Understanding the Old Testament

The Journey Around Edom

(All quotations are from the New American Standard Bible translation)

Kadesh-barnea was in the southern portion of what is now Israel, in a desert region known as the Negev, southwest of the Dead Sea.

The Jordan River flows south into the Dead Sea, which is below sea level. Because the water in the Dead Sea has nowhere to go, it simply evaporates, leaving behind salt and other minerals that would otherwise flow into the ocean. The Dead Sea is almost ten times as salty as the ocean—so salty that only bacteria and fungi can survive in it.

The land of Edom was south of the Dead Sea. The Edomites were descendants of Esau, who was also known as Edom. (See Genesis 25:30.)

God had warned the Israelites against provoking the Edomites or attempting to take any of their land. (Deuteronomy 2:4-5) So Moses sent messengers to the king of Edom, requesting permission to simply pass through his land, and promising to take nothing that belonged to the Edomites. (Numbers 20:14-17)

Moses probably hoped to take a short cut to the King’s Highway, which was an ancient trade route between Egypt and Mesopotamia. A portion of the King’s Highway ran north-south through what is now western Jordan, from Aqaba, at the northern tip of the Gulf of Aqaba, to Damascus, Syria and beyond to the Euphrates River. If the Israelites wanted to invade Canaan from the east, across the Jordan River, rather than from the south, this would be the natural road to take.

Although the Edomites sold food and water to the Israelites (Deuteronomy 2:4-6 and 2:28-29), the king of Edom refused to allow them to pass through his territory, and sent his army to enforce his will. So the Israelites instead detoured south to the Gulf of Aqaba. (Numbers 21:4)

Along the way, Aaron died at Mount Hor—which Numbers 20:23 says is on the border of Edom—and was succeeded as high priest by his son, Eleazar. (Numbers 20:24-29)

Because of the long detour around Edom, the Israelites once again got mad at Moses—and God. They complained about the lack of water and the lack of food other than manna. (Numbers 21:5) So the Lord sent “fiery serpents” (i.e., poisonous snakes) to punish them. But unlike so many times before, this time the people repented—maybe they had learned a thing or two after forty years in the wilderness. Then the Lord told Moses to make a bronze serpent on a pole, so that anyone bitten by one of the snakes would live instead of dying. (Numbers 21:8-9)

Upon reaching the Gulf of Aqaba, the Israelites presumably traveled north along the King’s Highway, just east of Edom, until they reached Moab.

.Question to ponder or discuss: Why do think God led the Israelites east of the Dead Sea instead of having them invade Canaan from the south, as they had unsuccessfully tried to do before?

Copyright 2018 by Don Davidson

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