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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-

"The whole congregation" or "all the congregation" is a phrase used always in the context of Israel's complaints or rebellions. The implication therefore is that those who still survived of the condemned generation (see on :3) and those of the younger generation- all failed now at the very border of the Kingdom of God. We can also infer that the complaints were not from a disgruntled minority, but were the spirit of the entire community. "The first month" when these things happened at Kadesh would appear to be in year 40 of the "journey", comparing with the itinerary in Num. 33:36-38.

Despite all the visible wrath of God against those who rebelled in Num. 16 with 15000 dying, the condemnation of the priesthood to death and then their being saved by the unique, saving provision of the red heifer (see on Num. 19:4,7,11)... the people still rebelled. This is all a classic case of where visible, empirical evidence doesn't of itself elicit true faith in God. And those who base their faith upon 'scientific evidence' on one hand or Pentecostal claims of miracles... need to be warned by this. We wonder whether the death of Miriam was related to her abiding sense of rebellion against her brothers Moses and Aaron. Perhaps the root of her name, Mara [bitter] became sadly true for her in her older age. 

"The waters of strife in Kadesh" were the borders of the land, as defined in Ez. 47:19; 48:28. On the borders of the Kingdom, they rebelled and Moses sinned and disbelieved. The rest of Numbers will be taken up with accounts of their failures right at the end. We marvel at this failure at the very end of the journey [for the record of the death of Aaron in the 40th year runs straight on from this narrative as if it was now the 40th year since leaving Egypt]. But it is of the same nature as the great apostacy foretold by the New Testament on the eve of the second coming, leading the Lord to muse as to whether He would find faith on the earth at His return.

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. 

"Assembling together against Moses" is the same phrase used in the record of Korah's rebellion (Num. 16:3,19,42) and the golden calf (Ex. 32:1). Likewise they "quarreled with" Moses (:3) is the same word used of how they did this in the previous rebellion about water in Ex. 17:2,7. “Why have you brought the Lord’s congregation into this wilderness for us... to die?” (:4) repeats the words of the rebellions by the previous generation: at the Red Sea (Ex. 14:11), at Kadesh (Num. 14:2) and in Korah's rebellion (Num. 16:13). No lessons had been learnt from all the salvations by grace at those times. “Why did you make us leave Egypt?” (:5) recalls the pining for all things Egyptian which characterized the previous generation, at the Red Sea (Ex. 14:11), when they complained and were given Manna (Ex. 16:3), in Num. 11:5 at Kibroth-hattaavah, when the spies returned and they refused to enter Canaan (Num. 14:2), and at Korah's rebellion (Num. 16:13). In :4 they complain there are no figs, pomegranates nor vines in the desert. These were the very things brought back from Canaan as encouragement to persevere with Yahweh's path to enter it (Num. 13:23). This was an expression of serious doubt as to whether they would in fact enter the Kingdom. It was a very serious sin. We wonder why in the incident that follows, God appears to be very harsh in the level of judgment given to Moses. But we wonder whether in fact behind that there was not a desire to place their rightful judgment- of telling them "Well OK don't enter Canaan"- upon Moses. He bore their sin as ever.

This generation were just as rebellious as the previous one; that's the point of these connections. All the grace shown previously, the salvation from condemnation by desperate intercession, just had left no lasting mark on the people. Numbers seems to record what happened at the very start of the journey, the first year or so, and then from Num. 20 what happened in the last year or so. If the "whole assembly" (:1) here were mostly or exclusively those under 20 on leaving Egypt, we marvel that those about to enter the Kingdom actually didn't want to. What we will read for the rest of Numbers is a terrible spurning of grace and salvation. We see a studied repetition of the failures of the first generation as they approached the borders of the land. This new generation were no better, but were saved by grace.

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?”. "Our brothers" shows that the people were at one with the rebels who had died in the events of Num. 16, and hence Moses addresses them all as "rebels" (:10). He was on one hand full of spiritual perception, but lack of faith and unwise words on the other. This kind of terrible mixture of flesh and Spirit is sadly to be found in all God's children, even the very best of them like Moses.

The mention of brothers rather than fathers might suggest this complaint came from the last remnant of the condemned generation. The judgments at Kibroth-hattaavah (Num. 11:34) and Kadesh (Num. 14:37) had been upon not their brothers but their fathers. They were bitter and complaining to the end, for at this point they are nearing the end of the 40 years wandering. Just like many elderly folk today who refuse to get it. But the stress on how the "whole congregation" were involved (:1) suggests more that the younger ones were referring to the previous generation as their "brothers" to show solidarity with them. Rather than being grateful that they were going to enter the land whereas that generation didn't. They who were about to enter the land lament that they hadn't died with earlier rebels. They had been told that the wanderings would be for 40 years, but now the time was coming to an end, they still rebelled and just didn't want the Kingdom. There is no sense of tip top joyful expectancy. The blindness of man to the soon possibility of God's Kingdom is likewise amazing.


Num 20:4 Why have you brought the assembly of Yahweh into this wilderness that we should die there, we and our animals?-
The obvious answer was that not Moses but God had brought them into the wilderness, they had went the way they were led by the Angel going before them in the pillar of cloud and fire. But they didn't want to accept that as any evidence. Again, as discussed on :1, visible, empirical evidence didn't persuade anyone of anything much. In their hearts they had returned to Egypt (Acts 7:39), and so they would see everything through the lens of their desire to return there. And so it is with those who love the world and simply do not want the things of the Kingdom. The manna was being given, but they disregarded it, and assumed they would die without the luxury foods of :5. We have a powerful insight into the mentality of so many. They are not satisfied with food and clothing, and for them, life is "death" without all the "extras".

The test as to "What shall we drink?" was a repeat of that in Ex. 15 and Ex. 17. The same basic test, although in regard to "What shall we eat?", was repeated in Ex. 16. The Lord alludes to this when warning us not to ask what we shall eat or drink but to live life trusting in God's provision. And this is how life goes- tests repeat, in essence, and we are intended to learn from how God provides and acts in earlier tests in our lives. And also from how He has provided historically, in the Biblical record. It's the same with how God had carefully instructed Moses how to use his rod, and therefore his failure with his rod was seen as so culpable.

These are the words of the rebellion in Ex. 17:3. Many had been saved by grace from the results of that rebellion. But even now in their old age (see on :3), all the grace meant nothing, and they learnt nothing from history. Thus is man without trust in Divine grace.

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-
Their idea was that the desert was no place to plant seed. The idea may have been that they had camped for some time where they had planted seeds. But now they were in a desolate area. God's later comment upon this is "Have I been a wilderness to Israel?" (Jer. 2:31). They totally ignored God's hand and leadership in all this, taking out their anger with God upon His representatives- as happens to this day. 

The answer was obviously 'Because you sinned'. But they totally discounted this, as many do today. They were bitter at the consequence of sin. Living in a fallen world becomes so depressing and bitter until we accept the huge significance of human sin.

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. Moses' humility is surely revealed here; for he doesn't make the obvious responses to them which he could have made. Instead he falls on his face in appeal to God not to slay them. This points up the way that his sin in hitting the rock was indeed a very momentary and uncharacteristic failure. Although one take away from this sad narrative is that such failures are still sin and liable to judgment. "He just snapped..." is not in fact an excuse for sin, regardless of the provocation.

Num 20:7 Yahweh spoke to Moses, saying-
The invitation to take the rod naturally suggested that Moses was to use it as previously commanded. But this was a test as to whether Moses would serve God on the basis of careful obedience to His word; or upon the assumption that he would just repeat his previous obedience in a relatively mindless way. And he failed it. This incident therefore has powerful relevance to those who regularly attend church meetings and tend to go through the same spiritual patterns in their lives, repeating what they did previously. The command for Moses to take the rod which budded meant that he entered into the most holy, when this was only for Aaron to do once / year at the day of Atonement. So Moses was being encouraged to pay careful attention to God's specific words and act only upon them. The rod was the symbol that Moses and Aaron were indeed chosen by God.  

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.

"Speak to the rock" can as well be translated "speak upon the rock", or near the rock. The same construction is in the following: "Before the rock" (:10), "upon the rock" (Jud. 6:20; 7:25; 2 Sam. 21:10), "against the rock" (Ps. 137:9).
It could be that Moses was called to address the complaining Israel, perhaps "before the rock", with an assurance of grace. He does address them before the rock (:10 s.w. "to the rock"). But not with words of grace. And water would have flowed out as he did so. Instead he gave his own speech of condemnation of Israel, and hit the rock. 

We note Moses was asked to do five things:  “take the staff,” “assemble the congregation,” “speak to the rock,” “bring forth water” and “let the congregation drink”. In response, Moses (a) took the staff (b) assembled the people (c) spoke to the people (d) lifted up his hand (e) hit the rock twice. Instead of speaking to the rock he spoke to the people. It could be argued that he was being asked to provide them with water, by grace. Despite their nasty accusations and complaints. But instead of showing that intended grace, he addresses the people as "rebels"; and he raised his hand in defiance, defiance of God's grace. In this way he failed to sanctify God in that he refused to reflect His grace to the people; and he disbelieved God in that he disbelieved that God could show such grace to the people.


Moses was asked to throw down wood into the waters (Ex. 15:25). His staff, also made of wood, had to be lifted up in order to open the Red Sea. He was being taught careful obedience to commandment about wood, and yet he failed to learn- for the sin which excluded him from entering Canaan was that of not obeying commandment about his rod / the wood. He was told to take the rod in his hand but not use it. This may explain the apparent harshness of God's condemnation of him over this incident.

Num 20:9 Moses took the rod from before Yahweh as He commanded him-
The rod being "before Yahweh" refers back to how Aaron's rod that budded was placed before Yahweh (Num 17:22). So it was that rod which was used, and abused. The symbol of God's choice of Aaron was abused by Moses as if it had power of itself. We note that "his [Moses'] rod" in Num. 20:11 is lacking in the LXX and Vulgate, rendering simply "the rod". They used this symbolic piece of wood as if it had power in itself, just as some consider the physical wood of the Lord's cross to have some magic power. And they were condemned for doing so. They were asked to hold the rod because it was the symbol of warning to a rebellious people.

The first time Moses struck the rock, he was standing in the presence of the Angel- "Behold, I will stand before thee there upon the rock" (Ex. 17:6), but it would seem that the second time Moses took the rod "from before the LORD (the Angel)" (Num. 20:9) and went alone to the rock; this lack of Angelic presence perhaps accounts for his rashness at this time.

Paul in 1 Cor. 10:4 alludes to a Jewish tradition that the rock followed Israel through the wilderness, always giving water. Some traditions suggest Miriam carried it; the supposed “Rock of Moses” is a piece of rock which could have been carried. Paul emphasizes that the point of his allusion is that the water which they drank of represented “Christ”, the strength which comes from Him as the smitten rock; he alludes to the tradition just as he quotes pagan poets and makes a point out of their words (Acts 17:28). The Bible often features this kind of thing; and God isn’t so paranoiac and apologetic that He as it were has to footnote such things with a comment that “of course, this isn’t true”.

But the rock following them likely means that the water from the smitten rock followed them. Israel's complaint that they had no water was therefore really complaining that they didn't have any more water than that. Moses' failure to believe that from another rock could flow water (which is one possible reading of :10) was therefore indeed a terrible lack of faith (:12). For there was every evidence, provided 24/7, that God could provide water from a rock.

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?-
We are left to imagine in what tone of voice Moses said that, and compare it with the tone of voice he used when at the end of his life reminding them of how they had been rebellious. Israel had rebelled against the commandment of Yahweh through disbelief, and therefore couldn't enter Canaan (Dt. 1:26; 9:7,23,24; 31:27; Num. 27:4); they were as the rebellious son who rebelled against his father's commandment (s.w. Dt. 21:18,20). For Moses himself had rebelled against the commandment of Yahweh and because of this was also barred from entering Canaan (Num. 20:24; 27:14). One reason for this was that he had called the Israelites "rebels" (Num. 20:10), and no sooner had he done so, than he himself rebelled against Yahweh's commandment just like them, but in a different way. He saw the whole congregation as no better than the rebels who had perished previously, 15000 of them, in the rebellion of Num. 16 which Israel were now in essence repeating.

The essence of the sin was lack of faith (:12), not simply striking the rock; for only Moses struck it, but Aaron was equally punished. The emphasis is perhaps upon "this rock" rather than "we". As if they didn't believe that from that rock could possibly flow water, although God had worked in that way before. Perhaps this is why he struck it once, and no water came, as if in demonstration of his point. And he struck it again- and God answered a fool according to his folly, and God made water come out of it.

Or we can read this as Moses not sanctifying God (:12) by speaking as if he could bring the water out of the rock alone, in his own strength. The people had just fired a series of questions at him, asking why he had brought them out of Egypt and led them through the desert. The obvious answer to their questions was that it was not Moses who had done these things, but God working through Moses. They failed to see God manifest in Moses, and looked at him merely as acting in his own strength. And it could be that in this moment, he came to see himself as they saw him. He sinned terribly because he allowed others' perceptions of him to become his own self perception. And we can take that lesson to ourselves in every generation.   

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 lifted his hand and then struck the rock. The action of lifting the hand could be in defiance. He was 'high handed'. This was the sin of high handed presumption (s.w.), but still he was saved from it ultimately. Despite his disobedience, the grace of it all was that water came out- and abundantly! Moses unfaithfulness and lack of grace contrasts with Yahweh's grace and faithfulness in the face of disobedience. Although we note that unlike at Rephidim 38 years earlier this was a one off. In Num. 21 we find the people again complaining about lack of water.

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 was perhaps acting on autopilot, assuming things would repeat as they did before; he had used the rod in other miracles involving water, both in Egypt and in the desert (Num. 7:20; 14:16). Just as we can. And God counted this as a major sin. We think of how David's battle plans in 2 Sam. 5:19-23 were subtly altered to test his obedience. He was told to "go up" against the Philistines by frontal assault and he successfully did so. But in the second battle he was told not to "go up" but to wait until he heard the sound of the Angels above him, and to attack from behind. See on :10. Smiting the rock, which represented Christ (1 Cor. 10:4), could be understood as effectively crucifying Him, twice over (Heb. 6:6). Perhaps 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 (Num. 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.

Moses was willing to give his physical and eternal life for Israel's salvation (Ex. 32:32). In a sense, his desire was heard. Because of the sin of a moment, caused by the provocation of the people he loved, God decreed that he could not enter the land of promise. For their sakes he was barred from the land; this is the emphasis of the Spirit (Dt. 1:37; 3:26; 4:21); and Ps. 106:32,33 says that Moses was provoked to sin because Israel angered God, and that therefore "it went ill with Moses for their sakes". Truly, God by grace works through sinful man to achieve His glory. Thus Moses says that he must die “Because ye [plural] trespassed against me” (Dt. 32:51). This all helps explain why the Lord Jesus Christ had to die, apart from the fact that He was mortal. He died the death of a sinner for our salvation, He felt all the emotions of the rejected, the full weight of God's curse; for "cursed is every one that hangs on a tree" in crucifixion (Gal. 3:13). Moses is a superb and accurate type of the Lord Jesus. Therefore Moses in his time of dying must grant us insight into the death of our Lord, the prophet like him (Dt. 18:18).

The fact Aaron was also equally punished indicates that the essence of the sin was not striking the rock. For only Moses struck the rock. It was lack of faith (:12). God sees through to the essence of sinAaron inwardly assented to the language and conduct with which he was outwardly associated and was judged for it. And that is a challenge to good men who do nothing but go along with what they may say they disagree with. We note that "Speak [you both speak] to the rock" is in the plural; both of them were to speak to the rock. "Take the rod... assemble the people" are addressed to a singular individual, but to speak to the rock was a command to both Moses and Aaron. Aaron said nothing, and Moses instead spoke to the people not to the rock. We see here the weight of sins of omission.

Why did Moses strike the rock twice? Presumably if water had come out of the rock the first time, he wouldn't have needed to strike a second time. Presumably nothing, or very little, came out after the first strike. This surely was God trying to restrain him. But he drove right over the red light and insisted in more disobedience by hitting it again. And God heard that disobedience and gave water from the rock. Perhaps this is how Yahweh sanctified Himself in this incident, through glorifying His grace. 

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-
Disbelief in God was the reason Israel too were barred from entering Canaan (s.w. Dt. 1:32). When Moses reminded them of this in Dt. 1:32, he was alluding to how he was in essence no better than them, having also been rejected from entering Canaan for disbelief (Num. 20:12). So we wonder in what tine of voice he reminded them of this. For he appealed to them as a fellow sinner, in this sense no better than them. And this was the potential power of his appeal.

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?

Moses doubtless had faith of a sort to hit the rock, having gathered all Israel there, and expect water to come out. Indeed, the water did come out, the miracle happened… but God’s ultimate comment was that in that event, Moses actually did not have faith.

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.

We may feel the judgment was extreme, for a few rash words uttered under huge provocation (Ps. 106:32,33). But studded throughout the Bible are examples of where apparently heavy judgments are given for what we might consider minor infringements: Eating the fruit when told it was OK to do so by the serpent, the disobedient prophet who was told by another prophet he could eat and drink when God had told him not to, Moses and Aaron barred from entering the land because Moses hit the rock as he did previously, rather than speaking to it [and Aaron "only" just said nothing], Ananias and Sapphira for exaggerating their generosity. The rest of the Biblical narrative is full of God tolerating a huge amount of sin. But these incidents are scattered throughout the Bible to remind us of the seriousness of sin. We commit these kinds of sins, of omission, of silence when we should speak, of being misled... multiple times / day.

 God led the condemned generation "to see what was in their hearts"- why do that, if they were merely being led to their deaths? Is there not a hint that God was looking at any possible heart change that might enable Him to forgive and eternally save them, even if they had to die in the wilderness? For Moses too couldn't see nor enter the promised land, and yet will be saved. He sinned at Kadesh (Num. 20:1), exactly where Israel did (Num. 13:25). Both Moses and Israel are charged with the sins of "disbelief" (Num. 14:11; 20:12) and "rebellion" (Num. 14:9; 20:24) and are banned from entering the land. But Moses had hope of resurrection to eternal inheritance. They were to see in Moses a possible pattern for themselves. The ten unfaithful spies were smitten with death; but the condemned generation were kept alive. Whilst there is life there's hope, and surely man is always capable of repentance whilst still alive. And I suggest God was nudging even that condemned generation towards that. He had sworn they would die in the wilderness, but still they could be resurrected to eternal inheritance of the land if they repented.

What is the element of disbelief, of lacking faith? The sin was not so much in technical disobedience to commands [to strike the rock rather than speaking to it]. If this were all God were concerned with, then He would've punished only Moses and not Aaron. For only Moses actually hit the rock rather than speaking to it. Although we could argue that passive 'going along' with sin, as Aaron did, is highly culpable. We think of the holocaust, and above all the decision to crucify the Lord. Ultimately, sin is unbelief, not trusting in God's grace to save. The sin in Eden was essentially disbelief rather than merely an act of disobedience. Perhaps his calling them "rebels" suggested his disbelief in God's gracious plan to save them through resurrection at the last day, even though they must die in the desert. And so Moses was appropriately punished. He too was to die in the desert, to be resurrected by the grace which he was unwilling to believe in for the condemned generation. Dt. 1:37 has Moses recalling how he was not to enter the land because of his failure towards the end of the 40 years, but he inserts that memory in the midst of recounting how Israel had been banned from entering the land at the start of the 40 years. Both incidents occurred at Kadesh. The point is that Moses was experiencing their condemnation although he would be saved out of it. Although the Lord didn't personally sin, He also experienced the condemnation of being the sinner who hung upon a tree, and felt forsaken by God as do those separated from God.

It is this disbelief in God's grace which failed to sanctify God. Israel didn't enter the land because they disbelieved (Num. 14:3), and so now Moses and Aaron will not because they disbelieved that the people could still be ultimately saved. The entire Israelite congregation at this time were still seen as without sin by God, according to what we will soon read in Balaam's speeches. To deny Him this grace, to consider Him an angry God who lashes out at sinners without any grace nor intention of ultimate salvation... This is to make Him common and to fail to honour His sanctity, the holiness of His grace. The word which they rebelled against in :24 was therefore not just the command to speak to the rock, but the whole word or plan of salvation of the lost generation. 2 Chron. 20:21 praises God for the beauty of His holiness and His hesed, His grace to save His people. Ps. 138:2 urges us to praise God in His holiness for His mercy / hesed / grace. So to disbelieve that grace is to as it were un holy God, to not sanctify Him. What makes Yahweh uniquely separate / holy from other gods is His amazing grace. The mistake is often made of thinking that allowing His grace to other sinners is to somehow infringe or desecrate His holiness. But by perceiving His grace we are actually appreciating and glorifying His holiness. His Name is holy as we are often reminded, but His Name as declared to Moses was all about salvation by grace.

We note that three times, Moses claims at the end of his life that his ban from entering Canaan was the fault of the people (Dt. 1:37-40; 3:23-29; 4:21-24). And yet the record three times states it was his fault (Num. 20:1–13, 27:12–14; Dt. 32:48–52). We conclude that even at the end of his life, Moses was imperfect- he wouldn't accept full guilt for his behaviour. And yet without doubt he will be saved. We are not to expect perfection by the end of our lives, neither from ourselves nor from others. For we are all saved by grace. Another take on this apparent contradiction is that some do cause others to stumble, but the stumbler is still culpable as well as them. Reflect too that the Divinely given reason as to why Moses would not enter the land was given to Moses and Aaaron privately. The people at no point knew. All they knew was from the public speech of Moses in Deuteronomy, where he pinned the blame on them. We see here a fleck of pride in Moses, in not telling the people what had actually been said by God to him. Yet he was the meekest man, in God's view. Despite flecks of pride, God viewed him so positively. By grace and through love.

The ban on entering the land was really a way of fulfilling Moses' earlier request, that his name be removed from the book [cp. entry to the land, Ez. 13:9 "they shall not be in the assembly of my people, neither shall they be written in the writing of the house of Israel, neither shall they enter into the land of Israel"] so that Israel might enter. Yahweh worked through Moses' own weakness to make that actually happen. Through Moses' representative death, the whole congregation (:1) who had rebelled were allowed to enter the land.

As the narrative now approaches the end of the 40 years, it's as if the scale of Israel's failure increases. They have failed as a congregation, the Levites have failed in the events of Num. 16,17; and now Moses and Aaron fail. All this highlights Israel's entry to the land was a salvation by grace. An it encourages us that we too will enter that land by that same grace.

Yahweh was not sanctified by Moses in that on this occasion, unlike in previous incidents, he didn't intercede for their salvation but calls them "rebels". He gave Yahweh's grace no chance to be revealed, so the Name was not sanctified. For the Yahweh Name has salvation by grace at its core. And this disbelief in the extent of God's grace led to his ban from entering the land. And yet Num. 12:3 has stated God's opinion, that there was not a man on earth who was as faithful, full of faith, and also humble... as Moses. This incident shows an uncharacteristic pride and lack of faith. But still God's judgment of him stands, for Hebrews quotes it in the New Testament as still standing, Moses was faithful in all God's house, and Hebrews 11 highlights his faith. God clearly overlooks lapses although in this case judged Moses for them.

A simpler reading would be that getting water out of rocks with magic sticks, divining rods, was common claim amongst the nomads. Moses was perhaps making out that he could do this by magic, rather than giving all glory for it to a Yahweh miracle. Even in that case, his rash behaviour was a denial of God's grace.

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 (:12); 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). And 'sanctified' is from the same root as 'Kadesh' where they were encamped. Perhaps it was later named that to memorialize how God all the same was sanctified. 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.

God was sanctified or declared His holiness.  Kadesh means holiness. How was God sanctified in what happened? How was His holiness displayed and how did Moses not sanctify Him, limiting the manifestation of that holiness? By considering the people "rebels" (LXX 'disobedient'), Moses was assuming they could not now receive the grace of Divine salvation ultimately. I discussed on :12 the connection between holiness and grace. How then did God still declare His holiness? Perhaps in that although Moses was to die without entering the land, by grace he would still be saved even though he failed to reflect that grace shown to him. Perhaps grace to the ungracious is the supreme holiness of Yahweh. Perhaps His holiness was shown [He was sanctified] through the grace of still giving them water anyway, despite Moses' disobedience. The water was still given even though Moses didn't do as commanded for it to appear. This was grace and thus God was sanctified / declared Himself holy despite Moses not being willing to sanctify Him. For holiness isn't a bright light or awesome visual representation. It is something moral, and all God's morality comes to a climax in grace.

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-
"Esau is Edom". God always had a strange and strong respect for Esau as also in some kind of potential covenant relationship with Him (Dt. 2:2-4; 23:7; Am. 1:9,11; Obadiah 10,12; Mal. 1:2). Israel had initially approached Canaan from the south, but now they were being sent far to the east and north to enter across the Jordan opposite Jericho. It could possibly be that God's intention was that Esau would not only allow Israel easier passage there, but even join them and also inherit the land which was promised to them- if they wished to accept the covenant. But they refused, satisfied with what they already had in the desert.

Esau is Edom and so this meeting with Esau clearly recalls Jacob's meeting with Esau and salvation by grace. But it seems that grace from Esau was now as it were denied. For the condemned generation had made it plain they didn't want to enter the land but preferred to return to Egypt. And they were counted as having done so in their hearts.

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-
These incidents are now at the end of the wanderings. "With us" would have referred to those under 20 on leaving Egypt, and to Moses and Aaron personally.

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-
This message was on behalf of all Israel (:14). But they had just been bitterly complaining that it was Moses personally who had brought them out of Egypt (:5), and not God. So their words here are somewhat insincere, as in their hearts they had returned to Egypt. We see how forms of words can be used as statements of faith, when our hearts are far from believing them.

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-
Their confidence that they didn't need any water was because the water from the rock was following them (1 Cor. 10:4). This points up Moses' lack of faith in :10,11 that the rock in question could give water. We see how even in the best of us like Moses, faith can go up and down very quickly.

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 as implied if we read the 600 thousands of Ex. 12:37 literally. 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. 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. Archaeological 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.

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). Dt. 2:4 was but a conditional promise: "Command the people saying, ‘You are to pass through the border of your brothers the children of Esau, who dwell in Seir, and they will be afraid of you". For in Num. 20:18 we learn that "Edom said to him, You shall not pass through", and they came out against them. I suggest that instead of believing these words, and the promise that the hearts of all would fear them (Ex. 15:16), the Israelites feared Esau- just as faithless Jacob had done. And so things were transferred the other war around. Esau was not afraid of Israel, as potentially they could have feared.

Dt. 2:29 says that the Edomites and Moabites sold Israel food and water as they passed through. But Dt. 23:3,4 says that the Moabites didn't do this and were cursed because of it. Perhaps a few Moabites did do so, but Moab generally didn't. Or perhaps the sense of Dt. 2:29 is that Moab and Edom did let Israel pass through without harassing them, hence GNB "All we want to do is to pass through your country... The descendants of Esau, who live in Edom, and the Moabites, who live in Ar, allowed us to pass through their territory". But Edom didn't let Israel pass through (Num. 20:18). So the point of Dt. 2:29 may be that Sihon was warned that Edom and Moab had been asked to do this but had not done so, and Sihon was to take warning from this, to learn from the mistakes of others. However, we should note that Dt. 2:29 speaks of "the children of Esau who dwell in Seir". These Edomites perhaps did let Israel pass through, whereas the Edomites in the Kadesh area didn't.

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-
Dt. 2:4,6 sounds like definite prophecy: “Command thou the people, saying, Ye are to pass through the coast of your brethren the children of Esau... and they shall be afraid of shall buy meat of them for money.... ye shall also buy water of them for money”. And yet when Israel came to these people and tried to pass through, and offered them money for bread and water, they were rejected by them (Num. 20:16-21; Jud. 11:17). The condition- that Edom had the freedom to reject them- isn’t mentioned, but it nonetheless stood. Prophecy is an imperative to action- it isn’t just a fascinating study of how predictions have been matched with reality.

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. Moses could have reasoned that "the elder (Esau) shall serve the younger (Jacob)" (Gen. 25:23) and engaged him in battle. But the way of wisdom is to always walk away from conflict with our brethren, even if they are unreasonable.

Num 20:22 They travelled from Kadesh: and the children of Israel, even the whole congregation, came to Mount Hor-
"Even the whole congregation" may suggest that by this point, all the rebels and those over the age of 20 on leaving Egypt had now died (Dt. 4:4). Or perhaps the idea is that there was not a single person lost as a result of the confrontation with Edom.

Num 20:23 Yahweh spoke to Moses and Aaron in Mount Hor, by the border of the land of Edom, saying-
"Hor" and "mount" are the same word in Hebrew. Dt. 10:6 defines the point as "Moserah". "Moserah" means 'place of chastisement / correction'. Aaron and Moses will be in the Kingdom despite their sin, but it needed Aaron's death for them to be corrected. And perhaps it was only in his time of dying that Aaron was fully corrected. The form of our death can be used by God to bring us to the spiritual point He wishes us to reach. The punishment was therefore their correction, and was not the angry lashing out of an offended Deity. Moses only mentions this place name at the end of his life, indicating how he looked back and perceived that indeed he had been corrected and learned his lesson, even if it cost him his life.

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-
Disbelief in God's word (Num. 20:12) was rebellion against it. The point is made that they were wrong to address Israel as "rebels" (:10) for they were no better. Perhaps it is only in our time of dying that we fully realize our sinfulness, and that we are no better than other sinners; see on :23.

Num 20:25 Take Aaron and Eleazar his son, and bring them up to Mount Hor-
The death of Aaron was typical of the end of the Mosaic system and priesthood, able to only bring Israel to see the Kingdom, but unable to enable them to enter it. That was the work of Joshua / Jesus. Eleazar could be seen then as the priest who replaced Aaron, and also a type of the Lord Jesus. Aaron, an apparently Egyptian name with no clear meaning and not used about any other Biblical character, was replaced by Eleazar, 'helped by God' or 'helper of God', seeing that God was ultimately Israel's saviour. The numerical value [gematria] of "Eleazar the priest" is the same as "Joshua", the Greek form of which is "Jesus". 

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-
It was a sad moment, but surely these men had faith in the implication of the promises to Abraham, that they would be resurrected to eternal inheritance of the land which Moses and Aaron couldn't enter. The Hebrew phrase for stripping off garments is that earlier used of Aaron in Lev. 16:23. He was to do this during the ritual of the Day of Atonement, as if in some sense he was the priest who was dying in order to make atonement. 

Num 20:27 Moses did as Yahweh commanded; and they went up into Mount Hor in the sight of all the congregation-
Just as Aaron had sinned in the sight of all the congregation, so he was to die in their sight. The harsh condemnation of Moses and Aaron was evidence for all time that sins of stress, however momentary, are felt by God and judged by Him.

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-
The strict obedience of Moses is stressed; cp. :26 and :28. Moses' great level of obedience looked forward to that of the Lord Jesus (Heb. 3:2,5).

Num 20:29 When all the congregation saw that Aaron was dead, they wept for Aaron thirty days, even all the house of Israel-
"All the house of Israel" is noted because we have been reading over the last few chapters of consistent and deep opposition to Aaron's priesthood. But the man's basic integrity made even his critics and pretenders bow their heads in respect when he died.