Gaebelein's Annotated Bible
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.10. At Kadesh in the Fortieth Year: Murmuring and Conquest
1. The death of Miriam (Numbers 20:1)
2. The murmuring of the people (Numbers 20:2-5)
3. The divine instruction (Numbers 20:6-8)
4. Moses’ and Aaron’s failure (Numbers 20:9-13)
5. Edom’s refusal (Numbers 20:14-22)
6. The death of Aaron (Numbers 20:23-29)
Between the nineteenth and twentieth chapter lies the unrecorded period of almost 38 years, the wandering of the children of Israel in the wilderness. In chapter 33 we find their different camps mentioned. In verse 38 of that chapter we read, “And Aaron the priest went up into the mount Hor at the commandment of the Lord, and died there, in the fortieth year after the children of Israel were come out of the land of Egypt, in the first day of the fifth month.” The death of Aaron is recorded in the twentieth chapter. It was therefore about 37 years and six months when the spies had been sent out and their arrival in the desert of Zin. The critics have made this unrecorded period the occasion of attack upon the Mosaic authorship of this book. They suppose that the last historian who wrote on the Pentateuch left out a great deal of the history of the forty years wanderings. There was nothing to record but the scenes of death and sorrow; the entire theocratic covenant was suspended, and therefore theocratic history has no occurrence to record. It is even so now during the present age, during which Israel is set aside and wanders among the nations of the world.
During all these years of wandering in the wilderness circumcision was not carried out (Joshua 5:2-5). What else happened during this unrecorded period in the wilderness may be learned from a number of passages. “But the house of Israel rebelled against Me in the wilderness; they walked not in My statutes, and they despised My judgments, which if a man do, he shall live in them; and My sabbaths they greatly polluted. Then I said, I would pour out My fury upon them in the wilderness to consume them” (Ezekiel 20:13, etc.), “Have ye not offered unto Me sacrifices and offerings in the wilderness forty years, O house of Israel? But ye have borne the tabernacle of your Moloch and Chiun your images, the star of your god, which ye made to yourselves” (Amos 5:25-26). “Then God turned, and gave them up to worship the host of heaven, as it is written in the book of the prophets, O ye house of Israel, have ye offered to me slain beasts and sacrifices by the space of forty years in the wilderness? Yea, ye took up the tabernacle of Moloch, and the star of your god Remphan (worship of Saturn) figures which you made to worship them” (Acts 7:42-43). They continued in stubbornness and rebellion and became idolators. But oh! the mercy of God! He continued to feed them and gave them water. “These forty years the Lord thy God hath been with thee, thou hast lacked nothing” (Deuteronomy 2:7). “And I have led you forty years in the wilderness; your clothes are not waxen old upon you, and thy shoe is not waxen old upon thy foot” (Deuteronomy 19:5). What marvellous compassion! And thus He still deals in mercy with His wayward wandering people. (Psalm 90, standing at the beginning of the fourth section of the book of Psalms (Numbers) was written by Moses, no doubt, when he saw them dying.)
This chapter, which brings us to the last year of their journey, begins with death and ends with death. In the middle we find the record of the failure of Moses and Aaron.
Miriam is the first to die, and her brother Aaron followed her four months later. Hundreds of thousands had passed away; their carcasses fell in the wilderness. And the new generation which has come up also murmured like their fathers and brethren. Such is the heart of man! “Would God that we had died when our brethren died before the Lord!” The Lord commanded Moses to take the rod and speak to the rock, and He promised that the rock should give water. No word of displeasure came from the lips of the gracious Lord, who had compassion with His people. Moses took the rod from before the Lord as He had commanded him. But he also took the rod in his hand with which he had smitten the rock, according to the Lord’s command in Exodus 17:5-6. But the words Moses spoke were far from being gracious. “Hear now ye rebels; must we fetch you water out of this rock?” God had not called His people rebels. And Moses’ words are far from meek. He makes it appear as if he could supply the water. “They angered Him also at the waters of strife, so that it went ill with Moses for their sakes. Because they provoked his spirit so that he spake unadvisedly with his lips” (Psalm 106:32-33). And greater still was his failure when he took his rod and not the blossoming rod of Aaron and smote the rock twice. The first smiting of the rock in Exodus 17 with Moses’ rod, the rod of judgment is the type of the death of Christ. This should not be repeated; one smiting was enough just as the death of Christ once for all has opened the floodgates of divine grace. Aaron’s rod, the type of Christ in resurrection, was sufficient, and but the word spoken would bring forth the water. But the anger of Moses marred this scene. He completely lost sight of the gracious Lord and misrepresented Him by his action. “Moses failed, departed from the rich grace of God, fell back on judgment, and judgment accordingly dealt with him.” It was a grievous sin, and on account of it he was not fit to lead Israel into the land. And Aaron, equally weak in faith, shared Moses’ fate. Edom then bars the way for the hosts of Israel and would not let them pass through their land. And Aaron dies on Mount Hor, after Moses had, in obedience to the Lord, removed his priestly garments and put them upon Eleazar.