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Numbers: Chapter 20

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1The Israelites, the whole congregation, came into the wilderness of Zin in the first month, and the people stayed in Kadesh. Miriam died there, and was buried there.

2Now there was no water for the congregation; so they gathered together against Moses and against Aaron. 3The people quarreled with Moses and said, “Would that we had died when our kindred died before the LORD! 4Why have you brought the assembly of the LORD into this wilderness for us and our livestock to die here? 5Why have you brought us up out of Egypt, to bring us to this wretched place? It is no place for grain, or figs, or vines, or pome‐granates; and there is no water to drink. 6Then Moses and Aaron went away from the assembly to the entrance of the tent of meeting; they fell on their faces, and the glory of the LORD appeared to them. 7The LORD spoke to Moses, saying: 8Take the staff, and assemble the congregation, you and your brother Aaron, and command the rock before their eyes to yield its water. Thus you shall bring water out of the rock for them; thus you shall provide drink for the congregation and their livestock.

9So Moses took the staff from before the LORD, as he had commanded him. 10Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly together before the rock, and he said to them, “Listen, you rebels, shall we bring water for you out of this rock?” 11Then Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock twice with his staff; water came out abundantly, and the congregation and their livestock drank. 12But the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not trust in me, to show my holiness before the eyes of the Israelites, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them. 13These are the waters of Meribah, a Heb Destruction where the people of Israel quarreled with the LORD, and by which he showed his holiness.

14Moses sent messengers from Kadesh to the king of Edom, “Thus says your brother Israel: You know all the adversity that has befallen us: 15how our ancestors went down to Egypt, and we lived in Egypt a long time; and the Egyptians oppressed us and our ancestors; 16and when we cried to the LORD, he heard our voice, and sent an angel and brought us out of Egypt; and here we are in Kadesh, a town on the edge of your territory. 17Now let us pass through your land. We will not pass through field or vineyard, or drink water from any well; we will go along the King's Highway, not turning aside to the right hand or to the left until we have passed through your territory.”

18But Edom said to him, “You shall not pass through, or we will come out with the sword against you.” 19The Israelites said to him, “We will stay on the highway; and if we drink of your water, we and our livestock, then we will pay for it. It is only a small matter; just let us pass through on foot. 20But he said, “You shall not pass through.” And Edom came out against them with a large force, heavily armed. 21Thus Edom refused to give Israel passage through their territory; so Israel turned away from them.

22They set out from Kadesh, and the Israelites, the whole congregation, came to Mount Hor. 23Then the LORD said to Moses and Aaron at Mount Hor, on the border of the land of Edom, 24“Let Aaron be gathered to his people. For he shall not enter the land that I have given to the Israelites, because you rebelled against my command at the waters of Meribah. 25Take Aaron and his son Eleazar, and bring them up Mount Hor; 26strip Aaron of his vestments, and put them on his son Eleazar. But Aaron shall be gathered to his people, b Or Sea of Reeds and shall die there. 27Moses did as the LORD had commanded; they went up Mount Hor in the sight of the whole congregation. 28Moses stripped Aaron of his vestments, and put them on his son Eleazar; and Aaron died there on the top of the mountain. Moses and Eleazar came down from the mountain. 29When all the congregation saw that Aaron had died, all the house of Israel mourned for Aaron thirty days.


c Heb Destruction

a Or Sea of Reeds

Text Commentary view alone
Commentary spanning earlier chapters

21.1–35 : Conflicts in the Negeb and Transjordan.

The Israelites encounter other enemies as they move toward Transjordan (cf. 20.14–21 ).

1–3 :

Arad, west of the Dead Sea and east of Beer‐sheba. Atharim is unknown.

2–3 :

Utterly destroy, cf. Lev 27.28n. The name Hormah, “Destruction,” echoes the Heb word describing a kind of sympathetic magic, may give the etiology for a snake image in the Temple (cf. 2 Kings 18.4 ).

10–20 :

This is a short itinerary of travels in Transjordan; cf. 33.41–49 . It comes from different sources, and many of the places named cannot be identified.

12–13 :

The Wadi Zered, probably the modern Wadi el‐Hasa, and the Arnon, modern Wadi Mujib, southeast and east of the Dead Sea respec‐tively, were the traditional boundaries of Moab. The Amorites were one of the groups identified as inhabitants of Canaan and Transjordan; see 13.29n.

14 :

Book of the Wars of the Lord, an early nonbiblical work, perhaps poetic, from which the citation in vv. 14–15 was taken. Long poetic narratives are known from Ugarit (Syria) ca. 1400 BCE. Other poetic citations, though not necessarily coming from the book of v. 14 , are found in vv. 16–18,27–30 . Cf. Balaam's oracles in chs 23–24 .

20 :

Pisgah, a ridge overlooking the northeast of the Dead Sea, associated with Mount Nebo; see Deut 34.1 .

21–31 :

In contrast to Edom, the Israelites engage Sihon in battle and win (cf. 20.14–21 ). Sihon's land was north of Moab, between the Arnon and Jabbok rivers (see color Map 3 at end of book).

22 :

King's Highway, see 20.14n–21n.

25 :

Heshbon, probably Tell Hesban, ca. 20 km (12 mi) southwest of Amman.

29 :

Chemosh, the Moabite national god.

30 :

Dibon, modern Dhiban, ca. 55 km (34 mi) south‐southwest of Amman. Medeba, between Heshbon and Dibon.

33–35 :

Og's land was north of Sihon's, roughly in the Golan region east of Galilee. Sihon's and Og's land become the inheritance for the tribes of Gad, Reuben, and half of Manasseh (cf. 32.33 ). Edrei, modern Der^a, 105 km (65 mi) south of Damascus.

20.1–29 : Near the end of the wilderness period.

This chapter telescopes many years, from the second to the fortieth year of wandering.

1 :

The arrival at Zin and Kadesh apparently occurs early in the forty‐year period of wandering. Vv. 4–5 are the complaint of the first generation, and 13.26 places the Israelites at Kadesh at the very beginning of the period (cf. Deut 2.14; Num 33.36–38 ). The Israelites appear to have stayed here a long time (see v. 14n. ). The leading figures of the first generation begin to die in this chapter. See vv. 22–29 . On Miriam, see 12.1–9; Ex 15.20 .

2–13 :

This resumes the stories of complaint and rebellion, interrupted at ch 15 (see 11.1–35n.). The present story of bringing water from a rock with a rod is a doublet, with significant variations, of Ex 17.1–7 .

3 :

Our kindred died, see ch 16 .

9–13 :

Moses and Aaron apparently sin by not clearly attributing the miracle to God (v. 12). Deut 3.26 preserves an alternate tradition for why Moses did not enter the land. On the pair's punishment, cf. vv. 22–29; Deut 34 (cf. Num 27.12n–17n.).

14–21 :

The events from this point on appear to occur near the end of the forty‐year wilderness period. See v. 1n. Passing through Edom would give a more direct route to Transjordan via the King's Highway (a term used only here in v. 17 and in 21.22 ), the primary north‐south route through Transjordan (see Map on p. 28 HB).

21 :

The Israelites need to turn south, toward the Red Sea, in order to avoid Edom (cf. 21.4 ). The Israelites are not meant to conquer Edom, so they may not engage them in battle.

22–29 :

Cf. 33.38–39; Deut 32.50 ; contrast Deut 10.6 .

24 :

This refers to vv. 2–13 .

26 :

Aaron's priestly clothes are put on Eleazar. One would expect this investiture to occur at the sanctuary with a consecration rite (cf. Lev 8 ).

29 :

Thirty days, cf. Deut 34.8 .

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