New English Translation
The Israelites Complain Again
2 And there was no water for the community, and so they gathered themselves together against Moses and Aaron. 3 The people contended[f] with Moses, saying,[g] “If only[h] we had died when our brothers died before the Lord! 4 Why[i] have you brought up the Lord’s community into this wilderness? So that[j] we and our cattle should die here? 5 Why[k] have you brought us up from Egypt only to bring[l] us to this dreadful place? It is no place for grain, or figs, or vines, or pomegranates; nor is there any water to drink!”
6 So Moses and Aaron went from the presence of the assembly to the entrance to the tent of meeting. They then threw themselves down with their faces to the ground, and the glory of the Lord appeared to them. 7 Then the Lord spoke to Moses: 8 “Take the staff and assemble the community, you and Aaron your brother, and then speak[m] to the rock before their eyes. It will pour forth[n] its water, and you will bring water out of the rock for them, and so you will give the community and their beasts water to drink.”
9 So Moses took the staff from before the Lord, just as he commanded him. 10 Then Moses and Aaron gathered the community together in front of the rock, and he said to them, “Listen, you rebels,[o] must we bring[p] water out of this rock for you?” 11 Then Moses raised his hand, and struck the rock twice with his staff. And water came out abundantly. So the community drank, and their beasts drank too.
The Lord’s Judgment
12 Then the Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not trust me enough[q] to show me as holy[r] before[s] the Israelites, therefore you will not bring this community into the land I have given them.”[t]
13 These are the waters of Meribah, because the Israelites contended with the Lord, and his holiness was maintained[u] among them.
Rejection by the Edomites
14 [v] Moses[w] sent messengers from Kadesh to the king of Edom:[x] “Thus says your brother Israel: ‘You know all the hardships we have experienced,[y] 15 how our ancestors went down into Egypt, and we lived in Egypt a long time,[z] and the Egyptians treated us and our ancestors badly.[aa] 16 So when we cried to the Lord, he heard our voice and sent a messenger,[ab] and has brought us up out of Egypt. Now[ac] we are here in Kadesh, a town on the edge of your country.[ad] 17 Please let us pass through[ae] your country. We will not pass through the fields or through the vineyards, nor will we drink water from any well. We will go by the King’s Highway;[af] we will not turn to the right or the left until we have passed through your region.’”[ag]
18 But Edom said to him, “You will not pass through me,[ah] or I will come out against[ai] you with the sword.” 19 Then the Israelites said to him, “We will go along the highway, and if we[aj] or our cattle drink any of your water, we will pay for it. We will only pass through on our feet, without doing anything else.”
20 But he said, “You may not pass through.” Then Edom came out against them[ak] with a large and powerful force.[al] 21 So Edom refused to give Israel passage through his border; therefore Israel turned away from him.
22 So the entire company of Israelites[am] traveled from Kadesh and came to Mount Hor.[an] 23 And the Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron at Mount Hor, by the border of the land of Edom. He said: 24 “Aaron will be gathered to his ancestors,[ao] for he will not enter into the land I have given to the Israelites because both of you[ap] rebelled against my word[aq] at the waters of Meribah. 25 Take Aaron and Eleazar his son, and bring them up on Mount Hor. 26 Remove Aaron’s priestly garments[ar] and put them on Eleazar his son, and Aaron will be gathered to his ancestors[as] and will die there.”
27 So Moses did as the Lord commanded; and they went up Mount Hor in the sight[at] of the whole community. 28 And Moses removed Aaron’s garments and put them on his son Eleazar. So Aaron died there on the top of the mountain. And Moses and Eleazar came down from the mountain. 29 When all the community saw that Aaron was dead, the whole house of Israel mourned for Aaron thirty days.
- Numbers 20:1 sn This chapter is the account of how Moses struck the rock in disobedience to the Lord, and thereby was prohibited from entering the land. For additional literature on this part, see E. Arden, “How Moses Failed God,” JBL 76 (1957): 50-52; J. Gray, “The Desert Sojourn of the Hebrews and the Sinai Horeb Tradition,” VT 4 (1954): 148-54; T. W. Mann, “Theological Reflections on the Denial of Moses,” JBL 98 (1979): 481-94; and J. R. Porter, “The Role of Kadesh Barnea in the Narrative of the Exodus,” JTS 44 (1943): 130-43.
- Numbers 20:1 tn The Hebrew text stresses this idea by use of apposition: “the Israelites entered, the entire community, the wilderness.”
- Numbers 20:1 sn The text does not indicate here what year this was, but from comparing the other passages about the itinerary, this is probably the end of the wanderings, the fortieth year, for Aaron died some forty years after the exodus. So in that year the people come through the wilderness of Zin and prepare for a journey through the Moabite plains.
- Numbers 20:1 sn The Israelites stayed in Kadesh for some time during the wandering; here the stop at Kadesh Barnea may have lasted several months. See the commentaries for the general itinerary.
- Numbers 20:1 sn The death of Miriam is recorded without any qualifications or epitaph. In her older age she had been self-willed and rebellious, and so no doubt humbled by the vivid rebuke from God. But she had made her contribution from the beginning.
- Numbers 20:3 tn The verb is רִיב (riv); it is often used in the Bible for a legal complaint, a law suit, at least in form. But it can also describe a quarrel, or strife, like that between Abram’s men and Lot’s men in Genesis 13. It will be the main verb behind the commemorative name Meribah, the place where the people strove with God. It is a far more serious thing than grumbling—it is directed, intentional, and well-argued. For further discussion, see J. Limburg, “The Root ‘rib’ and the Prophetic Lawsuit Speeches,” JBL 88 (1969): 291-304.
- Numbers 20:3 tn Heb “and they said, saying.”
- Numbers 20:3 tn The particle לוּ (lu) indicates the optative nuance of the line—the wishing or longing for death. It is certainly an absurdity to want to have died, but God took them at their word and they died in the wilderness.
- Numbers 20:4 tn Heb “and why….” The conjunction seems to be recording another thing that the people said in their complaint against Moses.
- Numbers 20:4 tn The clause uses the infinitive construct with the preposition ל (lamed) preposition. The clause would be a result clause in this sentence: “Why have you brought us here…with the result that we will all die?”
- Numbers 20:5 tn Heb “and why.”
- Numbers 20:5 tn Here also the infinitive construct (Hiphil) forms the subordinate clause of the preceding interrogative clause.
- Numbers 20:8 tn The verb is the Piel perfect with vav (ו) consecutive, following the two imperatives in the verse. Here is the focus of the instruction for Moses.
- Numbers 20:8 tn Heb “give.” The verb is the perfect tense with vav (ו) consecutive, as are the next two in the verse. These are not now equal to the imperatives, but imperfects, showing the results of speaking to the rock: “speak…and it will…and so you will….”
- Numbers 20:10 tn The word is הַמֹּרִים (hammorim, “the rebels”), but here as a vocative: “you rebels.” It was a harsh address, although well-earned.
- Numbers 20:10 tn The word order and the emphasis of the tense are important to this passage. The word order is “from this rock must we bring out to you water?” The emphasis is clearly on “from this rock!” The verb is the imperfect tense; it has one of the modal nuances here, probably obligatory—“must we do this?”
- Numbers 20:12 tn Or “to sanctify me.”sn The verb is the main word for “believe, trust.” It is the verb that describes the faith in the Word of the Lord that leads to an appropriate action. Here God says that Moses did not believe him, meaning that what he did showed more of Moses than of what God said. Moses had taken a hostile stance toward the people, and then hit the rock twice. This showed that Moses was not satisfied with what God said, but made it more forceful and terrifying, thus giving the wrong picture of God to the people. By doing this the full power and might of the Lord was not displayed to the people. It was a momentary lack of faith, but it had to be dealt with.
- Numbers 20:12 sn Using the basic meaning of the word קָדַשׁ (qadash, “to be separate, distinct, set apart”), we can understand better what Moses failed to do. He was supposed to have acted in a way that would have shown God to be distinct, different, holy. Instead, he gave the impression that God was capricious and hostile—very human. The leader has to be aware of what image he is conveying to the people.
- Numbers 20:12 tn Heb “in the eyes of.”
- Numbers 20:12 tn There is debate as to exactly what the sin of Moses was. Some interpreters think that the real sin might have been that he refused to do this at first, but that fact has been suppressed from the text. Some think the text was deliberately vague to explain why they could not enter the land without demeaning them. Others simply, and more likely, note that in Moses there was unbelief, pride, anger, impatience—disobedience.
- Numbers 20:13 tn The form is unusual—it is the Niphal preterite, and not the normal use of the Piel/Pual stem for “sanctify/sanctified.” The basic idea of “he was holy” has to be the main idea, but in this context it refers to the fact that through judging Moses God was making sure people ensured his holiness among them. The word also forms a wordplay on the name Kadesh.
- Numbers 20:14 sn For this particular section, see W. F. Albright, “From the Patriarchs to Moses: 2. Moses out of Egypt,” BA 36 (1973): 57-58; J. R. Bartlett, “The Land of Seir and the Brotherhood of Edom,” JTS 20 (1969): 1-20, and “The Rise and Fall of the Kingdom of Edom,” PEQ 104 (1972): 22-37, and “The Brotherhood of Edom,” JSOT 4 (1977): 2-7.
- Numbers 20:14 tn Heb “And Moses sent.”
- Numbers 20:14 sn Some modern biblical scholars are convinced, largely through arguments from silence, that there were no unified kingdoms in Edom until the 9th century, and no settlements there before the 12th century, and so the story must be late and largely fabricated. The evidence is beginning to point to the contrary. But the cities and residents of the region would largely be Bedouin, and so leave no real remains.
- Numbers 20:14 tn Heb “found.”
- Numbers 20:15 tn Heb “many days.”
- Numbers 20:15 tn The verb רָעַע (raʿaʿ) means “to act or do evil.” Evil here is in the sense of causing pain or trouble. So the causative stem in our passage means “to treat wickedly.”
- Numbers 20:16 tn The word could be rendered “angel” or “messenger.” Some ambiguity may be intended in this report.
- Numbers 20:16 tn The Hebrew text uses הִנֵּה (hinneh) to emphasize the “here and now” aspect of the report to Edom.
- Numbers 20:16 tn Heb “your border.”
- Numbers 20:17 tn The request is expressed by the use of the cohortative, “let us pass through.” It is the proper way to seek permission.
- Numbers 20:17 sn This a main highway running from Damascus in the north to the Gulf of Aqaba, along the ridge of the land. Some scholars suggest that the name may have been given by the later Assyrians (see B. Obed, “Observations on Methods of Assyrian Rule in Transjordan after the Palestinian Campaign of Tiglathpileser III,” JNES 29 : 177-86). Bronze Age fortresses have been discovered along this highway, attesting to its existence in the time of Moses. The original name came from the king who developed the highway, probably as a trading road (see S. Cohen, IDB 3:35-36).
- Numbers 20:17 tn Heb “borders.”
- Numbers 20:18 tn The imperfect tense here has the nuance of prohibition.
- Numbers 20:18 tn Heb “to meet.”
- Numbers 20:19 tn The Hebrew text uses singular pronouns, “I” and “my,” but it is the people of Israel that are intended, and so it may be rendered in the plural. Similarly, Edom speaks in the first person, probably from the king. But it too could be rendered “we.”
- Numbers 20:20 tn Heb “to meet him.”
- Numbers 20:20 tn Heb “with many [heavy] people and with a strong hand.” The translation presented above is interpretive, but that is what the line means. It was a show of force, numbers and weapons, to intimidate the Israelites.
- Numbers 20:22 tn Again the passage uses apposition: “the Israelites, the whole community.”
- Numbers 20:22 sn The traditional location for this is near Petra (Josephus, Ant. 4.4.7). There is serious doubt about this location since it is well inside Edomite territory, and since it is very inaccessible for the transfer of the office. Another view places it not too far from Kadesh Barnea, about 15 miles (25 km) northeast at Jebel Madurah, on the northwest edge of Edom and so a suitable point of departure for approaching Canaan from the south (see J. L. Mihelec, IDB 2:644; and J. de Vaulx, Les Nombres [SB], 231). Others suggest it was at the foot of Mount Hor and not actually up in the mountains (see Deut 10:6).
- Numbers 20:24 sn This is the standard poetic expression for death. The bones would be buried, often with the bones of relatives in the same tomb, giving rise to the expression.
- Numbers 20:24 tn The verb is in the second person plural form, and so it is Moses and Aaron who rebelled, and so now because of that Aaron first and then Moses would die without going into the land.
- Numbers 20:24 tn Heb “mouth.”
- Numbers 20:26 tn The word “priestly” is supplied in the translation for clarity.
- Numbers 20:26 tn Heb “will be gathered”; this is a truncated form of the usual expression “gathered to his ancestors,” found in v. 24. The phrase “to his ancestors” is supplied in the translation here.
- Numbers 20:27 tn Heb “eyes.”