on Numbers 20 :1
Then came the children of Israel, etc. - This was the first month of the fortieth year after their departure from Egypt. See Numbers 33:38, compared with Numbers 20:28 of this chapter, and Deuteronomy 1:3. The transactions of thirty-seven years Moses passes by, because he writes not as a historian but as a legislator; and gives us particularly an account of the laws, ordinances, and other occurrences of the first and last years of their peregrinations. The year now spoken of was the last of their journeyings; for from the going out of the spies, Numbers 13, unto this time, was about thirty-eight years, Deuteronomy 1:22, Deuteronomy 1:23; Deuteronomy 2:14.
Desert of Zin - Calmet contends that this is not the same desert mentioned Exodus 16:1, where Israel had their eighth encampment; that in Exodus being called in the original סין sin, this here צין tsin: but this is no positive proof, as letters of the same organ are frequently interchanged in all languages, and particularly in Hebrew.
And Miriam died there - Miriam was certainly older than Moses. When he was an infant, exposed on the river Nile, she was entrusted by her parents to watch the conduct of Pharaoh's daughter, and to manage a most delicate business, that required much address and prudence. See Exodus 2. It is supposed that she was at the time of her death one hundred and thirty years of age, having been at least ten years old at her brother's birth. The Catholic writers represent her as a type of the Virgin Mary; as having preserved a perpetual virginity; as being legislatrix over the Israelitish women, as Moses was over the men; and as having a large portion of the spirit of prophecy. Eusebius says that her tomb was to be seen at Kadesh, near the city of Petra, in his time. She appears to have died about four months before her brother Aaron, Numbers 33:38, and eleven before her brother Moses; so that these three, the most eminent of human beings, died in the space of one year!
on Numbers 20 :1
Numbers 20 and Numbers 21 narrate the journey of the people from Kadesh round Mount Seir to the heights of Pisgah, near the Jordan, and the various incidents connected with that journey (compare Numbers 33:37-41). This formed the third and last stage of the progress of Israel from Sinai to Canaan, and took place in the fortieth year of the Exodus.
The incidents are apparently not narrated in a strictly chronological order (see Numbers 21:1). The leading purpose of Numbers 20 seems to be to narrate the loss by the people of their original leaders before their entrance into the land of promise.
Even the whole congregation - This emphatic expression (compare Numbers 13:26; Numbers 14:1) points to a re-assembling of the people for the purpose of at last resuming the advance to the promised land. During the past 38 years the "congregation" had been bracken up. No doubt round the tabernacle there had continued an organised camp consisting of the Levites and others, which had been moved from time to time up and down the country (compare Numbers 33:18-36). But the mass of the people had been scattered over the face of the wilderness of Paran, and led a nomadic life as best suited the pasturage of the cattle; trafficking in provisions with surrounding tribes (compare Deuteronomy 2:26-29; Psalm 74:14); and availing themselves of the resources of a district which were in ancient times vastly greater than they now are.
These natural resources were supplemented, where needful, by miraculous aid. The whole guidance of Israel through the wilderness is constantly referred to God's special and immediately superintending care (Deuteronomy 8:4 following; Deuteronomy 29:5; Nehemiah 9:21; Isaiah 63:11-14; Amos 2:10, etc.).
Yet though God's extraordinary bounty was vouchsafed to them, it is probable that this period was, among the perishing generation at all events, one of great religious declension, or even apostasy. To it must no doubt be referred such passages as Ezekiel 20:15 ff; Amos 5:25 following; Hosea 9:10.
Into the desert of Zin - The northeastern part of the wilderness of Paran (or, now definitely fixed by Palmer as the southeastern corner of the desert of Et-Tih, between Akabah and the head of Wady Garaiyeh.) The place of encampment was no doubt adjacent to the spring of Kadesh.
In the first month - i. e. of the fortieth year of the Exodus.
on Numbers 20 :1
20:1 Then - To wit, after many stations and long journeys here omitted, but particularly described, Num 33:1 - 49. Zin - A place near the land of Edom, distinct and distant from that Sin, Exo 16:1. The first month - Of the fortieth year, as is evident, because the next station to this was in mount Hor, where Aaron died, who died in the fifth month of the fortieth year, Num 33:38. Moses doth not give us an exact journal of all occurrences in the wilderness, but only of those which were most remarkable, and especially of those which happened in the first and second, and in the fortieth year. Miriam died - Four months before Aaron, and but a few more before Moses.