38. DEATH OF AARON
Maybe you have disappointed God and your loved ones. Maybe you brought shame on the cause of God. Maybe you feel to sinful to ever engage in the service of God. I have good news for you. Those that have fallen and were picked up by God can still continue to serve their Beloved Master.
This is what happened to Moses and this is what God wants you to remember. You are still precious in His sight and He still has a work for you to do.
Numbers 20:14 Now Moses sent messengers from Kadesh to the king of Edom. “Thus says your brother Israel: ‘You know all the hardship that has befallen us,
Moses did not deem it wise to seek entrance into Canaan from the south, owing no doubt to the attitude of the Hebrew host he was leading.
The Edomites, whom he approached, were in occupation of the territory that lay to the south of the Dead Sea, westward as far as Kadesh, and southward to the eastern arm of the Red Sea.
Your brother Israel.
As is the custom in the East today, those of blood relation may be addressed as “brothers.” The Edomites were the descendants of Esau (Gen. 25:30).
All the travail. Moses thus suggests to the Edomites that, as kinsfolk, they would take a sympathetic attitude toward the descendants of Jacob.
The word translated “travail” is from the Hebrew root “to be weary,” “to be exhausted.” Here it has reference to the difficulties of their long journey, perilous and wearisome, with no settled home of their own.
Verse 15 how our fathers went down to Egypt, and we dwelt in Egypt a long time, and the Egyptians afflicted us and our fathers.
The experiences of the children of Israel in Egypt were well known among the surrounding nations.
Verse 16 When we cried out to the LORD, He heard our voice and sent the Angel and brought us up out of Egypt; now here we are in Kadesh, a city on the edge of your border.
Who was this Angel? Christ Himself, the eternal Prince of God’s people.
Verse 17 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.’ ”
In order to enter the land of Canaan from the east the Israelites must either pass through Edom or make a long detour to the south, and then turn northward.
King’s high way.
This was the main artery of travel east of the Jordan, from Damascus in the north to Ezion-geber on the Gulf of ‘Aqaba.
Up-to-date maps of early Bible times indicate this trade route. It was along this road that the four kings who attacked Sodom in Abraham’s day came from Syria.
“The king’s high way” was repaired centuries later by the Romans, and its route is still in use. An aerial photograph of part of this roadway appears on page 40 of The Westminster Historical Atlas to the Bible.
Verse 18 Then Edom said to him, “You shall not pass through my land, lest I come out against you with the sword.”
No doubt the people of Edom were afraid their country would be occupied, or at least despoiled.
Verse 19 So the children of Israel said to him, “We will go by the Highway, and if I or my livestock drink any of your water, then I will pay for it; let me only pass through on foot, nothing more.”
Moses reiterates the peaceable mind of the Israelites toward Edom and says they would go through. They would not do a single thing other than pass through as quickly as possible.
Verse 20 Then he said, “You shall not pass through.” So Edom came out against them with many men and with a strong hand.
Edom feared to allow Israel passage through his territory. He did, however, sell them necessary provisions (see Deut. 2:28, 29).
With a strong hand. The king mustered his troops and made a show of force, manifesting every intention of resisting by force of arms any attempt at passage through his country.
Verse 21 Thus Edom refused to give Israel passage through his territory; so Israel turned away from him.
God Himself commanded Israel to turn aside, but to buy needed provisions from the Edomites (Deut. 2:5, 6).
This is such an important event in the history of Israel. Maybe we should take a deeper look into the story.
Sometimes repetition is a good thing. The second time the message sinks in a little deeper.
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.
How did the king of Moab respond to their request to pass through their land?
What would have happened had the Israelites trusted God when their water supply vanished?
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.
Do you think it is important to trust God in every little detail?
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 them.
Is there something that God wants you to do right now? Are you convinced about the matter? Please go forward and do it immediately.
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 Canaan.
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. PP 424
Verse 22 Now the children of Israel, the whole congregation, journeyed from Kadesh and came to Mount Hor.
When one stands on top of Jabal Madba where human sacrifices were offered, you can see a white spot on one of the distant mountains. In Arabic it is called Jebel Nebi Harun, that is, the mount of the prophet Aaron. It has a mosque on the supposed site of the prophet’s tomb, and is visited by devout pilgrims.
Some scholars see this as the mount Hor of the Bible.
Verse 23,24 And the LORD spoke to Moses and Aaron in Mount Hor by the border of the land of Edom, saying: “Aaron shall be gathered to his people, for he shall not enter the land which I have given to the children of Israel, because you rebelled against My word at the water of Meribah.
Probably Israel lay encamped at the foot of the mountain.
Gathered to his people. Have you come upon this expression before?
The same expression of death is used of Abraham (see on Gen. 25:8), of Ishmael (Gen. 25:17), of Isaac (Gen. 35:29), of Jacob (Gen. 49:33), and of Moses (Num. 27:13; 31:2).
Verses 25-27 Take Aaron and Eleazar his son, and bring them up to Mount Hor; and strip Aaron of his garments and put them on Eleazar his son; for Aaron shall be gathered to his people and die there.” So Moses did just as the LORD commanded, and they went up to Mount Hor in the sight of all the congregation.
Why in the sight of all?
So there could arise no question as to the legality of the succession of Eleazar to the sacred office after his father’s death.
Verse 28 Moses stripped Aaron of his garments and put them on Eleazar his son; and Aaron died there on the top of the mountain. Then Moses and Eleazar came down from the mountain.
The date of Aaron’s death, and his age, 123 years, are given in 33:38, 39. His death emphasized the imperfection of the Levitical priesthood in respect to its changeableness. Paul speaks of the contrast between it and Christ’s eternal priesthood.(Heb. 7:24).
Verse 29 Now when all the congregation saw that Aaron was dead, all the house of Israel mourned for Aaron thirty days.
This is the same number of days of mourning observed for Moses some months later (Deut. 34:8).
LOCATION OF MOUNT HOR
According to Josephus and Eusebius, Mount Hor is to the south of Petra. Israel moved from Kadesh Barnea, north of Petra, to the their next stop. Here they encamped and here they said goodbye to their beloved high priest.
Every time I visit Petra, the tomb of Aaron touches my heart. In my imagination I see the three of them ascending the mountain.
They must have stopped a few times and thought back of their experiences the past 40 years. I think they shed quite a few tears going up the funeral of Aaron. After they break I want to share a few thoughts of the last conversation between the two elderly brothers.
If you have lost a dear brother, you will appreciate the last conversation of these two warriors.