Front Page

Series Theme: FRAMEWORKS: Numbers

(Return to Old Testament Contents)




PART 5: Travelling North

Part five sees them travelling north up the east side of the Dead Sea and three battles.

Ch.20: [Action] Water from the Rock & encounter with Edom

•  Miriam's death, Moses' failure & Aaron's death

Ch.21: [Action] Battles physical & spiritual & travel

•  battle with Arad, snakes and defeating Sihon & Og


FRAMEWORKS: Numbers 20: Water from the Rock & encounter with Edom


v.1-6 The People complain at lack of water

v.7,8 The Lord Instructs Moses

v.9-13 Moses Oversteps the mark

v.14-21 Edom Denies Israel Passage

v.22-29 The Death of Aaron


[Preliminary Notes: This chapter starts the third Phase of Israel's journey from Egypt to the point of entering the Promised Land. [Phase 1 was the journey from Egypt to Sinai, Phase 2 from Sinai to Kadesh, Phase 2A might be considered as the forty years of wandering in the desert to the south of Canaan, and Phase 3 is travelling up the east side of the Dead Sea until they are eventually able to cross the Jordan near Jericho.]


This chapter is monumental in that in it Miriam and Aaron both die and Moses is told he also won't enter the Land. Then the journey up the east side of the Dead Sea begins until they will eventually reach the area often referred to as ‘Trans Jordan', the land to the east of the river Jordan (which flowed from what we later call the Sea of Galilee down to the Dead Sea) where, on the Plains of Moab, Moses addresses the nation before he dies and they enter the Land – found in Deuteronomy.]



v.1-6 The People complain at lack of water


v.1 In the first month the whole Israelite community arrived at the Desert of Zin, and they stayed at Kadesh. There Miriam died and was buried.

v.2 Now there was no water for the community, and the people gathered in opposition to Moses and Aaron.

v.3 They quarrelled with Moses and said, “If only we had died when our brothers fell dead before the Lord!

v.4 Why did you bring the Lord 's community into this wilderness, that we and our livestock should die here?

v.5 Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to this terrible place? It has no grain or figs, grapevines or pomegranates. And there is no water to drink!”

v.6 Moses and Aaron went from the assembly to the entrance to the tent of meeting and fell facedown, and the glory of the Lord appeared to them.


[Notes: People in the leadership (who are simply getting old) start dying. Miriam, Moses' sister is the first. It is at Kadesh on the southern boundary of Canaan. There, yet again, the people find fault with Moses because again they find a shortage of water.]



v.7,8 The Lord Instructs Moses


v.7 The Lord said to Moses,

v.8 “Take the staff, and you and your brother Aaron gather the assembly together. Speak to that rock before their eyes and it will pour out its water. You will bring water out of the rock for the community so they and their livestock can drink.”


[Notes: Again the Lord instructs Moses to produce water from the rock, but this time not by striking the rock as happened previously [Ex 17:6] but simply to speak to the rock.]



v.9-13 Moses Oversteps the mark


v.9 So Moses took the staff from the Lord 's presence, just as he commanded him.

v.10 He and Aaron gathered the assembly together in front of the rock and Moses said to them, “Listen, you rebels, must we bring you water out of this rock?”

v.11 Then Moses raised his arm and struck the rock twice with his staff. Water gushed out, and the community and their livestock drank.

v.12 But the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not trust in me enough to honour me as holy in the sight of the Israelites, you will not bring this community into the land I give them.”

v.13 These were the waters of Meribah, [ Meribah means quarreling] where the Israelites quarrelled with the Lord and where he was proved holy among them.


[Notes: Now whether Moses is stressed by the loss of his sister or he is just fed up with the people and his grace has run low, we don't know but instead of following the Lord's instructions, he aggressively addresses and chastises the people and TWICE strikes the rock with his staff. Faith would have simply spoken to the rock but Moses just relied on his own authority and even though the Lord does give the water, He chastises Moses who has failed to properly represent Him and tells both he and Aaron that they will not enter the Land. At the age of 120 one wonders if ‘going home' and being released from shepherding this unruly nation was in fact a relief! Almost more of a reward than a discipline.]



v.14-21 Edom Denies Israel Passage


v.14-17 Moses requests passage through Edom

v.14 Moses sent messengers from Kadesh to the king of Edom, saying:

“This is what your brother Israel says: You know about all the hardships that have come on us.

v.15 Our ancestors went down into Egypt, and we lived there many years. The Egyptians mistreated us and our ancestors,

v.16 but when we cried out to the Lord , he heard our cry and sent an angel and brought us out of Egypt.

“Now we are here at Kadesh, a town on the edge of your territory.

v.17 Please let us pass through your country. We will not go through any field or vineyard, or drink water from any well. We will travel along the King's Highway and not turn to the right or to the left until we have passed through your territory.”

v.18 Edom refuse them

v.18 But Edom answered: “You may not pass through here; if you try, we will march out and attack you with the sword.”

v.19 Israel appeal to them again

v.19 The Israelites replied: “We will go along the main road, and if we or our livestock drink any of your water, we will pay for it. We only want to pass through on foot—nothing else.”

v.20 Again Edom refuse and send out their army

v.20   Again they answered: “You may not pass through.” Then Edom came out against them with a large and powerful army.

v.21 Israel simply skirt their territory

v.21 Since Edom refused to let them go through their territory, Israel turned away from them.


[Notes: Now Edom was the territory immediately to the north and the east of Kadesh and the shortest route to Canaan would have been directly north through Edom. The Edomites, however, presumably feel threatened by this large body of people on their southern border and refuse to let them through. Israel therefore decide to skirt round to the east, thus taking the route up the east side of the Dead Sea.]



v.22-29 The Death of Aaron


v.22 The whole Israelite community set out from Kadesh and came to Mount Hor.

v.23 At Mount Hor, near the border of Edom, the Lord said to Moses and Aaron,

v.24 “Aaron will be gathered to his people. He will not enter the land I give the Israelites, because both of you rebelled against my command at the waters of Meribah.

v.25 Get Aaron and his son Eleazar and take them up Mount Hor.

v.26 Remove Aaron's garments and put them on his son Eleazar, for Aaron will be gathered to his people; he will die there.”

v.27 Moses did as the Lord commanded: They went up Mount Hor in the sight of the whole community.

v.28 Moses removed Aaron's garments and put them on his son Eleazar. And Aaron died there on top of the mountain. Then Moses and Eleazar came down from the mountain,

v.29 and when the whole community learned that Aaron had died, all the Israelites mourned for him thirty days.


[Notes: According to 33:38 this occurs in the 40th year after the exodus from Egypt. On the mountain to the north of Kadesh, Aaron, Eleazar and Moses conduct a poignant ritual of handing over the role of chief priest when the Lord tells Moses and Aaron that Aaron's time on earth is also coming to an end. Aaron is 123 years old [Num 33:39]. Yet he had been of one heart with Moses at the rock in wanting to angrily chastise the people. Together they had failed to properly represent the Lord before the people. Now Aaron simply dies, presumably of old age.]