Bible Commentaries
Numbers 20

Dummelow's Commentary on the BibleDummelow on the Bible

Verses 1-29

Death of Miriam. Murmuring at Meribah. Death of Aaron

1. Miriam dies while the people are at Kadesh (see on Numbers 13:21, Numbers 13:26). The first month is the first month of the fortieth year. As the people came to Kadesh in the second year (see Numbers 13:26), they must have remained in the vicinity of Kadesh during the interval, or what is recorded here is a second arrival at the same place: cp. Deuteronomy 2:14.

2-13. Murmuring at Meribah.

3. When our brethren died] This probably refers to the deaths following the rebellions of Korah and of Dathan and Abiram (Numbers 16). It implies that these occurrences were recent.

6. Fell upon their faces] see on Numbers 16:4.

8. The rod] Seeing he took the rod from before the Lord (Numbers 20:9) it has been thought that Aaron’s rod is meant: cp. Numbers 17:10. But it was more probably Moses’ staff which was associated with former dangers and deliverances: see Exodus 4:17; Exodus 7:17; Exodus 14:16; Exodus 17:5, Exodus 17:9.

12. Ye believed me not] The root of Moses’ sin was unbelief. He doubted the power of God, or His willingness to bear longer with these rebels (Numbers 20:10), and instead of speaking to the rock, as he was commanded to do, he struck it twice: cp. Psalms 106:33. The punishment was severe, but want of faith on the part of the leaders could not be overlooked or unpunished, because the people had seen it, and might be led away by the evil example: see on Numbers 12:14. To sanctify me] God is always holy and His essential holiness cannot be increased. But the obedience and praise of His people cause His holiness and grace to be more widely known and acknowledged. Similarly God is said to be ’magnified,’ as in Luke 1:46: cp. the petition ’Hallowed be Thy name.’

13. Meribah] ’strife.’ In Numbers 27:14; Deuteronomy 32:51 it is called Meribah of Kadesh to distinguish it from the Meribah of Exodus 17:7 (see note there).

14-21. The people prepare for the last stage of the journey to Canaan. The direct route to the N. is blocked by the Canaanites (Numbers 21:1). On the E. are the Edomites who are the kindred of the Israelites, being descended from Esau the brother of Jacob. Moses accordingly sends messengers to the king of Edom asking a passage through his country to the E. side of Canaan, but the request is refused.

14. Thy brother] see above, and cp. Deuteronomy 23:7; Genesis 25:30; Genesis 36:8, Genesis 36:9. The unnatural hostility of the Edomites on another occasion is the subject of the book of Obadiah (see Numbers 20:10-12); cp. also Amos 1:11.

16. Sent an angel] see Exodus 3:2; Exodus 14:19.

17. The king’s high way] Edom lay on the direct route connecting Egypt with Babylonia. The king’s way here, however, is not a proper name, but signifies the most direct route. They promised not to trespass or injure the country in passing through it.

22-29. Death of Aaron. Turning southward so as to go round the country of the Edomites by way of the N. end of the Gulf of Akaba (see Numbers 21:4), the Israelites reach Mt. Hor. Here Aaron dies and is buried. Mt. Hor is identified by most travellers with a precipitous mountain nearly 5,000 ft. high, forming the principal elevation in the range of Mt. Seir. The wonderful rock city of Petra (or Sela), the capital of Edom, lay at its eastern base. A small mosque on the summit now marks the traditional site of Aaron’s burial-place.

24. Gathered unto his people] This may suggest the continuance of life after death along with those who have gone before: see Genesis 15:15. Ye rebelled] The same word is applied to Moses and Aaron as Moses had applied to the people at Meribah (Numbers 20:10). The leaders, as well as the people with whom they were impatient, were ’rebels.’

26. This signifies the succession of Eleazar to the priesthood. The ceremony of putting on the sacred robes was an important part of the consecration of the high priest. See Leviticus 8:7-9; Exodus 29:29, and cp. the action of Elijah, 1 Kings 19:19; 2 Kings 2:13-15;

28. Moses also died on the top of a mountain: see Deuteronomy 34:1. Aaron died on the first day of the fifth month in the fortieth year of the exodus at the age of 143: see Numbers 33:38, Numbers 33:39.

29. The death of Aaron removed the second greatest figure from among the Israelites, and their first high priest. The writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews contrasts the human priesthood, which is imperfect by reason of its being constantly interrupted by death, with the ’unchanging priesthood’ of Him ’who ever liveth to make intercession’ for His people: see Hebrews 7:23-28.

Bibliographical Information
Dummelow, John. "Commentary on Numbers 20". "Dummelow's Commentary on the Bible". 1909.