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Deeper Commentary


Num 20:1 The children of Israel, even the whole congregation, came into the wilderness of Zin in the first month; and the people stayed in Kadesh. Miriam died there, and was buried there.

Num 20:2 There was no water for the congregation. They assembled themselves together against Moses and against Aaron-

Stephen in Acts 7 stresses the way in which Moses was rejected by Israel as a type of Christ. At age 40, Moses was "thrust away" by one of the Hebrews; and on the wilderness journey the Jews “thrust him from them, and in their hearts turned back again into Egypt" (Acts 7:27,35,39). This suggests that there was far more antagonism between Moses and Israel than we gather from the Old Testament record- after the pattern of Israel's treatment of Jesus. It would seem from Acts 7:39 that after the golden calf incident, the majority of Israel cold shouldered Moses. Once the point sank in that they were not going to enter the land, this feelings must have turned into bitter resentment. They were probably unaware of how Moses had been willing to offer his eternal destiny for their salvation; they would not have entered into the intensity of Moses' prayers for their salvation. The record seems to place Moses and "the people" in juxtaposition around 100 times (e.g. Ex. 15:24; 17:2,3; 32:1 NIV; Num. 16:41 NIV; 20:2,3; 21:5). They accused Moses of being a cruel cult leader, bent on leading them out into the desert to kill them and steal their wealth from them (Num. 16:13,14)- when in fact Moses was delivering them from the house of bondage, and was willing to lay down his own salvation for theirs. The way Moses submerged his own pain is superb; both of their rejection of him and of God's rejection of him from entering the Kingdom. The style of Moses' writing in Num. 20:12-14 reveals this submerging of his own pain. He speaks of himself in the third person, omitting any personal reflection on his own feelings: "The Lord spake unto Moses...Because you believed me not... you shall not bring the congregation into the land... and Moses sent messengers from Kadesh unto the King of Edom...". Likewise all the references to “the Lord spake unto Moses” (Lev. 1:1). Moses submerged his own personality in writing his books. 

Num 20:3 The people strove with Moses and spoke, saying, We wish that we had died when our brothers died before Yahweh!-
Israel “chode with Moses... they strove with the Lord” (Num. 20:3,13) uses the same Hebrew word for both “chode” and “strove”. To strive with Moses was to strive with the Lord- i.e. with the guardian Angel that was so closely associated with Moses? Num. 20:4 continues rather strangely with the Israelites addressing Moses in the plural: “The people chode with Moses, saying... Why have ye [you plural] brought up...”. Could it be that even they recognized his partnership with God? Likewise Num. 21:5: “And the people spake against God, and against Moses, Wherefore have ye [plural] brought us up out of Egypt to die?”.

Num 20:4 Why have you brought the assembly of Yahweh into this wilderness that we should die there, we and our animals?
Num 20:5 Why have you made us to come up out of Egypt, to bring us in to 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.
Num 20:6 Moses and Aaron went from the presence of the assembly to the door of the Tent of Meeting, and fell on their faces, and the glory of Yahweh appeared to them-
When faced with unreasonable criticism and aggression, even from those amongst the people of God, our response should be not to argue back immediately, but take the situation to God.

Num 20:7 Yahweh spoke to Moses, saying,
Num 20:8 Take the rod and assemble the congregation, you and Aaron your brother, and speak to the rock before their eyes, that it give forth its water; and you shall bring forth to them water out of the rock; so you shall give the congregation and their livestock drink-
Note carefully the process of failure here. Moses and Aaron were told to both speak to the rock, and this would result in Moses personally bringing forth water: “Gather thou [singular] the assembly together, thou, and Aaron thy brother, and speak ye [plural- both of them] unto the rock before their eyes; and it shall give forth his water, and thou [Moses personally] shalt bring forth to them water out of the rock: so thou shalt give the congregation and their beasts drink” (Num. 20:8). But Moses seems to have dismissed Aaron’s intended involvement and assumed that he alone could bring the water out with his rod. Yet Aaron was also condemned for this incident- presumably because he didn’t speak to the rock but just let Moses smite the rock with his silence meaning consent.


Num 20:9 Moses took the rod from before Yahweh as He commanded him-
- see on Ex. 17:6.

Num 20:10 Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly together before the rock and he said to them, Hear now, you rebels; shall we bring water out of this rock for you?
Num 20:11 Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock with his rod twice: and water came forth abundantly, and the congregation drank, and their livestock-
Moses had previously struck the rock and water came out (Ex. 17:6), but this time he was asked to speak to it- yet instead, he struck it. He became over familiar with God, assuming he could do as he wished without careful respect for God’s word. He failed to believe in the power of the spoken word (:12), effectively he rebelled against the commandment (27:14); he assumed that detailed obedience wasn’t necessary to God’s commandment; and he gave the impression that he rather than God was giving the water (“shall we bring you water...?”, :10). One angry sentence can reveal so much about our attitudes. Moses had earlier asked that he be excluded from entering the land so that Israel might enter (Ex. 32:32- see note there). In a strange way, that prayer was heard. Although Moses sinned, repeatedly we read that he didn’t himself enter the land for Israel’s sake (Dt. 1:37; 3:26; 4:21). They are blamed for provoking him to speak poorly (Ps. 106:33). God works through our sins in a strange way; and what we ask for in prayer, we have a way of receiving, in essence.

Num 20:12 Yahweh said to Moses and Aaron, Because you didn’t believe in Me, to sanctify Me in the eyes of the children of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land which I have given them-
Although Moses didn’t believe in God as he should have done, God still did the miracle. He is prepared to accept even imperfect faith. For Moses' faith slips for a moment; his spirit is provoked by Israel, so that he speaks unadvisedly with his lips and is therefore barred from entering the land (although maybe such an apparently temporary slip was the reflection of deeper problems?). Yet it does seem uncharacteristic, a tragic slip down the graph of ever rising spirituality. There must have almost been tears in Heaven. Being easily provoked was one of Moses' characteristics; consider how he turned himself and stormed out from Pharaoh (Ex. 10:6; 11:8); how his anger waxed hot when he returned from the mount, how he went out from Pharaoh in great anger, how he first of all feared the wrath of Pharaoh and then stopped fearing it; how Moses was "very wroth" at Israel's suggestion that he was appropriating the sacrifices for himself; how he was "angry" with Eleazer (Ex.32:19; 11:8; Num. 16:15; Lev. 10:16,17). This temperament explains his swings of faith. Was the Lord Jesus likewise afflicted?

The style of Moses' writing in Num. 20:12-14 reveals a submerging of his own pain. He speaks of himself in the third person, omitting any personal reflection on his own feelings: "The Lord spake unto Moses... Because ye believed me not... ye shall not bring the congregation into the land... and Moses sent messengers from Kadesh unto the King of Edom...". Likewise all the references to “the Lord spake unto Moses” (Lev. 1:1). Moses submerged his own personality in writing his books. See on Acts 7:39.

Num 20:13 These are the waters of Meribah; because the children of Israel strove with Yahweh, and He was sanctified in them-
Somehow God is never beaten; man can do nothing against the Truth, only for it (2 Cor. 13:8). He wasn’t beaten when Moses failed to sanctify Him; He sanctified Himself through His judgment of that failure: “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” (Num. 20:12,13).  Somehow God’s word never returns unto Him void, somehow the lost sheep is always found. These are not just expressions of the essential hopefulness of the Father and Son (although this in itself is something to be truly inspired by); these are statements which reflect the way in which within God’s scheme of working, everything works out to His glory.

Num 20:14 Moses sent messengers from Kadesh to the king of Edom, saying: Thus says your brother Israel: ‘You know all the travail that has happened to us:
Num 20:15 how our fathers went down into Egypt, and we lived in Egypt a long time; and the Egyptians dealt ill with us, and our fathers:
Num 20:16 and when we cried to Yahweh, He heard our voice, and sent an angel, and brought us forth out of Egypt; and behold, we are in Kadesh, a city in the uttermost extremity of your border.
Num 20:17 Please let us pass through your land. We will not pass through field or through vineyard, neither will we drink of the water of the wells. We will go along the king’s highway. We will not turn aside to the right hand nor to the left, until we have passed your border-

The Hebrew word translated as "thousand" can mean a family, or some other administrative division. Many of the 'number problems' in the Hebrew Bible are only really resoluble using this approach. And that may be in view in the census of Israel taken in Num. 1, and in the statement that six hundred 'thousands' of footmen left Egypt (Ex. 12:37). The census of Num. 1 gives figures such as those in Num. 1:21 for Reuben, which could be rendered: "forty six families ['thousands'] and five hundred (men)". Although a "hundred" might also refer to an administrative division. The total in Num. 1 would then be 598 families with a total of 5550 men. The sum given in the second census in Num. 26 comes out as roughly the same, with 596 families amounting to 5730 men. On this basis, the total population (including women and children) would be anything between 20,000 to 40,000. This would enable us to make better sense of the statements that Israel were the smallest numerically of all the surrounding peoples (Dt. 7:1,7; 11:23; 20:1). If we insist upon taking "thousand" literally in Ex. 12:37, then 600,000 male foot soldiers would imply a total population of between two and six million. The population density would have been intense, and far greater than that of many modern nations. Estimates of global population at the time suggest it was only about 40 million, and the population of Egypt was a maximum of three million (probably far less). If the Israelites were smaller than the other nations, and they numbered say 5 million, then the total population of the seven peoples of Canaan would have been at least 40 million. The territory of Canaan could not have supported such numbers. Only 70 Israelites came into Egypt with Jacob. Expansion over 430 years to several million is not realistic. This approach helps us better understand how all the men of war marched around Jericho (Josh. 6:3). If there were literally 600,000 men then the city would have had to be many kilometers in circumference for them all to march around it seven times in one day. Archeaological evidence from Jericho simply doesn't support the idea of such a vast city. If Israel numbered say 5 million people, and recall there was also a "mixed multitude" with them, then if they marched 10 abreast this would require a column stretching around 1000 kilometers. Their promises to Edom and the Amorites to march only along a highway and not spill over it (Num. 20:17; 21:22) is unrealistic if they had such huge numbers. A figure of 600 family units leaving Egypt is more realistic; otherwise we start to wonder how ever all the Israelites, millions of them, came to be in one place at one time on Passover night.

Num 20:18 Edom said to him, You shall not pass through me, lest I come out with the sword against you-
These words were said with hearts melting with fear of Israel (Ex. 15:16).

Num 20:19 The children of Israel said to him, We will go up by the highway; and if we drink of your water, I and my livestock, then will I give its price. Let me only, without doing anything else, pass through on my feet.
Num 20:20 He said, You shall not pass through. Edom came out against him with many people, and with a strong hand-
We must put this together with Ex. 15:15 "Then the chiefs of Edom were dismayed the way". So when Edom "refused to give Israel passage through his border" (Num. 20:21), their refusal was because they were "dismayed" and terrified, not because they had some nonchalant confidence against Israel. This is an example of where we must place scripture together to get an accurate picture. 

Num 20:21 Thus Edom refused to give Israel passage through his border, so Israel turned away from him-
Soon after this incident, Israel were commanded not to despise an Edomite (Dt. 23:7)- although this is just what Edom had done to them. We aren’t to treat others as they treat us, but leave their judgment with God. These incidents took place in the 40th year of their wanderings (Num. 33:38), and the commands of Deuteronomy were given at the same time.

Num 20:22 They travelled from Kadesh: and the children of Israel, even the whole congregation, came to Mount Hor.
Num 20:23 Yahweh spoke to Moses and Aaron in Mount Hor, by the border of the land of Edom, saying,
Num 20:24 Aaron shall be gathered to his people; for he shall not enter into the land which I have given to the children of Israel, because you rebelled against my word at the waters of Meribah.
Num 20:25 Take Aaron and Eleazar his son, and bring them up to Mount Hor;
Num 20:26 and strip Aaron of his garments, and put them on Eleazar his son; and Aaron shall be taken, and shall die there.
Num 20:27 Moses did as Yahweh commanded; and they went up into Mount Hor in the sight of all the congregation.
Num 20:28 Moses stripped Aaron of his garments, and put them on Eleazar his son; and Aaron died there on the top of the mountain; and Moses and Eleazar came down from the mountain.
Num 20:29 When all the congregation saw that Aaron was dead, they wept for Aaron thirty days, even all the house of Israel.