Numbers 20

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Read Numbers 20

Water From the Rock

20 In the first month the whole Israelite community arrived at the Desert of Zin, and they stayed at Kadesh. There Miriam died and was buried.

Now there was no water for the community, and the people gathered in opposition to Moses and Aaron. They quarreled with Moses and said, “If only we had died when our brothers fell dead before the Lord! Why did you bring the Lord’s community into this wilderness, that we and our livestock should die here? Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to this terrible place? It has no grain or figs, grapevines or pomegranates. And there is no water to drink!”

Moses and Aaron went from the assembly to the entrance to the tent of meeting and fell facedown, and the glory of the Lord appeared to them.The Lord said to Moses, “Take the staff, and you and your brother Aaron gather the assembly together. Speak to that rock before their eyes and it will pour out its water. You will bring water out of the rock for the community so they and their livestock can drink.”

So Moses took the staff from the Lord’s presence, just as he commanded him. 10 He and Aaron gathered the assembly together in front of the rock and Moses said to them, “Listen, you rebels, must we bring you water out of this rock?” 11 Then Moses raised his arm and struck the rock twice with his staff. Water gushed out, and the community and their livestock drank.

12 But the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not trust in me enough to honor me as holy in the sight of the Israelites, you will not bring this community into the land I give them.”

13 These were the waters of Meribah, where the Israelites quarreled with the Lord and where he was proved holy among them.

Edom Denies Israel Passage

14 Moses sent messengers from Kadesh to the king of Edom, saying:

“This is what your brother Israel says: You know about all the hardshipsthat have come on us. 15 Our ancestors went down into Egypt, and we lived there many years. The Egyptians mistreated us and our ancestors,16 but when we cried out to the Lord, he heard our cry and sent an angeland brought us out of Egypt.

“Now we are here at Kadesh, a town on the edge of your territory.17 Please let us pass through your country. We will not go through any field or vineyard, or drink water from any well. We will travel along the King’s Highway and not turn to the right or to the left until we have passed through your territory.”

18 But Edom answered:

“You may not pass through here; if you try, we will march out and attack you with the sword.”

19 The Israelites replied:

“We will go along the main road, and if we or our livestock drink any of your water, we will pay for it. We only want to pass through on foot—nothing else.”

20 Again they answered:

“You may not pass through.”

Then Edom came out against them with a large and powerful army. 21 Since Edom refused to let them go through their territory, Israel turned away from them.

The Death of Aaron

22 The whole Israelite community set out from Kadesh and came to Mount Hor. 23 At Mount Hor, near the border of Edom, the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, 24 “Aaron will be gathered to his people. He will not enter the land I give the Israelites, because both of you rebelled against my command at the waters of Meribah. 25 Get Aaron and his son Eleazar and take them up Mount Hor. 26 Remove Aaron’s garments and put them on his son Eleazar, for Aaron will be gathered to his people; he will die there.”

27 Moses did as the Lord commanded: They went up Mount Hor in the sight of the whole community. 28 Moses removed Aaron’s garments and put them on his son Eleazar. And Aaron died there on top of the mountain. Then Moses and Eleazar came down from the mountain, 29 and when the whole community learned that Aaron had died, all the Israelites mourned for himthirty days.

Go Deeper

In Numbers 20 we see one of the most significant events in the Old Testament and in the life of Moses. Some might react with an “ouch” over God’s thoughts toward Moses’ actions at Kadesh that on the surface appear to be justified words of anger. Still in the wilderness of Zin, the Israelites stopped at Kadesh. God has repeatedly shown His faithfulness to and care for His wandering nation of Israel, yet they are grumbling to Moses and Aaron over the lack of water in their current camp spot. The Israelites return their familiar despair and complaining in verses 3-5, asking Moses why he had brought them to such a terrible place. Water supply was a serious concern, and Moses fell before the Lord in desperate prayer for the people. 

God knew their plight and spoke to Moses in verse 8 saying, “Assemble the congregation and speak to the rock before their eyes that it may yield its water.” Once again, God planned to provide and care for His people. He wanted, through Moses’ words, to show His faithfulness to them by miraculously bringing water out of a rock!  Imagine watching water come from a rock and the encouragement this act of God would bring to the Israelites. 

Moses followed the commands to the letter until his own frustrations at his people took over, and he struck the rock with his rod rather than speak to it. We know the sad result of Moses not entering the Promised Land. This might seem harsh, but the following lessons are there for us today.

First, think of the times in our own lives where God has miraculously provided just what we needed in what seemed at the time impossible. We must never forget those faith building moments showing us that God is always on time. Further, it should humble us unto thanksgiving and worship for His good, righteous, and holy ways toward us. Sadly, Moses’ emotions caused him to forget that glory must only be given to God, and God alone for this miracle. We forget sometimes, too, and let our not so humble emotions carry us into places we must avoid. May we never play the rebel through our own anger and steal the glory of God.  

Second, we can also easily forget God’s goodness and faithfulness in our own lives. His promises are all over scripture and we must be familiar with these and remember His last words in the final part of Matthew 28:20, “And, surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” At times, we will not be able to see water coming out of a rock for us when we think we need it the most. We have two choices: we can grumble toward God, or we can let our hearts more deeply trust Him and His ways leaning into the promise of His faithfulness. As we continue walking in faithful trust depending on Him to bring to pass what we need, He will bring the miracle of water out of our circumstantial rock in His perfect time. Then, we can give Him the glory He deserves knowing the miracle was of Him and not ourselves.


  1. Are you in a Kadesh circumstances in your life? Are you grumbling toward God or others over it?
  2. What was the main conviction of God toward Moses and what made that so important to consider? Discuss this with your Life Group.
  3. What tools of the faith are you using to grow in trust waiting for God to work His good into your circumstance?

A Quote

Matthew Henry, a 17th century theologian said, “God is ever able to supply His people with what is mindful for them. But, Moses and Aaron took much of the glory of this work to themselves. They were to speak to the rock, not smote it. We must never become to ourselves wisdom or righteousness. Rebellion of the soul against its Savior is condemned in every page of scripture.”

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4 thoughts on “Numbers 20”

  1. In the space of this chapter, we see the frailty and humanity of Moses, who was God’s special servant to lead 2.4 million people plus herds of livestock out of captivity in Egypt to the Promised Land. Time and again the people are ungrateful whiners who demand and question God’s goodness and his leadership. Their complaint seems legit as there is no water to drink.
    “Moses and Aaron went from the assembly to the entrance to the tent of meeting and fell facedown, and the glory of the Lord appeared to them.” They are instructed of the Lord exactly what to do, nothing more, nothing less, “Take the staff, and you and your brother Aaron gather the assembly together. Speak to that rock before their eyes and it will pour out its water. You will bring water out of the rock for the community so they and their livestock can drink.” Moses reaches his tipping point and disobeys God’s direct command as he takes credit for what only God can do and strikes the rock instead of speaking to the rock. He dishonored God in the presence of the people. Here are some takeaways:
    •partial obedience is still disobedience
    •never steal God’s glory
    •a weary heart cannot be trusted to use sound judgement
    •God means exactly what he says
    It’s also noteworthy to mention the bookends of this chapter, on a very personal level, both of the siblings of Moses, Miriam and Aaron, die in the wilderness. This is another layer of sorrow Moses must bear.

  2. Once again pride gets in the way. It seems to rear its ugly head often. I can’t even imagine how hard it was for Moses, when you are frustrated and/or angry to not say look what “we” have accomplished, yet once again you are upset about one more obstacle. BUT GOD requires that He is God, that He has done so many obstacle removing, amazing acts toward this group of people. We are, have been and He will continue to be a part of His glorious kingdom to glorify, honor and worship HIM. We were formed for that, not for our selfishness but for HIM!!! I love our new challenge of “chair time”. Are you going to do it? How will it change me? Can I be still? I am going to give it a whirl, because our hearts desire should be to be in His presences at all times. Die to self, renew our minds to His word, to His glory and let Him so shine forth from His people. Moses did amazing things, yet he was a man, who fell BUT GOD still honored him in and through this journey.

    God You are so magnificent, so worthy of all praise. Let Your love that You have given me be returned to You through the work I do, the thoughts I think, and speak. HOLY HOLY HOLY are You Lord God Almighty!!! I trust You, I delight to Your will, O my God. Thank You for me remaining steadfast, and to be quiet so that I can feel, hear, and see the Glory in and for my life in Jesus name amen.

  3. Lack of something (water) —> stress —> grumbling —> more stress —> instead of using words —> choosing to hit something —> consequences!

    Yep, I can easily see falling into that disobedience!

    Lord have mercy!

  4. Diane Frances Rogers

    Oh, how familiar is this grumbling, moaning and complaining. Lord, direct me in the path of obedience. Give me Your peace that surpasses all understanding. In Jesus name, amen.

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