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Chapter 20[a]

Death of Miriam. The Israelites, the whole community, arrived in the wilderness of Zin[b] in the first month, and the people stayed at Kadesh. It was here that Miriam died, and here that she was buried.

Need for Water at Kadesh. Since the community had no water, they held an assembly against Moses and Aaron. The people quarreled with Moses, exclaiming, “Would that we had perished when our kindred perished before the Lord! Why have you brought the Lord’s assembly into this wilderness for us and our livestock to die here? Why have you brought us up out of Egypt, only to bring us to this wretched place? It is not a place for grain nor figs nor vines nor pomegranates! And there is no water to drink!” But Moses and Aaron went away from the assembly to the entrance of the tent of meeting, where they fell prostrate.

Sin of Moses and Aaron. Then the glory of the Lord appeared to them, and the Lord said to Moses: Take the staff and assemble the community, you and Aaron your brother, and in their presence command the rock to yield its waters. Thereby you will bring forth water from the rock for them, and supply the community and their livestock with water. So Moses took the staff from its place before the Lord, as he was ordered. 10 Then Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly in front of the rock, where he said to them,(A) “Just listen, you rebels! Are we to produce water for you out of this rock?” 11 (B)Then, raising his hand, Moses struck the rock twice[c] with his staff, and water came out in abundance, and the community and their livestock drank. 12 [d]But the Lord said to Moses and Aaron: Because you did not have confidence in me, to acknowledge my holiness before the Israelites, therefore you shall not lead this assembly into the land I have given them.

13 These are the waters of Meribah,(C) where the Israelites quarreled with the Lord, and through which he displayed his holiness.

Edom’s Refusal. 14 From Kadesh Moses sent messengers to the king of Edom: “Thus says your brother Israel:[e] You know of all the hardships that have befallen us, 15 how our ancestors went down to Egypt, and we stayed in Egypt a long time, and the Egyptians treated us and our ancestors harshly. 16 When we cried to the Lord,(D) he heard our cry and sent an angel who led us out of Egypt. Now here we are at Kadesh, a town at the edge of your territory. 17 Please let us pass through your land. We will not cross any fields or vineyards, nor drink any well water, but we will go straight along the King’s Highway[f] without turning to the right or to the left, until we have passed through your territory.”

18 But Edom answered him, “You shall not pass through here; if you do, I will advance against you with the sword.” 19 The Israelites said to him, “We will go up along the highway. If we or our livestock drink any of your water, we will pay for it. It is nothing—just let us pass through on foot.” 20 But Edom replied, “You shall not pass through,”(E) and advanced against them with a large and heavily armed force. 21 Therefore, since Edom refused to let Israel pass through their territory, Israel turned away from them.

Death of Aaron. 22 (F)Setting out from Kadesh, the Israelites, the whole community, came to Mount Hor.[g] 23 There at Mount Hor, on the border of the land of Edom, the Lord said to Moses and Aaron: 24 Let Aaron be gathered to his people, for he shall not enter the land I have given to the Israelites, because you both rebelled against my directions at the waters of Meribah. 25 Take Aaron and Eleazar his son and bring them up on Mount Hor.(G) 26 Then strip Aaron of his garments and put them on Eleazar, his son; but there Aaron shall be gathered up in death.

27 Moses did as the Lord commanded. When they had climbed Mount Hor in view of the whole community, 28 Moses stripped Aaron of his garments and put them on Eleazar his son. Then Aaron died there on top of the mountain.(H) When Moses and Eleazar came down from the mountain, 29 all the community understood that Aaron had breathed his last; and for thirty days the whole house of Israel mourned Aaron.


  1. 20:1–29 In this chapter the deaths of the three wilderness leaders are either intimated or explicitly reported: Miriam, v. 1; Moses, v. 12; Aaron, vv. 12, 22–29.
  2. 20:1 The wilderness of Zin: a barren region with a few good oases, southwest of the Dead Sea. See note on 13:21. The first month: we would expect the mention also of the day and of the year (after the exodus) when this took place; cf. similar dates in 1:1; 10:11; 33:38; Dt 1:3. Here the full date is left unspecified. According to one chronology, the Israelites arrived in Kadesh in the third year after the exodus (cf. Dt 1:46). But the itinerary in chap. 33 would suggest the fortieth year, the year in which Aaron died (33:38).
  3. 20:11 Twice: perhaps because he did not have sufficient faith to work the wonder with the first blow. Cf. v. 12.
  4. 20:12–13 What lay behind Moses and Aaron’s lack of confidence is not made explicit in the text. Holiness: an allusion to the name of the place, Kadesh, which means “holy, sanctified, sacred.” Meribah means “contention.” Cf. Ex 17:7.
  5. 20:14 Your brother Israel: according to biblical tradition, the Edomites were descended from Esau, the brother of Jacob. Their country, to the southeast of the Dead Sea, was also known as Seir; cf. Gn 25:24–26; 36:1, 8–9.
  6. 20:17 The King’s Highway: an important highway, running north and south along the plateau east of the Dead Sea. In ancient times it was much used by caravans and armies; later it was improved by the Romans, and large stretches of it are still clearly recognizable.
  7. 20:22 Mount Hor: not definitively identified, but probably to be sought in the vicinity of Kadesh. According to Dt 10:6, Aaron died at Moserah (cf. “Moseroth” in Nm 33:30–31), which is apparently the name of the region in which Mount Hor is situated.