Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, July 17th, 2024
the Week of Proper 10 / Ordinary 15
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Bible Commentaries
Numbers 20

Grant's Commentary on the BibleGrant's Commentary

Verses 1-29



Journeying again, the congregation came to the wilderness of ZIN and stopped at Kadesh, where Miriam died and was buried. The forty years of wandering have come close to their end, and the older generation is dying off, as will be seen of Aaron also in this chapter (v.28).

But the people had still not learned to cease their senseless complaining. How much like them we are, in spite of God's grace having so blessed us in the past, rebuking our murmuring! Just as they complained when water was lacking at the first of their journey, so now nearing the end they complain again. How little we learn through experience! The people accused Moses and Aaron of bringing them into the wilderness to die. They forget that they had refused to enter the land of plenty and become bitter because the wilderness does not supply every advantage and comfort. In this they are simply forgetting God (vs.2-5).

But "Moses and Aaron went from the presence of the assembly to the door of the tabernacle." Thus, as servants of the Lord, they did not strive, but sought God's answer to the problem. Then His glory immediately appeared. Wonderful relief!

God told Moses to take the rod and gather the congregation together, then to speak to the rock before their eyes and it would give water for the people and for the animals (v.8). Moses therefore took the rod from before the Lord (v.9). This was Aaron's rod that budded (ch.17:10), the rod of priesthood. No doubt Moses remembered that he had used a rod before to bring water from a rock (Exodus 17:5), but it was not Aaron's rod, but the rod of Moses, the rod of authority and judgment with which God told him to strike the rock. In that case, the striking speaks of Christ being judged at Calvary for our sins, with he result that the Spirit of God came abundantly on the disciples on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:1-47).

In Numbers 20:1-29, however, though God told Moses to take Aaron's rod, He told him only to speak to the rock before their eyes. This symbolizes simply praying to the Lord Jesus, who is the Rock and our Great High Priest. For Christ was smitten only once, and when afterwards water is lacking, this teaches us that through our failures we have largely lost the power of the Spirit of God. It is not that we need another outpouring of the Spirit such as at Pentecost, and not that Christ must die again to accomplish this, but rather that we need to realize afresh what the power of the Spirit is, and this is found simply in prayer to the Lord Jesus, our Great High Priest.

However, Moses failed to rightly represent the grace of God in this case. He spoke unadvisedly with his lips, "Hear me now, you rebels! Must we bring water for you out of this rock?" (v.10). Though he was the meekest man on earth, his meekness failed him in this case. But more seriously still, instead of speaking to the rock, as God had told him, he struck the rock twice with the rod. Thus, he spoiled the type that he ought to have clearly demonstrated. Christ did not need to die twice.

Yet, in spite of his disobedience, God answered by an abundance of water (v.11). This was certainly marvelous grace on God's part, grace that was a striking rebuke to the complaints of the people. There was plenty of water for all and for the animals.

But God spoke directly to Moses and Aaron to rebuke them for their unbelief in misrepresenting Him before the eyes of the children of Israel. Their hard words had been too much like Israel's complaining words, and contrary to the grace of God -- grace which they ought to have impressed on the congregation. Therefore the Lord told them they would not bring Israel into the promised land (v.12). For it was grace alone that could bring them there. This was the moral reason given to Moses and Aaron for their not being allowed to lead into the land.

This was of course a great shock to Moses, for he had shared with Israel from the very first, witnessing the Passover, the passage of the Red Sea and continuous miracles of God in blessing toward them. He had been faithful in all God's house, not at all moved by the disobedience of Israel in refusing to enter the land, nor by the rebellion of Korah, Dathan and Abiram, and his heart longed to see the land God had promised. He even pled with God later to change His mind and allow him to go over (Deuteronomy 3:25-26). But God replied positively as to this, telling him not to speak again of this matter.

In fact, besides the question of disobedience, there is another reason that Moses could not lead Israel into the land. Moses was the lawgiver, and law cannot bring God's people into God's inheritance for them, even with the help of legal priesthood. It was Joshua who led Israel into their land, for his name means "Jehovah is Savior."

This was called the water of Meribah (strife) because of Israel's contention with the Lord and His being hallowed, set apart from them in His character of grace, so different than their attitude (v.13).



If Israel could go through Edom, it would be only 20 miles, and they could then go on the east of the Dead Sea to cross the Jordan near Jericho. So they sent messengers to the king of Edom asking permission to travel through that land. They appealed to the sympathies of Edom on account of their long history of very real trial and God's preserving and delivering care over them (vs.14-16). They asked only to be allowed to pass through their country without touching their fields or vineyards, nor even using their water, but going directly by the highway (v.17).

Edom's answer was peremptory and decisive. They would not allow their passage, but would protect their own land from them by the sword (v.18). Israel made a second attempt to persuade Edom, but Edom was adamant, backing up their words by a show of force on the part of their army (vs.19-20). But Israel would go no further than to make the request, and "turned away from him" (v.21).

How striking a lesson this is for us! Edom is typically the flesh. Its name is the same as Adam, only with the vowels changed; but however the flesh may disguise itself, it does not change, and "those who are in the flesh cannot please God" (Romans 8:8). But how are we to deal with this deceitful enemy within us'? lt is no use fighting it, for we can never win a battle like this, as Romans 7:1-25 shows us. We are rather to consider self as dead (Galatians 5:24), therefore to turn away from it as we would from a dead corpse, and instead "put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh to fulfill its lusts" (Romans 13:14).

Yet for Israel this meant a long journey of 120 miles rather than 20 miles. Thus, we too may like to take a short-cut by way of fleshly expedience, but for the child of God this will never be profitable. We need to learn by experience that the flesh cannot be trusted, and the flesh is simply "self." It may seem a long process by which we are disciplined and subdued, but it is necessary, for it is the way that God accomplishes His ends with us. The wicked will often go through life with no such testing as a believer (Psalms 73:3-9), but their end is dreadful (vs.17-20).



When the children of Israel then came to Mount Hor, the Lord told Moses and Aaron that the time had come for Aaron's death (v.24), for God reminds them both that He had passed sentence that neither of them would enter the land of Canaan because of their disobedience to His Word at the waters of Meribah. Aaron and Eleazar were therefore to be taken up to Mount Hor, where Aaron was to be stripped of his high priestly garments. Eleazar was to receive these as a successor to Aaron (vs.25-26).

Aaron had no choice, and when his garments were taken and given to his son, Aaron died there on the top of the mountain (v.28). Though the moral reason for his death then was his disobedience, yet God's wisdom is behind this in indicating that Eleazar is a type of Christ as High Priest in resurrection, for it is the One who is raised from the dead who leads us into heavenly places, typified by the land of Canaan. but the death of Aaron occasioned a mourning period of thirty days for him by Israel. Thus, his death had deep effect on Israel: how much more deeply should we be affected by the death of the Lord Jesus, even though we know Him now as raised in glory.

Bibliographical Information
Grant, L. M. "Commentary on Numbers 20". Grant's Commentary on the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/lmg/numbers-20.html. 1897-1910.
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