Israel Isn't Allowed
14Moses sent messengers from Israel's camp near Kadesh with this message for the king of Edom:
We are Israelites, your own relatives, and we're sure you have heard the terrible things that have happened to us. 15Our ancestors settled in Egypt and lived there a long time. But later the Egyptians were cruel to us, 16and when we begged our Lord for help, he answered our prayer and brought us out of that land.
Now we are camped at the border of your territory, near the town of Kadesh. 17Please let us go through your country. We won't go near your fields or vineyards, and we won't drink any water from your wells. We will stay on the main road until we leave your territory.
18But the king of Edom answered, “No, I won't let you go through our country! And if you try, we will attack you.”
19Moses sent back this message: “We promise to stay on the main road, and if any of us or our livestock drink your water, we will pay for it. We just want to pass through.”
20But the king insisted, “You can't go through our land!”
Then Edom sent out its strongest troops 21to keep Israel from passing through its territory. So the Israelites had to go in another direction.
22After the Israelites had left Kadesh and had gone as far as Mount Hor 23on the Edomite border, the Lord said, 24“Aaron, this is where you will die. You and Moses disobeyed me at Meribah, and so you will not enter the land I promised the Israelites. 25Moses, go with Aaron and his son Eleazar to the top of the mountain. 26Then take Aaron's priestly robe from him and place it on Eleazar. Aaron will die there.”
27Moses obeyed, and everyone watched as he and Aaron and Eleazar walked to the top of Mount Hor. 28 Moses then took the priestly robe from Aaron and placed it on Eleazar. Aaron died there.
When Moses and Eleazar came down, 29the people knew that Aaron had died, and they mourned his death for 30 days.
The Edomites were cousins to the Israelites, descendants of Esau. Esau and Jacob had been brothers, and the Israelites reminded the King of Edom that they were family. He recounted their time of slavery in Egypt and promised that they would stay on the highway and not cause their cousins any trouble as they journeyed to the Promised Land. The King of Edom wasn’t feeling any familial love for the Israelites and sent a large force to deny them access through his territory. Moses protested but to no avail. They were forced to detour around Edomite territory (God explicitly commanded they not attack Edom, Deuteronomy 2:4-6). How many times have you experienced unfair detours on your journey? Like the Israelites, it just seems like we will never get to the Promised Land.
And then, just like the Israelites, we face loss. In this case, Aaron dies, signaling the beginning of the end of the generation that had left Egypt but had wandered in the wilderness for forty years because of their unbelief. Here God reminds Aaron and Moses that they will not lead the people into the Promised Land because of their unbelief at Meribah (Numbers 20). On the mountain, in front of the whole community, Moses takes Aaron’s robe, places it on Eleazar, his son, and Aaron dies. And so Aaron passes on his priestly role to the next generation. There is mourning, but there is also hope, for Eleazar’s generation will finally go with God to inhabit the land.
The author of Numbers spends a few chapters highlighting the wilderness wanderings. He doesn’t gloss over the failure of the Israelites, but he also doesn’t dwell on it forever. He paints a picture of a loving, forgiving God who forgives his weak children. I am one of those weak children who is discouraged by detours and saddened by endings. Yet these are often God’s ways of strengthening me and calling me to intentionally pass my roles and authority to the next generation. May I see this as a prelude to hope, not as a reason to despair!
O Lord of every generation, you never change and your mercies endure forever! Thank you for your promises and your unfailing love to my children! May they experience your power and goodness and may I point them to you with hope! This I ask in Jesus’ name, Amen.