Moses riles God
- 1 Israelites arrived at Zin Desert1 in the spring, during the first month2 of the year. They camped at Kadesh. Miriam died there and was buried there.
- 2 Israelites couldn’t find any water at the campground. But they found Moses and Aaron, and they started criticizing them.
- 3 The people said, “Why didn’t we die with all the others, while the LORD watched?
- 4 Why on earth did you drag the LORD’s own people into this wasteland where we’ll die like animals beside our own livestock?
- 5 Why did you force us to leave Egypt anyhow? And why bring us here? This is a horrible place. Look around. Do you see any grain, or figs, or vines, or pomegranates, or water? No!”
- 6 Moses and Aaron left the crowd and went into the Meeting Tent, where they dropped face-down on the ground. Moses and Aaron saw the glory of the LORD’s appearance.3
- 7 The LORD said to Moses,
- 8 “Get your walking stick and go with Aaron to assemble the people around a rock. While the people watch, tell the rock to release its water. Then the people and their livestock can drink it.”
- 9 So, Moses did what the LORD said. He got his walking stick, while the LORD watched.
- 10 Moses and Aaron called the people together in front of the rock. Moses told the Israelites, “Listen to me you traitors. What’s it going to take? Do we have to bring water from this rock?”
- 11 Moses lifted his walking stick and brought it down hard on the rock. He hit the rock twice, and water burst out. People and livestock drank.
God gets angry
- 12 But the LORD told Moses and Aaron, “You didn’t believe me enough to do what I said. And you didn’t do anything to show the people that I’m holy. For that, I’m not going to let you lead them into the land I’m giving them.”4
- 13 The people came to call the place “Complainer’s Spring”5 because that’s where the Israelites complained about the LORD. But that’s also where he showed them what his holiness looks like.
- 14 While the Israelites were camped at Kadesh, Moses sent scouts ahead to find the king of Edom and give him a message:
“We’re your brothers, the family of Israel.6 You know about the troubles we’ve faced.
- 15 You know our ancestors migrated to Egypt and we ended up staying there for a long time. And you know that the Egyptians treated our people badly.
- 16 But we prayed to our LORD and he heard us. He sent a messenger who freed us and got us out of Egypt. We’re now camped at Kadesh, a village along your border.
- 17 Please let us travel through your land. We won’t walk through any farmland or vineyards. We won’t even take any water from your wells. We’ll stay on the main trail through your land, the King’s Highway.7 We won’t step off that trail. Not to the left. Not to the right. We’ll take it straight through your land.”
- 18 Edom’s king answered, “Don’t step foot on our land. If you do, I’ll get my sword and come to stop you.”
- 19 Israelites sent another message: “Our people and livestock will stay on the main road. If we drink any of your water along the way, we’ll pay you for it. Please let us walk through your land. That’s all we need.”
- 20 The king answered again, “You will not cross here.” Edom’s large army showed up along the border, armed for battle.
- 21 So, Edom refused to let the Israelites travel through their land. And the Israelites complied.
- 22 The people broke camp at Kadesh and traveled to Mount Hor.8
- 23 The LORD talked to Moses and Aaron at Mount Hor, along Edom’s border.
- 24 He said, “Aaron will die and join his family of ancestors. He’s not going into the land I’ve given to the people of Israel. Both of you ignored what I told you to do at Complainer’s Spring.
- 25 So I want you to take Aaron and his son Eleazar up to Mount Hor.
- 26 Remove Aaron’s priestly clothing and put them on his son. Then Aaron will join his ancestors in death.”
- 27 Moses did what the LORD said. They climbed Mount Hor while the Israelites watched.
- 28 After Moses removed Aaron’s clothes and put them on Eleazar, Aaron died on the mountain.
- 29 When the Israelite people got the news, they honored9 his memory with 30 days of mourning.
Most scholars say Zin Desert was in what is now Israel’s southern wasteland called the Arabah, and along with parts of the Negev. Arabah is a below-sea-level basin south of the Dead Sea. It’s along Israel’s border with Jordan. Scholars most often identify Kadesh, also called Kadesh Barnea, as the spring-fed oasis at Tel el-Qudeirat, on Egypt’s side of the border with Israel. Another contender is Ain Qadeis, also on Egypt’s side of the border. Bible writers put the location in different deserts: Zin Desert (Numbers 20:1) and Paran Desert (Number 13:26). Some theorize there were two Kadesh oases. West Kadesh and East Kadesh. But not many scholars seem to buy into that.
The month falls around Eastertime, in March or April. Nisan is the name of the first Jewish month of the year. It’s when Jews celebrate one of their most revered holidays: Passover. The writer didn’t say which year. Many scholars say it’s during the fortieth year of the sentence God imposed on the Israelites. By this time, most of Israelite adults who fled Egypt had died. It was a new generation that would carry the exodus into the Promised Land. The Israelites followed a lunar calendar, with every month starting at the first tiny crescent after the new moon. A new moon is when the moon is hidden behind earth’s shadow for one day. The sun, moon, and earth are aligned, with earth in the middle.
God’s presence is often described as a physical manifestation of some kind, often shining, such as the pillar of cloud or smoke by day and fire by night.
Scholars debate why God reacted this way. Two popular guesses: God told Moses to merely speak to the rock, but Moses angrily hit it with a stick—twice. Also, Moses seemed to take some credit for the miracle when he said “Do we have to bring water from this rock” (verse 9). As in God and Moses, the tag team? Some scholars say God’s complaint about Moses and Aaron in verse 12 and 24 seem like an overreaction to what the men did. So, another guess is that the writer didn’t want to report what really happened. Instead, he wanted to protect the reputation of the men.
Literally “the waters of Meribah.” Meribah means to fight, argue, complain, rebel. The story, as reported in Exodus, says Moses named the site “Pushy Complainers,” or literally in the Hebrew name, “Massah Meribah.” Massah means to test or to get pushy.
The people of Israel and Edom descended from two brothers, the sons of Issac: Esau and Jacob. Esau moved into what is now Jordan, where his descendants became the nation of Edom. Jacob stayed in what is now Israel and Palestinian land. God renamed him “Israel,” (Genesis 32:28). So, the people of Israel were the people of Jacob—his descendants.
King’s Highway was an ancient trade route that linked African nations such as Egypt to what are now Middle Eastern nations including Jordan, Syria, and Iraq. One part of the trail passed through the ancient kingdom of Edom, in what is now the Arab country of Jordan, a next-door-neighbor to Israel and Palestinian territories.
It’s unclear where Mount Hor was. There’s a long tradition that connects it to Jebel Nabi Harun (Mountain of Prophet Aaron), roughly a day’s walk south of Edom’s capital city of Petra. Some scholars say that mountain was well inside the country of Edom, which is where the Israelites were forbidden to go. Another contender is Jebel Madurah. It was about a two-day walk northwest of Petra. The mountain is southwest of the Dead Sea, along what would have been the border of the Promised Land and Edom.
The original language doesn’t say they “honored him,” but it’s implied by the 30 days of mourning. Typically, the mourning period lasted a week.