Numbers 20

The Word Made Fresh

1The Israelites entered the wilderness of Zin in the first month. They stayed at Kadesh. Miriam died and was buried there.

2No water was available there and the people blamed Moses and Aaron. 3They said to Moses, “We may as well have died when our relatives fell dead before the LORD. 4Why have you brought us here to die with our animals? 5Why did you bring us out of Egypt to this awful place? Nothing grows here; not grain, not figs, not grapes, not pomegranates. There is no water here!”

6Moses and Aaron turned away from them and went to the entrance of the meeting tent. They bowed low, faces to the ground before the LORD, and the shining light of the LORD appeared to them. 7The LORD said to Moses, 8“Take your rod, and you and Aaron summon the people. Command the rock in front of them to spew out water, and water will come out for them, and that is how you will provide water for them and their animals.”

9Moses took his rod as the LORD had said, 10and he and Aaron summoned the people to gather before the rock. He said to them, “Listen, troublemakers! Do you want us to bring water for you out of this rock?” 11Then he struck the rock twice with his rod, and water came gushing out and the people and the animals began to drink.

12But the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, “You did not trust me to show my power in sight of the people. Because of that, you will not be the ones to lead these people into the land I have given them.”

13The place where the water came out of the rock was named Meribah, which means “quarreling,” because it is where the people argued with the LORD and the LORD displayed awesome power.

14Moses sent some envoys from Kadesh to the king of Edom with this message: “Your kinfolk, Israel, know that you have heard about all the troubles we have dealt with; 15how our ancestors went to Egypt and lived there a long time, and how the Egyptians treated them badly, and us as well. 16Then we cried out to the LORD, and the LORD heard us, and sent an angel to bring us out of Egypt. So, here we are in Kadesh on the edge of your territory. 17We ask your permission to pass through your land. We will not trample your fields or vineyards. We will not draw water from your wells. We will stay on the king’s highway and not stray left or right until we have passed through your land.”

18But their response was, “You may not trespass, or we will attack!” 19The Israelites said again, “But we will stay on the highway. If we drink any of your water, either us or our animals, we will pay you for it. All we want to do is to walk through, nothing else.

20But the king said, “You will not trespass on our land,” and then the Edomite army came out heavily armed and threatened them. 21So, having been denied passage through Edom, Israel turned away.

22All the Israelites left Kadesh then and traveled to Mt. Hor. 23The LORD said to Moses and Aaron on Edom’s border at Mt. Hor, 24“It is time for Aaron to join his ancestors. He shall not enter the land I promised the Israelites because you did not follow my orders at the waters of Meribah. 25So, bring Aaron and his son Eleazar up to Mt. Hor. 26Remove Aaron’s priestly garments and put them on Eleazar. Then Aaron will join his ancestors; he will die there.”

27Moses followed the LORD’s orders. They climbed Mt. Hor with all the people watching. 28Moses removed Aaron’s priestly garments and put them on Eleazar, and Aaron died there on top of Mt. Hor. Then Moses and Eleazar came down from the mountain. 29When the news of Aaron’s death reached all the people of Israel, they stayed there and mourned for him thirty days.


1: They are in Kadesh in the wilderness of Zin, and Miriam dies here. Nothing is said about a time of mourning for her or about funeral or burial arrangements.

2-8: And now here is another complaint story, but a bit different from the others. The complaint is that they have no water to drink, and this time it appears to be a leaderless issue, just general griping among the people. At first, they say they wish they had died at Paran (along with the 250 and the 14,700 — see Numbers 16:49), but then they question why Moses took them out of Egypt in the first place. They complain that the land he has brought them to is not fit to grow anything (they are actually right about that, considering where they are at the moment). Moses and Aaron pray about it and God tells Moses to take the staff and, with Aaron, to stand before a certain rock and command it to yield water.

9-13: Instead, Moses says, in effect, “Watch this, you miserable wretches,” and strikes the rock twice with his staff. God declares to Moses and Aaron that, due to their lack of trust (striking the rock instead of simply commanding the water to come?), they will not be allowed to enter the Promised Land. Nevertheless, striking the rock did produce water.

14-17: Moses sends envoys to the king of Edom to beg permission to pass through his territory.

18-21: The king of Edom denies them permission, sending a show of force to insure they don’t ignore him, so they have to go the long way around Edom.

22-29: When they come to Mt. Hor, Moses is commanded to bring Aaron and his son Eleazar to the top of the mountain and to transfer Aaron’s priestly vestments to Eleazar. Aaron dies on Mt. Hor and Moses and Eleazar leave his body there and return to the camp. The people observe rituals of mourning for 30 days.


The truth is, I begin to feel a bit sorry for the people about now. They have been through a lot. Sometimes God has to test us to make sure we are ready to do what God needs to have done. When we feel trapped, unable to move forward, we might want to pause and consider whether God is testing us for some work God wants us to do to further God’s purpose in the world.