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Numbers 20:1 . The desert of Zin. Critics are not agreed whether this was the same wilderness, and the same Kadesh to which the people arrived on the eighth journey after leaving Egypt. The arguments on each side are strong. But the wilderness and the town being both of the same name, seem to be a weighty circumstance in favour of its being the identical spot they had left thirty eight years before; and it is said that they journeyed from mount Hor by the way of the Red sea. Numbers 21:4. Exodus 17:1.
Numbers 20:12 . Because ye believed me not. This strong charge which the Lord brought against Moses and Aaron, justifies the sentence passed upon them. But in the world, the carnal world, where can we find a Cæsar, and other generals, who had purity and honour enough so faithfully to confess their errors in public life. They have left us histories of their wars, but cover their errors in silence.
Numbers 20:14 . Moses sent messengers to the king of Edom, Moses is here a perfect model to christian kings, in doing his utmost to avoid war. Josephus reports, that he had been a general in the Egyptian expedition to Ethiopia, and consequently he knew the bitterness of the sword. War is the worst of evils, and should be the last of national resources.
On entering the fortieth year of the wanderings in the wilderness, Miriam gave up the ghost. And if, according to Josephus, she was seventeen years of age at the birth of Moses, she had lived a hundred and thirty six years. Both her brothers followed in the same year. How gracious was providence, in prolonging the lives of these personages till they had accomplished their work.
The miraculous torrent of Horeb was now dried up. The waters were stayed when Israel had marched beyond the course of its stream. The droughty desert was destitute of water; and the people, little instructed by all the calamities of their pilgrimage, were more disposed to quarrel with Moses than to seek from God a plentiful supply. Stone hearts seem to have become so stubborn as to be incapable of reform by judgments, and of instruction by wisdom: and above all calamities, let us fear that awful state. Their hardness was so great as to wish they had died thirty eight years ago, with the rebels who fell in that place. How great was the indulgence of God to an impatient people. He once more gave them water from the rock. But ah, though God had patience, Moses and Aaron were too weak to sustain the shock: the last moments of a long life and feeble age were embittered by a provoking people. These rulers, finding themselves yet so far down in the desert, it would seem they in some sort gave way to unbelief, concerning an entrance into the promised land; and irritated by the chiding of the people, excess of anger for once tarnished a long life of the most spotless meekness and love. Ye rebels, said Moses, must we fetch you water out of this rock? And he smote the rock twice, probably because the water did not flow at the first stroke: and because he and Aaron did not sufficiently glorify God in this most trying crisis of the murmuring at Meribah, they could not enter the promised land. While on earth we must expect afflictions to the end of life; let us watch and tremble, for whether in youth or in old age, one unadvised and impassioned step may blast or embitter all the hopes of future years.
In the embassy which Moses sent to the king of Edom, to solicit a passage through his dominions, we see much to convey instruction to the heart. We see that christians are to regard life as a pilgrimage, and we only ask of the world a quiet and peaceable passage, offering to labour quietly for our bread, and pay honestly for our food and raiment by the way. In the refusal, and warlike dispositions of the Edomites, we see the temper of the unbelieving world, who are ever ready to oppose the gospel, and to fight against the Lord’s people. Well, if the world will not receive our testimony, nor suffer us to live peaceably, let us if possible turn away like Israel, who would not fight with his brother. We had better go a little out of the direct road, than be embroiled with quarrelling and strife. Let Edom triumph for the time; he shall surely be visited in his day.
This chapter began with the death of Miriam, and it closes with the death of Aaron. So the most ancient families fall in succession as the leaves, until the fathers have all given place to the rising age. But how many consolations had this venerable priest and prince in his death. Having run a long course with his brother and sister, they were scarcely divided in their death. All his sins were pardoned, and all his errors repaired. He saw Eleazar, a faithful son, invested with the priesthood; and he saw Israel about to enter the promised land. His work was done; and cheerfully submitting to his sentence, he ascended mount Hor, and died in the faith. His faults were few, his virtues many; and these were greatly eclipsed by the superior mission and glory of his brother. See Reflections on Deuteronomy 34:0.
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Sutcliffe, Joseph. "Commentary on Numbers 20". Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany