Numbers 20:14-29. The Israelites must now go the long way into Canaan…and Aaron dies along the way.
Numbers 20:14-29. The Israelites must now go the long way into Canaan…and Aaron dies along the way.
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So last we left the Israelites, they were just finishing their 40 years of wondering in the wilderness, and were finally heading towards the Promised Land. And when they stopped at Kadesh, God stopped providing them with water…because…ya know…they were really close to the Promised Land and there was lots of water where they were heading. But, instead of celebrating…the Israelites immediately complained. And even though the Israelites were being unreasonable, God, in His mercy and patience, started providing water to the Israelites again. But in the process, Moses and Aaron had lost their cool and struck the rock instead of speaking to it…and God punished them by banishing Moses and Aaron from the Promised Land. Moses and Aaron would die alongside the rebellious generation…never to see the fruit of all their life’s work. It was a bitter pill to swallow. And even though the closer they got to the Promised Land was the closer they got to dying, Moses and Aaron wasted no time…they got right back to work fulfilling God’s will…and started heading towards the Promised Land once again.
Now, even though they were very close to the Promised Land, they still had one more country to pass through – Edom. The Edomites were the descendants of Esau. You guys remember Esau right? Jacob’s twin brother…the one who couldn’t decide if he wanted the birthrite. Yah that Esau. So because the Edomites were the descendants of Esau and the Israelites were the descendants of Jacob, this meant that the two nations were related…and kinda naturally you would expect that the two nations would be friendly with each other. And so, Moses excitedly sent messengers to the King of Edom, and said, “Please let us pass through your country. We will not pass through fields or vineyards, nor will we drink water from wells; we will go along the King's Highway; we will not turn aside to the right hand or to the left until we have passed through your territory.” (20:17) Moses was making a very friendly but respectful request of the King of Edom…please let us pass through your country…we won’t go anywhere but the main road…we won’t touch anything…we just need to go through your land on our way to Canaan.
And after getting Moses’ friendly message, the King of Edom immediately responded to Moses with a very short message, which said, “You shall not pass through my land, lest I come out against you with the sword.” (20:18). Err. Well that wasn’t very friendly…maybe we won’t be going through Edom after all. But then it donned on them that if they couldn’t go through Edom, well then they had a very long trip ahead of them. They’d have to go around Edom, and go through two other countries (Moab and Ammon…who were likely to be even more unfriendly than the Edomites), and then they’d have to somehow cross the Jordan river. This is not something that anyone wanted to do. So, the Israelites sent another message to Edom…basically saying the same thing…and making sure to be super clear that they would definitely stay on the highway…they would even pay for their water. But, the answer was the same, “You shall not pass through.” (20:20) And just in case the Israelites got any ideas, the Edomites sent an army to their border. There was no question…Israel was not welcome in Edom.
Now the Israelites might have decided to ignore the King and force their way into Edom anyways…I mean…they had known for a long time that they were going to have to fight the people who lived in the Promised Land. But God had already made it clear to the Israelites that they were not to do this, saying, “Do not meddle with them, for I will not give you any of their land, no, not so much as one footstep, because I have given Mount Seir to Esau as a possession.” (Deut. 2:5) And the whole situation was really unfortunate kidzos, because God had originally wanted the Israelites to go through Edom. Do you remember that God had given them instructions to buy food and water from the Edomites just before turning off the water at Kadesh? Yah…so that meant that God had planned for them to go through Edom. And as it turns out, it seems that when the Israelites had first arrived at Kadesh that the Edomites had been so scared of them that they would have let them go through no problem. But…somehow in the time that it took for the Israelites to complain about the water…it seems that this was all the time that the Edomites needed to get their nerve back…and now they were ready to fight. So while God had given the Israelites the water that they had complained about, they would pay dearly for it. And now they had a long and dangerous journey ahead of them before they could enter the Promised Land. It would have been so much easier if the Israelites had just trusted in God and moved forward right away. And now, because they had been so quick to doubt and so quick to complain, they would have to deal with the long journey around Edom. And with sadness in their hearts, the Israelites turned around and headed back in the direction that they’d come.
But unfortunately, the sadness wouldn’t end there. As the Israelites began to go around Edom, their first stop was a place called Mount Hor. And this mountain would be the final resting place of our good friend Aaron. And as the Israelites approached the mountain, God said to Moses and Aaron, “Take Aaron and Eleazar his son, and bring them up to Mount Hor; (26) and strip Aaron of his garments and put them on Eleazar his son; for Aaron shall be gathered to his people and die there.” (20:25-26) Now, both Moses and Aaron knew that they weren’t going to live too much longer…but regardless I’m sure that this announcement about Aaron caught them off guard. Moses and Aaron were brothers, and had been partners in leading the Israelites for 40 long years. They had stood side-by-side in this challenging, frustrating, and thankless work. But now the two were to be separated, and Moses would have to move on without him.
And as the Israelites setup camp at the base of Mount Hor, without saying anything to anyone, Moses, Aaron, and Eleazor began their climb. Moses and Aaron were old men, and I’m sure that they took their time climbing that mountain. Not only because they were old, but because they would have wanted to spend every last moment with each other. And probably they spent their time talking about all the crazy things that Aaron had done in his life…commanding Pharaoh to let the Israelites go, announcing the plagues, helping to lead the Israelites out of Egypt, walking through the parted sea, becoming the High Priest of Israel, watching Korah and his friends fall into the pit after challenging Aaron, running into the crowd with the incense to save the people from the plague. No doubt there was a little regret for the times that he had made mistakes…like when he’d made the golden calf, and when he and Miriam had complained about Moses, and just recently when he and Moses had taken credit for God’s miracle with the water. But despite the mistakes, no one could argue whether Aaron had spent his life serving God…even if his life was ending earlier than it needed to.
Once the three men arrived at the top the mountain, Moses did as God had commanded…he took from Aaron all the High Priest stuff that he was wearing…and put it onto Aaron’s son Eleazar. And the Bible doesn’t tell us exactly how it happened, but very soon after this Aaron breathed his last and died on the top of Mount Hor. Moses and Eleazar then buried their friend and father. And as they came back down the mountain, the Israelites camping at the bottom noticed that 3 men had gone up the mountain, but only 2 men were coming down the mountain…where was Aaron? When a sad Moses shared with the Israelites what had happened, the Bible says that, “when all the congregation saw that Aaron was dead, all the house of Israel mourned for Aaron thirty days.” (20:29) Aaron was well-loved by the Israelites…I mean…between Moses and Aaron…Aaron was the nice one! And so, the Israelites spent an entire month to mourn for him, and to remember all the great things that this leader had done for them.
And after the 30 days of mourning were over, and the Israelites began to pack up and continue on their journey around Edom, I’m sure they spent some time thinking. First of all, if the Israelites had any doubts about whether God would actually punish Moses and Aaron, then those doubts were put to rest. They now knew without a doubt that what Moses and Aaron had done was serious…and that God would follow through on His punishment. And I’m sure they also thought a bit about just how easy it was to make a big mistake. What would Aaron and Moses have given to take back those few minutes where they’d lost control…those few minutes where they’d let their anger get the best of them? But probably what they mostly were thinking about out was what they were going to do when Moses died. Moses had been their leader for 40 years now. He’d led them through all kinds of craziness. He’d been with them through thick and thin. What would life be like without Moses? It was hard to imagine. Perhaps it was time to learn to lean on God for themselves…perhaps it was time to listen to Moses like they never had before. But would the Israelites do this? Would they learn to trust in God for themselves? Would they treasure these last few months with their tireless leader? Well…we’ll see…and we’ll find out all about it…next time.