When Moses struck the rock at Kadesh and no water came out, painful moments passed. Some of the people began to hoot and jeer. Moses and Aaron glanced nervously at each other. Vexed and impatient, Moses did the very next thing that came to his mind. He lifted the rod and again whacked it down on the rock with even greater force.
The crowd went silent, waiting for something to happen. Moses was almost crushed by a heavy feeling of embarrassment because no water was forthcoming from the rock.
In his strong feeling against the mob, he had forgotten or ignored the instructions God had given him. He had chosen his own way, and now he seemed to be unable to make good his boast that he had power to supply water to the Israelites.
“If water doesn’t come out of this rock after what you’ve promised,” Aaron shakily remarked to Moses, “the people will be so angry that they’ll probably go completely out of control. If a miracle doesn’t occur within the next minute or two, there’ll be plenty of trouble!”
Moses knew that Aaron was right. In his unhappy situation all he could think to do was strike the rock a third time. Before he could do so, however, the boulder shook as though an explosion had taken place within it. Moses, Aaron and the few officers standing farther back on the rock were all but thrown off their feet. When they recovered their balance, they realized that a stream of clear water was noisily gushing from the base of the boulder below them (Num 20:7-11)!
A tremendous shout came from the crowd. People rushed toward the rock to dip into the cool water, but were forced back as it surged speedily forth to spread into a swift stream that coursed toward the camps of the Israelites. Even before the stream had flowed into a definite course and had lost its muddiness, people and livestock thronged to it to get their fill. Then started the task of filling millions of pots, jars and goatskin bags with the precious fluid.
Moses and Aaron were greatly relieved to see the life-giving water flowing from the rock. Another crisis had passed. One more rough spot had been smoothed out. Nevertheless, Moses knew that all was far from right. Now that water had come to the people, he had a gnawing feeling of guilt.
“We should return to the tabernacle to thank God,” Moses muttered uneasily to Aaron. At the tabernacle God’s voice spoke out in such an angry tone that Moses and Aaron trembled as they bowed their heads to the ground.
“You have failed to act with wisdom,” God told them. “You, Moses, let your temper get the better of you in front of the people. Then, instead of speaking to the rock as you were instructed, you struck it. In fact, you struck it twice, as though it were necessary to keep on flogging it in order for something to happen. You also gave the people the impression that it was through your power, and not Mine, that a miracle would produce water. And you, Aaron, spoke and acted in agreement with your brother’s wrong attitude.
“Because you have acted with such independence, and have tried to take credit for a miracle that only your Creator could perform, you have failed to honor Me before the people. Therefore neither of you shall be permitted to reach Canaan with your people” (Num. 20:12-13, 23-24 and Num. 27:12-14)!
Moses and Aaron remained kneeling in stunned, painful silence. This pronouncement from God felt like a sudden death sentence! It meant that they would not be allowed to enter the Promised Land for which they been striving for so many years. Moses and Aaron repented of what they had done. God forgave them. But that did not mean God would remove the penalty in this life. Some sins we still must suffer from even though God has forgiven us.
A few minutes later, when they were certain that God had nothing more to say on the matter, they got up and trudged off to their tents. It was plain to them that God had no favorites, and that He would punish the disobedient in high offices no less than He would punish the disobedient of the lowest rank.
A fact worth remembering is that the more one is educated and trained in God’s service, the more God requires of that person.
Greater responsibility goes with greater Bible understanding (James 4:17). True Christians can’t afford to stare piously down their noses at anyone – even the most brutal dictator or the drunken skid row character lying in the gutter. Instead, they should pause to thank God for choosing them to be given understanding, but not in such a way as to compare their real or fancied “righteousness” with the conduct of others (II Cor. 10:12). Christians should have compassion and understanding for those whom God has not yet chosen to be allowed to understand, but that compassion should never mean that there is any approval of their sins.
Even though Moses and Aaron were denied the privilege of entering Canaan with their people, they repented and will undoubtedly reach a much richer promised land – that of the future. When Christ comes to rule the world only a few years from the time this is written, those resurrected for service under Christ will surely include Moses and Aaron.
Whatever Moses and Aaron thought about their future, their duties still existed. Aaron faithfully continued as high priest. Moses had to make daily decisions as usual. The greatest decision while the people were in Kadesh was how the Israelites should proceed toward Canaan from that point.
There were three routes to Canaan from Kadesh in Mt. Sinai. One way had been attempted almost four decades earlier by many of the Israelites when they had been set upon by Amalekites and Canaanites, and when so many Israelites had lost their lives. Another way was to cross to the southwest over the Mt. Seir range of mountains and then proceed north between the Mt. Seir range and the Arabah range. The third way was to proceed eastward and then north into Edom by way of what was referred to as the King’s Highway.
This great highway was a major road leading up east of the Dead Sea. It had been constructed across swamps and deserts and mountains hundreds of years previously by local governments, and had since been used and kept in fair condition as a route for armies and merchant caravans.
Moses already knew God would not lead Israel by the way where so many had been slaughtered years before, even though it was the most direct route. Neither did he think it wise to pass to the west and struggle north through the cradle of heat between two mountain ranges.
Even though it was a longer route, Moses recognized it would be to the advantage of the Israelites to travel north by east on the King’s Highway through the land of Edom. Once they were through Edom and Moab, they could enter Canaan by turning westward.
Realizing that it was necessary to receive permission to pass through the nation to the north, Moses sent messengers to the ruler of Edom. The letter carried by the messengers pointed out that the Israelites, as cousins of the people of the Arabian Desert, had struggled through many years of hardships in their efforts to come out of Egypt, and that they would like to be regarded as friendly relatives passing through the territory of the Edomites.
“Please let us pass through your country,” Moses continued in the letter. “We promise not to tramp through your fields nor through your vineyards. We won’t use even your water. Our desire is simply to reach the King’s Highway and proceed northward” (Num. 20:14-17).
The Israelite messengers returned only a few hours later with word from the ruler of Edom.
“The Edomite king told us to tell you,” the messengers reported to Moses, “that if we start through his land his army will attack us” (v. 18)!
Moses was disappointed. He hadn’t expected such a hostile reply.
“Perhaps the Edomites don’t believe that we won’t use their water,” Aaron suggested. “They might agree to our moving through their land if we would offer to pay for any water we should use.”
“The idea is worth trying,” Moses remarked after pondering a few moments. Later, another set of Israelites messengers returned from Edom with an answer to Moses’ second request.
“The king wants you to know,” the men reported to Moses, “that our people can’t come through his land under any circumstances. He said that while he is king two million strange people and their animals won’t go stamping across Edom.”
Moses was again disappointed. He had hoped that his second appeal to the ruler of Edom would result in success. Before he could express his thoughts however, an officer arrived to excitedly announce that Edomite troops were approaching from the north (vs. 19-20).
Right after the messengers returned, one of Moses’ officers shouted to look back to the northeast. Moses and those about him turned to see a vast line of figures silhouetted against the sky atop the ridge in the area where the pass trail led into Edom and toward the King’s Highway. Sunlight reflected in strong glints from those distant figures indicated that they had swords, spears and armor.
The Edomite army had arrived! “Sound the signal to break camp!” Moses ordered. “Tell the people to be ready to leave in order within the hour – to move into the mountains near Kadesh. Warn the men to prepare themselves for a possible attack!”
There was sudden action among the Israelites. The same scene, strangely, had been enacted by them or their ancestors almost two generations before when a part of them had tried to get into Canaan against God’s will. Now, however, they were not divided, and they worked faster than before to get ready to leave.
Once again the more than two millions of people and their flocks and herds moved westward on the trail that led into the desert valley between the Arabah range and the long, lofty ridge of rock and soil known as Mt. Seir.
Whether the Edomites planned to attack or whether they intended only to protect their borders is something we probably won’t learn until God makes it known in the future when He will undoubtedly reveal all the facts of the past history of man. In any event, Israel managed to leave Kadesh in time to avoid any trouble with the army of Edom.
The first stopping point after leaving Kadesh was at Mt. Hor, a high peak of the Seir range just west of Kadesh, or Petra. There God gave a special message to Moses and Aaron. He instructed them to come up to the top of the mountain. Aaron was to dress in his priestly robes, and was to bring one of his sons, Eleazar (Num. 20:22-23).
The people quickly sensed that some special event was to take place on the mountain, and many of them watched the three men ascend the sandstone mountain to its height of six thousand feet.
After the three arrived atop Mt. Hor, Aaron gazed silently down on the Israelite camp he knew he would never join again. Looking upward, he could see to the south a part of the mountains and deserts through which the people had struggled. He turned his gaze to the northwest, but could not quite see the Promised Land just over a range of mountains. Regretfully he remembered God’s pronouncement that he and Moses would not go into that Promised Land because of their wrong attitude when they sought to bring water to the people out of a rock. He realized that he had come to the end of his life.
According to God’s instructions, Moses removed the priestly attire from Aaron and put it on Aaron’s son Eleazar. As soon as this was done and Eleazar was anointed into Aaron’s office, Aaron sat down, leaned back on a ledge and closed his eyes. It was at that moment that he drew his last breath. There was nothing to be done to prevent him from the peaceful and painless death that came to one of God’s servants at the age of one hundred and twenty-three years (vs. 27-28; Num. 33:37-39).
There was great mourning among the Israelites when they learned of Aaron’s death and burial. The mourning continued for thirty days – the length of time spent in expressing grief in those days – because of the passing of a person of high rank (Num. 20:19).
Meanwhile, a Canaanite king whose small domain included an area south of Canaan heard that the Israelites were about to invade his territory to the northwest of the Mt. Hor region. This king felt that it was wiser to attack than to be attacked. Not to be outdone, he sent mounted troops to the south to rush in on the camps of the Israelites.
So swift was the attack that some of the Israelites were whisked away as prisoners before anything could be done. The Israelites were to upset by what had taken place that they made vows to God that they would wipe out the towns from which the attackers had come if only God would help them. God quickly answered their pleas and Israel proceeded safely northward in the Arabah (Num. 21:1-3).
After leaving the Mt. Hor area and defeating the Canaanites, the Israelites turned north to move through the valley between the Arabah range and the Mt Seir range. This route was called the way of the Red Sea because it led southward to the Gulf of Aqaba
Traveling through this huge desert cradle was difficult because of the heat and the arid conditions. A number of people began to complain, especially because of the manna, which they disliked because of their bad attitude. Their state of mind was like a contagious disease. It spread so swiftly that it was only a matter of hours before a pounding wave of discontent disrupted the camps (vs. 4-5).
As usual, the head complainers organized throngs to gather before Moses’ tent with their loud and childish demonstrations. Their remarks were so profane against Moses and against God that God was angrily moved at once to punish the offenders.
Even as noisy crowds shouted against their Creator, screams of pain and terror began to rise from all parts of the camp. Thousands of snakes were suddenly wriggling into the tents, angrily biting the people on the feet and legs, injecting a death-dealing poison that would quickly mean the end of life for their victims (v. 6).
Be watching for the next installment of The Story of the Bible.