The Deaths of Miriam and Aaron (Numbers 20)

Scripture Reading – Numbers 20

Though not stated in the Scriptures, the events recorded in Numbers 20 marked the fortieth year of Israel’s wanderings in the wilderness since the people departed Egypt. Fulfilling God’s judgment, the desert had become a graveyard for the children of Israel who were twenty years old, and older when they refused to cross over into the Promised Land. Entering upon the fortieth year, a whole generation had perished, and with the exception of a few, only two of that generation (Joshua and Caleb) would enter the land God had promised His people.

I have experienced times of sorrow and disappointments in life that washed over me like the waves of a storm, testing my heart, soul, and strength. Numbers 20 was certainly a time like that for Moses. That great servant of the LORD, one with whom He spoke “face to face” (Deuteronomy 34:10), experienced in this chapter the deaths of his sister Miriam (20:1), and his brother Aaron (20:25-29; 33:38).

Miriam’s Death (20:1)

The death of Miriam, the oldest of three siblings (her brothers being Aaron and Moses), garnered little more than a passing mention. We read in the Scriptures, “1Then 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” (20:1).

Israel had been at Kadesh before (13:26), for this was the place where they had made the fateful decision to turn back thirty-eight years earlier. It was at Kadesh where we read, “Miriam died there, and was buried” (20:1). There is no mention of a season of mourning, or a memorial service. Simply, and abruptly, Miriam died and was buried (20:1).

Rebellion Arose in the Hearts of a New Generation (20:2-13)

An old adage goes, “Like father, like son,” and so it was seen once again at Kadesh. Their fathers before them had rebelled, and the new generation encamped on the border of Canaan, took up the same pattern of sin, and “chode [quarreled] with Moses, and spake, saying, Would God that we had died when our brethren died before the Lord!” (20:3)

Did the people wish to die? Of course not! Their quarrel with Moses evidenced not only their lack of respect for him as the leader of the nation, but a spirit of rebellion that was expressed in their murmuring, and complaining about a lack of water. It was indeed, a place that was destitute (20:4-5); however, it was not their destination! They must need pass through this desert place, to make their journey to the Promised Land!

Moses and Aaron left the congregation, went to the door of the Tabernacle, and “fell upon their faces: and the glory of the LORD appeared unto them” (20:6). The LORD then directed Moses to take the rod in hand, assemble the people, and speak to the rock with the people watching. He promised, “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” (20:8).

Moses obeyed the LORD, but he had become exasperated with the people and their sins, and rebuked them in anger. Rather than speak to the rock as he had been commanded (for he had many years before struck the rock once), he “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” (20:11).

Some might observe, “all is well that ends well”; however, that was not the case. You see, God is not only interested in the outcome, He is also invested in the process. He had directed Moses to speak to the rock, but he had chosen to strike the rock, not once, but twice in anger. Why is that an important lesson? Because the rock was a type, a representation of Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 10:1-4).

The judgment of God seems severe, but God is jealous of His testimony, and His servants had failed to obey Him. The LORD had not received the glory for the water that burst forth from the rock (20;12). Moses and Aaron had sinned against the LORD in the sight of all the people, and their lack of faith (“ye believed me not,” 20:12), was the catalyst for God’s determination: “ye shall not bring this congregation into the land which I have given them” (20:12).

The Edomites Refused Israel’s Passage Through Their Lands (20:14-21)

I will address the Edomites refusing Israel safe passage through their territory at a later date. Remembering the Edomites are descendants of Esau’s lineage; he was the brother Jacob, and the son of Isaac. There was a familial connection between that nation and Israel. Edom, however, refused Israel’s request, and forced that nation to take another route.

Aaron’s Death (20:22-29)

Unlike Miriam’s death, the passing of Aaron, the High Priest, and brother of Moses, was attended by both ceremony, and mourning. We read, “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. 29And when all the congregation saw that Aaron was dead, they mourned for Aaron thirty days, even all the house of Israel” (20:28-29).

Aaron, like the best of men, was far from perfect; however, he was the man God had chosen as the first High Priest of Israel. When Eleazar came down from the mount wearing the garments of the High Priest, and Aaron was not with Moses, the people mourned his death for thirty days. So it is with every generation, and with all men and women. Your days, like my days, are numbered.

Psalm 90:12 – 12So teach us to number our days, That we may apply our hearts unto wisdom.

Copyright 2021 – Travis D. Smith