The Israelites attempt to enter Canaan
Num 20:14-21 As the Edomites were descended from Jacob’s brother Esau (see Genesis 32:3 & Deuteronomy 2:8), Moses sends messengers to the King of Edom requesting safe passage through his territory lying to the south east of Canaan.
But the king sends a large and powerful army against the Israelites and will not allow them to pass through Edom. The only way into the ‘promised land’ of Canaan is to be by force of arms.
Num 20:22-29 The Israelites leave Kadesh in c.1407BC and travel north towards Canaan, skirting to the west of Edom (see 6 on Map 45). At Mt Hor, Aaron dies and is succeeded as Chief Priest (see Exodus 28:1) by his son Eleazor.
Although it is not on the route between Kadesh and Atharim as described in the Book of Numbers, Mount Hor – where Aaron died – is traditionally identified as Jabal Harun – Mount Aaron – 3 miles / 5 km west of Petra in Jordan. This remote site – the highest point in the area at 1350 metres – can be reached by walking along the path through the Wadi Musa (‘Moses Valley’) via the gorge (The Siq) leading to Petra.
Shrine on the summit of Jabal Harun (Mt Aaron) near Petra (Joneikifi)
Num 21:1-3 As the Israelites come closer to Canaan, the Canaanite King of Arad attacks them in the northern Negev Desert on the road to Atharim and many Israelites are captured and led in captivity north to Arad (see 6 on Map 45).
A detachment of crack Israelite commandos mounts a daring raid deep into Canaanite territory to the north. After a fierce struggle, the King of Arad is eventually defeated at Hormah (meaning ‘destruction’), near Arad, but the Israelites decide that it would be more prudent to retreat southwards and to attack Canaan from the east.
Arad was a powerful and long-established Canaanite city-state when the Israelites made their first attempt to march into the ‘promised land’ in c.1407BC. Located just north of the Negev Desert some 28 miles / 45 km east of Beersheba and 15 miles / 25 km west of the Dead Sea, it formed the most southerly city of Canaan and a fierce obstacle to any new settlers. Alerted by his border guards, the King of Arad marched south and captured many Israelites before they got anywhere near the city. The Israelites later mounted a successful counter-attack, but were unable to take the city, so they retreated south in order to attack Canaan from the east.
The reconstructed western gate at Tel Arad (Acer 11)
Arad was largely destroyed by the Babylonians prior to the fall of Jerusalem in 587BC, but it remained inhabited until the Roman Emperor Hadrian expelled its Jewish population in 135AD.
Num 21:4-5 The Israelites turn south from Mt Hor and retrace their steps towards Ezion-geber and the Red Sea in order to skirt round to the south and east of Edom (see 7 on Map 45).
Num 21:6-9 Many are bitten by poisonous snakes in the southern Negev Desert. The LORD commands Moses to make a bronze snake on a pole so that those who are bitten may look up at it and be healed. The bronze snake is revered and later called the 'Nehushtan' (2 Kings 18:4).
Bronze Serpent monument on Mt Nebo (Jerzy Strzelecki)
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