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The Journey Around Edom
[This chapter is based on Numbers 20:14-29; 21:1-9.]
THE encampment of Israel at Kadesh was but a short distance from the
borders of Edom, and both Moses and the people greatly desired to follow
the route through this country to the Promised Land; accordingly they
sent a message, as God had directed them, to the Edomite king--
"Thus saith thy brother Israel, Thou knowest all the travail that hath
befallen us: how our fathers went down into Egypt, and we have dwelt in
Egypt a long time; and the Egyptians vexed us, and our fathers: and when
we cried unto the Lord, He heard our voice, and sent an Angel, and hath
brought us forth out of Egypt: and, behold, we are in Kadesh, a city in
the uttermost of thy border. Let us pass, I pray thee, through thy
country: we will not pass through the fields, or through the vineyards,
neither will we drink of the water of the wells: we will go by the
king's highway, we will not turn to the right hand nor to the left,
until we have passed thy borders."
To this courteous request a threatening refusal was returned: "Thou
shalt not pass by me, lest I come out against thee with the sword."
Surprised at this repulse, the leaders of Israel sent a second appeal to
the king, with the promise, "We will go by the highway: and if I and my
cattle drink of thy water, then I will pay for it: I will only, without
doing anything else, go through on my feet."
"Thou shalt not go through," was the answer. Armed bands of Edomites
were already posted at the difficult passes, so that any peaceful
advance in that direction was impossible, and the Hebrews were forbidden
to resort to force. They must make the long journey around the land of
Had the people, when brought into trial, trusted in God, the Captain of
the Lord's host would have led them through Edom, and the fear of them
would have rested upon the inhabitants of the land, so that, instead of
manifesting hostility, they would have shown them favor. But the
Israelites did not act promptly upon God's word, and while they were
complaining and murmuring, the golden opportunity passed. When they were
at last ready to present their request to the king, it was refused. Ever
since they left Egypt, Satan had been steadily at work to throw
hindrances and temptations in their way, that they might not inherit
Canaan. And by their own unbelief they had repeatedly opened the door
for him to resist the purpose of God.
It is important to believe God's word and act upon it promptly, while
His angels are waiting to work for us. Evil angels are ready to contest
every step of advance. And when God's providence bids His children go
forward, when He is ready to do great things for them. Satan tempts them
to displease the Lord by hesitation and delay; he seeks to kindle a
spirit of strife or to arouse murmuring or unbelief, and thus deprive
them of the blessings that God desired to bestow. God's servants should
be minutemen, ever ready to move as fast as His providence opens the
way. And delay on their part gives time for Satan to work to defeat
In the directions first given to Moses concerning their passage through
Edom, after declaring that the Edomites should be afraid of Israel, the
Lord had forbidden His people to make use of this advantage against
them. Because the power of God was engaged for Israel, and the fears of
the Edomites would make them an easy prey, the Hebrews were not
therefore to prey upon them. The command given them was, "Take ye good
heed unto yourselves therefore: meddle not with them; for I will not
give you of their land, no, not so much as a foot breadth; because I
have given Mount Seir unto Esau for a possession." Deuteronomy 2:4, 5.
The Edomites were descendants of Abraham and Isaac, and for the sake of
these His servants, God had shown favor to the children of Esau. He had
given them Mount Seir for a possession, and they were not to be
disturbed unless by their sins they should place themselves beyond the
reach of His mercy. The Hebrews were to dispossess and utterly destroy
the inhabitants of Canaan, who had filled up the measure of their
iniquity but the Edomites were still probationers, and as such were to
be mercifully dealt with. God delights in mercy, and He manifests His
compassion before He inflicts His judgments. He teaches Israel to spare
the people of Edom, before requiring them to destroy the inhabitants of
The ancestors of Edom and Israel were brothers, and brotherly kindness
and courtesy should exist between them. The Israelites were forbidden,
either then or at any future time, to revenge the affront given them in
the refusal of passage through the land. They must not expect to possess
any part of the land of Edom. While the Israelites were the chosen and
favored people of God, they must heed the restrictions which He placed
upon them. God had promised them a goodly inheritance; but they were not
to feel that they alone had any rights in the earth, and seek to crowd
out all others. They were directed, in all their intercourse with the
Edomites, to beware of doing them injustice. They were to trade with
them, buying such supplies as were needed, and promptly paying for all
they received. As an encouragement to Israel to trust in God and obey
His word they were reminded, "The Lord thy God hath blessed thee; . . .
thou hast lacked nothing." Deuteronomy 2:7. They were not dependent upon
the Edomites, for they had a God rich in resources. They must not by
force or fraud seek to obtain anything pertaining to them; but in all
their intercourse they should exemplify the principle of the divine law,
"Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself."
Had they in this manner passed through Edom, as God had purposed, the
passage would have proved a blessing, not only to themselves, but to the
inhabitants of the land; for it would have given them an opportunity to
become acquainted with God's people and His worship and to witness how
the God of Jacob prospered those who loved and feared Him. But all this
the unbelief of Israel had prevented. God had given the people water in
answer to their clamors, but He permitted their unbelief to work out its
punishment. Again they must traverse the desert and quench their thirst
from the miraculous spring, which, had they but trusted in Him, they
would no longer have needed.
Accordingly the hosts of Israel again turned toward the south, and made
their way over sterile wastes, that seemed even more dreary after a
glimpse of the green spots among the hills and valleys of Edom. From the
mountain range overlooking this gloomy desert, rises Mount Hor, whose
summit was to be the place of Aaron's death and burial. When the
Israelites came to this mountain, the divine command was addressed to
"Take Aaron and Eleazar his son, and bring them up unto Mount Hor: and
strip Aaron of his garments, and put them upon Eleazar his son: and
Aaron shall be gathered unto his people, and shall die there."
Together these two aged men and the younger one toiled up the mountain
height. The heads of Moses and Aaron were white with the snows of
sixscore winters. Their long and eventful lives had been marked with the
deepest trials and the greatest honors that had ever fallen to the lot
of man. They were men of great natural ability, and all their powers had
been developed, exalted, and dignified by communion with the Infinite
One. Their life had been spent in unselfish labor for God and their
fellow men; their countenances gave evidence of great intellectual
power, firmness and nobility of purpose, and strong affections.
Many years Moses and Aaron had stood side by side in their cares and
labors. Together they had breasted unnumbered dangers, and had shared
together the signal blessing of God; but the time was at hand when they
must be separated. They moved on very slowly, for every moment in each
other's society was precious. The ascent was steep and toilsome; and as
they often paused to rest, they communed together of the past and the
future. Before them, as far as the eye could reach, was spread out the
scene of their desert wanderings. In the plain below were encamped the
vast hosts of Israel, for whom these chosen men had spent the best
portion of their lives; for whose welfare they had felt so deep an
interest, and made so great sacrifices. Somewhere beyond the mountains
of Edom was the path leading to the Promised Land--that land whose
blessings Moses and Aaron were not to enjoy. No rebellious feelings
found a place in their hearts, no expression of murmuring escaped their
lips; yet a solemn sadness rested upon their countenances as they
remembered what had debarred them from the inheritance of their fathers.
Aaron's work for Israel was done. Forty years before, at the age of
eighty-three, God had called him to unite with Moses in his great and
important mission. He had co-operated with his brother in leading the
children of Israel from Egypt. He had held up the great leader's hands
when the Hebrew hosts gave battle to Amalek. He had been permitted to
ascend Mount Sinai, to approach into the presence of God, and to behold
the divine glory. The Lord had conferred upon the family of Aaron the
office of the priesthood, and had honored him with the sacred
consecration of high priest. He had sustained him in the holy office by
the terrible manifestations of divine judgment in the destruction of
Korah and his company. It was through Aaron's intercession that the
plague was stayed. When his two sons were slain for disregarding God's
express command, he did not rebel or even murmur. Yet the record of his
noble life had been marred. Aaron committed a grievous sin when he
yielded to the clamors of the people and made the golden calf at Sinai;
and again, when he united with Miriam in envy and murmuring against
Moses. And he, with Moses, offended the Lord at Kadesh by disobeying the
command to speak to the rock that it might give forth its water.
God intended that these great leaders of His people should be
representatives of Christ. Aaron bore the names of Israel upon his
breast. He communicated to the people the will of God. He entered the
most holy place on the Day of Atonement, "not without blood," as a
mediator for all Israel. He came forth from that work to bless the
congregation, as Christ will come forth to bless His waiting people when
His work of atonement in their behalf shall be ended. It was the exalted
character of that sacred office as representative of our great High
Priest that made Aaron's sin at Kadesh of so great magnitude.
With deep sorrow Moses removed from Aaron the holy vestments, and placed
them upon Eleazar, who thus became his successor by divine appointment.
For his sin at Kadesh, Aaron was denied the privilege of officiating as
God's high priest in Canaan--of offering the first sacrifice in the
goodly land, and thus consecrating the inheritance of Israel. Moses was
to continue to bear his burden in leading the people to the very borders
of Canaan. He was to come within sight of the Promised Land, but was not
to enter it. Had these servants of God, when they stood before the rock
at Kadesh, borne unmurmuringly the test there brought upon them, how
different would have been their future! A wrong act can never be undone.
It may be that the work of a lifetime will not recover what has been
lost in a single moment of temptation or even thoughtlessness.
The absence from the camp of the two great leaders, and the fact that
they had been accompanied by Eleazar, who, it was well known, was to be
Aaron's successor in holy office, awakened a feeling of apprehension,
and their return was anxiously awaited. As the people looked about them,
upon their vast congregation, they saw that nearly all the adults who
left Egypt had perished in the wilderness. All felt a foreboding of evil
as they remembered the sentence pronounced against Moses and Aaron. Some
were aware of the object of that mysterious journey to the summit of
Mount Hor, and their solicitude for their leaders was heightened by
bitter memories and self-accusings.
The forms of Moses and Eleazar were at last discerned, slowly descending
the mountainside, but Aaron was not with them. Upon Eleazar were the
sacerdotal garments, showing that he had succeeded his father in the
sacred office. As the people with heavy hearts gathered about their
leader, Moses told them that Aaron had died in his arms upon Mount Hor,
and that they there buried him. The congregation broke forth in mourning
and lamentation, for they all loved Aaron, though they had so often
caused him sorrow. "They mourned for Aaron thirty days, even all the
house of Israel."
Concerning the burial of Israel's high priest, the Scriptures give only
the simple record, "There Aaron died, and there he was buried."
Deuteronomy 10:6. In what striking contrast to the customs of the
present day was this burial, conducted according to the express command
of God. In modern times the funeral services of a man of high position
are often made the occasion of ostentatious and extravagant display.
When Aaron died, one of the most illustrious men that ever lived, there
were only two of his nearest friends to witness his death and to attend
his burial. And that lonely grave upon Mount Hor was forever hidden from
the sight of Israel. God is not honored in the great display so often
made over the dead, and the extravagant expense incurred in returning
their bodies to the dust.
The whole congregation sorrowed for Aaron, yet they could not feel the
loss so keenly as did Moses. The death of Aaron forcibly reminded Moses
that his own end was near; but short as the time of his stay on earth
must be, he deeply felt the loss of his constant companion--the one who
had shared his joys and sorrows, his hopes and fears, for so many long
years. Moses must now continue the work alone; but he knew that God was
his friend, and upon Him he leaned more heavily.
Soon after leaving Mount Hor the Israelites suffered defeat in an
engagement with Arad, one of the Canaanite kings. But as they earnestly
sought help from God, divine aid was granted them, and their enemies
were routed. This victory, instead of inspiring gratitude and leading
the people to feel their dependence upon God, made them boastful and
self-confident. Soon they fell into the old habit of murmuring. They
were now dissatisfied because the armies of Israel had not been
permitted to advance upon Canaan immediately after their rebellion at
the report of the spies nearly forty years before. They pronounced their
long sojourn in the wilderness an unnecessary delay, reasoning that they
might have conquered their enemies as easily heretofore as now.
As they continued their journey toward the south, their route lay
through a hot, sandy valley, destitute of shade or vegetation. The way
seemed long and difficult, and they suffered from weariness and thirst.
Again they failed to endure the test of their faith and patience. By
continually dwelling on the dark side of their experiences, they
separated themselves farther and farther from God. They lost sight of
the fact that but for their murmuring when the water ceased at Kadesh,
they would have been spared the journey around Edom. God had purposed
better things for them. Their hearts should have been filled with
gratitude to Him that He had punished their sin so lightly. But instead
of this, they flattered themselves that if God and Moses had not
interfered, they might now have been in possession of the Promised Land.
After bringing trouble upon themselves, making their lot altogether
harder than God designed, they charged all their misfortunes upon Him.
Thus they cherished bitter thoughts concerning His dealings with them,
and finally they became discontented with everything. Egypt looked
brighter and more desirable than liberty and the land to which God was
As the Israelites indulged the spirit of discontent, they were disposed
to find fault even with their blessings. "And the people spake against
God, and against Moses, Wherefore have ye brought us up out of Egypt to
die in the wilderness? for there is no bread, neither is there any
water; and our soul loatheth this light bread."
Moses faithfully set before the people their great sin. It was God's
power alone that had preserved them in "that great and terrible
wilderness, wherein were fiery serpents, and scorpions, and drought,
where there was no water." Deuteronomy 8:15. Every day of their travels
they had been kept by a miracle of divine mercy. In all the way of God's
leading they had found water to refresh the thirsty, bread from heaven
to satisfy their hunger, and peace and safety under the shadowy cloud by
day and the pillar of fire by night. Angels had ministered to them as
they climbed the rocky heights or threaded the rugged paths of the
wilderness. Notwithstanding the hardships they had endured, there was
not a feeble one in all their ranks. Their feet had not swollen in their
long journeys, neither had their clothes grown old. God had subdued
before them the fierce beasts of prey and the venomous reptiles of the
forest and the desert. If with all these tokens of His love the people
still continued to complain, the Lord would withdraw His protection
until they should be led to appreciate His merciful care, and return to
Him with repentance and humiliation.
Because they had been shielded by divine power they had not realized the
countless dangers by which they were continually surrounded. In their
ingratitude and unbelief they had anticipated death, and now the Lord
permitted death to come upon them. The poisonous serpents that infested
the wilderness were called fiery serpents, on account of the terrible
effects produced by their sting, it causing violent inflammation and
speedy death. As the protecting hand of God was removed from Israel,
great numbers of the people were attacked by these venomous creatures.
Now there was terror and confusion throughout the encampment. In almost
every tent were the dying or the dead. None were secure. Often the
silence of night was broken by piercing cries that told of fresh
victims. All were busy in ministering to the sufferers, or with
agonizing care endeavoring to protect those who were not yet stricken.
No murmuring now escaped their lips. When compared with the present
suffering, their former difficulties and trials seemed unworthy of a
The people now humbled themselves before God. They came to Moses with
their confessions and entreaties. "We have sinned," they said, "for we
have spoken against the Lord, and against thee." Only a little before,
they had accused him of being their worst enemy, the cause of all their
distress and afflictions. But even when the words were upon their lips,
they knew that the charge was false; and as soon as real trouble came
they fled to him as the only one who could intercede with God for them.
"Pray unto the Lord," was their cry, "that He take away the serpents
Moses was divinely commanded to make a serpent of brass resembling the
living ones, and to elevate it among the people. To this, all who had
been bitten were to look, and they would find relief. He did so, and the
joyful news was sounded throughout the encampment that all who had been
bitten might look upon the brazen serpent and live. Many had already
died, and when Moses raised the serpent upon the pole, some would not
believe that merely gazing upon that metallic image would heal them;
these perished in their unbelief. Yet there were many who had faith in
the provision which God had made. Fathers, mothers, brothers, and
sisters were anxiously engaged in helping their suffering, dying friends
to fix their languid eyes upon the serpent. If these, though faint and
dying, could only once look, they were perfectly restored.
The people well knew that there was no power in the serpent of brass to
cause such a change in those who looked upon it. The healing virtue was
from God alone. In His wisdom He chose this way of displaying His power.
By this simple means the people were made to realize that this
affliction had been brought upon them by their sins. They were also
assured that while obeying God they had no reason to fear, for He would
The lifting up of the brazen serpent was to teach Israel an important
lesson. They could not save themselves from the fatal effect of the
poison in their wounds. God alone was able to heal them. Yet they were
required to show their faith in the provision which He had made. They
must look in order to live. It was their faith that was acceptable with
God, and by looking upon the serpent their faith was shown. They knew
that there was no virtue in the serpent itself, but it was a symbol of
Christ; and the necessity of faith in His merits was thus presented to
their minds. Heretofore many had brought their offerings to God, and had
felt that in so doing they made ample atonement for their sins. They did
not rely upon the Redeemer to come, of whom these offerings were only a
type. The Lord would now teach them that their sacrifices, in
themselves, had no more power or virtue than the serpent of brass, but
were, like that, to lead their minds to Christ, the great sin offering.
"As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness," even so was the Son
of man "lifted up: that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish,
but have eternal life." John 3:14, 15. All who have ever lived upon the
earth have felt the deadly sting of "that old serpent, called the devil,
and Satan." Revelation 12:9. The fatal effects of sin can be removed
only by the provision that God has made. The Israelites saved their
lives by looking upon the uplifted serpent. That look implied faith.
They lived because they believed God's word, and trusted in the means
provided for their recovery. So the sinner may look to Christ, and live.
He receives pardon through faith in the atoning sacrifice. Unlike the
inert and lifeless symbol, Christ has power and virtue in Himself to
heal the repenting sinner.
While the sinner cannot save himself, he still has something to do to
secure salvation. "Him that cometh to Me," says Christ, "I will in no
wise cast out." John 6:37. But we must come to Him; and when we repent
of our sins, we must believe that He accepts and pardons us. Faith is
the gift of God, but the power to exercise it is ours. Faith is the hand
by which the soul takes hold upon the divine offers of grace and mercy.
Nothing but the righteousness of Christ can entitle us to one of the
blessings of the covenant of grace. There are many who have long desired
and tried to obtain these blessings, but have not received them, because
they have cherished the idea that they could do something to make
themselves worthy of them. They have not looked away from self,
believing that Jesus is an all-sufficient Saviour. We must not think
that our own merits will save us; Christ is our only hope of salvation.
"For there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we
must be saved." Acts 4:12.
When we trust God fully, when we rely upon the merits of Jesus as a
sin-pardoning Saviour, we shall receive all the help that we can desire.
Let none look to self, as though they had power to save themselves.
Jesus died for us because we were helpless to do this. In Him is our
hope, our justification, our righteousness. When we see our sinfulness
we should not despond and fear that we have no Saviour, or that He has
no thoughts of mercy toward us. At this very time He is inviting us to
come to Him in our helplessness and be saved.
Many of the Israelites saw no help in the remedy which Heaven had
appointed. The dead and dying were all around them, and they knew that,
without divine aid, their own fate was certain; but they continued to
lament their wounds, their pains, their sure death, until their strength
was gone, and their eyes were glazed, when they might have had instant
healing. If we are conscious of our needs, we should not devote all our
powers to mourning over them. While we realize our helpless condition
without Christ, we are not to yield to discouragement, but rely upon the
merits of a crucified and risen Saviour. Look and live. Jesus has
pledged His word; He will save all who come unto Him. Though millions
who need to be healed will reject His offered mercy, not one who trusts
in His merits will be left to perish.
Many are unwilling to accept of Christ until the whole mystery of the
plan of salvation shall be made plain to them. They refuse the look of
faith, although they see that thousands have looked, and have felt the
efficacy of looking, to the cross of Christ. Many wander in the mazes of
philosophy, in search of reasons and evidence which they will never
find, while they reject the evidence which God has been pleased to give.
They refuse to walk in the light of the Sun of Righteousness, until the
reason of its shining shall be explained. All who persist in this course
will fail to come to a knowledge of the truth. God will never remove
every occasion for doubt. He gives sufficient evidence on which to base
faith, and if this is not accepted, the mind is left in darkness. If
those who were bitten by the serpents had stopped to doubt and question
before they would consent to look, they would have perished. It is our
duty, first, to look; and the look of faith will give us life.
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