Today’s reading begins with the budding of Aaron’s staff and concludes with the death of Aaron on Mount Hor.
After the rebellion of Korah, the LORD gave the people of Israel another chance to see what His will was for the people of Israel and their worship. Moses had representatives from all of the twelve tribes of Israel bring a staff before the LORD at the tent of meeting. Each staff was to have the name of the chief inscribed on the staff. In the morning when Moses returned to the staffs, Aaron’s staff representing the tribe of Levi had blossomed and bore ripe almonds. This miracle was to indicate once and for all to the people of Israel that the tribe of Levi was chosen by God to minister to him in the Tabernacle.
After giving more rules and procedures to Moses for the practices of the Tabernacle, the text briefly mentions several significant events. The first of these events was the death of Moses’ sister Miriam. Miriam was by far the most prominent woman of the Exodus, through Leviticus, and up to this point in Numbers.
After the death of Miriam, the people of Israel again grumbled before Moses about the lack of water and the lack of variety of food that the LORD had provided for the people. At other times in the past, Moses had taken his staff and struck a rock and water would proceed forth from rock. In this instance, however, God spoke to Moses and commanded him that instead of striking the rock to produce water that he was to speak to the rock in order for it to produce water. Moses, however, in his anger spoke a rebuke to the people and then struck the rock as in the past. God is His mercy to the people of Israel permitted water to proceed forth from the rock, but because of his disobedience in this event, God banned Moses and Aaron from entering the promised land.
As the people journeyed closer to their final destination, they came upon the land of Edom. Edom was the brother of Israel and although Edom and Israel had parted ways peacefully back in Genesis, it’s obvious from this text that the two groups of people still harbored ill will toward one another. Moses wanted to shorten their journey by travelling through the land of Edom, but Edom refused to allow them passage. Even after Moses guaranteed to make a straight journey through the land of Edom reimbursing the people of Edom for any resources they used along the way, Edom refused to grant passage and took up arms against the people of Israel to ensure that they would not pass.
Having been prevented from entering the Promised Land by God, the LORD told Aaron that he would die on Mount Hor. God called Aaron’s son Eleazar up to the mountain along with Moses and Aaron. Moses took Aaron’s priestly vestments and clothed Eleazar with them. When Moses and Eleazar came down from Mount Hor, Moses informed the people of Israel that Aaron had passed away. The grief of the people was great and they mourned for 30 days after the death of Aaron.