; Deuteronomy 33:8; Psalms 81:7; Psalms 95:8; Psalms 106:32
  • 18. Judges 11:16, 17
  • 19. See Genesis 36:31-39
  • 20. Deuteronomy 2:4, 8; Deuteronomy 23:7; Obad. 10, 12
  • 21. Genesis 46:6; Acts 7:15
  • 22. See Exodus 12:40
  • 23. Exodus 1:11; Deuteronomy 26:6
  • 24. Exodus 2:23; Exodus 3:7
  • 25. Exodus 3:2; Exodus 14:19; Exodus 23:20; Exodus 33:2
  • 26. [Numbers 21:22; Deuteronomy 2:27]
  • 27. [ver. 19]
  • 28. [ver. 17]
  • 29. Deuteronomy 2:6, 28
  • 30. [Judges 11:17; Amos 1:11]
  • 31. [Deuteronomy 2:29]
  • 32. [Numbers 21:4; Deuteronomy 2:8; Judges 11:18]
  • 33. Numbers 33:37
  • 34. Numbers 21:4; Numbers 33:37
  • 35. Numbers 27:13; Deuteronomy 32:50; [Numbers 31:2; Genesis 25:8]
  • 36. ver. 12
  • 37. [See ver. 24 above]
  • 38. Exodus 29:29, 30
  • 39. Numbers 33:38; Deuteronomy 32:50; [Deuteronomy 10:6]
  • 40. Deuteronomy 34:8

Footnotes 1

  • [a]. Meribah means quarreling

Chapter Summary


In this chapter is an account of the children of Israel coming to the wilderness of Zin, where Miriam died, and where wanting water they murmured, Nu 20:1-5, upon which Moses and Aaron applied to the Lord, who ordered Moses to speak to a rock, which should give forth water, and which being smitten by him, accordingly did, Nu 20:6-11, but Moses and Aaron, in their conduct of this affair, displeased the Lord, Nu 20:12,13, after this, Moses sent to the king of Edom to desire a passage through his country, which request was refused, Nu 20:14-21, upon Israel's coming to Mount Hor, Aaron, by order, went up to the mount, and, when stripped of his clothes, which were put on his son Eleazar, he died, lamented by all the people, Nu 20:22-29.

Numbers 20 Commentaries

The English Standard Version is published with the permission of Good News Publishers.