Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible 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.
Nu 20:1-29. The Death of Miriam.
1. Then came the children of Israel … into the desert of Zin in the first month—that is, of the fortieth year (compare Nu 20:22, 23, with Nu 33:38). In this history only the principal and most important incidents are recorded, those confined chiefly to the first or second and the last years of the journeyings in the wilderness, thence called Et-Tih. Between Nu 19:22 and Nu 20:1 there is a long and undescribed interval of thirty-seven years.
the people abode in Kadesh—supposed to be what is now known as Ain-el-Weibeh, three springs surrounded by palms. (See on Nu 13:26). It was their second arrival after an interval of thirty-eight years (De 2:14). The old generation had nearly all died, and the new one encamped in it with the view of entering the promised land, not, however, as formerly on the south, but by crossing the Edomite region on the east.
Miriam died there—four months before Aaron [Nu 33:38].
And there was no water for the congregation: and they gathered themselves together against Moses and against Aaron.
2-13. there was no water for the congregation—There was at Kadesh a fountain, En-Mishpat (Ge 14:7), and at the first encampment of the Israelites there was no want of water. It was then either partially dried up by the heat of the season, or had been exhausted by the demands of so vast a multitude.
And the people chode with Moses, and spake, saying, Would God that we had died when our brethren died before the LORD!
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.
6. Moses and Aaron went from the presence of the assembly—Here is a fresh ebullition of the untamed and discontented spirit of the people. The leaders fled to the precincts of the sanctuary, both as an asylum from the increasing fury of the highly excited rabble, and as their usual refuge in seasons of perplexity and danger, to implore the direction and aid of God.
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.
8. Take the rod—which had been deposited in the tabernacle (Nu 17:10), the wonder-working rod by which so many miracles had been performed, sometimes called "the rod of God" (Ex 4:20), sometimes Moses' (Nu 20:11) or Aaron's rod (Ex 7:12).
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?
10. [Moses] said unto them, Hear now, ye rebels; must we fetch you water out of this rock?—The conduct of the great leader on this occasion was hasty and passionate (Ps 106:33). He had been directed to speak to the rock [Nu 20:8], but he smote it twice [Nu 20:11] in his impetuosity, thus endangering the blossoms of the rod, and, instead of speaking to the rock, he spoke to the people in a fury.
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.
11. the congregation drank, and their beasts—Physically the water afforded the same kind of needful refreshment to both. But from a religious point of view, this, which was only a common element to the cattle, was a sacrament to the people (1Co 10:3, 4)—It possessed a relative sanctity imparted to it by its divine origin and use.
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.
12. The Lord spake unto Moses and Aaron, Because ye believed me not, &c.—The act of Moses in smiting twice betrayed a doubt, not of the power, but of the will of God to gratify such a rebellious people, and his exclamation seems to have emanated from a spirit of incredulity akin to Sarai's (Ge 18:13). These circumstances indicate the influence of unbelief, and there might have been others unrecorded which led to so severe a chastisement.
This is the water of Meribah; because the children of Israel strove with the LORD, and he was sanctified in them.
13. This is the water of Meribah—The word "Kadesh" is added to it [De 32:51] to distinguish it from another Meribah (Ex 17:7).
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:
14-16. Moses sent messengers … to the king of Edom—The encampment at Kadesh was on the confines of the Edomite territory, through which the Israelites would have had an easy passage across the Arabah by Wady-el-Ghuweir, so that they could have continued their course around Moab, and approached Palestine from the east [Roberts]. The Edomites, being the descendants of Esau and tracing their line of descent from Abraham as their common stock, were recognized by the Israelites as brethren, and a very brotherly message was sent to them.
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:
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.
17. we will go by the king's highway—probably Wady-el-Ghuweir [Roberts], through which ran one of the great lines of road, constructed for commercial caravans, as well as for the progress of armies. The engineering necessary for carrying them over marshes or mountains, and the care requisite for protecting them from the shifting sands, led to their being under the special care of the state. Hence the expression, "the king's highway," which is of great antiquity.
And Edom said unto him, Thou shalt not pass by me, lest I come out against thee with the sword.
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.
19. if I and my cattle drink of thy water, then I will pay for it—From the scarcity of water in the warm climates of the East, the practice of levying a tax for the use of the wells is universal; and the jealousy of the natives, in guarding the collected treasures of rain, is often so great that water cannot be procured for money.
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.
21. Edom refused to give Israel passage through his border, &c.—A churlish refusal obliged them to take another route. (See on Nu 21:4; De 2:4; and Jud 11:18; see also 1Sa 14:47; 2Sa 8:14, which describe the retribution that was taken.)
And the children of Israel, even the whole congregation, journeyed from Kadesh, and came unto mount Hor.
22. the children of Israel … came unto mount Hor—now Gebel Haroun, the most striking and lofty elevation in the Seir range, called emphatically "the mount" [Nu 20:28]. It is conspicuous by its double top.
And the LORD spake unto Moses and Aaron in mount Hor, by the coast of the land of Edom, saying,
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.
24-28. Aaron shall be gathered unto his people—In accordance with his recent doom, he, attired in the high priest's costume, was commanded to ascend that mountain and die. But although the time of his death was hastened by the divine displeasure as a punishment for his sins, the manner of his death was arranged in tenderness of love, and to do him honor at the close of his earthly service. His ascent of the mount was to afford him a last look of the camp and a distant prospect of the promised land. The simple narrative of the solemn and impressive scene implies, though it does not describe, the pious resignation, settled faith, and inward peace of the aged pontiff.
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.
26. strip Aaron of his garments—that is, his pontifical robes, in token of his resignation. (See Isa 22:20-25).
put them on his son—as the inauguration into his high office. Having been formerly anointed with the sacred oil, that ceremony was not repeated, or, as some think, it was done on his return to the camp.
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.
28. Aaron died there in the top of the mount—(See on De 10:6). A tomb has been erected upon or close by the spot where he was buried.
And when all the congregation saw that Aaron was dead, they mourned for Aaron thirty days, even all the house of Israel.
29. When all the congregation saw that Aaron was dead—Moses and Eleazar were the sole witnesses of his departure (Nu 20:28). According to the established law, the new high priest could not have been present at the funeral of his father without contracting ceremonial defilement (Le 21:11). But that law was dispensed with in the extraordinary circumstances. The people learned the event not only from the recital of the two witnesses, but from their visible signs of grief and change; and this event betokened the imperfection of the Levitical priesthood (Heb 7:12).
they mourned for Aaron thirty days—the usual period of public and solemn mourning. (See on De 34:8).