Numbers 20

Water From the Rock

1 In the first month the whole Israelite community arrived at the Desert of Zin, and they stayed at Kadesh. There Miriam died and was buried.
2 Now there was no water for the community, and the people gathered in opposition to Moses and Aaron.
3 They quarreled with Moses and said, “If only we had died when our brothers fell dead before the LORD!
4 Why did you bring the LORD’s community into this wilderness, that we and our livestock should die here?
5 Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to this terrible place? It has no grain or figs, grapevines or pomegranates. And there is no water to drink!”
6 Moses and Aaron went from the assembly to the entrance to the tent of meeting and fell facedown, and the glory of the LORD appeared to them.
7 The LORD said to Moses,
8 “Take the staff, and you and your brother Aaron gather the assembly together. Speak to that rock before their eyes and it will pour out its water. You will bring water out of the rock for the community so they and their livestock can drink.”
9 So Moses took the staff from the LORD’s presence, just as he commanded him.
10 He and Aaron gathered the assembly together in front of the rock and Moses said to them, “Listen, you rebels, must we bring you water out of this rock?”
11 Then Moses raised his arm and struck the rock twice with his staff. Water gushed out, and the community and their livestock drank.
12 But the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not trust in me enough to honor me as holy in the sight of the Israelites, you will not bring this community into the land I give them.”
13 These were the waters of Meribah,[a] where the Israelites quarreled with the LORD and where he was proved holy among them.

Edom Denies Israel Passage

14 Moses sent messengers from Kadesh to the king of Edom, saying: “This is what your brother Israel says: You know about all the hardships that have come on us.
15 Our ancestors went down into Egypt, and we lived there many years. The Egyptians mistreated us and our ancestors,
16 but when we cried out to the LORD, he heard our cry and sent an angel and brought us out of Egypt. “Now we are here at Kadesh, a town on the edge of your territory.
17 Please let us pass through your country. We will not go through any field or vineyard, or drink water from any well. We will travel along the King’s Highway and not turn to the right or to the left until we have passed through your territory.”
18 But Edom answered: “You may not pass through here; if you try, we will march out and attack you with the sword.”
19 The Israelites replied: “We will go along the main road, and if we or our livestock drink any of your water, we will pay for it. We only want to pass through on foot—nothing else.”
20 Again they answered: “You may not pass through.” Then Edom came out against them with a large and powerful army.
21 Since Edom refused to let them go through their territory, Israel turned away from them.

The Death of Aaron

22 The whole Israelite community set out from Kadesh and came to Mount Hor.
23 At Mount Hor, near the border of Edom, the LORD said to Moses and Aaron,
24 “Aaron will be gathered to his people. He will not enter the land I give the Israelites, because both of you rebelled against my command at the waters of Meribah.
25 Get Aaron and his son Eleazar and take them up Mount Hor.
26 Remove Aaron’s garments and put them on his son Eleazar, for Aaron will be gathered to his people; he will die there.”
27 Moses did as the LORD commanded: They went up Mount Hor in the sight of the whole community.
28 Moses removed Aaron’s garments and put them on his son Eleazar. And Aaron died there on top of the mountain. Then Moses and Eleazar came down from the mountain,
29 and when the whole community learned that Aaron had died, all the Israelites mourned for him 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 62

  • 1. Numbers 13:21
  • 2. ver 14; Numbers 13:26; Numbers 33:36; Deuteronomy 1:46; Judges 11:17; Psalms 29:8
  • 3. S Exodus 15:20
  • 4. S Exodus 15:22
  • 5. Exodus 17:1
  • 6. S Numbers 16:19
  • 7. ver 13; S Genesis 13:7; Exodus 17:2; Exodus 21:18
  • 8. S Exodus 5:21
  • 9. S Numbers 14:2; Numbers 16:31-35
  • 10. S Numbers 14:2
  • 11. S Exodus 14:11; Exodus 17:3; Numbers 14:3; Numbers 16:13
  • 12. Numbers 13:23; Numbers 16:14
  • 13. S Exodus 17:1
  • 14. S Exodus 40:2
  • 15. Numbers 14:5
  • 16. S Numbers 16:19
  • 17. S Exodus 4:2; S Exodus 10:12-13; Exodus 4:17,20
  • 18. Exodus 17:6; Isaiah 41:18; Isaiah 43:20; Jeremiah 31:9
  • 19. Numbers 17:2
  • 20. Numbers 17:10
  • 21. ver 8
  • 22. Psalms 106:32,33
  • 23. S Exodus 17:6; S Isaiah 33:21; Deuteronomy 8:15; Psalms 78:16; Isaiah 48:2; 1 Corinthians 10:4
  • 24. Numbers 27:14; Deuteronomy 32:51; Isaiah 5:16; Isaiah 8:13
  • 25. ver 24; Deuteronomy 1:37; Deuteronomy 3:27
  • 26. S Exodus 17:7
  • 27. S ver 3; Deuteronomy 33:8; Psalms 95:8; Psalms 106:32
  • 28. S Leviticus 10:3
  • 29. S ver 1; Judges 11:16-17
  • 30. S ver 16; S Genesis 25:30; S Genesis 36:16; Deuteronomy 2:4
  • 31. Genesis 24:3; Deuteronomy 4:39; Joshua 2:11; Joshua 9:9
  • 32. S Exodus 18:8
  • 33. S Genesis 46:6
  • 34. S Genesis 15:13; Exodus 12:40
  • 35. S Exodus 1:14; Exodus 1:11; Deuteronomy 26:6
  • 36. S Genesis 16:11; S Genesis 21:17; S Exodus 2:23; Exodus 3:7
  • 37. Exodus 14:19
  • 38. Exodus 12:42; Deuteronomy 26:8
  • 39. ver 14,23; Numbers 33:37
  • 40. ver 20; Numbers 21:22; Deuteronomy 2:27; Judges 11:17
  • 41. ver 14
  • 42. Numbers 21:23
  • 43. Exodus 12:38
  • 44. Deuteronomy 2:6,28
  • 45. S ver 17,18
  • 46. ver 14
  • 47. Numbers 21:23
  • 48. Numbers 21:4; Deuteronomy 2:8; Judges 11:18
  • 49. Deuteronomy 1:46
  • 50. Numbers 33:37; Numbers 34:7; Deuteronomy 32:50
  • 51. S ver 16; Numbers 33:37
  • 52. S Genesis 25:8
  • 53. S ver 10
  • 54. S Exodus 17:7
  • 55. Numbers 33:38
  • 56. Exodus 28:1-4; Exodus 40:13; S Leviticus 16:4
  • 57. ver 24; Numbers 27:13; Numbers 31:2
  • 58. Numbers 33:38
  • 59. S Exodus 29:29
  • 60. ver 26; Numbers 33:38; Deuteronomy 10:6; Deuteronomy 32:50
  • 61. Deuteronomy 32:50
  • 62. S Genesis 27:41; S Leviticus 10:6; S 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

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