Bible Commentaries
Numbers 20

Poole's English Annotations on the Holy BiblePoole's Annotations



The people journey in the wilderness of Zin; they murmur against Moses for want of water, Numbers 20:2-5.

God commandeth Moses to speak to the rock, that it might yield water, Numbers 20:7,Numbers 20:8.

Moses striking the rock twice, Numbers 20:9-11, displeaseth God, Numbers 20:12.

Moses desiring passage through Edom, Numbers 20:14-17, is denied, Numbers 20:18-21.

Aaron by God’s command delivering up his office to Eleazar his son, dieth, Numbers 20:21-28.

All the congregation bemoan him, Numbers 20:29.

Verse 1

Then, to wit, after many other stations and long journeys here omitted. but particularly described Numbers 33:0.

The desert of Zin; a place near the land of Edom, distinct and distant from that,

Sin, Exodus 16:1.

In the first month, to wit, of the fortieth year, as is evident, because the next station to this was in Mount Hor, where Aaron died, Numbers 20:22,Numbers 20:23, &c., who died in the fifth month of the fortieth year, Numbers 33:38. Moses doth not give us an exact journal of all their occurrences in the wilderness, but only of those which were most remarkable, and especially of those which happened in the first and second, and in the fortieth year.

Kadesh; whether the same place called Kadesh-barnea, where they were long since, Numbers 13:26, and to which they now return after thirty-eight years’ tedious travels and wanderings in the desert, Deuteronomy 2:14, or another place more southerly, it is not material. Miriam died four months before Aaron, and but a few more before Moses.

Verse 2

The water having followed them through all their former journeys, began now to fail them here, because they were now come near Canaan and other countries, where waters might be had by ordinary means, and therefore God would not use extraordinary, lest he should seem to prostitute the honour of miracles. This story, though like that Exodus 17:0, is different from it, as appears by divers circumstances.

Verse 3

i.e. Suddenly, rather than to die such a lingering and painful death. Their sin was much greater than their parents’ in like case, because they should have taken warning by their miscarriages, and by the terrible effects of them, which their eyes had seen.

Verse 6

Moses and Aaron went from the presence of the assembly; partly to avoid the growing rage of the people, for God’s singular protection of them did not exclude the use of ordinary means; and partly to go to God for relief and redress.

Verse 8

The rod; that rod which was laid up before the Lord in the tabernacle, as appears from Numbers 20:9. But whether it was Aaron’s rod, which was undoubtedly laid up there, Numbers 17:10, or Moses’s rod, by which he wrought so many miracles, it is not considerable; or whether it was not one and the same rod, which was commonly called Moses’s rod, as here, Numbers 20:11, and elsewhere, and sometimes Aaron’s rod, as Exodus 7:12, which may seem most probable. For it is likely, though not related elsewhere in Scripture, that wonder-working rod, called the rod of God, Exodus 4:20, was laid up in some part of the tabernacle, though not in or near the ark, where Aaron’s blossoming rod for a particular reason was put. Speak ye unto the rock, which will sooner hear and obey my commands than these sottish and stubborn people.

Verse 9

i.e. Out of the tabernacle.

Verse 11

To the men it was a sacrament, 1 Corinthians 10:3,1 Corinthians 10:4, but to the beasts it was no holy, but a common thing. So that the elements in the sacraments have no inherent and inseparable holiness, but only a relative holiness with respect to their use, out of which they are unholy and common.

Verse 12

Ye believed me not, but showed your infidelity; which they did either by their looks and gestures, or rather by the matter and manner of their expressions and actions; either,

1. By smiting the rock, and that twice, which is emphatically noted, as if he doubted whether once smiting would have done it, whereas he was not commanded to smite so much as once, but only to speak to it; or,

2. By the doubtfulness of these words, Numbers 20:10,

Must we fetch water out of the rock? which implies a suspicion of it, as the like words do, Genesis 18:13, whereas they should have spoken positively and confidently to the rock to give forth waters. And yet they did not doubt of the power of God, but of his will, whether he would gratify these rebels with this further miracle, after so many of the like kind. And besides the words themselves, it is considerable, both with what mind they were spoken, which God saw to be distrustful, and in what manner they were delivered, which the people might discern to come from misbelief or doubt. And there might be divers other unbelieving words used by them at this time and place, though they be not here recorded, it being usual in Scripture to give only the sum or principal heads of discourses or events, leaving the rest to be gathered out of them. See Psalms 106:32,Psalms 106:33.

To sanctify me, i.e. to give me glory of my power in doing this miracle, and of my truth in punctually fulfilling my promise so to do, and of my goodness in doing it notwithstanding the people’s perverseness.

In the eyes of the children of Israel: this made their sin scandalous to the Israelites, who of themselves were too prone to infidelity, and little needed such an ill example; to prevent the contagion whereof God leaves a monument of his great displeasure upon them, and inflicts a punishment as public and manifest as their sin was.

Verse 13

Meribah, called Meribah Kadesh, to distinguish it from another Meribah, Exodus 17:7. Sanctified in them, or, among them, to wit, the children of Israel last mentioned, by the demonstration of his omnipotency, veracity, and clemency towards the Israelites, and of his impartial holiness and severity against sin even in his greatest friends and favourites, as Moses was.

Verse 14

Moses sent messengers, by God’s direction, Deuteronomy 2:1-3

Thy brother; for was not Esau (who is Edom, Genesis 36:1) Jacob’s brother? Malachi 1:2. All the travel; all the wanderings and afflictions of our parents, and of us their children, which doubtless have come to thine ears.

Verse 16

An angel, to wit, the Angel of the covenant, Christ Jesus, who first appeared to Moses in the bush, Exodus 3:2, and afterward in the cloudy pillar, who conducted Moses and the people out of Egypt, and through the wilderness, as appears from Exodus 14:19; Exodus 23:20; Exodus 33:14; 1 Corinthians 9:4. For though Moses may be called an angel or messenger, a title given to Phineas, Judges 2:1; and to the prophets, 2 Chronicles 36:16; and to Haggai, Haggai 1:13; yet it is not probable that he is meant, partly, because Moses was the person that sent this message; partly, because there was no reason why he should express himself by such a dark and doubtful title to them: and partly, because another Angel besides and above Moses did conduct them, and the mention hereof to the Edomites was likely to give more authority and efficacy to their present message.

In Kadesh, i.e. near the city Kadesh, the particle in being oft so used, as we have showed.

Verse 17

Wells, or pits, which any of you have digged for your private use, to wit, without paying for it, Numbers 20:19; Deuteronomy 2:6; but only of the waters of common rivers, which are free to all passengers, and will not be prejudicial to thee.

Verse 18

i.e. Through my country, as thou desirest; I will not suffer time to do so: which was an act of common policy to secure themselves from so numerous a host.

Verse 19

Children of Israel said unto him, i.e. their messengers replied unto them what here follows.

I will pay for it; for water was a scarce commodity in those parts.

Verse 21

Through his border, but permitted them to go by their border, Deuteronomy 2:4,Deuteronomy 2:8; Judges 11:18, and furnished them with victuals for their money, Deuteronomy 2:29.

Israel turned away, according to God’s command, Deuteronomy 2:5.

Verse 22

Whose inhabitants were then called Horims, Deuteronomy 2:12, and Esau the Horite, Genesis 36:20.

Verse 24

This was one, but not the only reason. God would not have Moses and Aaron to carry the people into Canaan, for this reason also, to signify the insufficiency of the Mosaical and Aaronical priesthood to make them happy, and the necessity of a better, and so to keep the Israelites from resting in them so as to be taken off from their expectation of Christ, and from the entertainment of him when he should come.

Verse 26

Of his garments, to wit, of his priestly garments, Exodus 28:2; Leviticus 8:7-9, in token of his resignation of his office. See the like Isaiah 22:15,Isaiah 22:19-21.

Put them upon Eleazar, by way of admission and inauguration of him to his office.

Verse 27

That their hearts might be more affected with their loss of so great a pillar, and that they all might be witnesses of the translation of the priesthood from Aaron to Eleazar, and therefore might give him the honour due to him.

Verse 28

Aaron died there, to wit, in Mount Hor.

Object. He died in Mosera, Deuteronomy 10:6.

Answ. Mosera was the general name of the place where that station was, and Mount Hor is a particular place in it, where he died, and was buried also, Deuteronomy 10:6.

Verse 29


When the congregation understood by the relation of Moses and Eleazar, and by other signs. So seeing is used Genesis 42:1; Acts 7:12.

Thirty days; the time of public and solemn mourning for great persons. See Deuteronomy 34:8.

Bibliographical Information
Poole, Matthew, "Commentary on Numbers 20". Poole's English Annotations on the Holy Bible. 1685.