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Scripture Reading – Numbers 20

Though not stated, the events recorded in Numbers 20 marked the passing of a generation. This was the 38th year of wanderings in the wilderness since the people refused to trust the LORD and enter the Promised Land. Fulfilling God’s judgment, the desert had become a graveyard for the children of Israel, who were twenty years old and older and lacked the faith to claim the land God had promised for an inheritance. Entering the 40th year, the nation’s leaders were passing off the scene, leaving only two of that generation (Joshua and Caleb) to cross the Jordan River into the new land.

For Moses, Numbers 20 was a time of sorrow and disappointment. That great servant of the LORD, with whom God spoke “face to face” (Deuteronomy 34:10), experienced the deaths of his sister Miriam (20:1) and his brother Aaron (20:25-29; 33:38).

Miriam’s Death (Numbers 20:1)

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

Israel had been at Kadesh before (13:26), where they turned back thirty-eight years earlier. At Kadesh, we read, “Miriam died there, and was buried” (20:1). There was no mention of a season of mourning, but simply and abruptly, Miriam died and was buried (20:1).

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

An adage goes, “Like father, like son,” Thus, a rebellion rose in the hearts of a new generation at Kadesh. Their fathers had rebelled before them, and now they took up the same pattern of sin. Encamped on the border of Canaan, they did “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! Sadly, their quarrel with Moses evidenced a lack of trust in the nation’s leader. So, they murmured and complained about a lack of water, suggesting they had been led to Kadesh to die (20:4-5). They assailed the land and declared it was not what the LORD had promised (20:5). Yet, it was not far from their destination and destiny as a nation! Israel merely needed to pass through this desert to complete their journey to the Promised Land.

Moses and Aaron’s Appeal and the LORD’s Answer (20:6-8)

Then, 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 and Aaron’s Failure and God’s Displeasure (20:9-13)

Moses obeyed the LORD but became exasperated with the people and angrily rebuked them. So then, rather than speak to the rock as he was 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).

Concerning this occasion, some might observe, “All is well that ends well;” however, that was not the case. You see, God was not only interested in the outcome, but He was also invested in the process. He had commanded Moses to speak to the rock, but Moses 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).

God’s judgment seemed severe, but God was jealous of His testimony, and Moses disobeyed Him. Moses, not the LORD, received the glory for the water that burst forth from the rock (20:12). He sinned against the LORD in the sight of the people. Moses and Aaron lacked faith (“ye believed me not,” 20:12), and the LORD determined, “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 (Numbers 20:14-21)

I will address the Edomite’s refusal to allow Israel safe passage through their territory later. For now, let us remember that the Edomites were Esau’s descendants. He had been the twin brother of Jacob and the son of Isaac. In other words, there was a familial connection between the Edomites and Israel. Like Esau had shown compassion to Jacob (Genesis 33:1-17), Israel had hoped the same would be true for them as a people (20:17). Edom, however, refused Israel’s request and forced the nation to take another route (20:18-21).

Aaron’s Death (Numbers 20:22-29)

We are left without question concerning the passing of Aaron, the High Priest and brother of Moses, whose death was attended by both ceremony and mourning. Aaron and Moses had disobeyed the LORD when Moses struck the rock twice at “Meribah” (20:24). Therefore, he would not “enter into the land which [the LORD had] given unto the children of Israel” (20:24). 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).

Closing thoughts:

Like the best of men, Aaron was far from perfect; however, he was the man God had chosen as Israel’s first High Priest. 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 must be with every generation and with all men and women. We live, and we die. But those who trust the LORD will live forever with Him (1 John 5:13).

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

Questions to consider:

1) Why did the people complain and contend with Moses? (20:2-5)

2) How did Moses and Aaron respond to the people’s accusations? (20:6)

3) What did the LORD command Moses and Aaron to do? (20:8)

4) What did Moses do that displeased the LORD? (20:9-11)

Copyright © 2023 – Travis D. Smith

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