The Israelites Complain Again
1#sn This chapter is the account of how Moses struck the rock in disobedience to the Lord, and thereby was prohibited from entering the land. For additional literature on this part, see E. Arden, “How Moses Failed God,” JBL 76 (1957): 50-52; J. Gray, “The Desert Sojourn of the Hebrews and the Sinai Horeb Tradition,” VT 4 (1954): 148-54; T. W. Mann, “Theological Reflections on the Denial of Moses,” JBL 98 (1979): 481-94; and J. R. Porter, “The Role of Kadesh-Barnea in the Narrative of the Exodus,” JTS 44 (1943): 130-43. Then the entire community of Israel#tn The Hebrew text stresses this idea by use of apposition: “the Israelites entered, the entire community, the wilderness.” entered the wilderness of Zin in the first month,#sn The text does not indicate here what year this was, but from comparing the other passages about the itinerary, this is probably the end of the wanderings, the fortieth year, for Aaron died some forty years after the exodus. So in that year the people come through the wilderness of Zin and prepare for a journey through the Moabite plains. and the people stayed in Kadesh.#sn The Israelites stayed in Kadesh for some time during the wandering; here the stop at Kadesh Barnea may have lasted several months. See the commentaries for the general itinerary. Miriam died and was buried there.#sn The death of Miriam is recorded without any qualifications or epitaph. In her older age she had been self-willed and rebellious, and so no doubt humbled by the vivid rebuke from God. But she had made her contribution from the beginning.
2 And there was no water for the community, and so they gathered themselves together against Moses and Aaron. 3 The people contended#tn The verb is רִיב (riv); it is often used in the Bible for a legal complaint, a law suit, at least in form. But it can also describe a quarrel, or strife, like that between Abram’s men and Lot’s men in Genesis 13. It will be the main verb behind the commemorative name Meribah, the place where the people strove with God. It is a far more serious thing than grumbling – it is directed, intentional, and well-argued. For further discussion, see J. Limburg, “The Root ‘rib’ and the Prophetic Lawsuit Speeches,” JBL 88 (1969): 291-304. with Moses, saying,#tn Heb “and they said, saying.” “If only#tn The particle לוּ (lu) indicates the optative nuance of the line – the wishing or longing for death. It is certainly an absurdity to want to have died, but God took them at their word and they died in the wilderness. we had died when our brothers died before the Lord! 4 Why#tn Heb “and why….” The conjunction seems to be recording another thing that the people said in their complaint against Moses. have you brought up the Lord’s community into this wilderness? So that#tn The clause uses the infinitive construct with the lamed (ל) preposition. The clause would be a result clause in this sentence: “Why have you brought us here…with the result that we will all die?” we and our cattle should die here? 5 Why#tn Heb “and why.” have you brought us up from Egypt only to bring us to#tn Here also the infinitive construct (Hiphil) forms the subordinate clause of the preceding interrogative clause. this dreadful place? It is no place for grain, or figs, or vines, or pomegranates; nor is there any water to drink!”
6 So Moses and Aaron went from the presence of the assembly to the entrance to the tent of meeting. They then threw themselves down with their faces to the ground, and the glory of the Lord appeared to them. 7 Then the Lord spoke to Moses: 8 “Take the staff and assemble the community, you and Aaron your brother, and then speak#tn The verb is the Piel perfect with vav (ו) consecutive, following the two imperatives in the verse. Here is the focus of the instruction for Moses. to the rock before their eyes. It will pour forth#tn Heb “give.” The verb is the perfect tense with vav (ו) consecutive, as are the next two in the verse. These are not now equal to the imperatives, but imperfects, showing the results of speaking to the rock: “speak…and it will…and so you will….” its water, and you will bring water out of the rock for them, and so you will give the community and their beasts water to drink.”
9 So Moses took the staff from before the Lord, just as he commanded him. 10 Then Moses and Aaron gathered the community together in front of the rock, and he said to them, “Listen, you rebels,#tn The word is הַמֹּרִים (hammorim, “the rebels”), but here as a vocative: “you rebels.” It was a harsh address, although well-earned. must we bring#tn The word order and the emphasis of the tense are important to this passage. The word order is “from this rock must we bring out to you water?” The emphasis is clearly on “from this rock!” The verb is the imperfect tense; it has one of the modal nuances here, probably obligatory – “must we do this?” water out of this rock for you?” 11 Then Moses raised his hand, and struck the rock twice with his staff. And water came out abundantly. So the community drank, and their beasts drank too.
The Lord’s Judgment
12 Then the Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not trust me enough#tn Or “to sanctify me.”sn The verb is the main word for “believe, trust.” It is the verb that describes the faith in the Word of the Lord that leads to an appropriate action. Here God says that Moses did not believe him, meaning that what he did showed more of Moses than of what God said. Moses had taken a hostile stance toward the people, and then hit the rock twice. This showed that Moses was not satisfied with what God said, but made it more forceful and terrifying, thus giving the wrong picture of God to the people. By doing this the full power and might of the Lord was not displayed to the people. It was a momentary lack of faith, but it had to be dealt with. to show me as holy#sn Using the basic meaning of the word קָדַשׁ (qadash, “to be separate, distinct, set apart”), we can understand better what Moses failed to do. He was supposed to have acted in a way that would have shown God to be distinct, different, holy. Instead, he gave the impression that God was capricious and hostile – very human. The leader has to be aware of what image he is conveying to the people. before#tn Heb “in the eyes of.” the Israelites, therefore you will not bring this community into the land I have given them.”#tn There is debate as to exactly what the sin of Moses was. Some interpreters think that the real sin might have been that he refused to do this at first, but that fact has been suppressed from the text. Some think the text was deliberately vague to explain why they could not enter the land without demeaning them. Others simply, and more likely, note that in Moses there was unbelief, pride, anger, impatience – disobedience.
13 These are the waters of Meribah, because the Israelites contended with the Lord, and his holiness was maintained#tn The form is unusual – it is the Niphal preterite, and not the normal use of the Piel/Pual stem for “sanctify/sanctified.” The basic idea of “he was holy” has to be the main idea, but in this context it refers to the fact that through judging Moses God was making sure people ensured his holiness among them. The word also forms a wordplay on the name Kadesh. among them.
Rejection by the Edomites
14#sn For this particular section, see W. F. Albright, “From the Patriarchs to Moses: 2. Moses out of Egypt,” BA 36 (1973): 57-58; J. R. Bartlett, “The Land of Seir and the Brotherhood of Edom,” JTS 20 (1969): 1-20, and “The Rise and Fall of the Kingdom of Edom,” PEQ 104 (1972): 22-37, and “The Brotherhood of Edom,” JSOT 4 (1977): 2-7. Moses#tn Heb “And Moses sent.” sent messengers from Kadesh to the king of Edom:#sn Some modern biblical scholars are convinced, largely through arguments from silence, that there were no unified kingdoms in Edom until the 9th century, and no settlements there before the 12th century, and so the story must be late and largely fabricated. The evidence is beginning to point to the contrary. But the cities and residents of the region would largely be Bedouin, and so leave no real remains. “Thus says your brother Israel: ‘You know all the hardships we have experienced,#tn Heb “found.” 15 how our ancestors went down into Egypt, and we lived in Egypt a long time,#tn Heb “many days.” and the Egyptians treated us and our ancestors badly.#tn The verb רָעַע (ra’a’) means “to act or do evil.” Evil here is in the sense of causing pain or trouble. So the causative stem in our passage means “to treat wickedly.” 16 So when we cried to the Lord, he heard our voice and sent a messenger,#tn The word could be rendered “angel” or “messenger.” Some ambiguity may be intended in this report. and has brought us up out of Egypt. Now#tn The Hebrew text uses הִנֵּה (hinneh) to emphasize the “here and now” aspect of the report to Edom. we are here in Kadesh, a town on the edge of your country.#tn Heb “your border.” 17 Please let us pass through#tn The request is expressed by the use of the cohortative, “let us pass through.” It is the proper way to seek permission. your country. We will not pass through the fields or through the vineyards, nor will we drink water from any well. We will go by the King’s Highway;#sn This a main highway running from Damascus in the north to the Gulf of Aqaba, along the ridge of the land. Some scholars suggest that the name may have been given by the later Assyrians (see B. Obed, “Observations on Methods of Assyrian Rule in Transjordan after the Palestinian Campaign of Tiglathpileser III,” JNES 29 : 177-86). Bronze Age fortresses have been discovered along this highway, attesting to its existence in the time of Moses. The original name came from the king who developed the highway, probably as a trading road (see S. Cohen, IDB 3:35-36). we will not turn to the right or the left until we have passed through your region.’”#tn Heb “borders.”
18 But Edom said to him, “You will not pass through me,#tn The imperfect tense here has the nuance of prohibition. or I will come out against#tn Heb “to meet.” you with the sword.” 19 Then the Israelites said to him, “We will go along the highway, and if we#tn The Hebrew text uses singular pronouns, “I” and “my,” but it is the people of Israel that are intended, and so it may be rendered in the plural. Similarly, Edom speaks in the first person, probably from the king. But it too could be rendered “we.” or our cattle drink any of your water, we will pay for it. We will only pass through on our feet, without doing anything else.”
20 But he said, “You may not pass through.” Then Edom came out against them#tn Heb “to meet him.” with a large and powerful force.#tn Heb “with many [heavy] people and with a strong hand.” The translation presented above is interpretive, but that is what the line means. It was a show of force, numbers and weapons, to intimidate the Israelites. 21 So Edom refused to give Israel passage through his border; therefore Israel turned away from him.
22 So the entire company of Israelites#tn Again the passage uses apposition: “the Israelites, the whole community.” traveled from Kadesh and came to Mount Hor.#sn The traditional location for this is near Petra (Josephus, Ant. 4.4.7). There is serious doubt about this location since it is well inside Edomite territory, and since it is very inaccessible for the transfer of the office. Another view places it not too far from Kadesh Barnea, about 15 miles (25 km) northeast at Jebel Madurah, on the northwest edge of Edom and so a suitable point of departure for approaching Canaan from the south (see J. L. Mihelec, IDB 2:644; and J. de Vaulx, Les Nombres [SB], 231). Others suggest it was at the foot of Mount Hor and not actually up in the mountains (see Deut 10:6). 23 And the Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron in Mount Hor, by the border of the land of Edom. He said: 24 “Aaron will be gathered to his ancestors,#sn This is the standard poetic expression for death. The bones would be buried, often with the bones of relatives in the same tomb, giving rise to the expression. for he will not enter into the land I have given to the Israelites because both of you#tn The verb is in the second person plural form, and so it is Moses and Aaron who rebelled, and so now because of that Aaron first and then Moses would die without going into the land. rebelled against my word#tn Heb “mouth.” at the waters of Meribah. 25 Take Aaron and Eleazar his son, and bring them up on Mount Hor. 26 Remove Aaron’s priestly garments#tn The word “priestly” is supplied in the translation for clarity. and put them on Eleazar his son, and Aaron will be gathered to his ancestors#tn Heb “will be gathered”; this is a truncated form of the usual expression “gathered to his ancestors,” found in v. 24. The phrase “to his ancestors” is supplied in the translation here. and will die there.”
27 So Moses did as the Lord commanded; and they went up Mount Hor in the sight#tn Heb “eyes.” of the whole community. 28 And Moses removed Aaron’s garments and put them on his son Eleazar. So Aaron died there on the top of the mountain. And Moses and Eleazar came down from the mountain. 29 When all the community saw that Aaron was dead, the whole house of Israel mourned for Aaron thirty days.
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