Numbers 20:3
And the people strived with Moses, and spoke, saying, Would God that we had died when our brothers died before the LORD!
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(3) Would God that we had died . . . —The reference seems to be to the plague which broke out after the insurrection of Korah. The language of the murmurers is very similar to that which is recorded in Numbers 16:14, and the word gava (die, or expire), which is twice used in this verse, and which occurs in Numbers 16:26; Numbers 16:28, in connection with the history of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram, is found only in one other place throughout the last four books of the Pentateuch—viz., Numbers 20:29. The probability that that plague was of comparatively recent occurrence, and not separated from the present murmuring by a period of nearly forty years, has been inferred from the use of the word brethren in this verse. The generation which was contemporary with those who perished in the plague which followed the rebellion of Korah is supposed by some to have been almost extinct at the time to which the events recorded in this chapter are commonly referred, and the word fathers, it is alleged, would, in that case, have been more applicable to those who perished than brethren. It may be observed, further, that the inquiry, “Wherefore have ye made us to come up out of Egypt?” is more natural when regarded as the language of the generation which had come up out of Egypt as adults, and who looked back to the exodus as to a recent event, than when regarded as that of a generation of which a large number had been born in the wilderness, and the rest had left Egypt nearly forty years previously. These considerations, however, do not appear to be entitled to much weight. The older portion of the congregation, who would naturally be the spokesmen, would speak of those who perished in the insurrection of Korah as their brethren, whether the event itself was of recent occurrence or not; and the words which are rendered “Why have ye brought up, &c.?” may, with equal propriety, be rendered “Why did ye bring up, &c.?”(Comp. Numbers 20:16 and Note).

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.20:1-13 After thirty-eight years' tedious abode in the wilderness, the armies of Israel advanced towards Canaan again. There was no water for the congregation. We live in a wanting world, and wherever we are, must expect to meet with something to put us out. It is a great mercy to have plenty of water, a mercy which, if we found the want of, we should more own the worth of. Hereupon they murmured against Moses and Aaron. They spake the same absurd and brutish language their fathers had done. It made their crime the worse, that they had smarted so long for the discontent and distrusts of their fathers, yet they venture in the same steps. Moses must again, in God's name, command water out of a rock for them; God is as able as ever to supply his people with what is needful for them. But Moses and Aaron acted wrong. They took much of the glory of this work of wonder to themselves; Must we fetch water? As if it were done by some power or worthiness of their own. They were to speak to the rock, but they smote it. Therefore it is charged upon them, that they did not sanctify God, that is, they did not give to him alone that glory of this miracle which was due unto his name. And being provoked by the people, Moses spake unadvisedly with his lips. The same pride of man would still usurp the office of the appointed Mediator; and become to ourselves wisdom, righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption. Such a state of sinful independence, such a rebellion of the soul against its Saviour, the voice of God condemns in every page of the gospel.The language of the murmurers is noteworthy. It has the air of a traditional remonstrance handed down from the last generation. Compare marginal references. 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. i.e. Suddenly, rather than to die such a lingering and painful death. Their sin was much greater than their parents’ in like case, because they should have taken warning by their miscarriages, and by the terrible effects of them, which their eyes had seen. And the people chode with Moses,.... Contended with him in a wrangling and litigious manner, showing no reverence nor respect unto his person on account of the dignity of his office, and the many favours they had received from him; and this at a time, when, instead of quarrelling with him, they should have condoled him on the loss of his sister, and bewailed their own loss also of one who had been a prophetess to them, and a leader of them, Micah 6:4.

and spake, saying, would God that we had died when our brethren died before the Lord; either at Taberah by fire, or as Korah and his company in like manner, or as the fourteen thousand and seven hundred by a pestilence, Numbers 11:1 which they thought a much easier death, either of them, than to die of thirst: they might well call them brethren, not only because of the same nation, and nearly related to them, but because they were of the same temper and disposition, and indeed brethren in iniquity; and they seem to use this appellation, as being of the same sentiments with them, and in vindication of them, and adopt almost their very language; see Numbers 14:2.

And the people chode with Moses, and spake, saying, Would God that we had died when our brethren died before the LORD!
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
3. And the people strove] The root of the verb (rîbh) is also that of the word Merîbhâh (‘the place of strife’), the name of the place being thus explained by means of a play on words; cf. Numbers 20:13.

when our brethren died before Jehovah] in the revolt of Korah (ch. 16).Verse 3. - And the people abode with Moses. As their fathers had done in similar circumstances, as recorded in Exodus 17. Would God that we had died. See on Numbers 14:2. When our brethren died before the Lord. This is difficult, because the visitations of God at Kibroth-hattaavah (Numbers 11:34) and at Kadesh (Numbers 14:37) had overtaken not their brethren, but their fathers, some thirty-eight years before. On the other hand, the daily mortality which had carried off their brethren is clearly excluded by the phrase, "before the Lord." It may he that the rebellion of Korah happened towards the end of the period of wandering, and that the reference is to the plague which followed it; or it may be that the formula of complaint had become stereotyped, as those of children often do, and was employed from time to time without variation and without definite reference. The latter supposition is strongly supported by the character of the words which follow. Ceremony of purification. They were to take for the unclean person some of the dust of the burning of the cow, i.e., some of the ashes obtained by burning the cow, and put living, i.e., fresh water (see Leviticus 14:5), upon it in a vessel. A clean man was then to take a bunch of hyssop (see Exodus 12:22), on account of its inherent purifying power, and dip it in the water, on the third and seventh day after the defilement had taken place, and to sprinkle the tent, with the vessels and persons in it, as well as every one who had touched a corpse, whether a person slain, or one who had died a natural death, or a grave; after which the persons were to wash their clothes and bathe, that they might be clean in the evening. As the uncleanness in question is held up as the highest grade of uncleanness, by its duration being fixed at seven days, i.e., an entire week, so the appointment of a double purification with the sprinkling water shows the force of the uncleanness to be removed; whilst the selection of the third and seventh days was simply determined by the significance of the numbers themselves. In Numbers 19:20, the threat of punishment for the neglect of purification is repeated from Numbers 19:13, for the purpose of making it most emphatic.
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