Numbers 20&21: The Journey Continues

In these verses, we learn about where they travel, their passage through nations, the brass serpent, and Aaron's death.


The rest of Numbers 20, along with Numbers 21, discusses the Israelites moving forward in their journey. In these verses, we learn about where they travel, their passage through nations, and Aaron's death.

Passage Through Edom

Edom was built by the Esau, the brother of Jacob/Israel and in brotherly fashion, Moses asks the Edomites for permission to pass through their land safely. Moses promises the Edomites that the Israelites won't touch the Edomites fields, vineyard, or water—legitimate concerns for anyone allowing such a large population to pass through, especially in the desert. Despite this promise, Edom rejects Moses' proposal and threatens to wage war if Israel crosses its borders. Moses responds by offering payment, but Edom still refuses. As such, the Israelites are forced to go around Edom to reach their destination. Given the nature of Jacob and Esau's relationship, I would expect wariness from Edom toward Israel. I also wonder if the Edomites had heard about God's wrath upon Egypt and were fearful that this was a trick which would bring about plagues and destruction.

Relating to Today

We see the same concerns with refugees today, and let's face it, the Israelites would have been considered refugees in today's society. Many countries in our world today are at war, producing thousands upon thousands of refugees. These people abandon the home that they know in search of a better life. Sometimes, this may mean leaving everything they own behind. For people today, culture shock can be an issue.[1] Cultures around the world are very different, which leads to confusion when people are haphazardly thrown together. The same may have been said for the Israelites; I'm sure the difference between the Edomites' culture and the Egyptians' culture was very great. People are often fearful of what these new cultures will bring, just as the Edomites were not willing to let the Israelites pass and the Israelites were forbidden from letting the Canaanites stay. Similarly, today, people are wary of the influx of Muslim culture due to the refugees from ISIS.

As Christians, we are to love our neighbors even if we believe our neighbor is an enemy. Whether a culture clash is brewing or not, it is our duty as Christians to spread the love of Jesus to others. This means providing safe spaces for those in need, introducing them to Christ, and leaving the rest in God's hands.

The Death of Aaron

The last portion of Numbers 20 details Aaron's death. This passage is much longer than the single verse dedicated to Miriam earlier in the chapter, but inform us of Aaron's death, we also needed to know what would happen to the priesthood. A simple "Aaron died on Mount Hor and the people mourned" would not suffice for someone in great power. Miriam's eulogy, though short, proves that although she was a woman, she was an important figure; Aaron's eulogy, though long, dictates the next steps for Israel. We are reminded that despite Aaron's status as high priest, he cannot enter the promised land. The reason given for his exclusion is the sin he and Moses committed in striking the rock for water. This incident occurred just after the death of Miriam (another testament of what she may have meant to the brothers). Before Aaron dies, a new high priest must be installed. Thus, Aaron and Eleazar journey to the mountaintop with Moses, where Aaron passes on his garments and hands over the position of high priest to Eleazar. Aaron then dies. The Israelites mourn for 30 days after the passing of Aaron.

The Canaanites

King Arad of the Canaanites hears that Israelites are coming and decides to wage war with them. The Israelites vow to destroy the cities of Canaan if God delivers them again. Being that this God's plan all along, it is no surprise that God hears their plea and grants their request. After defeating them, they rename the location to Horman.

The Brass Serpent

As the Israelites continue, taking the long way around Edom, they begin to complain again. This time, when the Israelites begin speaking against God, He sends fiery serpents to attack the Israelites. They ask Moses to intercede on their behalf and as usual, Moses does. God grants His mercy and instructs Moses to build a brass serpent. God tells the Israelites to look upon the brass serpent if they are bit and promises to heal them. Those with faith believed in God's power, so when they looked upon the brass serpent, they were healed.


Journey to Moab

Numbers 21:10-15 lists the names of the places the Israelites camped on their way to Moab. The names of each place and their meanings are listed in the table below.
ObothWater-skins; a place in Edom[2]
IjeabarimRuin of Abiram[3]
Valley of Zaredlinked to Wady al Achsa[4]
Arnonlinked to Wady Al-Majib[5]
NahalielValley of God[8]
BamothHigh place[9]
Arnon is presumably named after the Arnon river. At Beer, which means well, the Israelites are given water. The princes and nobility—not the servants—dig the well while singing.

We are told of a book entitled The Wars of the Lord; we do not have this book today.

Passage From Sihon

Once again, the Israelites ask for permission to pass through a neighboring kingdom peacefully, and once again they are denied. This doesn't seem so very strange when you think about the fact Donald Tump wants to build a wall betwenn the United States and Mexico. People haven't changed so very much.

This time, the refusal comes from Sihon, king od the Amorites. Sihon gathers his army at a place called Jahaz. God allows the Israelites to prevail and they posses the land of the Amorites from Arnon to Jabbok. They stop at Ammon, citing the strength of the Ammonites' border. The Israelites sing of their victory and denounce the Moabite deity Chemosh. Chemosh was the "national god" of the Moabites, sharing many similarities with Baal or Moloch. Despite denouncing the false god, worship of Chemosh would eventually occur in Israel through King Solomon.[10][11] Finally, the Israelites take Jaazer and drive out the remaining Amorites.

Another Battle

Next, the Israelites are attacked by Og, king of Bashon. This is called the Battle of Edrei. Per God's promise, He stands with Israel and they defeat the army of Bashon. No one in Og's army is left living, thus the Israelites claim sole possession of the land.


  1. Refugee Advocacy. "Culture Shock Sudanese refugees coming to America". YouTube. July 2015
  2. "Oboth (Dibon)". Bible Hub. 2015
  3. "Ijeabarim". Bible Hub. 2015
  4. "Vally of Zered (Zered)". Bible Hub. 2015
  5. "Arnon (Arnon River)". Bible Hub. 2015
  6. "Beer". Bible Hub. 2015
  7. "Mattanah (Lasha)". Bible Hub. 2015
  8. "Nahaliel (Lasha)". Bible Hub. 2015
  9. "Bamoth (Bamoth-baal)". Bible Hub. 2015
  10. Morris Jastrow, Jr. and George A. Barton. "Chemosh." Jewish Encyclopedia. 1906
  11. "Who was Chemosh?." 2016

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