Commentary on Numbers 20:22-29

Notes (NET Translation)

22 So the entire company of Israelites traveled from Kadesh and came to Mount Hor.

The Hebrew literally says, “Hor, the mountain”. Its location is unknown.

23 And the LORD spoke to Moses and Aaron in Mount Hor, by the border of the land of Edom. He said:

24 “Aaron will be gathered to his ancestors, for he will not enter into the land I have given to the Israelites because both of you rebelled against my word at the waters of Meribah.

This [gathered to his ancestors] is the usual phrase to describe the death of a righteous man in a ripe old age. It is used of Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, Jacob and Moses (Gen. 25:8, 17; 35:29; 49:33; Num. 31:2). By contrast it is a fearful mark of divine judgment to be left unburied and not ‘be gathered’ (Jer. 8:2; 25:33; Ezek. 29:5). But the phrase is more than a figure of speech: it describes a central Old Testament conviction about life after death, that in Sheol, the place of the dead, people will be reunited with other members of their family. As David said when Bathsheba’s baby died, ‘I shall go to him, but he will not return to me’ (2 Sam. 12:23). Thus, though both Aaron and Moses die outside the promised land, because of their sin at Meribah, that is the limit of their punishment. In death they are on a par with the patriarchs and other saints of the old covenant.1

The sin of both Moses and Aaron is here named as rebellion (you rebelled, merîṯem). The term is directly related to those in 17:25 (Eng. 10) and 20:10. The term indicates a conscious defection from God’s will and way. This statement ties the current passage to 20:1–13.2

25 Take Aaron and Eleazar his son, and bring them up on Mount Hor.

26 Remove Aaron’s priestly garments and put them on Eleazar his son, and Aaron will be gathered to his ancestors and will die there.”

27 So Moses did as the LORD commanded; and they went up Mount Hor in the sight of the whole community.

This clause does not necessarily indicate that the whole congregation witnessed every aspect of the ceremony on the mountain, nor that they saw Aaron die. The text merely asserts that the people watched the party of leaders ascend Mt. Hor; i.e., the ascent was done in public.3

28 And Moses removed Aaron’s garments and put them on his son Eleazar. So Aaron died there on the top of the mountain. And Moses and Eleazar came down from the mountain.

Aaron died at age 123, on the first day of the fifth month of the fortieth year after the exodus (Ex 7:7; Num 33:38-39). Deut 10:6 states Aaron died at a site called Moserah, usually equated with Moseroth in Num 33:30-31. Since Moserah/Moseroth is seven stops before Mt. Hor it is difficult to posit Moserah/Moseroth as near the foot of Mt. Hor. It is not clear if or how this passage can be reconciled with Deut 10:6.

29 When all the community saw that Aaron was dead, the whole house of Israel mourned for Aaron thirty days.

The first clause suggests the community did not witness Aaron’s death with their own eyes. The normal period of mourning was seven days (e.g., Gen 50:10; 1 Chr 10:12; Job 2:13) but Moses was also mourned for thirty days (Deut 34:8).

Abravanel asks: Since Moses and Aaron sinned together why did they not die together? Five of his answers are noteworthy: (1) The deaths of the siblings followed the order of their births: Miriam, Aaron, Moses; (2) each deserved to be mourned separately for thirty days; (3) Moses was needed to complete the wilderness march; (4) to bring them safely to the Jordan; and (5) at least to see the promised land.4

Bibliography

Ashley, Timothy R. The Book of Numbers. The New International Commentary on the Old Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1993.

Brown, Raymond E., Joseph A. Fitzmyer, and Roland E. Murphy, eds. The New Jerome Biblical Commentary. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1990.

Cole, R. Dennis. Numbers. Kindle Edition. The New American Commentary. Nashville, Tennessee: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2000.

Friedman, Richard Elliott. Commentary on the Torah. First Edition. San Francisco, Calif.: HarperOne, 2001.

Levine, Baruch A. Numbers 1-20. The Anchor Yale Bible. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1993.

Mays, James L., ed. The HarperCollins Bible Commentary. Revised Edition. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2000.

Milgrom, Jacob. Numbers. The JPS Torah Commentary. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1989.

Wenham, Gordon J. Numbers. Kindle Edition. Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries. IVP Academic, 2015.


  1. Wenham 2015, Kindle Locations 2693-2699 
  2. Ashley 1993, 395–396 
  3. Ashley 1993, 396 
  4. Milgrom 1990, 171 
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