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Bible Commentaries
Numbers 20

Benson's Commentary of the Old and New TestamentsBenson's Commentary


A.M. 2551. B.C. 1453.

This chapter begins the history of the fortieth year of the Israelites wandering in the wilderness. Little is recorded of them from the beginning of their second year till this, which brought them to the borders of Canaan. Here is, ( 1,) The death of Miriam, Numbers 20:1 .

(2,) The fetching water out of the rock, Numbers 20:2-13 .

(3,) The treaty with the Edomites, Numbers 20:14-21 .

(4,) The death of Aaron and installment of Eleazar, Numbers 20:22-29 .

Verse 1

Numbers 20:1. Then To wit, after many stations and long journeys here omitted, but particularly described, chap. 33., and occupying the space of thirty-eight years, during which time the Lord was executing judgment upon the rebels, whose carcasses were sentenced to fall in the wilderness. The desert of Zin A place near the land of Edom, distinct and distant from that Sin, mentioned Exodus 16:1. The first month Of the fortieth year, as is evident, because the next station to this was in mount Hor, where Aaron died, which was in the fifth month of the fortieth year, Numbers 33:38. If it should appear strange to us that Moses should pass in silence the transactions of these eight and thirty years that the Israelites wandered in the wilderness, and give us only the history of the two first years of their peregrinations, we must remember, as Le Clerc justly observes, “that he writes, not so much in the character of an historian as in that of a legislator, whose intention it was to deliver down to posterity all those laws which he had received from God; and that system of laws being completed in the two first years after their leaving Egypt, and no new law being delivered during these eight and thirty years, it did not fall in with his design to insert the history of those years in the Pentateuch.” Miriam died Four months before Aaron, and but a few more before Moses.

Verse 2

Numbers 20:2. No water Which, as is generally thought, having followed them through all their former journeys, began to fail them here, because they were now come near countries where waters might be had by ordinary means, and therefore God would not use extraordinary, lest he should seem to prostitute the honour of miracles. This story, though like that Exodus 17:0., is different from it, as appears by divers circumstances.

Verse 3

Numbers 20:3. Before the Lord Suddenly, rather than to die such a lingering death. Their sin was much greater than that of their parents, because they should have taken warning by their miscarriages, and by the terrible effects of them, which their eyes had seen.

Verses 8-9

Numbers 20:8-9. Take the rod That which was laid up before the Lord in the tabernacle; whether it was Aaron’s rod, which was laid up there, (Numbers 17:10,) or Moses’s rod, by which he wrought so many miracles. For it is likely that wonder-working rod was laid up in some part of the tabernacle, though not in or near the ark, where Aaron’s blossoming rod was put. From before the Lord Out of the tabernacle.

Verse 12

Numbers 20:12. Ye believed me not But showed your infidelity; which they did, either by smiting the rock, and that twice, which is emphatically noted, as if they doubted whether once smiting would have done it; whereas, they were not commanded to smite so much as once, but only to speak to it: or, by the doubtfulness of these words, (Numbers 20:10,) Must we fetch water out of the rock? which implied a suspicion of it; whereas they should have spoken positively and confidently to the rock to give forth water. And yet they did not doubt of the power of God, but of his will, whether he would gratify these rebels with this further miracle, after so many of the like kind. To sanctify me To give me the glory of my power in doing this miracle, and of my truth in punctually fulfilling my promise, and of my goodness in doing it, notwithstanding the people’s perverseness. In the eyes of Israel This made their sin a cause of stumbling to the Israelites, who of themselves were too prone to infidelity; and, to prevent the contagion, God leaves a monument of his displeasure upon them, and inflicts a punishment as public as their sin.

Verse 13

Numbers 20:13. Meribah That is, strife. In them Or, among them, the children of Israel, by the demonstration of his omnipotency, veracity, and clemency toward the Israelites, and of his impartial holiness and severity against sin, even in his greatest friends and favourites.

Verse 14

Numbers 20:14. All the travail All the wanderings and afflictions of our parents, and of us their children, which doubtless have come to thine ears.

Verse 16

Numbers 20:16. An angel The angel of the covenant, who first appeared to Moses in the bush, and afterward in the cloudy pillar, who conducted Moses and the people out of Egypt, and through the wilderness. For though Moses may be called an angel or messenger, yet it is not probable that he is meant; partly because Moses was the person that sent this message, and partly because another angel above Moses conducted them; and the mention hereof to the Edomites, was likely to give more authority to the present message. In Kadesh Or near it, as the particle in is often used.

Verse 17

Numbers 20:17. The wells Or pits, which any of you have digged for your private use, not without paying for it, Numbers 20:19; but only of the water of common rivers, which are free to all passengers. No man’s property ought to be invaded, under colour of religion. Dominion is founded in providence, not in grace.

Verses 18-19

Numbers 20:18-19. By me Through my country: I will not suffer thee to do so; which was an act of policy, to secure themselves from so numerous a host. Said That is, their messengers replied what here follows.

Verse 23

Numbers 20:23. And the Lord spake unto Moses and Aaron So these two dear brothers must part! Aaron must die first; but Moses is not likely to be long after him. So that it is only for a while, a little while, that they are separated.

Verse 24

Numbers 20:24. Because ye rebelled This was one, but not the only reason. God would not have Moses and Aaron to carry the people into Canaan, for this reason also, to signify the insufficiency of the Mosaical law and Aaronical priesthood to make them perfectly happy, and the necessity of a better dispensation, and to keep the Israelites from resting in them, so as to be taken off from their expectation of the Messiah.

Verses 26-27

Numbers 20:26-27. His garments His priestly garments, in token of his resignation of his office. Put them upon Eleazar By way of admission and inauguration to his office. In the sight of all the congregation That their hearts might be more affected with their loss of so great a pillar, and that they all might be witnesses of the translation of the priesthood from Aaron to Eleazar.

Verse 28

Numbers 20:28. And Moses stripped Aaron And death will strip us. Naked we came into the world; naked we must go out. We shall see little reason to be proud of our clothes, our ornaments, or marks of honour if we consider how soon death will strip us of all our glory, and take the crown off from our head! Aaron died there He died in Mosera, Deuteronomy 10:6. Mosera was the general name of the place where that station was, and mount Hor a particular place in it. Presently after he was stripped of his priestly garments, he lay down and died. A good man would desire, if it were the will of God, not to outlive his usefulness. Why should we covet to continue any longer in this world, than while we may do God and our generation some service?

Verse 29

Numbers 20:29. Saw Understood by the relation of Moses and Eleazar, and by other signs. Thirty days The time of public and solemn mourning for great persons.

Bibliographical Information
Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on Numbers 20". Benson's Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/rbc/numbers-20.html. 1857.
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