Notes on the Bible, by Albert Barnes, , at sacred-texts.com
Num. 20 and Num. 21 narrate the journey of the people from Kadesh round Mount Seir to the heights of Pisgah, near the Jordan, and the various incidents connected with that journey (compare Num 33:37-41). This formed the third and last stage of the progress of Israel from Sinai to Canaan, and took place in the fortieth year of the Exodus.
The incidents are apparently not narrated in a strictly chronological order (see Num 21:1). The leading purpose of Num. 20 seems to be to narrate the loss by the people of their original leaders before their entrance into the land of promise.
Even the whole congregation - This emphatic expression (compare Num 13:26; Num 14:1) points to a re-assembling of the people for the purpose of at last resuming the advance to the promised land. During the past 38 years the "congregation" had been bracken up. No doubt round the tabernacle there had continued an organised camp consisting of the Levites and others, which had been moved from time to time up and down the country (compare Num. 33:18-36). But the mass of the people had been scattered over the face of the wilderness of Paran, and led a nomadic life as best suited the pasturage of the cattle; trafficking in provisions with surrounding tribes (compare Deu 2:26-29; Psa 74:14); and availing themselves of the resources of a district which were in ancient times vastly greater than they now are.
These natural resources were supplemented, where needful, by miraculous aid. The whole guidance of Israel through the wilderness is constantly referred to God's special and immediately superintending care (Deu 8:4 following; Deu 29:5; Neh 9:21; Isa 63:11-14; Amo 2:10, etc.).
Yet though God's extraordinary bounty was vouchsafed to them, it is probable that this period was, among the perishing generation at all events, one of great religious declension, or even apostasy. To it must no doubt be referred such passages as Eze 20:15 ff; Amo 5:25 following; Hos 9:10.
Into the desert of Zin - The northeastern part of the wilderness of Paran (or, now definitely fixed by Palmer as the southeastern corner of the desert of Et-Tih, between Akabah and the head of Wady Garaiyeh.) The place of encampment was no doubt adjacent to the spring of Kadesh.
In the first month - i. e. of the fortieth year of the Exodus.
The language of the murmurers is noteworthy. It has the air of a traditional remonstrance handed down from the last generation. Compare marginal references.
Take the rod - That with which the miracles in Egypt had been performed (Exo 7:8 ff; Exo 7:19 ff; Exo 8:5 ff, etc.), and which had been used on a similar occasion at Rephidim (Exo 17:5 following). This rod, as the memorial of so many divine interpositions, was naturally laid up in the tabernacle, and is accordingly Num 20:9 described now as taken by Moses "from before the Lord."
The command Num 20:8 was "Speak ye unto the rock." The act of smiting, and especially with two strokes, indicates violent irritation on the part of Moses; as does also his unseemly mode of addressing the people: "Hear now, ye rebels." The form too of the question, "must we, etc.," directs the people not, as ought to have been the case, to God as their deliverer, but to Moses and Aaron personally. In fact the faithful servant of God, worn out by the reiterated perversities of the people, breaks down; and in the actual discharge of his duty as God's representative before Israel, acts unworthily of the great function entrusted to him. Thus, Moses did not "sanctify God in the eyes of the children of Israel." Aaron might have checked the intemperate words and acts of Moses, and did not. Hence, God punishes both by withdrawing them from their work for Him, and handing over its accomplishment to another.
The water of Meribah - i. e. "Strife." The place is called "Meribah in Kadesh" Num 27:14, and "Meribah-Kadesh" Deu 32:51. to distinguish it from the "Meribah" of Exo 17:2 ff.
And he was sanctified in them - An allusion doubtless to the name "Kadesh" (holy), which though not now bestowed, acquired a new significance from the fact that God here vindicated His own sanctity, punishing Moses and Aaron who had trespassed against it.
Compare the marginal reference. It appears from comparing Num 20:1 with Num 33:38, that the host must have remained in Kadesh some three or four months. No doubt time was required for re-organization. In order to gain the banks of Jordan by the shortest route they had to march nearly due east from Kadesh, and pass through the heart of the Edomite mountains. These are lofty and precipitous, traversed by two or three narrow defiles. Hence, the necessity of the request in Num 20:17.
Thy brother - An appeal to the Edomites to remember and renew the old kindnesses of Jacob and Esau Gen. 33:1-17.
It appears from Jdg 11:17 that a similar request was addressed to the Moabites.
An angel - See Gen 12:7, note; Exo 3:2, note. The term is to be understood as importing generally the supernatural guidance under which Israel was.
The Israelites, without awaiting at Kadesh the return of their ambassador, commenced their eastward march. At the tidings of their approach the Edomites mustered their forces to oppose them; and on crossing the Arabah they found their ascent through the mountains barred. The notice of this is inserted here to complete the narrative; but in order of time it comes after the march described in Num 20:22.
Mount Hor - The modern Jebel Harun, situated on the eastern side of the Arabah, and clause to Petra. This striking mountain, rising on a dark red bare rock, to a height of near 5,000 feet above the Mediterranean, is remarkable far and near for its two summits, on one of which is still shown a small square building, crowned with a dome, called the Tomb of Aaron.
The priestly garments, wherewith Moses had invested Aaron Lev 8:7-9, were put upon Eleazar by way of solemn transference of Aaron's office to him; compare Kg1 19:19.