Numbers Chapter 20: Moses Smites the Rock Twice, Miriam and Aaron Die

Mar 19th, 2010 | By | Category: Numbers, Verse by Verse --Studies led by Br. Frank Shallieu (Click on Book name)

Numbers Chapter 20: Moses Smites the Rock Twice, Miriam and Aaron die

Num. 20:1 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.

There is a big jump in time from the events of earlier chapters through Chapter 19 and this chapter—in fact, more than 37 years. Now we are near the end of the 40 years in the wilderness. The focus of attention in the Book of Numbers is on the beginning and the end of the Israelites’ wilderness wanderings.

Miriam, Moses’ older sister, died at this time, and Aaron would die very shortly. In addition, Moses himself died before the Israelites entered the Promised Land. At the time of Miriam’s death, the Israelites were abiding in Kadesh. Beyond the defile entering Petra, there is a hill on which a monastery marks the traditional place where she died. When standing on that hill and looking across the broad wadi that leads up to the bottom end of the Dead Sea, one can see Mount Hor on the other side. It was on Mount Hor that Aaron died and was buried. The point is that the places where Miriam and Aaron died are near each other.

Miriam was a little girl when Moses was three months old in connection with the ark of bulrushes. Therefore, she was about seven years older than Moses, the youngest of the three. Moses died at age 120, and Aaron lived to be 123 (Deut. 34:7; Num. 33:39).

Num. 20:2 And there was no water for the congregation: and they gathered themselves together against Moses and against Aaron.

Num. 20:3 And the people chode with Moses, and spake, saying, Would God that we had died when our brethren died before the LORD!

How startling that, after all of their previous experiences, the Israelites murmured again! The congregation “gathered themselves together against Moses and against Aaron” to complain that “there was no water.” They “chode with Moses … saying, Would God that we had died when our brethren died before the LORD!”

Num. 20:4 And why have ye brought up the congregation of the LORD into this wilderness, that we and our cattle should die there?

Num. 20:5 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.

Num. 20:6 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.

After almost 40 years in the wilderness, the people were weary. At the time they left Egypt, they were to go directly into the Promised Land, but when ten of the spies returned with an unfavorable report and the people believed it, God said that for each day the spies had searched out the land, the Israelites would spend a year in the wilderness. Since two years had already expired, the wanderings were to continue for 38 more years. Now the people were again chiding Moses for their not getting into the land of milk and honey. However, because of what had happened, the Israelites actually entered the land exactly on time. It was their wrong heart attitude that caused their patience to wear thin. The same wrong attitude will occur with some at the end of the Kingdom. Those in the wrong heart condition will overestimate the time factor and be in a disgruntled attitude. They will reason and murmur, “We have been under the Kingdom rule for such a long time. The reign was to last for only the thousand years, and we were promised kingship.”

When Moses and Aaron brought the matter to the Lord, “the glory of the LORD appeared unto them.” Of course the congregation could see the glory to a certain extent.

Comment: When we think of the Israelite wanderings in the wilderness as picturing the Christian experience during the Gospel Age, this murmuring against Moses and Aaron was really a murmuring against “dignities,” to use the language of Jude 8 and 2 Peter 2:10. Just as the Israelites murmured in the beginning and at the end of their wilderness wanderings, so Jude and Peter warn about an ungodly element who “speak evil of dignities” in the early Church and now again at the end of the Gospel Age.

Reply: The Apostle Paul not only spoke of the Tabernacle as being a type but said the things that happened to the Israelites are a lesson to us (1 Cor. 10:11).

Num. 20:7 And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,

Num. 20:8 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.

Num. 20:9 And Moses took the rod from before the LORD, as he commanded him.

Num. 20:10 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?

Num. 20:11 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.

What did God command Moses to do? This time Moses was told just to speak to the rock, not to smite it, whereas previously, toward the beginning of the 40 years, he had properly smitten the rock with the result that water came forth (Exod. 17:5,6). Apparently, Moses assumed that the smiting was a necessary complement in connection with obeying the Lord’s voice. Also, he was now getting fed up and running out of patience with the attitude of the people. Up to this point, he had been very patient and meek—in fact, remarkably so. However, the Lord told him clearly in this instance to simply “speak … unto the rock.”

The disobedience of Moses consisted of his smiting the rock twice and also his addressing the congregation: “Hear now, ye rebels; must we fetch you water out of this rock?” In other words, he accredited the fetching of water to himself. In this particular picture, he represented a Second Death class, even though overall he “verily was faithful in all his house” (Heb. 3:5). (At other times, Moses variously represented God, Jesus, the Church, or The Christ.) Moses’ smiting the rock twice is referred to in the Hebrews 6:4,6 description of the Second Death class: “For it is impossible … If they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame.” And there is a connection with Jude 12; namely, “These are spots in your feasts of charity, when they feast with you, feeding themselves without fear: … trees whose fruit withereth, without fruit, twice dead, plucked up by the roots.” We should keep in mind that this incident with Moses occurred shortly before the Israelites entered the Promised Land.

“The water came out abundantly”—so much so that all of “the congregation drank, and their beasts also.” The people were granted the favor of much water.

Num. 20:12 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.

Num. 20:13 This is the water of Meribah; because the children of Israel strove with the LORD, and he was sanctified in them.

God spoke to both Moses and Aaron: “Because ye believed me not, … therefore ye shall not bring this congregation into the land which I have given them.” Since neither Moses nor Aaron could enter the Promised Land, Aaron must have manifested sympathy with Moses. Although Moses did the smiting, both of them must have been boiling mad. The penalty indicates willful sin, which required expiation. Not being able to enter the Promised Land would have been a severe penalty for Moses because in faith, he had looked forward to that day.

Kadesh is near Petra. Today in the Petra area, tourists can see the Meribah spring that resulted from Moses’ smiting the rock.

Q: Is Kadesh different from Kadesh-barnea?

A: Yes, but Kadesh-barnea is a bigger area.

Num. 20:14 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:

Num. 20:15 How our fathers went down into Egypt, and we have dwelt in Egypt a long time; and the Egyptians vexed us, and our fathers:

Num. 20:16 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:

Num. 20:17 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.

Moses sent messengers to the king of Edom, which adjoined Kadesh, an outpost of Edom, as it were. Moses was seeking permission for the Israelites to have clear passage to the Promised Land from the upper end of the Red Sea, that is, from Jericho and what is modern-day Jordan. If permission was granted, Moses promised that the Israelites would respect the rights of the people of Edom—their wells, fields, etc. They would “not turn to the right hand nor to the left” but would go through the land posthaste.

At that time, “Kadesh [was] a city in the uttermost of thy [Edom’s] border.” Later on, Petra became famous as the capital of the Nabateans.

Num. 20:18 And Edom said unto him, Thou shalt not pass by me, lest I come out against thee with the sword.

Num. 20:19 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.

Num. 20:20 And he said, Thou shalt not go through. And Edom came out against him with much people, and with a strong hand.

On one of the trips, we took the King’s Highway. From Madeba and Nebo at the northern end of the Dead Sea, we traveled on this mountain road all the way down to Petra. That is the route Moses wanted to take because it was natural, quicker, and not on the low, hot desert floor where the need for water was severe. Because of Edom’s refusal, Moses had to skirt that nation and go on the lower valley road, which we took on another trip.

Num. 20:21 Thus Edom refused to give Israel passage through his border: wherefore Israel turned away from him.

Num. 20:22 And the children of Israel, even the whole congregation, journeyed from Kadesh, and came unto mount Hor.

Num. 20:23 And the LORD spake unto Moses and Aaron in mount Hor, by the coast of the land of Edom, saying,

Num. 20:24 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.

Aaron was informed that he would die shortly.

Num. 20:25 Take Aaron and Eleazar his son, and bring them up unto mount Hor:

Num. 20:26 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.

Num. 20:27 And Moses did as the LORD commanded: and they went up into mount Hor in the sight of all the congregation.

God told Moses to take Aaron and Eleazar up into Mount Hor. (Mount Hor is reasonably high, and the word “Hor” can mean “high place” depending upon the vowel.) There Eleazar, Aaron’s oldest son, was clothed with the garments of the high priest. Of Aaron’s three other sons, Nadab and Abihu had died earlier for offering strange fire, and Ithamar was alive but is not mentioned here.

Several Scriptures refer to Aaron’s death. Numbers 33:36–39 reads, “And they removed from Ezion-geber, and pitched in the wilderness of Zin, which is Kadesh. And they removed from Kadesh, and pitched in mount Hor, in the edge of the land of Edom. And Aaron the priest went up into 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.

And Aaron was an hundred and twenty and three years old when he died in mount Hor.” Miriam, the older sister of Moses, died in Kadesh before the Israelites went to Mount Hor (Num. 20:1). Shortly thereafter Aaron died. The reason for his death is that he supported Moses when, instead of just speaking to the rock, the latter smote the rock twice and water gushed out in such great volume that it supplied all of the flocks as well as the people of Israel. Then Moses said, “Must we fetch you water out of this rock?” whereas it was God’s power that had produced the water. Although Moses was expressing frustration because of so many similar trials, both he and Aaron were told they could not enter the Promised Land.

Normally we think of Moses’ being forbidden to enter the Promised Land when he was 120 years old and his death at this age as picturing the death of the feet members. Aaron was 123 at the time he died. The Aaronic priesthood was the sacrificing priesthood in contrast to the Melchisedec priesthood. In addition, Moses, as the mediator of the old Law Covenant, pictured The Christ as the mediator of the New Covenant. The date of Aaron’s death was the first day of the fifth month of the 40th year of the wilderness wanderings. Therefore, the fact that four months of the 40th year had already expired means that Numbers 20 took place near the end of the 40 years in the wilderness. Only eight months remained until the Israelites entered Canaan.

Comment: The time frame is interesting because it means that all the rest of Numbers and the Book of Deuteronomy transpired in the remaining eight months of the 40th year.

Reply: Yes, and Leviticus, which is filled with information, covered a very short period of time at the beginning of the 40 years. Then the earlier part of the Book of Numbers went into detail about the beginning years of the wilderness wanderings, and now we are concentrating on the end of the 40 years. Leaving Egypt, arriving at Mount Sinai, and constructing the Tabernacle are treated in reasonable detail. And from the leaving of Mount Sinai to the border of the land of Canaan when the 12 spies were sent out and shortly thereafter, the Israelites’ experiences are related. Then follows a gap of more than 30 years with no explanation. Now we have reached the latter part of the 40 years in the wilderness, which are explained in great detail.

Ezion-geber (Num. 33:36) is down near Eilat. From there, the Israelites went up to the Wilderness of Zin and to Kadesh, which is quite a distance. In tracing the wanderings of the Israelites in the wilderness, scholars invariably overlook the fact that there were two circular journeys to Eilat. This realization is necessary in order to harmonize the account.

Information about Aaron continues. Deuteronomy 10:6 states, “And the children of Israel took their journey from Beeroth of the children of Jaakan to Mosera: there Aaron died, and there he was buried; and Eleazar his son ministered in the priest’s office in his stead.” Because Moses reminisced several times in the Book of Deuteronomy, the events in that book are not sequential. His purpose was to impress certain lessons, not to give a chronological listing of events. He listed events in sequence for a while and then went back and reviewed other events, listed in sequence again and reviewed, etc.

Deuteronomy 32:50 reads, “And die in the mount whither thou [Moses] goest up, and be gathered unto thy people; as Aaron thy brother died in mount Hor, and was gathered unto his people.”

Q: Are Mount Nebo and Mount Hor near each other?

A: No, Mount Hor is a considerable distance south of the bottom end of the Dead Sea, whereas Nebo is up almost to the tip of the Dead Sea. Thus they are widely separated by the length of the Dead Sea and beyond.

Q: Are Nebo and Pisgah the same?

A: Yes, just as Mount Sinai and Mount Horeb are the same. Mount Sinai pertains to the mountain chain; Horeb, to a particular peak in that chain. The Mount Sinai chain, which is about two miles in circumference, contains three prominent peaks in the front, and each has a name.

In the back is a fourth peak, Mount Musa, which cannot be seen from the plain in front.

Num. 20:28 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.

Num. 20:29 And when all the congregation saw that Aaron was dead, they mourned for Aaron thirty days, even all the house of Israel.

Comment: When Aaron went up into Mount Hor, he was breathing one moment and died the next. What a peaceful way to die!

Reply: Yes, the account does not say that either Aaron or Moses agonized in death. This is truly a case of “expiring”—that is, breathing the last breath.

Comment: The Lord had just said that Aaron could not enter the Promised Land because of his attitude in connection with the waters of Meribah. Although he disobeyed in that instance, he was faithful overall, being called a “saint” in Psalm 106:16. Therefore, we would hope that he was given some comfort and assurance of his faithfulness prior to his death.

Reply: When the Lord reasoned with Moses about not entering the Promised Land, the restriction must have almost broken Moses’ heart (Deut. 32:48–52). He was allowed to see but not to enter the land.

When clothed by Moses with the garments of glory and beauty, Eleazar supplanted Aaron as high priest. Subsequently Eleazar had to go through the ceremony pertaining to the consecration of the priesthood. The account does not state all of these details, for it is assumed that we already know them, as given in Exodus 29.

(1996–1997 Study)

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