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Bible Commentaries

Lange's Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal, and Homiletical
Numbers 20

 

 

Verses 1-13

SEVENTH SECTION

Retrospect of the Settlement in Kadesh Miriam’s Death. The Great Mortality. The Destiny of Moses and Aaron to die in the Desert on Account of their Offence at Meribah

Numbers 20:1-13

1[FN1] Then came the children of Israel, even the whole congregation, into the desert of Zin in the first month: and the people abode in Kadesh; and Miriam died there, and was buried there 2 And there was no water for the congregation: and they gathered themselves together against Moses and against Aaron 3 And the people chode with Moses, and spake, saying, Would [FN2]God that we had [FN3]died when our brethren cdied before the Lord! 4And why have ye brought up the [FN4]congregation of the Lord into this wilderness, that we and our cattle should die there? 5And wherefore have ye made us to come up out of Egypt, to bring us in unto this evil place? it is no place of seed, or of figs, or of vines, or of pomegranates; neither is there any water to drink 6 And Moses and Aaron went from the presence of the assembly unto the door of the [FN5]tabernacle of the congregation, and they fell upon their faces: and the glory of the Lord appeared unto them.

7And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, 8Take the rod, and gather thou the [FN6]assembly together, thou and Aaron thy brother, and speak ye unto the rock before their eyes; and it shall give forth his water, and thou shalt bring forth to them water out of the rock; so thou shalt give the congregation and their beasts drink 9 And Moses took the rod from before the Lord, as he commanded him 10 And Moses and Aaron gathered the dcongregation together before the rock, and he said unto them, Hear now, ye rebels; [FN7]must we fetch you water out of this rock? 11And Moses lifted up his hand, and with his rod he smote the rock twice: and the water came out abundantly, and the congregation drank, and their beasts also.

12And the Lord spake unto Moses and Aaron, Because ye believed me not, to sanctify me in the eyes of the children of Israel, therefore ye shall not bring this13[FN8]congregation into the land which I have given them. This is the water of [FN9]Meribah; [FN10]because the children of Israel [FN11]strove with the Lord, and he was sanctified in them.

EXEGETICAL AND CRITICAL

Our text has become the knotty point of the greatest misunderstandings. Usually it is understood as follows. The children of Israel came once again to Kadesh in the first month of the fortieth year. And after that, all these things took place that are related afterwards. The most positive facts speak against this fixed assumption. First, the clear testimony of Deuteronomy 1. Second, the history of the water of strife. That is to say, had the Israelites made themselves familiar with the neighborhood of Kadesh-Barnea, then they would have known also its water-springs; but according to our passage, they have hardly more than arrived in the desert of Zin, and have as yet found no springs in it. Third, the people strove with Moses saying: Would that we had perished when our brethren perished before the Lord. After forty years they could not have spoken of brothers that had perished, but only of fathers. Almost the whole generation of the fathers was now buried. They do not even seem to have experienced as yet the rebellion of Korah, for Keil justly remarks: “by that they do not mean the rebellion of Korah (Knobel), for whose destruction גָּוַע, exspirare, is no fitting expression, but those that died gradually during the thirty-eight years.” The rest of their complaint, also, agrees better with the beginning of their sojourn in the desert than with a period when they had long since accustomed themselves to the steppe. According to the internal relations, the murmuring at the want of water connects very simply with the murmuring at the want of bread or food at the Graves of Lust (11.), and falls in the period of the settlement in the desert of Paran, Numbers 12:16.

Accordingly we assume, that the beginning of Chap20 is to be understood as pluperfect. Now the children of Israel had come, i.e. the host of God with the whole congregation, into the wilderness of Zin, and the people encamped at Kadesh. More definitely the chronological order was as follows. On the 20 th day of the second month of the second year (of the Exodus) the Israelites departed from Sinai ( Numbers 10:11). Since then about a year has elapsed until the settlement in Paran, or till the first month of which our chapter speaks, by which, therefore, is to be understood the third year, because the sentence of a forty years’ abode in the wilderness cannot well be set at a later period. Moreover, it must not be left unnoticed, that already after the meeting of the people, chap14, it is said: only Joshua and Caleb shall enter the land of Canaan, so that we must suppose that Moses and Aaron had already received their sentence. It may be further added, that a failure on the part of the great man of God more probably occurred in the first years of his course than at the close, when he was so near his goal.

The motive for the chronological displacement of our history, as was already intimated, was to combine in one account the fates of these two brothers and their sister.

A return of the story to an older history appears to be presented also in the section Numbers 21:1-3. The account of the defeat of Israel there related is the old story of the unsuccessful raid into the south of Canaan ( Numbers 14:40-45). It is resumed again in this place on account of the vow that Israel made at that time, and now fulfils, of which we will treat further on. Also according to Knobel’s way of seeing the matter, the text not only speaks of two periods of abode in Kadesh, but also according to “the Jehovistic document” of a single abode there (p103). “The old register of encampments likewise recognizes only one abode in Kadesh.”

[On the view that there was only one abode in Kadesh, and that the host arrived there not earlier than in the third year of the Exodus, and possibly later, see Tr.’s note at the end of Numbers 14. Dr. Lange’s appeal to Deuteronomy 1. is an argument that deserves more amplification. The language of Deuteronomy 1:19, particularly: “We went through all that great and terrible wilderness,” implies a longer journey and more varied experience than could be compressed into eighty days or so. The same may be said of20:33, which, compared with Numbers 9:15-23, seems to refer to the wanderings from Sinai to Kadesh.—Tr.]

Numbers 20:1. On the desert of Zin and Kadesh-Barnea, see above at Numbers 12:16. On Kadesh see also the article in Gesenius. According to Keil, and the common view, the first month falls in the fortieth year of the Exodus. A difficulty of that view is presented in the inquiry: Why is nothing said of the want of water during the first stay at Kadesh, whereas it is spoken of in reference to the second?

Numbers 20:4. The displeasure at the want of water again excites the imagination of the malcontents about the deficiencies of the desert in general.

Numbers 20:6. Moses and Aaron prostrate themselves helplessly at the door of the Tabernacle. To this holy helplessness and surrender, one might say, there corresponds here, too, a wondrous exaltation. The glory of the Lord appeared to them. Let us here call to mind once more how near to one another are the notions, the appearing of the glory of the Lord, and the appearing of the Angel of the Lord.

Ver7 The instruction Jehovah gives is very different from the instruction at Rephidim ( Exodus 17:5). On that occasion of drought stronger means were used for the miracle. Moses with some of the elders had to go off away from the people; here he was to take a stand opposite the rock with all the elders and the whole congregation. There he had to smite the rock with his staff; but here Moses and Aaron were simply to speak to the rock, i.e. in a symbolical sense command the rock, though he was provided with the rod in his hand. The help was to be miraculously near, as it was often prepared for the discoverers of springs in sacred history. Jehovah’s directions, therefore, demand of the prophet the most decided confidence and composure of spirit.

Numbers 20:9. He took the staff from before Jehovah. Does that mean: the staff had been deposited in the sanctuary? It was the miraculous rod that he had in his hand when he received commissions from Jehovah.

Numbers 20:10-11. Wherein consisted Moses’ sin, in which, as one must suppose, Aaron too was involved as regarded feeling? Absolute unbelief cannot be meant; otherwise it is impossible that Moses would have smote the rock. For it is utterly inconceivable that he acted so in superstitious reliance on the magical effect of his staff. Jehovah’s reproof intimates what was the offence: Ye have not unconditionally believed and obeyed me in a way to prove thereby to the children of Israel that I am the Holy One. The bestowal of water should have borne the character of extreme facility and manifested thereby the majesty of the personal Jehovah in His omnipotence and condescension. To His people, despairing from thirst, Jehovah would grant, of free grace and without reproach, the miraculous fountain. Moses, on the contrary, did not let himself be freed from his indignation at the people by the sight of the glory of the Lord. His address to the people reproaches them as rebels, and expresses not so much a real doubt about the approaching grant, as a contempt for the “mutinous” nation that really was not worth being helped, especially by such a divine miracle: water from the rock. Then he smites twice on the rock, instead of simply speaking to it, with a displeasure that really wanted to smite the people. This disobedience as to form also comes in for consideration, but is not the chief thing in itself. Yet there is reflected in it a feeling of disgust, of fleshly zeal, by which, as the representative of Jehovah, he obscures and distorts to the people the image of Jehovah Himself. How many zealots act just so in the most glaring way, yet suppose that in that way they glorify God before His people! Let it be noted, that it was only on account of this trait of fanatical excitement of the two men, by which they embittered a great gift of free compassion, an hour of pure grace, that entrance into the earthly Canaan, i.e. the ideal completion of their task was denied them.

According to Psalm 106:33, a chief stress is laid on the inconsiderate words of Moses, that plainly betrayed his troubled, exasperated feeling. Concerning the fable, falsely ascribed to the Rabbins, that the rock followed the Israelites from Rephidim to Kadesh, see the note of Keil in loc. The symbolical side of the underlying history is brought out in 1 Corinthians 10:4. Concerning the rock-fountain at Rephidim, and also concerning the identification of the events, see the Biblew. comm. on Exodus 17:1, p65. Also Keil on Exodus 17:1.

HOMILETICAL HINTS

Chap. Numbers 20:1-13. The water of strife and the impatience of Moses. The impatience of Moses as the final explosion of a displeasure again and again restrained and subdued through many years, hence not without connection with his seemingly too early death (see Psalm 90). Here, therefore, was verified the Old Testament saying: “The zeal of thine house hath eaten me up.” Still this fate of death also was finally a mercy, and not less a miracle of wisdom. The death of the great brothers and sister.

Footnotes:

FN#1 - And.

FN#2 - omit God.

FN#3 - perished.

FN#4 - assembly.

FN#5 - Tent of Meeting.

FN#6 - congregation.

FN#7 - shall.

FN#8 - assembly.

FN#9 - That Isaiah, strife.

FN#10 - where.

FN#11 - chode.


Verse 14

FOURTH DIVISION

FROM KADESH ONWARD FROM THE DEPARTURE TO THE SETTLEMENT IN THE PLAINS OF MOAB

Numbers 20:14 to Numbers 22:1

FIRST SECTION:

From Kadesh to Mount Hor ( Numbers 20:14 to Numbers 21:3). The King of Edom. The refusal of the request for a passage. The death of Aaron at Mount Hor. The expedition against the king of Arad.

A.—THE KING OF EDOM. THE REFUSAL OF A PASSAGE

Numbers 20:14Numbers 21:3

14And Moses sent messengers from Kadesh unto the king of Edom, Thus saith thy15 brother Israel, Thou knowest all the travail that hath [FN12]befallen us: How our fathers went down into Egypt, and we have dwelt in Egypt a long time; and the Egyptians vexed us, and our fathers: 16And when we cried unto the Lord, he heard our voice, and sent an angel, and hath brought us forth out of Egypt: and, behold, we are in Kadesh, a city in the uttermost of thy border 17 Let us pass, I pray thee, through thy country: we will not pass through the fields, or through the vineyards, neither will we drink of the water of the wells: we will go by the king’s high way, we will not turn to the right hand nor to the left, until we have passed thy borders 18 And Edom said unto him, Thou shalt not pass by me, lest I come out against thee with the sword 19 And the children of Israel said unto him, We will go by the high way: and if I and my cattle drink of thy water, then I will pay for it: I will only, without doing any thing else, go through on my feet 20 And he said, Thou shalt not go through. And Edom came out against him with much people, and with a strong hand 21 Thus Edom refused to give Israel passage through his border: wherefore Israel turned away from him.

B.—THE DEATH OF AARON AT MOUNT HOR. Numbers 20:22-29

22And the children of Israel, even the whole congregation, journeyed from Kadesh, 23and came unto mount Hor. And the Lord spake unto Moses and Aaron in mount Hor, by the coast of the land of Edom, saying, 24Aaron shall be gathered unto his people: for he shall not enter into the land which I have given unto the children 25 of Israel, because ye rebelled against my word at the water of Meribah. Take Aaron and Eleazar his Song of Solomon, and bring them up unto mount Hor: 26And strip Aaron of his garments, and put them upon Eleazar his son: and Aaron shall be gathered unto his people, and shall die there 27 And Moses did as the Lord commanded: and they went up into mount Hor in the sight of all the congregation 28 And Moses stripped Aaron of his garments, and put them upon Eleazar his son; and Aaron died there in the top of the mount: and Moses and Eleazar came down from the mount 29 And when all the congregation saw that Aaron was dead, they mourned for Aaron thirty days, even all the house of Israel.

C.—THE EXPEDITION AGAINST THE KING OF ARAD. Numbers 21:1-3.

1And when king Arad the Canaanite, which dwelt in the south, heard tell that Israel came by the way of the spies; then he fought against Israel, and took some of them prisoners 2 And Israel vowed a vow unto the Lord, and said, If thou wilt indeed deliver this people into my hand, then I will utterly destroy their cities 3 And the Lord hearkened to the voice of Israel, and delivered up the Canaanites; and they utterly destroyed them and their cities: and he called the name of the place Hormah.

TEXTUAL AND GRAMMATICAL

[The travail. De Wette: hardship. Bunsen: calamity, sorrow].

Numbers 20:15. , treat ill, afflict.—A. G.].

Numbers 20:19. בַּמְסִלָּה a raised road. Causeway used by the king for military purposes.

[Surely it is nothing. See Exeget. Note, and comp. Genesis 20:11.—A G.].

Numbers 20:20. Lange; mighty. E. V.: better.

Num 20:24. Lit. mouth.

[Omit when; insert and before they.—A. G.].

[Lange: The Canaanite, king of Arad.—A. G.].

[Lange: Way of Atharim. But there are no traces of any place bearing this name. The etymology is in favor of the rendering in our version; and the allusion to the tracks in places of the spies would be natural to one writing to Hebrew readers.—A. G.]

Numbers 21:2. Put or bring them under a ban. Hence the name of the place Hormah: ban.

EXEGETICAL AND CRITICAL

A. The King of Edom, Numbers 20:14-21

Israel had made the fruitless effort to penetrate the south of Canaan from the northern part of the Arabian desert, and indeed directly from Kadesh-Barnea ( Numbers 14:40 et seq.). They had, after their despondent outbreak and rebellion, and before the failure in their attempt, received direction to proceed by another way—by the way of the Red Sea, Numbers 14:25. The idea that avoiding the difficult southern border of Palestine, they should turn to the east, lay enclosed in this direction. But the idea was not fruitful, and the undertaking was delayed until near the close of the forty years. The literal interpretation of this passage, as also of the words Numbers 14:1, has led to those long lines upon the maps which were supposed to indicate the march of the Israelites from Kadesh-Barnea to the Red Sea, and then from the Red Sea back again to Kadesh, with the purpose of immediately returning again to the Red Sea. It is another thing entirely, if we suppose that from their settlement at Kadesh-Barnea, they migrated in all directions seeking pasturage for their herds.[FN13] But now the lapse of time itself warns them to depart. Two routes lie open to them; the one direct through the land of the Edomites, the other long and circuitous, stretching around and eastward of Edom. Even the first route would have led them, at least in their departure, in the direction of the Red Sea, especially if they wished to pass at a distance from the capital, Petra. The land of the Edomites was the mountain region east of the Arabah (in its restricted meaning) or of the deep depression between the Dead Sea, and the Ailanitic gulf of the Red Sea, including also the Arabah itself. When Knobel says that it extends also some distance to the west of the Arabah, this could only have been true east of Kadesh-Barnea, for otherwise the Israelites would have had to pass through Edomitish territory, as they moved toward the Red Sea.[FN14] Kadesh certainly ( Numbers 20:16) lay upon the border of Edom. Mount Hor, too, ( Numbers 20:23) to which they came first after their departure, was by the coasts or borders of Edom. But in the way to the Red Sea, they might pass almost entirely around the land of Edom, if a peaceable passage through it was refused them. Even then, however, they must have crossed the boundaries of Edom according to Deuteronomy 2:1. Israel was commanded to respect the tribal relationship with Edom, as also with Moab and Ammon ( Deuteronomy 2:9 et seq.; comp. Judges 11:17). Moses therefore sought by a warm and friendly message to secure from the king of Edom a free passage through his land. But in the face of every guarantee which he offered, he received only a harsh and surly reply. Further pacific proposals were followed by harsher threats, and a warlike armament against Israel trod, as it were, upon the heels of the returning messenger. This is the starting point in the history of the treacherous brother who appears a foe by the side of Israel down to the final destruction of Jerusalem. The passage in Judges already referred to, indicates that the message to Edom and Moab must have preceded by some time the departure for the Red Sea. [It is clear from Numbers 20:1 compared with Numbers 33:38, that the Israelites must have remained in Kadesh several months. The message was probably sent soon after the congregation had gathered; and the delay was occasioned by the refusal, and the necessary preparations for the long and circuitous march before them. It could not have arisen, as the Bible Com. suggests, from a purpose to invade Canaan again from this quarter when existing obstacles should be removed. The lesson of the thirty-eight years had not been lost, and they were not prepared to brave so difficult a position (see [Keil below) after the earlier and signal failure.—A. G.].

Numbers 20:14-16. We can scarcely agree with Keil that the steep lofty mountain range presented an obstacle, difficult to be overcome if not actually insurmountable, to an entrance into Canaan from the south. The Scriptures give a very different reason. [But the Scripture, while attributing the defeat of the Israelites to the fact that the Lord was not among them, nowhere says or implies that the natural obstacle did not exist.—A. G.]. The invasion from the east had this additional advantage, that it would divide the power of Canaan into two parts. As to the Angel, Knobel himself understands, but not the writer as he infers, by it the pillar of cloud and fire; the harmony of both ideas never occurred to him, in his eager hunt for contradictions.

Numbers 20:17. We will not pass through the fields or through the vineyards, i.e., not wander about in bye-paths [or rather will guard against any careless or straggling march]. The king’s road was the public highway, built and kept in repair probably at public expense, for the march of the king and his army, like the imperial or Sultan’s road, as the old broad, public army-roads are called in the east. The references are frequent in the books of travel. Seetzen I, pp61, 132. See also Knobel in loc. Comp. Robinson II, p556. According to an early conjecture, which Keil has adopted, the king’s road here led through the Wady El Ghuweir. [Robinson, Coleman, Bible Com. and others, hold the same view.—A. G.]. This road may seem too far to the north, although running directly eastwards from Kadesh. For the Edomitish kings see Genesis 36:31-39.

Numbers 20:18-19. After the refusal and menace of the king, the Israelites explain more fully their purposes. The previous declaration we will not drink of the water of the wells, is now explained by the clause I will pay for it. רַק “surely, altogether”—it is of no consequence. They will pass along the high-road only on their feet. [The extreme scarcity of water seems to justify the practice of selling what is most free with us. The treasures gathered were guarded so jealously that sometimes they could not be obtained for money. Hence the natural promise here that they would pay for the water.—A. G.].

Numbers 20:20-21. The king follows up his threat by mustering an armed force and dispatching it to the border, so that the Israelites were compelled to change their course. Thus they come to mount Hor. [The description seems to imply that the Israelites had little doubt of the success of their message. The proposition was so reasonable, the guarantees were so full, the grounds upon which the request was urged were so strong, that they did not deem it necessary to wait for the return of the messenger. They seem to have Started without anticipating the churlish refusal, and only turned southward when they found the passage barred.—A. G.].

B. The death of Aaron upon mount Hor, Numbers 20:22-29. “Breaking up from Kadesh the Israelites passed through the Wady Murreh, which runs along the west of the Arabah, to mount Hor. This mountain standing on the boundary ( Numbers 33:37) בִקְצֵה of the land of Edom was located by Joseph. (Ant. IV:4, 7), and also by Eusebius and Jerome in the vicinity of Petra. Jerome, Or mons, in quo mortuus est Aaron, juxta civitatem Petram. According to modern travellers it is mount Harun, on the northwest side of Wady Musa (Petra). Robinson describes it, II, p508, as a cone irregularly truncated, having three ragged points or peaks of which that on the northeast is highest, and has upon it the wely or tomb of Aaron, from which the name of the mountain Harun, i.e., Aaron, is derived. There is no reason to doubt the correctness of this tradition. See Burckhardt’s Syria, p715; Ritter, Erdkunde XIV, p1127,” Keil. [Also Stanley, Sinai and Palestine, pp86, 87, and note.—A. G.]. Why Knobel doubts its correctness is not clearly seen from his arguments, especially as he holds that the “second Jehovistic document” requires that the Hebrews should have marched northeastward through the Wady Murreh and northern Edom (!). But more important considerations meet us. Had the Israelites marched to this mount Harun, they would have gone almost directly towards the army of Edom, directly towards the capital city Petra, and under these circumstances a battle could hardly have been avoided. They would then also, as if in defiance of Edom, have encamped for thirty days over against Petra. The text is plainly opposed to this: they evaded the challenge of Edom; they did not march in an easterly, but southeasterly direction. Besides, the mountain top to which the aged and wearied one was led, need not have been a very lofty one. According to Deuteronomy 10:6, Aaron died at Moserah, and was there buried. It might be inferred, from the immediate connection, that Aaron died here upon the way to Kadesh. But it is merely in passing, and as a reminiscence, that Aaron’s death is there referred to. The main thing is the statement that upon the upward journey [i.e., to Kadesh] the rights and positions of the Levites were precisely established, thus this mountain on the upward way became a Levitical mountain, and upon the mountain on the march back, Aaron the head of the Levites died and was buried. In the list of encampments this place is called Moserah, and we must not overlook the fact that it is only two days removed from Hor-Hagidgad. At all events Moserah lay in the direction of the Red Sea, and scarcely in the Edomitic Arabah, but upon its western side and in the desert. [There is clearly no contradiction in the statement that Aaron died at Moserah, and on mount Hor. The camp lay at Moserah probably at the base of mount Hor or upon its lower slopes, while Moses took Aaron and Eleazar his son and ascended the mountain where Aaron died. For the manner in which Aaron’s death is referred to in Deuteronomy 10:6, see note on that passage, and Curtis’s Levitical Priests, pp9, 10.—A. G.].

Numbers 20:22-24. Hor is not spoken of as a particular mountain, but as a mountain peak in a ridge. [הֹר הָהָר Hor the mountain, i.e., the summit of the mountain; which corresponds precisely to the description given by Stanley, Sinai and Palestine, p86. See also Numbers 34:7.—A. G.]. Aaron’s death is announced at Hor, and the ordinances in relation to it follow. Aaron shall be gathered to his people. He is reminded of his transgression at the waters of Meribah. His priestly garments shall be taken from him and put upon Eleazar his son. Thus Aaron dies upon mount Hor, and disappears from the history, vanishes into concealment, as Moses did afterward. Aaron died on the first day of the fifth month, in the fortieth year of the Exodus, 123years old.

C. The Expedition against the King of Arad. Numbers 21:1-3. Israel cannot take its departure from the south of Canaan without recalling the disgraceful defeat it had suffered thirty-eight years before, when attempting to enter Canaan from that side. Then the Amalekites came down, and the Canaanites which dwelt in that hill, and smote them, and discomfited them, even unto Hormah.Numbers 14:45. The thoughts of the people now turn back to this early history which the writer here speaks of as that which had already occurred. Once the Canaanite king of Arad heard that Israel came by the way of the spies. If we regard Atharim not as the name of a place, but as an appellative name, synonymous with hattarim, the spies (Keil), the notion of an army which had once followed the spies is obviously suggested. We find moreover the king of Arad in the very same region in which the Israelites had formerly been defeated by the Amalekites and Canaanites. Then Hormah was the limit of the overthrow, now it is the goal of the retaliation. Israel at that time made the vow: If thou wilt indeed deliver this people into my hand, then I will utterly destroy their cities.—At last the time of retribution has come. That they did not undertake the avenging expedition from Kadesh, but first from Moserah or Mount Hor, has its ground in the necessity of first removing their wives and children and herds from the scene of danger. Jehovah crowned their retaliatory expedition into the country of Arad with success. The particular and careful designation of the place of battle: he called the name of the place Hormah (destruction) shows that they did not destroy the cities of the entire kingdom, but spread terror along its southern boundary, while the complete conquest of the country was left for the subsequent campaigns of Joshua ( Joshua 11:12.). This successful expedition was the first victory for the new generation, foretokening their great conflict in Canaan, as the later retaliatory march against the Midianites (chap31.), was the second. The narrative moreover seems to be only of a preliminary and comparatively unimportant event.

The usual assumption that the attack by the king of Arad had not occurred until now is met by strong improbabilities. It is not in the first place a probable assumption that the new generation should figure in a defeat at their first appearance upon the stage; nor that this defeat should have occurred at Mount Hor; and still more is it unlikely that the stricken host should have remained long enough at Mount Hor to gather courage for an avenging expedition. Keil indeed obviates in part these objections by assuming that the attack had occurred before the Israelites had reached Hor. But it lies directly in the face of the narrative to suppose that the Israelites in their departure had turned back northwards, or to the north-east, and not southwards to the Red Sea. [The narrative seems to imply that the king of Arad, recalling the defeat of the Israelites thirty-eight years before, and thinking that a “fatal blow might be inflicted upon them, now fell suddenly upon them as they were breaking up from Kadesh, and when, in the confusion attending the march, they were unprepared, and took some of them prisoners.” There was no serious defeat of the Israelites. It was a mere successful raid upon them, which was punished and avenged as soon as they were encamped at Moserah, or perhaps before they reached that place.—A. G.] “Besides the allusion to Arad here and Numbers 33:40, it appears again Joshua 12:14 as the seat of a Canaanitish king, Hormah. Comp. Judges 1:16. According to Eusebius and Jerome, it lay about twenty Roman miles south from Hebron, and still exists in the ruins of Tell-Arad. Robinson, II, p473, saw it at a distance [see also Stanley, Sinai and Palestine, pp160,161.—A. G.].” Keil.

Hormah was earlier called Zephath, Judges 1:17. In reply to the assumption that this expedition against Arad is only an account of the conquest of that city by Joshua. See Keil, p138. [Bible Commentary, p725. The order of events is clear. The Israelites here having avenged the unprovoked attack upon them and destroyed their cities, and named the place Hormah, departed on their march southwards to compass Edom. When they left, the Canaanites Revelation -occupied the sites of their ruined cities and restored the earlier names. Joshua finds them in possession, completes their overthrow, and at the same time the “ban” under which Israel had placed them. “We have therefore in the passage before us the history of the actual origin of the name Hormah.”—A. G.]

DOCTRINAL AND ETHICAL

The new generation, new offences, new atonements. Defeats and victories

1. The departure of the new generation commences with an act of pious magnanimity, the message to Edom. It is surely a Christian principle that Christian nations should have a sacred regard for the ties of consanguinity in their relations and intercourse with other nations.

2. At the beginning of the circuitous march around the land of Edom, Aaron dies and is buried on Mount Hor. The solemn formal priestly burial has a close connection with the blessings of the world then, and for succeeding generations. On the contrary it was fitting that the death and the grave of the great prophet Moses should be kept from the public gaze, mantled in mystery and darkness.

3. The investiture of Eleazar has also a grand ceremonial character and significance. It is an impressive symbolical transaction—as the whole typical priesthood has this character. [Stanley, History of the Jewish Church. “The succession of the Priesthood, that link of continuity between the past and present, now first introduced into the Jewish Church, was made through that singular usage preserved even to the latest days of the Jewish hierarchy by the transference of the vestments of the dead High Priest to the living successor.”—A. G.]

4. Israel as the people of the law, having their Judaical and punitive character, cannot leave the south region without righting the injury they had suffered from the king of Arad. When the correcting and thus the removing of a moral wrong is at stake, even Christian politics has its strict, stern law.

HOMILETICAL HINTS

Pacific disposition towards Edom, his brother. Mount Hor, Aaron’s goal, Eleazar’s starting place. The deferred retribution which impended over the king of Arad.

Numbers 20:14-22. Peaceableness and contentiousness. Particular regard for kindred races. Going out of the way for the sake of peace, when enjoined and when not. [The request—its reasonableness, its guarantees; the grounds upon which it is urged1. The ties of kindred2. Their sufferings in Egypt3. The deliverance the Lord had given them.—A. G.]

Numbers 20:22-29. Mount Hor. Aaron’s virtues, the connection with Moses, and their common devotion to the people. The subordination of the elder brother to the younger; of the High Priest to the prophet; of the priestly offender, to the stern preacher of reproof. Aaron between the dead and the living. His gentleness and his boldness. Eleazar’s ordination following the disrobing of his father. The sorrow of the house of Israel over the death of its High Priest. A comparison of the celebrated mountains of the dead, Hor, Nebo, Golgotha. [Henry: “Aaron submits to the divine decree cheerfully. He is neither afraid nor ashamed to die. He has comfort in his death: he sees his son preferred, his office preserved.” Stanley. “Mount Hor offered a retrospect rather than a prospect. He surveyed the dreary mountains, barren platform and cheerless valley of the desert through which they had passed; the opposite of that wide and varied vista which opened before the first of the prophets.”—A. G.]

Numbers 21:1-3. The victory over Arad, or the trial of the young generation. [Their apparent discomfiture; their consequent consciousness of weakness; their acknowledgment of dependence on God, and cry to Him; and their complete triumph. All this finds its analogy in the spiritual life.—A. G.]

Footnotes:

FN#12 - Marg. found us.

FN#13 - The repetition of the words “the whole congregation,” Numbers 20:1; Numbers 20:25, seems to imply that the congregation had been partially broken up during the long years of the wandering. The tabernacle formed the centre around which all clustered, and to which smaller or larger portions of the congregation may have returned from time to time. But now the “whole congregation” was gathered. A call from their great leader, or a common impression that some great event was at hand, led the scattered hosts to seek the place where the Tabernacle, the Tent of Meeting was pitched. Modern travellers find the same thing true, with the great Bedouin tribes in our day; a central camp at which the chief resides and sections of the tribe scattered in all directions seeking sustenance for their large flocks and herds.—A. G.].

FN#14 - Also Stanley, Sinai and Palestine, Appendix, p481. Konbel refers to Numbers 20:23, chap, Numbers 33:37; Joshua 15:1-3, as sustaining his view. It might easily occur, too, that the Edomites could defend successfully the steep mountain passes, and yet not prevent the Israelites from crossing their territory which lay in the Arabah or on its western skirts.—A. G.].

 


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Bibliography Information
Lange, Johann Peter. "Commentary on Numbers 20:4". "Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal, and Homiletical". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/lcc/numbers-20.html. 1857-84.

Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, June 19th, 2019
the Week of Proper 6 / Ordinary 11
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