Numbers 20
Benson Commentary
Then came the children of Israel, even the whole congregation, into the desert of Zin in the first month: and the people abode in Kadesh; and Miriam died there, and was buried there.
Numbers 20:1. Then — To wit, after many stations and long journeys here omitted, but particularly described, chap. 33., and occupying the space of thirty-eight years, during which time the Lord was executing judgment upon the rebels, whose carcasses were sentenced to fall in the wilderness. The desert of Zin — A place near the land of Edom, distinct and distant from that Sin, mentioned Exodus 16:1. The first month — Of the fortieth year, as is evident, because the next station to this was in mount Hor, where Aaron died, which was in the fifth month of the fortieth year, Numbers 33:38. If it should appear strange to us that Moses should pass in silence the transactions of these eight and thirty years that the Israelites wandered in the wilderness, and give us only the history of the two first years of their peregrinations, we must remember, as Le Clerc justly observes, “that he writes, not so much in the character of an historian as in that of a legislator, whose intention it was to deliver down to posterity all those laws which he had received from God; and that system of laws being completed in the two first years after their leaving Egypt, and no new law being delivered during these eight and thirty years, it did not fall in with his design to insert the history of those years in the Pentateuch.” Miriam died — Four months before Aaron, and but a few more before Moses.

And there was no water for the congregation: and they gathered themselves together against Moses and against Aaron.
Numbers 20:2. No water — Which, as is generally thought, having followed them through all their former journeys, began to fail them here, because they were now come near countries where waters might be had by ordinary means, and therefore God would not use extraordinary, lest he should seem to prostitute the honour of miracles. This story, though like that Exodus 17., is different from it, as appears by divers circumstances.

And the people chode with Moses, and spake, saying, Would God that we had died when our brethren died before the LORD!
Numbers 20:3. Before the Lord — Suddenly, rather than to die such a lingering death. Their sin was much greater than that of their parents, because they should have taken warning by their miscarriages, and by the terrible effects of them, which their eyes had seen.

And why have ye brought up the congregation of the LORD into this wilderness, that we and our cattle should die there?
And wherefore have ye made us to come up out of Egypt, to bring us in unto this evil place? it is no place of seed, or of figs, or of vines, or of pomegranates; neither is there any water to drink.
And Moses and Aaron went from the presence of the assembly unto the door of the tabernacle of the congregation, and they fell upon their faces: and the glory of the LORD appeared unto them.
And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,
Take the rod, and gather thou the assembly together, thou, and Aaron thy brother, and speak ye unto the rock before their eyes; and it shall give forth his water, and thou shalt bring forth to them water out of the rock: so thou shalt give the congregation and their beasts drink.
Numbers 20:8-9. Take the rod — That which was laid up before the Lord in the tabernacle; whether it was Aaron’s rod, which was laid up there, (Numbers 17:10,) or Moses’s rod, by which he wrought so many miracles. For it is likely that wonder-working rod was laid up in some part of the tabernacle, though not in or near the ark, where Aaron’s blossoming rod was put. From before the Lord — Out of the tabernacle.

And Moses took the rod from before the LORD, as he commanded him.
And Moses and Aaron gathered the congregation together before the rock, and he said unto them, Hear now, ye rebels; must we fetch you water out of this rock?
And Moses lifted up his hand, and with his rod he smote the rock twice: and the water came out abundantly, and the congregation drank, and their beasts also.
And the LORD spake unto Moses and Aaron, Because ye believed me not, to sanctify me in the eyes of the children of Israel, therefore ye shall not bring this congregation into the land which I have given them.
Numbers 20:12. Ye believed me not — But showed your infidelity; which they did, either by smiting the rock, and that twice, which is emphatically noted, as if they doubted whether once smiting would have done it; whereas, they were not commanded to smite so much as once, but only to speak to it: or, by the doubtfulness of these words, (Numbers 20:10,) Must we fetch water out of the rock? which implied a suspicion of it; whereas they should have spoken positively and confidently to the rock to give forth water. And yet they did not doubt of the power of God, but of his will, whether he would gratify these rebels with this further miracle, after so many of the like kind. To sanctify me — To give me the glory of my power in doing this miracle, and of my truth in punctually fulfilling my promise, and of my goodness in doing it, notwithstanding the people’s perverseness. In the eyes of Israel — This made their sin a cause of stumbling to the Israelites, who of themselves were too prone to infidelity; and, to prevent the contagion, God leaves a monument of his displeasure upon them, and inflicts a punishment as public as their sin.

This is the water of Meribah; because the children of Israel strove with the LORD, and he was sanctified in them.
Numbers 20:13. Meribah — That is, strife. In them — Or, among them, the children of Israel, by the demonstration of his omnipotency, veracity, and clemency toward the Israelites, and of his impartial holiness and severity against sin, even in his greatest friends and favourites.

And Moses sent messengers from Kadesh unto the king of Edom, Thus saith thy brother Israel, Thou knowest all the travail that hath befallen us:
Numbers 20:14. All the travail — All the wanderings and afflictions of our parents, and of us their children, which doubtless have come to thine ears.

How our fathers went down into Egypt, and we have dwelt in Egypt a long time; and the Egyptians vexed us, and our fathers:
And when we cried unto the LORD, he heard our voice, and sent an angel, and hath brought us forth out of Egypt: and, behold, we are in Kadesh, a city in the uttermost of thy border:
Numbers 20:16. An angel — The angel of the covenant, who first appeared to Moses in the bush, and afterward in the cloudy pillar, who conducted Moses and the people out of Egypt, and through the wilderness. For though Moses may be called an angel or messenger, yet it is not probable that he is meant; partly because Moses was the person that sent this message, and partly because another angel above Moses conducted them; and the mention hereof to the Edomites, was likely to give more authority to the present message. In Kadesh — Or near it, as the particle in is often used.

Let us pass, I pray thee, through thy country: we will not pass through the fields, or through the vineyards, neither will we drink of the water of the wells: we will go by the king's high way, we will not turn to the right hand nor to the left, until we have passed thy borders.
Numbers 20:17. The wells — Or pits, which any of you have digged for your private use, not without paying for it, Numbers 20:19; but only of the water of common rivers, which are free to all passengers. No man’s property ought to be invaded, under colour of religion. Dominion is founded in providence, not in grace.

And Edom said unto him, Thou shalt not pass by me, lest I come out against thee with the sword.
Numbers 20:18-19. By me — Through my country: I will not suffer thee to do so; which was an act of policy, to secure themselves from so numerous a host. Said — That is, their messengers replied what here follows.

And the children of Israel said unto him, We will go by the high way: and if I and my cattle drink of thy water, then I will pay for it: I will only, without doing any thing else, go through on my feet.
And he said, Thou shalt not go through. And Edom came out against him with much people, and with a strong hand.
Thus Edom refused to give Israel passage through his border: wherefore Israel turned away from him.
And the children of Israel, even the whole congregation, journeyed from Kadesh, and came unto mount Hor.
And the LORD spake unto Moses and Aaron in mount Hor, by the coast of the land of Edom, saying,
Numbers 20:23. And the Lord spake unto Moses and Aaron — So these two dear brothers must part! Aaron must die first; but Moses is not likely to be long after him. So that it is only for a while, a little while, that they are separated.

Aaron shall be gathered unto his people: for he shall not enter into the land which I have given unto the children of Israel, because ye rebelled against my word at the water of Meribah.
Numbers 20:24. Because ye rebelled — This was one, but not the only reason. God would not have Moses and Aaron to carry the people into Canaan, for this reason also, to signify the insufficiency of the Mosaical law and Aaronical priesthood to make them perfectly happy, and the necessity of a better dispensation, and to keep the Israelites from resting in them, so as to be taken off from their expectation of the Messiah.

Take Aaron and Eleazar his son, and bring them up unto mount Hor:
And strip Aaron of his garments, and put them upon Eleazar his son: and Aaron shall be gathered unto his people, and shall die there.
Numbers 20:26-27. His garments — His priestly garments, in token of his resignation of his office. Put them upon Eleazar — By way of admission and inauguration to his office. In the sight of all the congregation — That their hearts might be more affected with their loss of so great a pillar, and that they all might be witnesses of the translation of the priesthood from Aaron to Eleazar.

And Moses did as the LORD commanded: and they went up into mount Hor in the sight of all the congregation.
And Moses stripped Aaron of his garments, and put them upon Eleazar his son; and Aaron died there in the top of the mount: and Moses and Eleazar came down from the mount.
Numbers 20:28. And Moses stripped Aaron — And death will strip us. Naked we came into the world; naked we must go out. We shall see little reason to be proud of our clothes, our ornaments, or marks of honour if we consider how soon death will strip us of all our glory, and take the crown off from our head! Aaron died there — He died in Mosera, Deuteronomy 10:6. Mosera was the general name of the place where that station was, and mount Hor a particular place in it. Presently after he was stripped of his priestly garments, he lay down and died. 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 God and our generation some service?

And when all the congregation saw that Aaron was dead, they mourned for Aaron thirty days, even all the house of Israel.
Numbers 20:29. Saw — Understood by the relation of Moses and Eleazar, and by other signs. Thirty days — The time of public and solemn mourning for great persons.

Benson Commentary on the Old and New Testaments

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