Numbers 20

1 In the first month all the people of Israel arrived at the Desert of Zin, and they stayed at Kadesh. There Miriam died and was buried.
2 There was no water for the people, so they came together against Moses and Aaron.
3 They argued with Moses and said, "We should have died in front of the Lord as our brothers did.
4 Why did you bring the Lord's people into this desert? Are we and our animals to die here?
5 Why did you bring us from Egypt to this terrible place? It has no grain, figs, grapevines, or pomegranates, and there's no water to drink!"
6 So Moses and Aaron left the people and went to the entrance of the Meeting Tent. There they bowed facedown, and the glory of the Lord appeared to them.
7 The Lord said to Moses,
8 "Take your walking stick, and you and your brother Aaron should gather the people. Speak to that rock in front of them so that its water will flow from it. When you bring the water out from that rock, give it to the people and their animals."
9 So Moses took the stick from in front of the Lord, as he had said.
10 Moses and Aaron gathered the people in front of the rock, and Moses said, "Now listen to me, you who turn against God! Do you want us to bring water out of this rock?"
11 Then Moses lifted his hand and hit the rock twice with his stick. Water began pouring out, and the people and their animals drank it.
12 But the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, "Because you did not believe me, and because you did not honor me as holy before the people, you will not lead them into the land I will give them."
13 These are the waters of Meribah, where the Israelites argued with the Lord and where he showed them he was holy.
14 From Kadesh, Moses sent messengers to the king of Edom. He said, "Your brothers, the Israelites, say to you: You know about all the troubles we have had,
15 how our ancestors went down into Egypt and we lived there for many years. The people of Egypt were cruel to us and our ancestors,
16 but when we cried out to the Lord, he heard us and sent us an angel to bring us out of Egypt. "Now we are here at Kadesh, a town on the edge of your land.
17 Please let us pass through your country. We will not touch any fields of grain or vineyards, and will not drink water from the wells. We will travel only along the king's road, not turning right or left until we have passed through your country."
18 But the king of Edom answered: "You may not pass through here. If you try, I will come and meet you with swords."
19 The Israelites answered: "We will go along the main road, and if we or our animals drink any of your water, we will pay for it. We only want to walk through. That's all."
20 But he answered: "You may not pass through here." Then the Edomites went out to meet the Israelites with a large and powerful army.
21 The Edomites refused to let them pass through their country, so the Israelites turned back.
22 All the Israelites moved from Kadesh to Mount Hor,
23 near the border of Edom. There the Lord said to Moses and Aaron,
24 "Aaron will die. He will not enter the land that I'm giving to the Israelites, because you both acted against my command at the waters of Meribah.
25 Take Aaron and his son Eleazar up on Mount Hor,
26 and take off Aaron's special clothes and put them on his son Eleazar. Aaron will die there; he will join his ancestors."
27 Moses obeyed the Lord's command. They climbed up Mount Hor, and all the people saw them go.
28 Moses took off Aaron's clothes and put them on Aaron's son Eleazar. Then Aaron died there on top of the mountain. Moses and Eleazar came back down the mountain,
29 and when all the people learned that Aaron was dead, everyone in Israel cried for him for 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?

Chapter Summary

INTRODUCTION TO NUMBERS 20

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