The people of Israel were encamped at Kadesh. The period of the forty years had drawn to a close, so that the time for the host of the Lord to take possession of the promised land was at hand. Two routes lay open to them: the one direct through the land of the Edomites, the other long and circuitous, stretching around and eastward of Edom. Accordingly Moses sent the king of Edom a message, petitioning him to allow the people of Israel to pass through his land. The message was friendly and warm. The first part of it declared by implication that Israel and Edom were descendent from Isaac and that their original ancestors were twin brothers, touched on the bondage of Israel in Egypt and the doing of God that had consisted in His delivering them in answer to their cry and finally informed the king of Edom of their whereabouts in the wilderness, “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.” The second part of the message was formed of the petition proper and advanced the reasons why the king should not be afraid to grant the request. They would not pass through the fields, or through the vineyards, neither would they drink of the water of the wells: they would go by the king’s way, and would not turn to the right or to the left until they had passed Edom’s borders.
The message taken on a whole reposed upon the assumption that Edom was familiar with Israel’s origin, career and destiny,, with the relation he sustained to God and with the promises made unto the fathers. There were three arguments by which Moses tried to induce the king of Edom to grant the people of Israel passage through his dominion. The first was that the two nations were of the same blood. It might be expected that this connection would render Edom hospitable. The second argument was that their afflictions in Egypt had been so cruel that the report of them had spread far and wide. “Thou knowest, hast heard of all the travail that hath befallen us.” The king must be pitying them and would, as moved by pity allow himself to be prevailed upon. The third argument was the weightiest of the three. It was the part of wisdom to befriend the children of Israel, for God was with them. The evidence of this was that God by His angel delivered them out of all their troubles in answer to their cry, and brought them to the edge of the promised land. Hence, he who was against this people, refused to do well by them, exposed himself to the curse of Jehovah, the God of all the earth.
But the king of Edom was unmoved. Having heard out the messengers, his curt and harsh reply was, “Thou shalt not pass by me, lest I come out against thee with the sword.” The messengers for a while continued to remonstrate with the king, “We will go by the high way: 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.” It was of no use. The king was adamant, “Thou shalt not go through.” He even sent a warlike armament against Israel that trod upon the heels of the returning messengers. “And Edom came out against him with much people, and with a strong hand.” Thus Edom refused to give Israel passage through his border. And “Israel turned away from him.” There was reason. The Lord had forbidden them to engage in any acts of violence against Edom, “Ye are to pass through the coast of your brethren the children of Esau, which dwell in Seir; and they shall be afraid of you: take ye good heed unto yourselves therefore: meddle not with them; for I will not give you of their land, no, not as much as a foot breadth; . . .Ye shall buy meat of them for money, that ye may eat; and ye shall buy water of them for money that ye may drink” (Deut. 2:3-5). Israel may not dispossess Edom, is forbidden to molest him in any way. Edom is not to be reckoned among the tribes of Canaan to be extirpated. Does the Lord’s sparing Edom betoken that He assumes an attitude of favor toward them? This cannot be, as Esau and his kin are reprobated. The Lord explains His own action. Israel and Edom are brothers, Ye are to pass through the coasts of your brethren. . . .” To these brethren the Lord had given Mount Seir for a possession. Therefore Israel shall not meddle with them, “Take ye good heed unto yourselves; meddle not with them; . . .because I have given Mount Seir unto Esau for a possession” (Deut. 2:5)—given Mount Seir to Esau not in love but in His wrath. For both against Esau and Esau in his generations the Lord had indignation forever (Mal. 1:4).
We can, say some interpreters, easily understand the objection of the king of Edom. Many of the defiles through which the main road wound were not adapted for the march of a great multitude. The Israelites could scarcely have gone through Edom without injuring the fields and vineyards; and though the undertaking was given in good faith by Moses, he could not answer for the whole of that undisciplined host he was leading toward Canaan. The safety of Edom lay in denying to other people’s access to its strongholds. The difficulty of approaching them was their main security. Israel might go quickly through the land now; but its armies might soon return with hostile intent. Water, too, was very precious in some parts of Edom. Enough was stored in rainy seasons to supply the wants of the inhabitants; beyond that there was none to spare, and for this necessity of life money was no equivalent. A multitude traveling with cattle would have made scarcity or famine,—might have left the region almost desolate.
There is truth in some of these statements. But we learn from the Old Testament Scriptures that the real reason of Edom’s refusing to give Israel a passage through his country was that, being reprobated, he was filled with an abiding and deep-seated animosity toward Israel. As stated in a former article, the Old Testament asserts over and over that the Edomites were bitter enemies of Israel; and it is evident from illusions in exile and post exilic writings that during the closing days of Judah’s national existence the old hostile spirit revived. In Psalm 137 the prophet recalls with indignation the malice of the Edomites, “Remember o Jehovah against the children of Edom the day of Jerusalem: who said, rase it, rase it, even to the foundation thereof.” From the prophecy of Qbadiah, we learn that in the day that strangers carried away captive Jacob’s forces, and foreigners entered into his gates, and cast lots upon Jerusalem, even Edom looked with joy on the day of his brother in the day that he became a stranger; that he rejoiced over the children of Judah in the day of their destruction; that he spoke proudly in the day of his distress; that he entered into the gates of God’s people in the day of their calamity and laid hands on their substance in that day; that he stood in the crossway to cut off those of Jacob that did escape; that he delivered up those of Jacob that did remain in the day of distress; and that he sent an ambassador among the nations with the message, “Arise ye, let us rise up against her (Judah) in battle.”
Of all Israel’s adversaries, not one was so persistently and fiercely hostile as Edom. To account for that hostility, it is necessary to go back on the history of Jacob and Esau. Edom regarded himself as a people cheated cut of his blessing, out of the fatness of the earth, by Jacob. But through His placing Canaan in the actual possession of the twelve sons of Jacob, the Lord showed Edom that Isaac had made no mistake in blessing Jacob, so that the deep reason of Edom’s hatred of Jacob was that Jacob was the chosen of the I ord.
So did Israel take the long route, stretching east of Edom. But also in going by this longer way, Israel passed not directly through Edom’s dominion but through his coasts, so that there is no discrepancy between the command of the Lord to Israel, “Ye are to pass through the coast of your brethren the children of Esau” and the notice that Israel turned away from Esau to follow the longer way.
After the transpiring of the above-cited events, the children of Israel journeyed from Kadesh and came to Mount Hor. It was during the time of this encampment that the Lord told Moses and Aaron that Aaron should now die. The Lord also let it be known that the reason Aaron should die was that he could not enter into the land which the Lord also let it be known that the reason Aaron should die was that he might not enter in the land which He had given to the children of Israel, on account of his rebellion against the Lord’s word at the water of Meribah. The Lord thus publicly attributed Aaron’s death to his sin, and thus established in the minds of the people a connection between the two in order that the people, in their willing ignorance, might not say that in dying, Aaron had simply gone the way of all flesh.
Aaron was led by Moses in company with Eleazar, Aaron’s son, unto Mount Hor, the place where he was to die and be buried. He thus went to his grave in full knowledge of where he was going. He had not only to be buried but also to die outside the camp. His death, or rather his being hindered through death from entering the promised land was a punishment inflicted on account of a particular sin. But if the rest of Canaan was but a shadow of the true rest that Christ entered with His people, how could Aaron’s being prevented from entering into Canaan, be punishment? How could the thought that the earthy Canaan was lost to him have saddened his soul, if he knew that in death he was to be with the Lord? How could he count this loss truly a loss? These questions can be satisfactorily answered. It is to be considered that, as I wrote in a former article, the Old Testament Dispensation was the dispensation of shadows. The Israelitish people together with all their institutions was a shadow of the heavenly. All was shadow. There was even a shadow satisfaction and atonement, a shadow forgiveness of sin, a shadow righteousness and sanctification and also a penalty, a punishment, that typified death eternal. And this penalty was physical death, the being cut off through death from the land of Canaan, God’s country and thus from God’s very presence. It was this that rendered death a state so terrible to contemplate to Old Testament believers. The offender, through death, was cut off from God’s people, from God’s country and from His sanctuary. “He (the offender) shall be cut off from his people” and, “He shall be put to death” are two expressions occurring in the Law that belong together. The thought of death therefore filled even the believers with grave apprehensions. By death they were separated from the visible, earthy sanctuary in Canaan. And in that sanctuary dwelt God. It was the only place where the Old Testament believer could meet God. The only heaven, the only heavenly country, temple of God, house of the Lord, directly revealed to him was that earthy Canaan, that worldly sanctuary. He knew of none other. To Aaron therefore the thought of his being banished from Canaan through death was, must have been, extremely painful. It was to his mind, punishment indeed. What is more, it was a kind of punishment that was inflicted only when a gross sin had been committed, a sin that could not be atoned by the typical sacrifices by blood. Thus, Aaron’s finding himself under the necessity of suffering this penalty, brings out the greatness of the sin that he had committed. But Aaron was one of God’s saints, so that, though banished from the earthy Canaan, he died in the confident hope that the Lord would not leave his soul in death but that he would awaken and see God in holy temple.
The office of the high priest could not be left vacant for a moment. Before Aaron died therefore the holy garments, the sacerdotal ornaments, were put upon Eleazer his son. This had the further advantage of designating Aaron’s successor while he was still living, and of securing also the perpetuity of the priesthood in the genealogical line of Aaron. Finally it prevented this office from falling into dis-esteem.
Everything here indicates that Aaron in his capacity of high priest and the office which he served were but shadows—everything: his being stripped of his sacred garments, his being unable to continue in his office by reason of death, and his being disqualified from entering into Canaan by his great sin. These happenings, however sad, were thus prophetic of the appearing of our only high priest, Christ Jesus. His atonement was real. His obedience, being perfect, fully satisfied all the rigid and relentless demands of the law. Hence as priest he abideth everlastingly. Never will He in the performance of His service as the Priest Glorified be interrupted by death. Of the garments of salvation with which the Father clothed Him when He raised Him up and set Him together with all His people in heaven He will never be divested. Such is the high priest now over the house of God. Should we then not draw near in full assurance of faith?
Perceiving that Moses was returning from the mountain without Aaron, and beholding Eleazer clad with the priestly ornaments, the people understood that Aaron was dead. None had seen him die, had witnessed the ceremony that had been performed in the mountain, knew the location of his grave—none save Moses and Eleazar. It had thus been a small funeral indeed, strangely devoid of all show, and also strangely secret. The people, the true people of God, grieved. They would miss him. And the congregation “even the whole house of Israel, mourned for him thirty days, that is, gave for this length of time public expression to their sorrow.
What shalt we say of the man Aaron? That he was one of God’s saints, we know from Scripture. But he was not the strong man spiritually that his brother Moses was. He had it not in him to alone fearlessly and steadfastly champion the cause of God among his people. He was a timid man, one rather easily frightened by the insolence of the carnal seed m the camp. They could scare him into yielding to their sinful demands. At Sinai they had cried to him, ‘‘Make us gods,” and he had obliged them. That lie had joined Miriam in her opposition to Moses, shows that he was easily misled. He was a man who could not be trusted to carry on alone. As unfortified by the presence of Moses, he would have been a failure.
Another event that took place during the encampment at Horeb was the attack of Arad the Canaanite. The narrative reads, “And when King Arad the Canaanite, which dwelt in the south, heard tell that Israel came by the way of the spies, then he fought against Israel and took some of them prisoners. . . . And Israel vowed a vow unto the Lord and said, If thou wilt indeed deliver this people into my hand, then I will utterly destroy their cities. And the Lord hearkened to the voice of Israel, and delivered up the Canaanites; and they utterly destroyed them and their cities: and he called the name of the place Hormah.”
This battle took place in the south of Canaan in the same region where thirty-eight years previous Israel had suffered such a shameful defeat at the hands of these same Canaanites,—a defeat recorded in chap. 14. When the people at that time hear the evil report of the ten spies, they broke out into loud weeping and accused the Lord of having led them to the border of Canaan that they all might perish by the sword of the adversary. That was the old generation. On account of their unbelief their carcasses were to fall in the desert. But the people in their carnal grief and in opposition to the Word of God, went up to take possession of the promised land. But the Lord was not with them, so that many of their number fell by the sword of the Amalekites and the Canaanites of that part of Canaan. All this had taken place some thirty-eight years ago. The new generation after these years finds itself in the very region where the old generation had been defeated. The king of Arad, recalling this defeat and thinking that a fatal blow might again be inflicted upon the people of Israel, now fell suddenly upon them as they were breaking up from Kadesh, and when, in the confusion of the march, they were unprepared. Though he took some of them prisoners, there was no serious defeat of the Israelites. They avenged the unprovoked attack on them, and destroyed the cities of the adversary, and named the place Hormah, meaning destruction. When they left, the defeated Canaanites re-occupied the sites of their ruined cities, for Joshua duds them in possession there. This expedition was the first victory for the new generation. It betokened then great successful conflict in Canaan.