Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, May 29th, 2024
the Week of Proper 3 / Ordinary 8
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Bible Commentaries
Numbers 20

Bridgeway Bible CommentaryBridgeway Bible Commentary

Verses 1-13

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Moses’ sin at Meribah (20:1-13)

Kadesh-barnea, or Kadesh, on the northern edge of the wilderness of Paran, appears to have been the Israelites’ centre during their years of wandering in the wilderness. On one occasion just after the people returned to Kadesh, Miriam died (20:1).

Again there was a shortage of water and again the people complained. (See Exodus 17:1-7 for a similar story.) When Moses and Aaron told God of the people’s complaint, God told Moses to speak to the rocky hill beside which they were camped, and water would flow out (2-9).

Moses was angry with the people for their rebellious spirit. Instead of humbly doing as God told him and showing them that God was providing for them, Moses disobeyed God’s command and misrepresented him before the people. Instead of accepting God’s directions in faith and speaking to the rock, Moses acted according to his own feelings. In anger he struck the rock, called the people rebels, and rebuked them for their constant demands on him as their leader. In so doing, he disobeyed God, spoke rashly to the people, and took personal credit for the miracle instead of giving honour to God. God’s punishment was to prevent Moses (and Aaron who had supported him) from entering the promised land (10-13; cf. 20:24; 27:12-14; Deuteronomy 3:26-27; Psalms 106:32-33).

Verses 14-29

The long detour (20:14-21:20)

A well used trade route called the King’s Highway ran from Ezion-geber on the Red Sea through the kingdoms of Edom and Moab into Syria. Moses decided to use this route for Israel’s entrance into Canaan. He therefore asked the Edomite king for permission to pass through his territory, promising not to damage Edom’s fields or use its water. If, in an emergency, the Israelites needed to use Edom’s water, they would pay for it. Moses expected a favourable reply, because Israel and Edom were brother nations (Edom being descended from Esau, Israel from Jacob), but the king of Edom refused (14-21).
Israel changed route and soon came to Mount Hor. There Aaron died, his death being God’s judgment for his sin at Meribah. God announced his death in advance, so that a ceremony could be held to appoint Eleazar, Aaron’s oldest surviving son, as the replacement high priest before Aaron died (22-29).

When one of the Canaanite kings heard that Israel was heading towards Canaan, he launched an attack and took some of the people captive. Israel responded promptly, and with God’s help destroyed the attackers. It was the first step towards Israel’s conquest of Canaan (21:1-3; cf. Deuteronomy 20:16-18).

The long detour that the Edomites forced upon the Israelites caused the people to become impatient and complaining again. God punished them with a plague of snakes whose bite produced burning pains and even death. Moses prayed for the people, and God replied by promising to heal all who stopped complaining and trusted in him (4-9).
Moving forward again, the Israelites journeyed around the fortified areas of Moab, crossed the Zered River, and headed north across the tableland region east of the Dead Sea. The writer mentions two significant events in the brief account of the journey across the tableland. One was the crossing of the Arnon River, which marked the boundary between Moabite and Amorite territory; the other was the discovery of water in one particularly dry region. The people celebrated the events by singing well known songs (10-20).

Bibliographical Information
Flemming, Donald C. "Commentary on Numbers 20". "Fleming's Bridgeway Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bbc/numbers-20.html. 2005.
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