Numbers 20

Chapter 20

Death of Miriam.[a] 1 The people of Israel, the whole assembly, came into the Desert of Zin in the first month,[b] and the people stayed in Kadesh. It was there that Miriam died and was buried.

The Need for Water. 2 The community had no water, and they gathered together against Moses and Aaron. 3 They argued with Moses and said, “Would that we would have died when our brothers fell before the Lord. 4 Why have you brought the assembly of the Lord into this wilderness so that we die here, both we and our cattle? 5 Why have you made us come out of Egypt to this evil place? It has no grain, or figs, or vines, or pomegranates. There is no water to drink!”

Moses and Aaron Sin. 6 Moses and Aaron went from in front of the assembly to the entrance of the tent of meeting. They fell upon their faces, and the glory of the Lord appeared to them.

7 The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 8 “Take the staff, and you and Aaron your brother are to gather the assembly together. Speak to the rock in their sight and it will pour forth water. You will bring forth water from the rock for the assembly and their animals to drink.”

9 Moses took the staff from before the Lord, as he had been commanded. 10 Then Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly before the rock and he said to them, “Hear now, you rebels! Must we bring forth water out of this rock for you?” 11 [c]Then Moses lifted up his arm and he struck the rock with his staff twice. Water came gushing out, and the community and their animals drank.

12 But the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you have not trusted and hallowed me in the eyes of the people of Israel, you will not lead this community into the land that I have given them. 13 This is the water of Meribah, because the people of Israel quarreled with the Lord, and he showed himself to be bold among them.”[d]

14 Israel Denied Passage.[e] Moses sent messengers from Kadesh to the king of Edom saying, “Thus says Israel, your brother, ‘You know all the hardships that have come upon us. 15 Our ancestors went down to Egypt and lived there for many years. The Egyptians mistreated us and our fathers. 16 When we cried out, he heard our voice and sent an angel to bring us out of Egypt. We are now in Kadesh, a town at the edge of your territory. 17 Please, let us pass through your land. We will not walk through the vineyards nor drink from the wells. We will pass along the King’s Highway, and we will not turn to the right nor to the left until we have crossed over your borders.’ ”

18 But Edom said, “You will not pass through. Otherwise, I will come out against you with the sword.”

19 The people of Israel replied, “We will go along the main road. If my cattle drink from your water, I will pay for it. Only let me pass through on foot, nothing else.” 20 But he said, “You will not pass through.” Edom came out against the people with a great and powerful force. 21 Since Edom refused to let Israel pass through its territory, Israel turned away from it.

22 The Death of Aaron. When they left Kadesh, the whole assembly of the people of Israel came to Mount Hor. 23 The Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron at Mount Hor near the border of Edom and said, 24 “Aaron is going to be gathered to his people.[f] He will not enter the land that I have promised to the people of Israel because you disobeyed my command at the waters of Meribah. 25 Take Aaron and his son Eleazar up Mount Hor. 26 Take Aaron’s garments off and put them on Eleazar, his son. Aaron is to be gathered to his people; he will die there.”

27 So Moses did as the Lord had commanded. They went up Mount Hor in the sight of the assembly. 28 Moses removed Aaron’s garments and he put them upon Eleazar, his son. Aaron died on top of the mountain, and Moses and Eleazar then came down the mountain. 29 The whole assembly learned that Aaron had died. The whole house of Israel mourned for Aaron for thirty days.


  1. Numbers 20:1 God will rebuke Moses for not having faith, probably because his act of striking the rock with his staff may have looked too much like an act of magic. But it may also be that the editor was taking into account other traditions of which traces can be found in the Bible (Ex 17; Deut 1:37; Ps 106:32), in order to conceal a greater act of distrust on the part of the head of the community. The rock is an image for God and a symbol of Christ (Ps 18:2; Jn 7:38; 1 Cor 10:4).
  2. Numbers 20:1 First month: according to verses 22-29, this chapter covers the last of the 40 years in the desert after the Exodus. By this time there would have been a complete turnover of those 20 years and older who had been in the desert for the whole time.
  3. Numbers 20:11 The miraculous issue of water from the rock is accomplished by Moses apart from the Lord’s instruction to speak to the rock. Moses is immediately chastised for his disobedience—both he and Aaron being denied entrance into the Promised Land.
  4. Numbers 20:13 Hebrew allows the word Meribah and the word meaning quarrel to be interchanged.
  5. Numbers 20:14 According to the Fathers of the Church, the king of Edom is a prefiguration of those who do not accept the gospel.
  6. Numbers 20:24 Gathered to his people: this phrase indicated Aaron’s impending death. Both he and Moses having rebelled against God (v. 12) would die.

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