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with Catholic Commentary by George Leo Haydock

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Numbers 20

The people come to Zin, They murmur for water, Moses directed to smite the rock, The infirmity of Moses and Aaron. (1-13) The Israelites are refused a passage through Edom. (14-21) Aaron reigns the priest’s office to Eleazar, and dies in mount Hor. (22-29)

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The people come to Zin, They murmur for water, Moses directed to smite the rock, The infirmity of Moses and Aaron

1 Then came the children of Israel, even the whole congregation, into the desert of Zin in the first month: and the people abode in Kadesh; and Miriam died there, and was buried there.

2 And there was no water for the congregation: and they gathered themselves together against Moses and against Aaron.

3 And the people chode with Moses, and spake, saying, Would God that we had died when our brethren died before the LORD!

4 And why have ye brought up the congregation of the LORD into this wilderness, that we and our cattle should die there?

5 And wherefore have ye made us to come up out of Egypt, to bring us in unto this evil place? it is no place of seed, or of figs, or of vines, or of pomegranates; neither is there any water to drink.

6 And Moses and Aaron went from the presence of the assembly unto the door of the tabernacle of the congregation, and they fell upon their faces: and the glory of the LORD appeared unto them.

7 And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,

8 Take the rod, and gather thou the assembly together, thou, and Aaron thy brother, and speak ye unto the rock before their eyes; and it shall give forth his water, and thou shalt bring forth to them water out of the rock: so thou shalt give the congregation and their beasts drink.

9 And Moses took the rod from before the LORD, as he commanded him.

10 And Moses and Aaron gathered the congregation together before the rock, and he said unto them, Hear now, ye rebels; must we fetch you water out of this rock?

11 And Moses lifted up his hand, and with his rod he smote the rock twice: and the water came out abundantly, and the congregation drank, and their beasts also.

12 And the LORD spake unto Moses and Aaron, Because ye believed me not, to sanctify me in the eyes of the children of Israel, therefore ye shall not bring this congregation into the land which I have given them.

13 This is the water of Meribah; because the children of Israel strove with the LORD, and he was sanctified in them.

The Israelites are refused a passage through Edom

14 And Moses sent messengers from Kadesh unto the king of Edom, Thus saith thy brother Israel, Thou knowest all the travail that hath befallen us:

15 How our fathers went down into Egypt, and we have dwelt in Egypt a long time; and the Egyptians vexed us, and our fathers:

16 And when we cried unto the LORD, he heard our voice, and sent an angel, and hath brought us forth out of Egypt: and, behold, we are in Kadesh, a city in the uttermost of thy border:

17 Let us pass, I pray thee, through thy country: we will not pass through the fields, or through the vineyards, neither will we drink of the water of the wells: we will go by the king’s high way, we will not turn to the right hand nor to the left, until we have passed thy borders.

18 And Edom said unto him, Thou shalt not pass by me, lest I come out against thee with the sword.

19 And the children of Israel said unto him, We will go by the high way: and if I and my cattle drink of thy water, then I will pay for it: I will only, without doing anything else, go through on my feet.

20 And he said, Thou shalt not go through. And Edom came out against him with much people, and with a strong hand.

21 Thus Edom refused to give Israel passage through his border: wherefore Israel turned away from him.

Aaron reigns the priest’s office to Eleazar, and dies in mount Hor

22 And the children of Israel, even the whole congregation, journeyed from Kadesh, and came unto mount Hor.

23 And the LORD spake unto Moses and Aaron in mount Hor, by the coast of the land of Edom, saying,

24 Aaron shall be gathered unto his people: for he shall not enter into the land which I have given unto the children of Israel, because ye rebelled against my word at the water of Meribah.

25 Take Aaron and Eleazar his son, and bring them up unto mount Hor:

26 And strip Aaron of his garments, and put them upon Eleazar his son: and Aaron shall be gathered unto his people, and shall die there.

27 And Moses did as the LORD commanded: and they went up into mount Hor in the sight of all the congregation.

28 And Moses stripped Aaron of his garments, and put them upon Eleazar his son; and Aaron died there in the top of the mount: and Moses and Eleazar came down from the mount.

29 And when all the congregation saw that Aaron was dead, they mourned for Aaron thirty days, even all the house of Israel.

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G Haydock's Catholic Bible Commentary

Ver. 1. Sin, Zin, or Tsin, nearer to Judea than the desert, where the Hebrews encamped before. Ex. xvi. 1. H. — Moses informs us of very little from the time when the people murmured at Cades-barne, in the second year, till the beginning of the 40th year of their sojournment. — In Cades. The Rabbins assert, they remained there the first time twenty-nine years, (C. xiv. 45,) and the second, ten. Genebrard, A.M. 2670. But we do not believe they continued there above a year the first time. — Mary. S. Gregory of Nyssa, and S. Ambrose, suppose she was always a virgin, in which respect she was a figure of our blessed Lady, as well as in her name. She was probably 130 years old, as she was very discreet at the time of the birth of Moses, and employed by Providence in preserving his life, as the blessed Virgin screened our Saviour from the fury of Herod. She had the superintendence over the Hebrew women; (Ex. xv. 20. Theod. in Mic. vi. 4,) and hence many apply to her and her brothers those words of Zacharias, (xi. 8,) I cut off three shepherds in one month. Mary died without being permitted to enter the promised land, on account of her murmuring, C. xii. Thus the synagogue, though proud of her prerogatives, cannot enter the land of rest. C. — There. Some place this Cades not far from the Red Sea, (v. 20,) south of Idumea, while the other was to the north, and nearer Chanaan, being generally called Cades-barne. Bonfrere and C. a Lapide. C. xx. 16. — In this place Mary died, four months before Aaron. M.

Ver. 3. Brethren, Core, &c. (C. xvi. 32,) or with them ho died (C. xi.) at the graves of lust. C.

Ver. 6. And cried…to murmur. These words are not found in the Heb., Sept., &c. nor in the new edition of S. Jerom, though they occur in most of the Latin MSS. C. — If it be an addition, it must be very ancient. Mariana.

Ver. 8. The rod, with which Moses had wrought so many miracles, and which was placed in the tabernacle, v. 9. It is called his rod, in the Heb. v. 11. We do not find that the rod of Aaron, which budded, was used to work miracles. — Thou. Sept. “you.” Both Moses and Aaron concurred in the action, (v. 12,) but Moses was the chief agent. C.

Ver. 10. Rock. Your frequent murmurs will stop the course of God’s bounty. If God had not condemned the conduct of his ministers on this occasion, we could hardly find any reason to blame them. But the Fathers observe, that they betrayed a want of resolution, and intended to throw the blame upon the incredulity of the people, in case they failed of success. Because they exasperated his spirit, and he distinguished with his lips. Ps. cv. 33. See S. Chrys. and S. Aug. on this psalm. They were not commanded to strike the rock at all; and when the water did not come at first, they struck again, (C.) being afraid lest they should now be taken for impostors. H. — They speak as if the work was their own. — Can we, &c. They exasperate the people, instead of promoting their conversion. In a word, they did not glorify God, (C.) by representing him as the sovereign holiness and mercy; and the God of unbounded power. H.

Ver. 11. The rock. This rock was a figure of Christ, and the water that issued out from the rock, of his precious blood, the source of all our good; (Ch.) while the striking twice with the rod, denoted the cross, composed of two pieces of wood. S. Aug. q. 35. W.

Ver. 12. You have not believed, &c. The fault of Moses and Aaron, on this occasion, was a certain diffidence and weakness of faith: not doubting of God’s power or veracity; but apprehending the unworthiness of that rebellious and incredulous people, and therefore speaking with some ambiguity. Ch. — S. Augustine (c. Faust. xvi. 16,) does not think them guilty of any grievous crime. M. — But this must be left undetermined. C. — Land, beyond the Jordan, which is described (C. xxxiv. 2,) as the land of promise, though the east side of the Jordan was so too. H.

Ver. 13. The water of contradiction or strife. Heb. Meribah. Ch. — Sanctified: he shewed the effects of his power and clemency towards the people, and he treated his ministers with a just severity. The Samaritan copy here inserts what we read in Deuteronomy, only it places the speech of Moses in an historical form. “The Moses said, Lord, &c. (C. iii. 24-28.) Moreover, the Lord said to Moses, you shall pass by,” &c. C. ii. 4-6.

Ver. 14. Cades, not far from Mount Hor, on the confines of Idumea, v. 22. and Jud. xi. 16. C.

Ver. 16. Angel, who had performed so many wonders in favour of the Hebrews. He is generally supposed to have been S. Michael in the cloud.

Ver. 18. Edom, the people who dwelt near Mount Hor. Those of Seir, lying more to the west, (D.) granted them leave to pass, and to buy food. Deut. ii. 28. 29. Grotius maintains, that the Hebrews might justly have forced a passage upon this refusal; as S. Augustine (q. 44,) says, that they might lawfully have waged war upon the Amorrhites, on the like occasion; and the holy wars have been defended on the same plea, because the Saracens would not suffer the Christians to go in pilgrimage to the holy land. See Mare, lib. i. 1. But Selden (Mare. claus. 20) asserts, that princes have a right ot hinder others from passing through their territories; and S. Augustine only excepts one case, when they are sure the strangers can or will do no harm. But how can they obtain this assurance? Calmet answers, the long continuance of the Hebrews near the confines of Seir, without offering any molestation, and their being conducted by so holy a general, might give the people of Hor sufficient security. But at any rate the Israelites could not wage war upon them for refusing a passage, since they were expressly forbidden by God: Stir not against them, (Deut. ii. 5,) the people of Seir, nor against any of the Idumeans, the children of Esau, who had taken possession of the country of Horrhites. Gen. xiv. 6. The Hebrews seem to have been convinced of this, otherwise they would not have feared their multitudes, nor taken such a circuitous road. The angel in the cloud directed them to proceed, without molesting their territory. They went, therefore, towards the south, round the land of the Idumeans, who dwelt near the Dead Sea. H.

Ver. 19. Price. Heb. “I will only do one thing, walk through.” Sept. “the matter is of no consequence, we go by the mountain.” Louis de Dieu translates, “It is not indeed a word, (or idle pretence) I will pass through on foot.”

Ver. 22. Hor, in the territory of Cades, or Rekem, which is the same town as Petra. Onkelos. Josep. Ant. iv. 4. Hor was part of a range of mountains, like Libanus. The Hebrews encamped at a place called Mosera. Deut. x. 6. C.

Ver. 24. People, in the bosom of Abraham, while his body is consigned to the grave. — Incredulous. Heb. “you rebelled against,” &c. the words were addressed to both. Sept. “you irritated me.” H.

Ver. 26. Vesture, or pontifical attire. Eleazar had been anointed already, so that perhaps he stood in need of no other ceremony to be acknowledged high priest. He was dispensed with on this occasion to attend his dying father. The spirit of God gives great encomiums to Aaron. Malac. ii. 4-7. Eccli. xlv. 7. 27. He, at the same time, prefigured Christ, the gospel, and the old law. He spoke plainly, and was allowed to enter the holy of holies; while Moses was excluded, spoke with difficulty, and had a veil on his face. See S. Jer. ep. ad Fab. man. 33. But on the other hand, he represented the law with all its defects. He falls into several great faults, and dies despoiled of his glorious vestments, to shew the abrogation of his priesthood. The pagans have, perhaps, introduced some parts of his history into that of Mercury, the god of thieves and of travellers, the messenger of the other gods, whom they adorn with a wand, &c. in imitation of the rod of Aaron, who was the interpreter of Moses, and the head of that people, which wandered for 40 years, after plundering Egypt. C.

Ver. 29. Dead, in the 123d year of his age. M. — Neither Moses, Aaron, nor Mary, representing the Law, the priests, and the prophets of the Old Testament, could introduce the people into the promised land. This honour was reserved for Josue, the illustrious figure of Jesus Christ, and of his Church. C.