Feb. 19 Reading: Numbers 18-20 Commentary

Below is our Numbers 18-20 commentary from our Beginning to End Bible reading program. You can find an email link at the end of this page to share your thoughts or comments with us.

Key Verse(s):

“Then the Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron, ‘Because you did not believe Me, to hallow Me in the eyes of the children of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land which I have given them.'” (Num. 20:12)

Numbers 18 – Supporting the Priests

commentaryNow that Aaron and his son’s role as priests had been firmly vindicated by God after the events of Numbers 16 and 17, God deals with matters related to the priesthood. It was imperative that the priests, the Levites and the people know their role and how they were to support one another.

The issues at hand included:

1. Aaron and his son’s responsibility was to “bear the iniquity related to the sanctuary” and to the priesthood. They were the intermediary between God and the people (v. 1), attending to the duties of the sanctuary and the altar (v. 5).

2. The Levites served in support of the priesthood and attended to the needs of the tabernacle. But they were not priests themselves and could not go near the articles of the sanctuary (vv. 2-4). This is what had bothered Korah in Numbers 16 – he wanted to be a priest.

3. The priests would earn their living by working in the ministry (see Leviticus 6-7) and would be supported through the offerings made by people (vv. 8-20). Any offering that was not burned on the altar became food for the priest. Additionally, they had no inheritance in the land. God was their inheritance (v. 20).

4. God required the people to give tithes to the tabernacle and those tithes went to the Levites as their inheritance (vv. 21-24). The Levites themselves were required to give a tithe from the tithes as an expression of thanksgiving to God (v. 25-32).

God took care of the men who served him in this capacity. Likewise, we should do the same for those who are in ministry and serve us today.

Numbers 19 – Purification Laws

In certain situations when individuals became unclean, they needed purification. Two such incidences are discussed in Numbers 19: 1) when a person touched a dead boy (vv. 11-13) and 2) when a person died in a tent (vv. 14-16). In each case, the person needed purification to rejoin the camp and make themselves right before God. To not do so, was to reject God’s holiness and put oneself in danger of his judgment (v. 20).

God required each unclean person to be ritually cleansed with the water of purification. This water wasn’t just water. It was water mixed with the ashes of a red heifer that God instructed Aaron’s son Eleazar to burn outside the camp (vv. 2-10). Then, they sprinkled the mixture on the individual or the physical objects (v. 18) that were unclean.

Numbers 20 – Moses Sins at Kadesh

All your life’s work gone, down the drain. In one moment of weakness, everything you have worked so hard for comes crashing down. That’s what happened to Moses (and Aaron) in the wilderness near Kadesh.

Once again the people complained about having no water (vv. 3-5). No surprise there. Of course, God heard them and miraculously provided just like he did the first time they complained about having no water (see Exodus 17). Again, no surprise.

But the manner in which the water came is surprising in that we see a character flaw in Moses resurfacing. If you recall, in his younger days, Moses demonstrated a temper that led to impulsive behavior. In anger, he had killed an Egyptian who was torturing one of his Hebrew brethren (Exodus 2). That incident caused him to flee for his life from Egypt.

Here God directed Moses and Aaron to take the rod, stand before the congregation and “…speak to the rock before their eyes, and it will yield its water” for the people and animals to drink (v. 8). Instead of following God’s instructions, Moses responded this way: 

“And Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly together before the rock; and he said to them, ‘Hear now, you rebels! Must we bring water for you out of this rock?’ Then Moses lifted his hand and struck the rock twice with his rod; and water came out abundantly, and the congregation and their animals drank.” (vv.10-11)

The Consequences

This action greatly dishonored the Lord. God responded to Moses and Aaron by saying,

“Because you did not believe Me, to hallow Me in the eyes of the children of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land which I have given them.” (v. 12)

Moses and Aaron would not be allowed to lead the people into the Promised Land. They would die with the disobedient generation who believed the report of the spies and refused to go up into the land (Numbers 14).

This event teaches us many things, including that obedience to God matters, the importance of exercising self-control, and that even the greatest leaders are responsible for their actions. For more on this incident and the lessons it teaches, see our blog post below. 

Related Content: Moses’ Sin at Kadesh Was So Human It’s Scary

We don’t know how long after this event that Aaron died. His sister Miriam died at Kadesh where he and Moses had sinned against the Lord (Num. 20:1). From Kadesh, the people traveled to Mount Hor by the border of the land of Edom, who had just rejected Moses’ request to travel through their land (vv. 14-21). It is here that Aaron dies.

Moses took Aaron and his son Eleazar to the top of Mount Hor in the sight of the congregation. He then took the high priestly garments off Aaron and put them on Eleazar (v. 28). This was the transfer of leadership from one high priest to another. After this was completed, Aaron died on top of the mountain. And the people mourned for him 30 days, showing their depth of respect and esteem for the man of God who had held this position.

Questions to Consider:

Actions matter. They speak louder than words. Actions can move us forward or pull us back. They are capable of altering our life path, for good or for bad. So cherish every moment. It could be a defining one in your life.

Even the greatest leaders are responsible for their actions, something Moses found out when he sinned in Numbers 20. He would die, having not received his inheritance in the Promised Land. Have you ever made a mistake that cost you something? If so, were you able to rebuild your life and make amends?

What other points would you want to know about in our Numbers 18-20 commentary? Email us here with questions or comments.