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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.

29. And when all the congregation saw. This has been an error common to almost all nations and ages, but which reigned peculiarly amongst the people of Israel — to pay due honor to God’s holy servants, rather after their deaths than in their lives. They had frequently wished to stone Aaron; they had raised great tumults, in order to cast him down from the dignity in which God had placed him; now, forgetting their malignity and envy, they lament for him when dead.

The question, however, occurs, whether the mourning for a month, which is here recorded, was praiseworthy or not? But it could not be otherwise than improper, inasmuch as it was a means of aggravating their grief; for men are naturally only too much inclined to excessive grief, even although they do not indulge it; and besides, the hope of a better life avails to mitigate sorrow. Hence we infer, that those are endued with scarcely any taste of eternal salvation, who give way to immoderate grief. But, since believers have another cause for mourning, i.e., to exercise themselves both in the fear of God, and in the hope and desire of the future resurrection, this solemn mourning has not been unreasonably received as a general custom. Since death is a mirror of God’s curse upon the whole human race, it is profitable for us, whenever any of our belongings dies, to mourn our common lot, so as to humble ourselves beneath God’s hand. Besides, if mourning is directed to its proper end, it in a manner unites the living with the dead; so that in death itself the communion of the new and immortal life shines forth. And further, the weakness of the ancient people had need of being propped and supported by such aids as this; for, amidst their dark shadows, it would not have been easy to rise above the world, unless they had been taught that the dead still belonged to them, and that there remained some bond of connection between them. But if the utility (of this custom) be corrupted by its abuse, it is not just that what is right in itself should be blamed for the fault of men.

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