Numbers 20

Death of Miriam

1 Then the sons of Israel, the whole congregation, came to the 1wilderness of Zin in the first month; and the people stayed at Kadesh. Now Miriam died there and was buried there.
2 2There was no water for the congregation, 3and they assembled themselves against Moses and Aaron.
3 4The people thus contended with Moses and spoke, saying, "5If only we had perished 6when our brothers perished before the LORD!
4 "7Why then have you brought the LORD'S assembly into this wilderness, for us and our beasts to die here?
5 "Why have you made us come up from Egypt, to bring us in to this wretched place? 8It is not a place of grain or figs or vines or pomegranates, nor is there water to drink."
6 Then Moses and Aaron came in from the presence of the assembly to the doorway of the tent of meeting and 9fell on their faces. Then the glory of the LORD appeared to them;
7 and the LORD spoke to Moses, saying,

The Water of Meribah

8 "Take 10the rod; and you and your brother Aaron assemble the congregation and speak to the rock before their eyes, that it may yield its water. You shall thus bring forth water for them out of the rock and let the congregation and their beasts drink."
9 So Moses took the rod 11from before * the LORD, just as He had commanded him;
10 and Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly before * the rock. And he said to them, "12Listen now, you rebels; shall we bring forth water for you out of this rock?"
11 Then Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock twice with his rod; and 13water came forth abundantly, and the congregation and their beasts drank.
12 But the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, "14Because you have not believed Me, to treat Me as holy in the sight of the sons of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land which I have given them."
13 Those were the waters of 15Meribah, because the sons of Israel contended with the LORD, and He proved Himself holy among them.
14 From Kadesh Moses then sent messengers to 16the king of Edom: "Thus your brother Israel has said, 'You 17know all the hardship that has befallen us;
15 that our fathers went down to Egypt, and we stayed in Egypt a long time, and the Egyptians treated us and our fathers badly.
16 'But 18when we cried out to the LORD, He heard our voice and sent 19an angel and brought us out from Egypt; now behold, we are at Kadesh, a town on the edge of your territory.
17 'Please 20let us pass through your land. We will not pass through field or through vineyard; we will not even drink water from a well. We will go along the king's highway, not turning to the right or left, until * we pass through your territory.' "
18 21Edom, however, said to him, "You shall not pass through us, or I will come out with the sword against you."
19 Again, the sons of Israel said to him, "We will go up by the highway, and if I and 22my livestock do drink any of your water, 23then I will pay its price. Let me only pass through on my feet, nothing * else."
20 But he said, "24You shall not pass through." And Edom came out against him with a heavy force and with a strong hand.
21 25Thus Edom refused to allow Israel to pass through his territory; 26so Israel turned away from him.
22 Now when they set out from 27Kadesh, the sons of Israel, the whole congregation, came to Mount Hor.

Death of Aaron

23 Then the LORD spoke to Moses and Aaron at 28Mount Hor by the border of the land of Edom, saying,
24 "Aaron will be 29gathered to his people; for he shall not enter the land which I have given to the sons of Israel, because * 30you rebelled against My command at the waters of Meribah.
25 "Take Aaron and his son 31Eleazar and bring them up to Mount Hor;
26 and strip Aaron of his garments and put them on his son Eleazar. So Aaron will be 32gathered to his people, and will die there."
27 So Moses did just as the LORD had commanded, and they went up to Mount Hor in the sight of all the congregation.
28 After Moses had stripped Aaron of his garments and 33put them on his son Eleazar, 34Aaron died there on the mountain top. Then Moses and Eleazar came down from the mountain.
29 When all the congregation saw that Aaron had died, all the house of Israel wept for Aaron thirty 35days.

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 35

  • 1. Numbers 13:21; Numbers 27:14; Numbers 33:36
  • 2. Exodus 17:1
  • 3. Numbers 16:19, 42
  • 4. Exodus 17:2
  • 5. Numbers 14:2, 3
  • 6. Numbers 16:31-35
  • 7. Exodus 17:3
  • 8. Numbers 16:14
  • 9. Numbers 14:5
  • 10. Exodus 4:17, 20; Exodus 17:5, 6
  • 11. Numbers 17:10
  • 12. Psalms 106:33
  • 13. Psalms 78:16; Isaiah 48:21; 1 Corinthians 10:4
  • 14. Numbers 20:24; Numbers 27:14; Deuteronomy 1:37; Deuteronomy 3:26, 27
  • 15. Exodus 17:7; Psalms 95:8
  • 16. Genesis 36:31-39; Deuteronomy 2:4
  • 17. Joshua 2:9, 10; Joshua 9:9, 10, 24
  • 18. Exodus 2:23; Exodus 3:7
  • 19. Exodus 14:19
  • 20. Numbers 21:22
  • 21. Numbers 24:18
  • 22. Exodus 12:38
  • 23. Deuteronomy 2:6, 28
  • 24. Judges 11:17
  • 25. Judges 11:17
  • 26. Deuteronomy 2:8
  • 27. Numbers 20:1, 14
  • 28. Numbers 33:37
  • 29. Genesis 25:8
  • 30. Numbers 20:5, 10
  • 31. Numbers 3:4
  • 32. Numbers 20:24
  • 33. Exodus 29:29
  • 34. Numbers 33:38; Deuteronomy 10:6; Deuteronomy 32:50
  • 35. Genesis 1:5; Genesis 50:3, 10; Deuteronomy 34:8

Footnotes 9

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