Numbers 20:1-29


There are three divisions to this chapter.

1.   Verse 1-13 - Israel chiding with Moses and Aaron because of the lack of water.

2.   Verse 14-21 - Edom refusing to give passage to Israel.

3.   Verse 22-29 - The death of Aaron and the establishing of Eleazar as High Priest.


THE FIRST DIVISION: VERSE 1-13 - Water from the Rock.


I.    The time.

A.  There is a gap between chapter 19 and chapter 20 of approximately 40 years.

1.      Numbers 33 gives the journeys of Israel during this 40 year period.

a.   Numbers 33:18 says Israel left Hezeroth and encamped at Rithmah.  (Rithmah is in the Desert of Paran, as described in Numbers 12:16.)

b.   Numbers 33:19-36 gives the journeys of Israel during the 40 years judgment.  (This is the gap between Numbers 19 and 20.)

c.   Numbers 33:36 places Israel in the wilderness of Zin, near Kadesh.  (This is described in Numbers 20.)

d.   Numbers 33:37-40 gives the death of Aaron in the 40th year after Israel came out of Egypt.  (This is described in Numbers 20:22-29.)

2.   The places mentioned in Numbers 33:19-36 are mostly unknown.

a.   This shows that our rebellion against God is not recorded in His book.

b.   Our rebellion is wasted as far as God is concerned.

B.   Lessons about the gap of 40 years.

1.      Nothing is said about the events that took place during that 40 year period.

2.      Those people lived and died without doing anything for the Lord.

3.      People today live and die and do nothing God can write in His book.

4.   I Cor. 3 talks about people being "saved yet so as by fire".

a.   This is what happened to those people.

b.   They lived, did nothing, and died under the curse of God.

c.   They never did enter into His rest. (Heb. 3:12-4:16.)

5.      Satan did not bother Israel during the 40 year rebellions.

a.   Satan had their lives, he could not get their souls.

b.   They were able to live without Satan or God bothering them.

c.   We might think it would be good to live without Satan bothering us, but notice that Satan only bothers us when God has blessings for us.

6.      Look briefly at chapters 20-36.  (These are rebellions of a "new generation".)

a.   Chapter 20 - Israel begins to complain because of physical hardships.

b.   Chapter 21 - God send fiery serpents to bit those that complain because of the way.

c.   Chapter 22-25 - There was a great plague from God upon Israel because of the sins of Balaam.

d.   Chapter 26-36 - God once again establishes the system of worship for Israel.

7.      Now compare points "5" and "6".

a.   When Israel was leaving Egypt and going into the promised land, Satan was there to cause them to sin.

b.   When Israel followed Satan into sin and received the judgment of God, Satan left them alone while they died in the 40 years wandering.

c.   When the 40 years wandering is over, and the new generation starts to follow God and enter the promised land, Satan is there to tempt them to sin, that they might also lose their inheritance.

8.      Does Satan ever do us this way?

a.   As long as we are being judged by God for sin, or are not doing anything for God, Satan will leave us alone.

b.   when we begin to do something according to the commands of God, Satan will be there to tempt us to sin.

c.   Notice: Satan doesn't tell us it is impossible to do what God says.

1.      Satan will cause us to become discouraged over something totally unrelated to the promises of God.

2.      Satan didn't tell Israel they couldn't go into the promised land.

3.      He simply caused them to complain about other things.

C.   The first month.

1.   The first month was when Israel came out of Egypt.

2.   The first month was when Israel should have gone into the promised land.

3.      God's timetable is never wrong.  Israel would be punished 40 years, not 40 years and one month, or 39 years and 11 months.


II.   The death of Miriam.

A.  All of the rebels (of Numbers 13 and 14) would die during the 40 year wandering.

1.      Miriam must have been one of those rebels.

2.   She died before entering the promised land.

B.   This is the older sister of Moses.

1.   Her death must have causes Moses much grief.

2.      Soon Aaron, the older brother of Moses will also die.

a.   The Bible doesn't say whether Aaron rebelled or not.

b.   But I would suppose he didn't since the Bible is silent.

c.   His death reveals a complete change of leadership before the new generation goes into the promised land.

C.   She was buried in the desert of Zin.

1.      According to Numbers 14:29, the carcasses of rebellious Israelites fell and was buried in the wilderness.

2.      Miriam as buried like all the other rebels.

3.   Not like Joseph and other faithful Israelites who were finally buried in the promised land.


III. The rebellion of no water.

A.  This is another Meribah, Ex. 17:1-7, and Numbers 20:13.

1.   But this time the location is different.

2.   The Desert of Zin is located on the west of Edom, directly south of the Dead Sea.

3.   In Deut. 32:51 - the place is called Meribah Kadesh to distinguish it from the first Meribah.

B.   Satan doesn't change his tactics.

1.   He tempts each generation with the same thing he tempted the previous generation with.

2.   But the new generation doesn't know what the older generation knows.

3.      This is the importance of listening to our elders.

4.   As we continue to study the rest of the book of Numbers, we'll find that Satan continues to use the same temptations on this new generation.

5.   I Cor. 10:11-13 - This is why this passage is true.

a.   There are no new temptations.

b.   Only new people to tempt.

c.   Our temptations are the same temptations as always.

C.   Israel's complaint was the same as in Ex. 17.

1.      They complained to Moses and Aaron instead of asking God for water.

2.      They said Moses and Aaron had brought them into the desert to die.

3.      Neither generation was spiritual enough to see that God could provide the things necessary to this life.

4.      Both generations claimed that their coming from Egypt was Moses idea.

5.      Both generations forgot they had prayed to God for a deliverer.

6.      Sinners are the same, regardless of which generation they are in.  Only the grace of God can make a difference.

D.  Moses reaction.

1.   The same as it was 40 years ago.

2.      Moses prayed to the Lord.

3.   The glory of the Lord appeared to Moses and Aaron.

4.   God would again provide water from the rock.

E.   The difference in the water at the Desert of Zin (Num. 20) and at Meribah (Ex. 17).

1.   The rock (Jesus Christ) is the same.

2.   The water (living water - a type of salvation) is the same.

3.   The command is to speak, not strike the rock.

a.   The striking of the rock is a type of crucifying Christ, for He was beaten in our place.

b.   Speaking to the rock is a type of asking for salvation by faith.

c.   When Moses struck the rock the second time, it was a type of Christ dying the second time.

d.   This would have the meaning that a person could lose their salvation and Christ would have to die again for that person to be saved the second time.

F.   Why did Moses strike the rock instead of speaking to it?  (Most of the time, we forget that Aaron was equal to Moses in striking the rock.  Aaron's death for this crime against God is recorded in Numbers 20:22-29.)

1.      Because he was angry.

a.   Moses, unlike this new generation, could remember the previous generation and their rebellion.

b.   Moses thought, "The rebellion of Israel is starting all over again.  This generation will also rebel against God and the next generation will probably rebel against God.  It will be many generations before they will be able to enter into the promised land."

2.   The hope he had of entering into the promised land was fading as this rebellion reared its ugly head.

a.   Moses had faithfully followed the commands of God.

b.   He had endured the 40 years of wilderness wanderings, and was looking forward to going into the promised land.

c.   If this generation doesn't take him in, he knows he won't live long enough to go in.

3.      Moses forgot he was a servant.

a.   Verse 10 - Moses said, "Must we fetch you water out of this rock?"

b.   Since Moses forgot he was a servant, he changed the orders of God and spoke to the people and smote the rock.  (He should have said nothing to the people and spoke to the rock.

4.      Moses didn't believe God.

a.   Verse 12 - God said Moses didn't believe Him.

b.   Moses knew God would do as He promised, but in this angry moment, the promises of God are forgotten.

c.   We need to be careful, lest we forget the promises of God in times of stress, hurt and temper.  We are just as apt to fall as Moses.

G.   What lessons do we need to learn from this incident?

1.      That the best of men have their failings.

2.      That God judges sin differently from an.  We may think Moses did very little wrong, yet God judged him for a severe sin.

3.      That God knows about every sin.

4.      Those in a position of leadership are judged more severely than those not in leadership.

5.   We need to watch ourself lest we sin in a time of temper or stress.

6.      Moses wrote the book of Numbers, yet included this information about himself, not pulling any punches to put himself in a good light.

7.      Hyper Calvinists suppose that all events in this life are fixed and unmovable by any action of man.

a.   They would have to believe that God predestinated Moses to this sin.

b.   We know this is not so.

c.   We can believe in a totally sovereign God and also believe that man is responsible for his actions.

d.   This is the perfect solution for the difficulty Hyper Calvinists would find themselves in.


THE SECOND DIVISION: Verse 14-21 - Israel desiring passage through Edom.


I.    Why does Israel want to cross the land of Edom?

A.  Barnes Commentary states that the way through Edom is the shortest route to the land of Canaan, through the Jordan River.

B.   I do not understand why Israel does not go north from the Desert of Paran and come into the southern part of the land of Canaan.

1.   The answer may lie in the fact that Israel wandered in the "Wilderness of Wandering" (Desert of Paran) during the 40 years of punishment.

2.      When they left this "Wilderness of Wandering", they continued on the journey they left 40 years ago in their unbelief.

3.   To continue this journey, they would have to travel east and enter Canaan by crossing the Jordan River.


II.   The request made.

A.  Moses sent messengers.

1.   The presence of the messengers should show that Israel meant no harm to Edom.

2.      Often times, it's good to "call before we go".

B.   The message of the messengers.

1.   An attempt to renew friendship because of old relationships.

2.      Jacob and Esau are brothers. (The Edomites are descendants of Esau.)

3.   A telling of the blessings of God, which the Edomites already knew (verse 14).

4.   A request to pass through their land, at no expense to the Edomites.


III. The request refused.

A.  Why does Edom refuse?

1.      They remember how Jacob "stole" the birthright.  Now when Israel will go to receive their inheritance, Esau's descendants show their contempt.

2.      They are afraid of a "takeover" by Israel.

a.   A quick look at the Middle East situation shows that this fear is still in Esau's descendants.

b.   God put a separation between Israel and Esau that remains today.

3.      Perhaps they are afraid Israel will ruin their land as they pass through.

a.   After all, there are at least 2,000,000 people, not counting the herds and flocks.

b.   Just the waste products from this vast number of people would stagger the imagination.

c.   If every Israelite ate something from one fruit tree, there would be no fruit left in all of Edom.

B.   Edom really has nothing to fear.

1.      Israel is not interested in their lands.

2.   God has promised them the Land of Canaan.

3.      That is the land they are going to get.

4.   If Edom had been following God, they would have known Israel really wanted to pass through, and wanted nothing else.

C.   Israel's reaction.

1.      They turned away from Edom.

2.      This is not compromise.  (A compromise is joining truth with untruth.)

3.      They will continue toward Canaan, they'll just go another way.

4.      They went to Mt. Hor, which is southeast of Kadesh along the border of Edom.

D.  Lessons for us.

1.   If someone makes a request of us, look to see if God has sent them.

a.   Do not look hard or lightly at the person, but look at God.

b.   Even if our enemies ask something of us, let us see if God is in it.

2.   Let us be very careful to read our Bibles so we will know what God's will is.

3.   If our request is refused by somebody, let us not get upset at them.

a.   If God is in our request, they are the ones that have lost the blessing.

b.   God will provide somebody else to help us.

4.   Let us never be surprised if our request is refused by ungodly and unreasonable men.


THE THIRD DIVISION: Verse 22-29 - The death of Aaron and the establishing of Eleazar as High Priest.


I.    The death of Aaron.

A.  His death is a punishment because of the rebellion at Meribah.

1.      There is every evidence that Aaron would have continued to live and entered Canaan, if it hadn't been for this rebellion.

2.      Those Hyper Calvinists who suppose that all events are unchangeable by man's actions would have a hard time explaining this.

3.      Aaron and Moses were told this very private business as they were apart from the people of Israel.

B.   Why must Aaron die?

1.   He didn't strike the rock twice, Moses did.

2.      Aaron and Moses were together in the decision.

3.   God judged, not just the outward acts, but the inward thoughts of the heart.

4.   God saw that Aaron, in his heart, was just as guilty as Moses.

C.   The change of High Priest officers.

1.      This exchange is to take place on Mt. Hor, out of view of Israel.

2.      Moses, who first placed the High Priest garments on Aaron, is the one who takes the garments off him.

3.   The symbol of the striped garments.

a.   Aaron took nothing with him out of this world.

b.   We will take nothing out of this world.

c.   Only those things that we have sent on ahead can we keep.

4.      Aaron saw his son, Eleazar, put on the garments of the High Priest before he died.

a.   This would give him great satisfaction.

b.   He would see the continuation of the promise of God for a royal priesthood.

5.      Moses would also see the continuation of the priesthood and rejoice to know that God would keep His Word.

6.   The garments were changed by Moses on Mt. Hor to stop any kind of takeover of the priesthood by rebels.

D.  The death of Aaron and the sorrow of it.

1.   It seems that Aaron accepted God's decision with a good heart.

2.   The Bible doesn't say that he yelled and screamed that God was unfair.

3.   The Bible indicates that Aaron, Moses his brother, and Eleazar his son, accepted this death as God's directive will and submitted themselves to it.

4.   I believe Moses and Aaron were pleased that God let them see the continuation of the priesthood.

5.      Therefore the sorrow of death was placed secondary to the joy of seeing the son and nephew follow in the steps of the Lord.  III John 4 - "I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth."

6.   I think the way Aaron died would do away with any claims that Moses (Aaron's brother) and Eleazar (Aaron's son) murdered him in order to set up Eleazar as High Priest.

a.   It would be unthinkable that Moses would have anything to do with the murder of his brother, especially after the recent death of Miriam, his sister.

b.   Equally improbable is that Eleazar would have anything to do with the murder of his dad.

c.   II Kings 2 - It was unthinkable that Elisha would murder Elijah in order to gain his position as prophet to Israel.  Evidently some of the Israelites thought this was exactly what had happened and searched the other side of Jordan for the body of Elijah.

E.   The mourning of Israel.

1.   It's strange to me that Israel mourned at all.

2.      Every time something went wrong, they complained at Moses and Aaron.

3.   It looks like they would be glad Aaron is dead and gone.

4.   But in truth, they saw too late that he was God's man and he only tried to obey God.

5.   It's a shame we have to wait until somebody dies to see just how good a person they really are.