Bible Commentary: Numbers 20

You are here

Bible Commentary

Numbers 20

Login or Create an Account

With a UCG.org account you will be able to save items to read and study later!

Sign In | Sign Up

×

The Rebellious Act of Moses and Aaron 

When the people arrive in Kadesh, decades have passed since the last chapter! Kadesh was the same location where Israel rebelled against entering the Promised Land. Back when the spies brought their evil report, God had told the Israelites they would be in the wilderness 40 years. These years have been long and bitter, with rebellion upon rebellion (compare Ezekiel 20:13-24 Ezekiel 20:13-24 [13] But the house of Israel rebelled against me in the wilderness: they walked not in my statutes, and they despised my judgments, which if a man do, he shall even live in them; and my sabbaths they greatly polluted: then I said, I would pour out my fury on them in the wilderness, to consume them. [14] But I worked for my name’s sake, that it should not be polluted before the heathen, in whose sight I brought them out. [15] Yet also I lifted up my hand to them in the wilderness, that I would not bring them into the land which I had given them, flowing with milk and honey, which is the glory of all lands; [16] Because they despised my judgments, and walked not in my statutes, but polluted my sabbaths: for their heart went after their idols. [17] Nevertheless my eye spared them from destroying them, neither did I make an end of them in the wilderness. [18] But I said to their children in the wilderness, Walk you not in the statutes of your fathers, neither observe their judgments, nor defile yourselves with their idols: [19] I am the LORD your God; walk in my statutes, and keep my judgments, and do them; [20] And hallow my sabbaths; and they shall be a sign between me and you, that you may know that I am the LORD your God. [21] Notwithstanding the children rebelled against me: they walked not in my statutes, neither kept my judgments to do them, which if a man do, he shall even live in them; they polluted my sabbaths: then I said, I would pour out my fury on them, to accomplish my anger against them in the wilderness. [22] Nevertheless I withdrew my hand, and worked for my name’s sake, that it should not be polluted in the sight of the heathen, in whose sight I brought them forth. [23] I lifted up my hand to them also in the wilderness, that I would scatter them among the heathen, and disperse them through the countries; [24] Because they had not executed my judgments, but had despised my statutes, and had polluted my sabbaths, and their eyes were after their fathers’ idols.
American King James Version×
). And now it is the 40th and final year of their wandering. Nearly all the people who were 20 years and older at the time of the exodus have died out. Miriam, at around the age of 130, dies as this final year begins (verse 1).

Sadly, those of the younger generation proved just as rebellious as their parents (Ezekiel 20:18-24 Ezekiel 20:18-24 [18] But I said to their children in the wilderness, Walk you not in the statutes of your fathers, neither observe their judgments, nor defile yourselves with their idols: [19] I am the LORD your God; walk in my statutes, and keep my judgments, and do them; [20] And hallow my sabbaths; and they shall be a sign between me and you, that you may know that I am the LORD your God. [21] Notwithstanding the children rebelled against me: they walked not in my statutes, neither kept my judgments to do them, which if a man do, he shall even live in them; they polluted my sabbaths: then I said, I would pour out my fury on them, to accomplish my anger against them in the wilderness. [22] Nevertheless I withdrew my hand, and worked for my name’s sake, that it should not be polluted in the sight of the heathen, in whose sight I brought them forth. [23] I lifted up my hand to them also in the wilderness, that I would scatter them among the heathen, and disperse them through the countries; [24] Because they had not executed my judgments, but had despised my statutes, and had polluted my sabbaths, and their eyes were after their fathers’ idols.
American King James Version×
). When they complained to Moses that they had no water, Moses and Aaron went to the tabernacle to ask God what to do. And God gave some straightforward instructions: Take the rod; gather the assembly; speak to the rock where the people can see. That shouldn’t have been too hard to follow. But Moses had finally had it. He was, after all this time, completely fed up with the Israelites—“You rebels,” he called them (verse 10). And while this was understandable, his anger got the better of him.

After so many years of being browbeaten by the people, Moses and Aaron, perhaps in a momentary lapse, became puffed up. Moses didn’t say, “God will give you water.” No, he said, “Must we bring water for you out of this rock?” (verse 10). And he struck the rock instead of speaking to it, just as he had done nearly 40 years before (see Exodus 17:6 Exodus 17:6Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock in Horeb; and you shall smite the rock, and there shall come water out of it, that the people may drink. And Moses did so in the sight of the elders of Israel.
American King James Version×
). Only this time, God had not told him to strike it. Nevertheless, he even struck it twice. God labeled this a lack of faith, saying, “You did not believe Me, to hallow Me in the eyes of the children of Israel” (verse 12). Apparently, then, it wasn’t that Moses and Aaron didn’t believe water would come out by merely speaking, but they didn’t believe God’s earlier warnings about the seriousness of following His instructions exactly. Or, perhaps more accurately, they didn’t believe that these warnings applied to them—as if their closeness to God gave them some leeway. However, as they should have known, just the opposite is true. Those in leadership positions are held to stricter accountability—to set the right example for everyone else. Moses and Aaron called the people rebels. Yet they rebelled against God’s words themselves (verse 24; Romans 2:1 Romans 2:1Therefore you are inexcusable, O man, whoever you are that judge: for wherein you judge another, you condemn yourself; for you that judge do the same things.
American King James Version×
). Neither would enter the Promised Land. Aaron died above their next encampment on Mount Hor at the age of 123 (verses 25-28; Numbers 33:38-39 Numbers 33:38-39 [38] And Aaron the priest went up into mount Hor at the commandment of the LORD, and died there, in the fortieth year after the children of Israel were come out of the land of Egypt, in the first day of the fifth month. [39] And Aaron was an hundred and twenty and three years old when he died in mount Hor.
American King James Version×
).

There is a vital lesson here for us. We are never too old to be tested. None of us are ever so perfect that we don’t have lessons to learn. And no matter who we are or what position we have, we are not excused from obeying God—a fact the Israelites desperately needed to know.

Verses 14-21 of chapter 20 record Moses’ attempt to negotiate peaceful passage through Edom’s territory. He even offered to pay Edom for any of the land’s resources they used in route. But Edom rebuffed Moses’ offer. This is one of several acts of antagonism Edom shows toward the descendants of Jacob. Old grudges die hard, and sometimes they never do unless God intervenes.

You might also be interested in...