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.
(with Psalm 106:32-33)
This is a memorable incident in the Jews' history, and it is rich in warning to us at this day. Moses had failed in his duty towards God, and that in three particulars. (1) He had failed in strict obedience. God had bidden him speak to the rock, and he had smitten it, smitten it twice. (2) He had shown temper, used hard language. "Hear now, ye rebels." (3) He had taken to himself the credit of supplying the Israelites with water. "Must we fetch water for you out of the rock?"
I. The first lesson to be learned from Moses at Meribah is the danger of departing, in the least jot or tittle, from any law of God.
II. The second is the immense importance attached to temperate speech, the necessity of keeping a check on temper and not letting ourselves be moved to hot and angry words. The want of self-control was very heavily visited upon Moses and upon "Aaron, the saint of the Lord." Because of it they were shut out of Canaan.
III. The scene at the rock of Meribah is further useful as carrying our thoughts upwards to Him who is the source of all our hopes, the nourishment of our soul, the very life of our religion, the Lord Jesus Christ. The rock in the desert was but a type and a shadow; the reality it typified is represented in Jesus Christ. All other waters after a while must fail; the water that Christ can give "shall be in us as a well of water, springing up unto everlasting life."
R. D. B. Rawnsley, Village Sermons, 3rd series, p. 100.
References: Numbers 20:11.—J. Vaughan, Sermons, 11th series, p. 166; Clergyman's Magazine, vol. xvi., p. 157; T. R. Stevenson, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xiv., p. 170.
Numbers 20:23-29I. We may learn a salutary lesson from the death of Aaron in its merely literal bearing. Aaron, the high-priest, had to ascend Mount Hor clad in his priestly robes of office; but he must be stripped of them there, because he must die there. He could not carry his dignity or the emblems of it into the next world. He must lay them down at the grave's brink. There is nothing which the world gives that men can carry with them when death lays hold of them. Even all which outwardly pertains to spiritual dignity, and which brings men into relation with things that are imperishable and eternal, must be left behind, and the individual man, as God's accountable creature, must appear before his Maker in judgment. There is one thing imperishable and one dignity which even death cannot tarnish. The imperishable thing is the life which the Spirit of God imparts to the soul, and which connects the soul with God. The deathless dignity is that of being children of God.
II. Aaron must be stripped of his robes, and his son clad with them in his stead. This reminds us that while the priests under the law were not suffered to continue by reason of death, yet the office of the priesthood did not lapse. Aaron's robes were not buried with him. His successor was provided. Yet the very thought that he needed a successor, that the office must be transmitted from one to another, leads us to think of the contrast which the Apostle draws between the priests under the law and Him who abideth always. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever.
A. D. Davidson, Lectures and Sermons, p. 599.
References: Numbers 20:14-21.—Parker, vol. iii., p. 258. Numbers 20:17.—W. Page Roberts, Reasonable Service, p. 148. Numbers 20:22-29.—G. Gilfillan, Alpha and Omega, vol. ii., p. 132.
Numbers 20:27-28I. The first and most superficial aspect of death is that it is the close of an earthly career. There could be no question as to the prominence of Aaron's career. (1) In the great work of leading the children of Israel out of Egypt to the confines of the Promised Land Aaron is only second to Moses. (2) Aaron was the first high-priest of the chosen people. His consecration was of itself calculated to awe the minds of Israel, and it was followed by high sanctions of his office, which must have done so still more.
II. Aaron was morally a weak man. He had no such grasp of principle as would enable him to hold out against strong pressure. His weakness became conspicuous on the critical occasion of Moses going up to Sinai to receive the sacred law. Aaron was left below in virtual command, in a position of responsibility for which, as the event proved, he was not fitted. The Greeks had a proverb that leadership will show what a man really is, and so it was with Aaron. His weakness is implied in the allusion in the Epistle to the Hebrews: "for that he himself also was compassed with infirmity."
III. Nothing is more noticeable in the account of Aaron's death than his deliberate preparation for it. He did not let death come on him; he went to meet it. There was a twofold motive in the act of Moses in stripping Aaron of his garments. (1) It showed that the office of the high-priesthood did not depend on the life of any single man, and (2) it reminded Aaron personally of the solemn truth of the utter solitariness of the soul in death.
IV. The phrase of Moses, "Aaron was gathered to his people," seems to point to a world in which the bygone generations of men still live, a world of the existence of which God's ancient people were well assured, though they knew much less of it than we.
H. P. Liddon, The Family Churchman, April 27th, 1887.
References: Numbers 20:28.—C. J. Vaughan, Sunday Magazine, 1873, p. 169. Numbers 20:29.—Parker, vol. iii., p. 267. Num 20, Num 21—J. Monro Gibson, The Mosaic Era, p. 285. Numbers 21:4.—J. H. Evans, Thursday Penny Pulpit, vol. ix., p. 187; Parker, vol. iii., p. 276. Numbers 21:4, Numbers 21:5.—F. Strutt, Thursday Penny Pulpit, vol. xvi., p. 161. Numbers 21:4, Numbers 21:9.—Homiletic Magazine, vol. xiv., p. 156; Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxix., No. 1722. Numbers 21:5.—Bishop Woodford, Sermons on Subjects from the Old Testament, p. 14. Numbers 21:5-9.—Parker, vol. iii., p. 287. Numbers 21:8.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. v., No. 285.
And there was no water for the congregation: and they gathered themselves together against Moses and against Aaron.
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.
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.
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.
This is the water of Meribah; because the children of Israel strove with the LORD, and he was sanctified in them.
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:
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.
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.
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,
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.
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.
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.
And when all the congregation saw that Aaron was dead, they mourned for Aaron thirty days, even all the house of Israel.