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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.

2. And there was no water for the congregation. We have already seen a similar, though not the same, history. For, when the people had hardly come out of Egypt, they began to rebel in Rephidim on account of the scarcity of water; and now, after thirty-eight years, or thereabouts, a new sedition arose in Kadesh, because there, too, they wanted water. Their first murmuring, indeed, sufficiently showed how great was their depravity and contumacy; for, when God gave them their food from heaven every day, why did they not supplicate Him for water, so that their sustenance might be complete? Yet, not less with foul ingratitude than with impious refractoriness, they assail God with reproaches, and complain that they are deceived and betrayed. But this second rebellion is far worse; for, when they had experienced that it was in God’s power to extract plenty of water from the barren rock, why do they not now implore His aid? why does not that marvelous interference in their behalf recur to their minds? Yet, in their madness, they clamor that they have been more cruelly dealt with than as if they had been swallowed up by the earth, or consumed by fire from heaven, as if there were no remedy for their thirst. Assuredly this was incredible stupidity, designedly, as it were, to shut the gate of God’s grace, and to east themselves into despair. It is true that they rebel against Moses and Aaron; but they direct their complaints like darts against God Himself. They deem it a very great injustice that they had been brought into the desert, as if they had not in their own impious obstinacy themselves preferred the desert to the land of Canaan, and were deserving, therefore, of pining, in want of all things, to death itself. Perversely, then, do they throw the blame, which belongs to themselves alone, upon the ministers of their salvation. With truth, indeed, do they call the place evil and barren; but God would not have wished to keep them imprisoned there, unless they had voluntarily refused the land flowing with milk and honey, after it had been set before their eyes, and an easy entrance to it had been accorded to them under the guidance and authority of God. Thus the Prophet, in Psalm 105, in recounting the history of their redemption, before he descends to the punishments inflicted upon their sins, relates that they were brought forth by God “with joy” and “with gladness.” 108108     These expressions occur, Psalm 105:43. It is in Psalm 106 that the Psalmist proceeds to narrate the history of their rebellions and punishments. But, further, taking occasion from the inconvenience they experienced from thirst, they maliciously heap together other complaints. There was no lack of food to satisfy their hunger, and such as was pleasant to the taste; yet they complain exactly as if hunger oppressed them as well as thirst. God daily rained for them food from heaven, which it was mere sport for them to gather; but the ground of their murmuring is that they had not to fatigue themselves with ploughing and sowing. Behold to what senselessness men are driven by preposterous lust, and by contempt of God’s present blessings! The climax of their madness, however, is that they lament their fate in not having been swallowed up with Korah and his companions, or consumed by fire from heaven. They had been overwhelmed with great fear at that melancholy spectacle; and justly so, for God had exhibited a prodigy, terrible throughout all ages. Now they quarrel with Him because His lightnings did not smite them also. Nor do they only lament that they were not destroyed by that particular kind of death, but they willfully provoke God’s vengeance upon their heads, which ought to have terrified them more than a hundred deaths: for it is emphatically added, that those, with whom they desired to be associated, had “died before the Lord.” They acknowledge, therefore, that the destruction, which they imprecate upon themselves, had come to pass not by chance, but by the manifest judgement of God, as if they were angry with God for having spared themselves. Most truly do they call them their brethren, to whom they were only too like; yet is it in brutal arrogance that they desire to be accounted God’s Church; for, whilst they professedly connect themselves with the adverse faction, they arrogate falsely this title to themselves.

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