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The Waters of Meribah


The Israelites, the whole congregation, came into the wilderness of Zin in the first month, and the people stayed in Kadesh. Miriam died there, and was buried there.

2 Now there was no water for the congregation; so they gathered together against Moses and against Aaron. 3The people quarreled with Moses and said, “Would that we had died when our kindred died before the L ord! 4Why have you brought the assembly of the L ord into this wilderness for us and our livestock to die here? 5Why have you brought us up out of Egypt, to bring us to this wretched place? It is no place for grain, or figs, or vines, or pomegranates; and there is no water to drink.” 6Then Moses and Aaron went away from the assembly to the entrance of the tent of meeting; they fell on their faces, and the glory of the L ord appeared to them. 7The L ord spoke to Moses, saying: 8Take the staff, and assemble the congregation, you and your brother Aaron, and command the rock before their eyes to yield its water. Thus you shall bring water out of the rock for them; thus you shall provide drink for the congregation and their livestock.

9 So Moses took the staff from before the L ord, as he had commanded him. 10Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly together before the rock, and he said to them, “Listen, you rebels, shall we bring water for you out of this rock?” 11Then Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock twice with his staff; water came out abundantly, and the congregation and their livestock drank. 12But the L ord said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not trust in me, to show my holiness before the eyes of the Israelites, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them.” 13These are the waters of Meribah, where the people of Israel quarreled with the L ord, and by which he showed his holiness.

Passage through Edom Refused

14 Moses sent messengers from Kadesh to the king of Edom, “Thus says your brother Israel: You know all the adversity that has befallen us: 15how our ancestors went down to Egypt, and we lived in Egypt a long time; and the Egyptians oppressed us and our ancestors; 16and when we cried to the L ord, he heard our voice, and sent an angel and brought us out of Egypt; and here we are in Kadesh, a town on the edge of your territory. 17Now let us pass through your land. We will not pass through field or vineyard, or drink water from any well; we will go along the King’s Highway, not turning aside to the right hand or to the left until we have passed through your territory.”

18 But Edom said to him, “You shall not pass through, or we will come out with the sword against you.” 19The Israelites said to him, “We will stay on the highway; and if we drink of your water, we and our livestock, then we will pay for it. It is only a small matter; just let us pass through on foot.” 20But he said, “You shall not pass through.” And Edom came out against them with a large force, heavily armed. 21Thus Edom refused to give Israel passage through their territory; so Israel turned away from them.

The Death of Aaron

22 They set out from Kadesh, and the Israelites, the whole congregation, came to Mount Hor. 23Then the L ord said to Moses and Aaron at Mount Hor, on the border of the land of Edom, 24“Let Aaron be gathered to his people. For he shall not enter the land that I have given to the Israelites, because you rebelled against my command at the waters of Meribah. 25Take Aaron and his son Eleazar, and bring them up Mount Hor; 26strip Aaron of his vestments, and put them on his son Eleazar. But Aaron shall be gathered to his people, and shall die there.” 27Moses did as the L ord had commanded; they went up Mount Hor in the sight of the whole congregation. 28Moses stripped Aaron of his vestments, and put them on his son Eleazar; and Aaron died there on the top of the mountain. Moses and Eleazar came down from the mountain. 29When all the congregation saw that Aaron had died, all the house of Israel mourned for Aaron thirty days.

Numbers 20:14. Thou knowest all the travel that hath befallen us. This preface was well calculated to conciliate favor, when the sons of Jacob, descended from the same blood, familiarly approached the Edomites: for their connection ought to have rendered them hospitable. But there are two principal points whereby Moses endeavored to influence the mind of the king of Edom, so that he should grant them a passage through his dominions. The first is derived from the ordinary feelings of humanity; for nature dictates that aid should be extended to the wretched, who are unjustly oppressed. In this view, he says, that the afflictions which they had endured were notorious; viz., that as sojourners in Egypt they had been tyrannically harassed and oppressed. In saying that “the Egyptians vexed us and our fathers,” although they were not, at that time, endowed with capacity for estimating the injuries inflicted upon them 114114     “Ils prennent sur eux les injures qui avoyent este faites devant qu’ils les peussents sentir, n’estans point encore nez, ou estans petits enfans;” they take upon themselves the injuries which had been done before they could feel them, not being yet born, or being but little children. — Fr. yet it is not without reason that they complain that these injuries had been inflicted on themselves, which affected their whole body and name, especially since the final act of cruelty directly concerned them, when Pharaoh commanded all the male infants to be destroyed. The second argument is more effective: since nothing can be less in accordance with propriety than to deny our assistance to those whoso welfare God recommends to us by His own example. In order, then, that they may obtain help from their brethren, they make mention of the grace of God, which at that time might have been everywhere celebrated. When, therefore, this message is given to their ambassadors, We cried unto the Lord, who hath heard us, their design was to exhort the Edomites to be imitators of God, who had been merciful in delivering His people. If any should object that the cry of the people had not been praiseworthy, as not having arisen from a true and sincere faith, nor from a serious feeling of the heart, the reply is easy. that the Israelites were not here boasting of any merit of their own, as if they had prayed duly and perfectly, but that they were simply professing their innocence, since they could not have had recourse to God, unless they had been unjustly oppressed. The fact, then, that God had heard them, had the effect of commending their cause. They prove, however, from the result, that God was their deliverer: because their exodus had been incredible; although this point is but lightly touched upon.

Their notion is a poor one, who understand Moses by “the angel:” since by this name they unquestionably magnify the miracles which God had wrought. 115115     C. found in S’.M. that Rabbi Salomon interpreted the ambiguous word מלאך, messenger, here, instead of angel; and said that the messenger was Moses. — W. Now, although the angels encamp around the servants of God — and it is certain that many angels had been the ministers of the people’s safety — still they especially designate, as the angel, Him who had been often before called Jehovah, and in whom the, majesty of God perfectly shone forth. Paul, however, teaches that he was Christ. (1 Corinthians 10:4.)

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