Numbers 20


The Israelites come to Zin, and Miriam dies, 1.

They murmur for want of water, 2-5.

Moses and Aaron make supplication at the tabernacle, and the

glory of the Lord appears, 6.

He commands Moses to take his rod, gather the congregation

together, and bring water out of the rock, 7, 8.

Moses takes the rod, gathers the Israelites together, chides

with them, and smites the rock twice, and the waters flow out

plenteously, 9-11.

The Lord is offended with Moses and Aaron because they did not

sanctify him in the sight of the children of Israel, 12.

The place is called Meribah, 13.

Moses sends a friendly message to the king of Edom, begging

liberty to pass through his territories, 14-17.

The Edomites refuse, 18.

The Israelites expostulate, 19.

The Edomites still refuse, and prepare to attack them, 20, 21.

The Israelites go to Mount Hor, 22.

Aaron is commanded to prepare far his death, 23, 24.

Aaron is stripped on Mount Hor, and his vestments put on Eleazar

his son; Aaron dies, 25-28.

The people mourn for him thirty days, 29.


Verse 1. Then came the children of Israel, &c.] This was the

first month of the fortieth year after their departure from Egypt.

See Nu 33:38, compared with Nu 20:28 of this chapter, and

De 1:3.

The transactions of thirty-seven years Moses passes by, because he

writes not as a historian but as a legislator; and gives us

particularly an account of the laws, ordinances, and other

occurrences of the first and last years of their peregrinations.

The year now spoken of was the last of their journeyings; for from

the going out of the spies, Nu 13:1, 2, unto this time, was about

thirty-eight years, De 1:22, 23; 2:14.

Desert of Zin] Calmet contends that this is not the same desert

mentioned Ex 16:1,

where Israel had their eighth encampment; that in Exodus being

called in the original sin, this here tsin: but this

is no positive proof, as letters of the same organ are frequently

interchanged in all languages, and particularly in Hebrew.

And Miriam died there] Miriam was certainly older than Moses.

When he was an infant, exposed on the river Nile, she was

intrusted by her parents to watch the conduct of Pharaoh's

daughter, and to manage a most delicate business, that required

much address and prudence. See Ex 2:1-8. It is supposed that she

was at the time of her death one hundred and thirty years of age,

having been at least ten years old at her brother's birth. The

Catholic writers represent her as a type of the Virgin Mary; as

having preserved a perpetual virginity; as being legislatrix over

the Israelitish women, as Moses was over the men; and as having a

large portion of the spirit of prophecy. Eusebius says that her

tomb was to be seen at Kadesh, near the city of Petra, in his

time. She appears to have died about four months before her

brother Aaron, Nu 33:38,

and eleven before her brother Moses; so that these three, the most

eminent of human beings, died in the space of one year!

Verse 2. And there was no water for the congregation] The same

occurrence took place to the children of Israel at Kadesh, as did

formerly to their fathers at Rephidim, see Ex 17:1; and as the

fathers murmured, so also did the children.

Verse 12. Because ye believed me not] What was the offence for

which Moses was excluded from the promised land? It appears to

have consisted in some or all of the following particulars: 1. God

had commanded him (Nu 20:8)

to take the rod in his hand, and go and SPEAK TO THE ROCK, and it

should give forth water. It seems Moses did not think speaking

would be sufficient, therefore he smote the rock without any

command so to do. 2. He did this twice, which certainly in this

case indicated a great perturbation of spirit, and want of

attention to the presence of God. 3. He permitted his spirit to

be carried away by a sense of the people's disobedience, and thus,

being provoked, he was led to speak unadvisedly with his lips:

Hear now, ye REBELS, Nu 20:10. 4. He did not acknowledge GOD in

the miracle which was about to be wrought, but took the honour to

himself and Aaron: "Must WE fetch you water out of this rock?"

Thus it plainly appears that they did not properly believe in God,

and did not honour him in the sight of the people; for in their

presence they seem to express a doubt whether the thing could be

possibly done. As Aaron appears to have been consenting in the

above particulars, therefore he is also excluded from the promised


Verse 14. Sent messengers-unto the king of Edom] Archbishop

Usher supposes that the king now reigning in Edom was Hadar,

mentioned Ge 36:39.

Thus saith thy brother Israel] The Edomites were the

descendants of Edom or Esau, the brother of Jacob or Israel, from

whom the Israelites were descended.

Verse 17. We will go by the king's high-way] This is the first

time this phrase occurs; it appears to have been a public road

made by the king's authority at the expense of the state.

Verse 21. Thus Edom refused to give Israel passage through his

border] Though every king has a right to refuse passage through

his territories to any strangers; yet in a case like this, and in

a time also in which emigrations were frequent and universally

allowed, it was both cruelty and oppression in Edom to refuse a

passage to a comparatively unarmed and inoffensive multitude, who

were all their own near kinsmen. It appears however that it was

only the Edomites of Kadesh that were thus unfriendly and cruel;

for from De 2:29

we learn that the Edomites who dwelt in Mount Seir treated them in

a hospitable manner. This cruelty in the Edomites of Kadesh is

strongly reprehended, and threatened by the Prophet Obadiah,

Ob 1:10, &c.

Verse 26. Strip Aaron of his garments] This was, in effect,

depriving him of his office; and putting the clothes on his son

Eleazar implied a transfer of that office to him. A transfer of

office, from this circumstance of putting the clothes of the late

possessor on the person intended to succeed him, was called

investing or investment, (clothing;) as removing a person from an

office was termed divesting or unclothing. Among the Catholics,

and in the Church of England, this same method is used in

degrading ecclesiastics. Hence such a degradation is termed by

the common people stripping a man of his gown.

Verse 28. And Aaron died there] Hence, as Dr. Lightfoot has

justly observed, we have an "indisputable proof that the earthly

Canaan was not the utmost felicity at which God's promises to the

Israelites aimed since the best men among them were excluded from


THE remark of some of the fathers here is worthy of attention:

"Neither Moses the representative of the law, nor Miriam the

representative of the prophets, nor Aaron the representative of

the priesthood and its sacrificial rites, could bring the

Israelites into possession of the promised land. This was

reserved for Joshua, who was in name and conduct the lively type

of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ." He alone can bring those

who believe in his name into that rest which remains for the

people of God.

There are some observations made by Dr. Lightfoot on this and

some of the preceding chapters which should be more generally


"The place where the people murmured upon the return of the

spies was Kadesh-Barnea, Nu 13:26; 32:8; De 1:19. This place was

called Rithmah before, (Nu 33:18, compared with Nu 12:16,

and Nu 13:26,) and was so called probably from the

juniper trees that grew there; but is now named Kadesh, because

the Lord was there sanctified upon the people, as Nu 20:13;

and Barnea, or the wandering son, because here was the decree made

of their long wandering in the wilderness. They continued a good

space at Kadesh before they removed; for so said Moses, Ye abode

in Kadesh many days; or as the Hebrew, According to the days that

ye had made abode, namely, at Sinai, Nu 20:6. And so they spent

one whole year there, for so they had done at Sinai. And whereas

God commands them at their murmuring to turn back to the Red Sea,

(De 1:40,) his meaning was, that at their next march, whensoever

it was, they should not go forward unto Canaan, but back again

towards the Red Sea, whence they came; (but see on De 1:1.) And

they did so, for they wandered by many stations and marches from

Kadesh-Barnea till they came to Kadesh-Barnea again, seven or

eight and thirty years after they had first left it. These

marches, mentioned in Nu 33:1-49, were these: From Kadesh or

Rithmah to Rimmon Parez, to Libnah, to Rissah, to

Kehelathah, to Mount Shapher, to Haradah, to Makheloth, to

Tahath, to Tarah, to Mithcah, to Hashmonah, to Moseroth,

to Benejaaken, to Horhagidgad, to Jotbathah, to Ebronah, to

Ezion-Gaber, to Kadesh again, in the fortieth year. And though

it was only eleven days' journey from Horeb, by the way of Mount

Seir to Kadesh-Barnea, (De 1:2,)

they made it above thrice eleven years' journey!" Had they

trusted in God, and obeyed him, their enemies long ere this would

have been discomfited, and themselves quietly established in

possession of the promised inheritance. But they grieved the

Spirit of God, and did not believe his promise; and it would have

been inconsistent with the whole economy of grace to have

introduced unbelievers into that rest which was a type of the

kingdom of God.

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