Numbers 20


‘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. Now there was no water for the community, and the people gathered in opposition to Moses and Aaron. They quarrelled with Moses and said, “If only we had died when our brothers fell dead before the LORD! Why did you bring the LORD’s community into this wilderness, that we and our livestock should die here? 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!” 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. The LORD said to Moses, “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.” So Moses took the staff from the LORD’s presence, just as he commanded him. 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?” Then Moses raised his arm and struck the rock twice with his staff. Water gushed out, and the community and their livestock drank. But the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not trust in me enough to honour me as holy in the sight of the Israelites, you will not bring this community into the land I give them.” These were the waters of Meribah, where the Israelites quarrelled with the LORD and where he was proved holy among them.’ Numbers 20:1-13

Water From The Rock

The Israelites have now come to end of their wilderness wandering and when they stayed at Kadesh, Numbers 13:26, they gathered together to get to enter the Promised Land.

We can only imagine what this new generation of Israelites coming together would have been like, the excitement of seeing each other and getting acquainted with each other.

Some commentators suggest that they would have stayed together here, for a few months to get themselves organised to enter the Promised Land.

This would make sense, especially if we take into account the mourning of Miriam and communication with the Edomites. Remember, God said that no one from this generation would enter the Promised Land, Miriam dying shows us that God meant what He said, Numbers 14:29-34.

Notice there was no water for the community, this could be because of a drought or simply because there wasn’t enough water in the place where they were to keep them sustained, they had used it all. When we think that there may well have been around 3 million people, we can understand why they would run out of water.

Remember this younger generation weren’t slaves in Egypt, they didn’t experience the hardship of slavery in Egypt. Although they were probably told about Egypt by their parents, their parents would have died in the wilderness. I guess this is why they complained about going somewhere they had never been before.

We can only imagine what’s going through the minds of Aaron and Moses as the people once again, begin to complain and quarrel against them. They might have thought to themselves, these guys obviously don’t understand that they are actually quarrelling against God Himself.

Notice that Moses didn’t do exactly what God told him to do, instead of speaking to the rock, he struck it twice in frustration, Psalm 106:32-33.

In the past, God told Moses to strike the rock to in Meribah to get water for the grumbling Israelites, Exodus 17:1-7, but here he was simply to speak to the rock.

As a result of not doing exactly what God told him to do, his punishment would be he wouldn’t enter the Promised Land. Aaron would face the same punishment, James 3:1.

The New Testament makes it clear this water-providing, life-giving rock was a picture of Jesus, 1 Corinthians 10:4. Jesus, being struck once, provided life for all who would drink of Him, John 7:37.

We most note that although the Israelites did get the water, it was only because of God’s power and grace to care for their needs that they received it, Leviticus 10:3 / Psalm 99:5 / Psalm 99:9.

Edom Denies Israel Passage

‘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. Our ancestors went down into Egypt, and we lived there many years. The Egyptians mistreated us and our ancestors, 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. 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.” But Edom answered: “You may not pass through here; if you try, we will march out and attack you with the sword.” 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.” Again they answered: “You may not pass through.” Then Edom came out against them with a large and powerful army. Since Edom refused to let them go through their territory, Israel turned away from them.’ Numbers 20:14-21

Moses sends messengers to the king of Edom and notice the Israelites call the Edomites their brother. The Edomites were the descendants of Esau, the brother of Jacob who was the father of the Israelites, Genesis 25:19-34.

Moses asks them if they can pass through their land without going into any field or vineyard and they won’t drink any water from their wells. He tells them they will travel along the King’s Highway.

In other words, Moses is trying to reassure the king of Edom that the Israelites wouldn’t plunder Edom on their journey through the land. They would travel on the normal trade route where all travellers took as they passed through Edom.

Coffman, in his commentary says the following.

‘Forty years prior to the date in these passages, the government of Edom was still in the hand of various ‘dukes’, Exodus 15, and the mention of the King of Edom here shows that there had been some changes during the previous generation. The same thing had already occurred also in Moab, Judges 11:17.’

Despite these reassurances from Moses, the king of Edom refused them entry and gathered together his army to block the Israel’s passage through the land. Sadly, this decision, the king made would eventually in later years, end in judgment against the Edomites.

God would judge them and remove them from the earth because of this one decision in refusing to allow Israel to pass through their land, Jeremiah 49:7-16 / Obadiah. Moses decides that Israel shouldn’t go into battle against Edom, their brothers and so he turned his army away from Edom, Deuteronomy 23:7.

The Death Of Aaron

‘The whole Israelite community set out from Kadesh and came to Mount Hor. At Mount Hor, near the border of Edom, the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, “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. Get Aaron and his son Eleazar and take them up Mount Hor. Remove Aaron’s garments and put them on his son Eleazar, for Aaron will be gathered to his people; he will die there.” Moses did as the LORD commanded: They went up Mount Hor in the sight of the whole community. 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, and when the whole community learned that Aaron had died, all the Israelites mourned for him thirty days.’ Numbers 20:22-29

Moses and Aaron weren’t allowed to enter Canaan because of their rebellion at the waters of Meribah. Moses was around 120 years old at this time, Aaron was 123 years old when he died, Numbers 33:38-39, and their leadership of Israel was now coming to an end. Aaron, who was older than Moses, was to die first.

Coffman, in his commentary, says the following.

‘The difficulty cited by many is that Deuteronomy 10:6 states that Aaron died in Moserah. The only difficulty here is that nobody knows where either Hor or Moserah was located, so the natural conclusion is that both sites are only different designations of one place. Another possibility is that the children of Israel took the body of Aaron with them from Hor, if the places are different, and reburied it at Moserah, in which case there in Deuteronomy 10:6 would apply only to the second burial of Aaron and not to his death. A slight emendation of the text would allow such a translation.’

Notice when Aaron died, there was no fancy funeral ceremony, it was private and on a mountain, away from the rest of the Israelites. When Moses and Eleazar came down from Mount Hor, the people saw that the spiritual leadership of Israel now rested on Eleazar, Leviticus 8:7-9.

They knew that Aaron had died, and so, they mourned his death for thirty days, which was customary.

Go To Numbers 21


"Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground."

Genesis 1:26