Numbers 20 Bible Commentary

John Wesley’s Explanatory Notes

(Read all of Numbers 20)

Verse 1

[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.

Then — To wit, after many stations and long journeys here omitted, but particularly described, Numbers 33:1-49.

Zin — A place near the land of Edom, distinct and distant from that Sin, Exodus 16:1.

The first month — Of the fortieth year, as is evident, because the next station to this was in mount Hor, where Aaron died, who died in the fifth month of the fortieth year, Numbers 33:38. Moses doth not give us an exact journal of all occurrences in the wilderness, but only of those which were most remarkable, and especially of those which happened in the first and second, and in the fortieth year.

Miriam died — Four months before Aaron, and but a few more before Moses.

Verse 2

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

No water — Which having followed them through all their former journeys, began to fail them here, because they were now come near countries, where waters might be had by ordinary means, and therefore God would not use extraordinary, lest he should seem to prostitute the honour of miracles. This story, though like that, Exodus 17:1-7, is different from it, as appears by divers circumstances. It is a great mercy, to have plenty of water; a mercy which if we found the want of, we should own the worth of.

Verse 3

[3] And the people chode with Moses, and spake, saying, Would God that we had died when our brethren died before the LORD!

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.

Verse 8

[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.

The rod — That which was laid up before the Lord in the tabernacle; whether it was Aaron's rod, which was laid up there, Numbers 17:10, or Moses's rod by which he wrought so many miracles. For it is likely, that wonder-working rod, was laid up in some part of the tabernacle, though not in or near the ark, where Aaron's blossoming rod was put.

Verse 9

[9] And Moses took the rod from before the LORD, as he commanded him.

From before the Lord — Out of the tabernacle.

Verse 12

[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.

Ye believed me not — But shewed your infidelity: which they did, either by smiting the rock, and that twice, which is emphatically noted, as if he doubted whether once smiting would have done it, whereas he was not commanded to smite so much as once, but only to speak to it: or by the doubtfulness of these words, Numbers 20:10. Must we fetch water out of the rock? which implies a suspicion of it, whereas they should have spoken positively and confidently to the rock to give forth water. And yet they did not doubt of the power of God, but of his will, whether he would gratify these rebels with this farther miracle, after so many of the like kind.

To sanctify me — To give me the glory of my power in doing this miracle, and of my truth in punctually fulfilling my promise, and of my goodness in doing it notwithstanding the peoples perverseness.

In the eyes of Israel — This made their sin scandalous to the Israelites, who of themselves were too prone to infidelity; to prevent the contagion, God leaves a monument of his displeasure upon them, and inflicts a punishment as publick as their sin.

Verse 13

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

Meribah — That is, strife.

In them — Or, among them, the children of Israel, by the demonstration of his omnipotency, veracity, and clemency towards the Israelites, and of his impartial holiness and severity against sin even in his greatest friends and favourites.

Verse 14

[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:

All the travel — All the wanderings and afflictions of our parents and of us their children, which doubtless have come to thine ears.

Verse 16

[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:

An Angel — The Angel of the Covenant, who first appeared to Moses in the bush, and afterward in the cloudy pillar, who conducted Moses and the people out of Egypt, and through the wilderness. For though Moses may be called an angel or messenger yet it is not probable that he is meant, partly because Moses was the person that sent this message; and partly because another angel above Moses conducted them, and the mention hereof to the Edomites, was likely to give more authority to their present message.

In Kadesh — Near, the particle in being so often used.

Verse 17

[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.

The wells — Or, pits, which any of you have digged for your private use, not without paying for it, Numbers 20:19, but only of the waters of common rivers, which are free to all passengers. No man's property ought to be invaded, under colour of religion. Dominion is founded in providence, not in Grace.

Verse 18

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

By me — Through my country: I will not suffer thee to do so: which was an act of policy, to secure themselves from so numerous an host.

Verse 19

[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.

Said — That is, their messengers replied what here follows.

Verse 23

[23] And the LORD spake unto Moses and Aaron in mount Hor, by the coast of the land of Edom, saying,

And the Lord spake unto Moses and Aaron — So these two dear brothers must part! Aaron must die first: but Moses is not likely to be long after him. So that it is only for a while, a little while, that they are separated.

Verse 24

[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.

Because they rebelled — This was one but not the only reason. God would not have Moses and Aaron to carry the people into Canaan, for this reason also, to signify the insufficiency of the Mosaical law and Aaronical priesthood to make them perfectly happy, and the necessity of a better, and to keep the Israelites from resting in them, so as to be taken off from their expectation of Christ.

Verse 26

[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.

His garments — His priestly garments, in token of his resignation of his office.

Put them on Eleazar — By way of admission and inauguration to his office.

Verse 27

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

In the sight of all the congregation — That their hearts might be more affected with their loss of so great a pillar, and that they all might be witnesses of the translation of the priesthood from Aaron to Eleazar.

Verse 28

[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.

And Moses stript Aaron — And Death will strip us. Naked we came into the world: naked we must go out. We shall see little reason to be proud of our cloaths, our ornaments, or marks of honour, if we consider how soon death will strip us of all our glory, and take the crown off from our head! Aaron died there - He died in Mosera, Deuteronomy 10:6. Mosera was the general name of the place where that station was, and mount Hor a particular place in it. Presently after he was stript of his priestly garments, he laid him down and died. A good man would desire, if it were the will of God, not to outlive his usefulness. Why should we covet to continue any longer in this world, than while we may do God and our generation some service?

Verse 29

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

Saw — Understood by the relation of Moses and Eleazar, and by other signs.

Thirty days — The time of publick and solemn mourning for great persons.