Bible Commentaries
Numbers 20

Hawker's Poor Man's CommentaryPoor Man's Commentary

Verse 1


This Chapter commenceth afresh the historical part of Israel's journey through the wilderness. From the end of the second year after the children of Israel's going forth from Egypt to the close of the thirty-ninth year, there is but little relation. But now, in the fortieth and last year which this chapter opens with, the history of the events which happened to them is more circumstantially related. Herein is contained the death of Miriam, and of Aaron: the people's murmurings for want of water: Moses' conduct on that occasion: the refusal of Edom to let Israel pass through his land: the succession of Eleazar to the priesthood after the death of Aaron, by the LORD'S appointment.

Numbers 20:1

It is worthy remark what a way the LORD led Israel through the wilderness. The psalmist tells us it was a right way. And no doubt it was, for it was to prove them and to humble them. But it was not the direct way, for eleven days journey would have been enough, according to the present method of travelling, to have passed on from the borders of the Red Sea to the borders of Canaan. But Reader! what is the way of Israel now, but the same wandering life. Sweet is that prayer of Moses the man of GOD, which the HOLY GHOST taught him, and which is recorded for the benefit of the church, and no doubt penned upon this occasion. Psalms 90:1-12 . The death of Miriam ought not to be passed over without due reflection. There can be no question but that she was a child of GOD, witness her conduct at the Red Sea: Exodus 15:20-21 . And indeed the prophet makes honourable mention of her as such. Micah 6:4 . But Miriam, like all others taken from among men, manifested the hole of the pit from whence she was digged. See Numbers 12:1-10 . How precious ought JESUS to appear in every renewed view, of his expediency to others as well as to ourselves. Reader! do let me prevail upon you in this place, to read what Paul the apostle saith of the constraining love of JESUS, and the cause of it, 2 Corinthians 5:14-15 .

Verses 2-5

It is very awful to consider in our corrupt nature, (for Israel in all ages is the same), that neither past judgments for rebellions, nor past mercies when dispensed instead of punishments, have any effect in themselves. Nothing but preventing and restraining grace can bring the heart over to the side of GOD. LORD! I would pray for myself and for the Reader, in all thy providences, either in fulness or in need, in chastisement or forbearance, do thou sanctify everything to our hearts, and let our hearts be sanctified in thy providences, and then all will be well.

Verse 6

What a beautiful representation is here made of the conduct of the LORD'S servants. How charming doth grace appear, when a soul lies in silent humbleness and self-abasement before GOD? See Ezra 9:5-6 . But Reader! raise your thoughts from the contemplation of the priests of old, to the contemplation of JESUS, the great high priest going in before the mercy-seat for his people. Revelation 8:3-5 .

Verses 7-8

What is the glory of GOD but the goodness of GOD manifested in redemption! See Exodus 33:17-19 .

Verses 9-10

The conduct of Moses upon this occasion excited the LORD'S displeasure, and the reason is assigned more particularly: Numbers 27:12-14 . If the LORD be not sanctified by his people, he will be sanctified upon them. If the Reader be at a loss to discover what was the offence of Moses in this instance, he will soon find it, when he looks at the LORD'S precept and compares it a little more closely with Moses' conduct. The command of GOD stated that he should speak to the rock, he had no command to strike it: whereas he spake to the people and not to the rock, and contrary to the divine order he smote the rock twice. Both which manifested his impatience, his distrust, and unbelief. Neither was this all. His language to the people savored of great pride, self-sufficiency, and arrogance: must WE fetch you water out of - this rock. If Moses understood as well as Paul, that the rock which followed Israel was CHRIST, was not this forgetting GOD their Saviour, and looking to an arm of flesh? Alas! what is man, even the meekest man, in his own strength?

Verse 11

I beg the Reader to remark with me the abounding grace of GOD. Though Moses had failed in his commission, GOD will not fail in his promise. Had the LORD restrained the water because Moses took the confidence to himself of implying that he fetched it, it would have been but a suitable rebuke to his presumption. But the LORD deals not with us after our sins, nor rewards us according to our iniquities. He will be gracious to the persons of his people while chastening their sins. The psalmist makes the best commentary upon this passage, and no doubt had this history in view when he saith: Thou answerest them, O LORD our GOD. Thou wast a GOD that forgavest them, though thou tookest vengeance on their inventions. Psalms 99:8 . And probably he referred to the same when he said, that the people provoked Moses to speak unadvisedly with his lips. Psalms 106:33 .

Verse 12

Reader! do not fail to remark how the LORD deals in faithfulness. GOD will not allow iniquity in his people to go unrebuked. The tenor of the covenant indeed is, if the children (of the Redeemer) forsake his law, and walk not in his judgments, he will visit their transgression with the rod, etc. though the everlasting virtue of the covenant is the same: there is a blessed nevertheless which will not suffer the smallest alteration here. JESUS hath purchased the salvation of his people, and both their persons and their mercies are the price of his blood. So that when GOD corrects his people it is not for the satisfaction of his justice; for that is and hath been fully satisfied by him, who hath borne their sins and made satisfaction for them; but it is for the display of his purity, and that we might be made partakers of his holiness. See Psalms 89:33 with Hebrews 12:6-10 . Reader! I cannot, I dare not dismiss the observations which arise out of this event, without calling upon you to remark, that if the LORD will not overlook the provocations of his own people without giving those evidences of his displeasure, what must the sins of his enemies call for? If a father thus corrects his child, surely for the same offence he will turn the servant out of door. Pray read that scripture: Psalms 2:11-12 .

Verse 13

It should be observed, that there are two Meribahs. The one is mentioned, Exodus 17:7 . The other is this Meribah-Kadish. Deuteronomy 32:51 .

Verses 14-21

The Reader will recollect the relationship by nature between Israel and Edom. Israel sprung from Jacob, and Edom from Esau. One might have thought (speaking after the manner of men), that such affinities would have induced grace. But no! there is and must be an everlasting war between nature and grace. Esau hated Jacob because of the birth-right, and so it is still. Distinguishing grace will always induce this. Malachi 1:2-4 . Reader! to which class do you belong? Are you the descendant of Esau or Jacob? Are you among the children of the bond-woman or of the free? See Galatians 4:22-31 .

Verse 22

From Kadesh to Mount Hor was but a short stage.

Verses 23-24

The same observation meets us here as at Numbers 20:11 . The LORD'S people though chastened for sin are yet the LORD'S people still. The covenant of redemption subsists, though clouds and darkness rest upon it. Aaron must not enter into the promised land, though Aaron's name is written in the LAMB'S book of life, and he shall enter into heaven. But is there not somewhat typical here? Aaron as the great head and priest of the Levitical dispensation, cannot bring the people into Canaan. For the law made nothing perfect. It brings to the borders of life, but cannot bring into life. The law itself is but a schoolmaster unto CHRIST. Dearest and ever-blessed JESUS! it is thou alone that canst bring thy people in, and plant them in thy holy mountain! Aaron, and all the sons of Aaron, as priests must die, and give up their priesthood, but thou remainest forever, and thy years shall not fail. Hebrews 1:11-12 .

Verses 25-28

There is somewhat very interesting in this account, short as it is, of the close of Aaron's ministry. He ascends the mount it should seem with much cheerfulness and holy resignation, though he knew that he should descend no more. Yes, every true believer dies as he hath lived, believing the promises. Reader! can you like Aaron do this? Can you adopt the language of the apostle, and not only look but long for the coming of the great day of our GOD and Saviour JESUS CHRIST? This is a sweet testimony of a readiness for death, Philippians 3:20-21 . In the taking off the garments of Aaron and putting them on Eleazar, we behold a lively type of the everlasting priesthood of JESUS. Hebrews 7:23-24 .

Verse 29

It must have been a very affecting circumstance to Moses, Eleazar, and the people, when he and Eleazar returned from the mount without Aaron. But surely it was that kind of mourning which the apostle speaks of, in those whose sorrow is not without hope. 1 Thessalonians 4:13 . Reader! GOD grant it may be your portion and mine to die in JESUS! for blessed are the dead, (a voice from heaven hath said it,) that die in the LORD. Revelation 14:13 . And whether it be on mount Hor, or mount Nebo, or in the wilderness of Zin; in whatever time or place, or circumstances, yet dying in faith, we shall drop asleep in the arms of JESUS and be blessed. Psalms 31:5 .


AMIDST the dying scenes of a pilgrimage like Israel's, and amidst the dying circumstances of the present world around me, LORD let my soul be directed to thee, and to the contemplation and enjoyment of that salvation and eternal life which is in thee, who liveth and abideth forever!

Oh my soul! from the divine chastisements which this chapter exhibits, in the LORD'S correcting his people, learn to consider thy sins and the many provocations of thy multiplied transgressions. Ah! how many Meribahs hast thou passed through, and yet thy life hath been spared to thee: for the LORD'S mercy endureth forever!

Farewell, Aaron! thou great high priest of the Levitical Priesthood! thy death adds one confirmation more to the numerous evidences on every side, of the total incompetency of all ministrations under the law to bring the soul to GOD. Dearest, and ever-blessed JESUS, to thee I turn: thou almighty Aaron, thou great high priest of a better dispensation, established upon better promises. Thou alone art able to carry thy people in, and lodge them and secure them safe in an everlasting Canaan. Oh! grant, blessed JESUS, that like another Eleazar, my soul may be clad with the priestly garments of thy salvation, for thou hast made all thy people spiritual kings, and priests to GOD and the FATHER. May my soul he clothed with thy robes of righteousness, and my whole person adorned with the vestments of thy salvation: that both here and hereafter it may form my glorious covering, and become my everlasting title before my GOD and FATHER, to all the blessings of eternity.

Bibliographical Information
Hawker, Robert, D.D. "Commentary on Numbers 20". "Hawker's Poor Man's Commentary". 1828.