Journeys through the Desert

Jun 21, 2015

וַיִּשְׁלַח מֹשֶׁה מַלְאָכִים מִקָּדֵשׁ אֶל־מֶלֶךְ אֱדוֹם כֹּה אָמַר אָחִיךָ יִשְׂרָאֵל אַתָּה יָדַעְתָּ אֵת כָּל־הַתְּלָאָה אֲשֶׁר מְצָאָתְנוּ׃

From Kadesh, Moshe sent messengers to the king of Edom: “Thus says your brother Yisrael: You know all the hardships that have befallen us;

Numbers 20:14

וַיִּסְעוּ בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל וַיַּחֲנוּ בְּעַרְבוֹת מוֹאָב מֵעֵבֶר לְיַרְדֵּן יְרֵחוֹ׃

The Israelites then marched on and encamped in the steppes of Moab, across the Yarden from Yericho.

Numbers 22:1

What follows is a series of incidents that occur as the Israelites travel through the desert. First, Moses requests permission from the king of Edom to pass through his land but is refused and the people are forced to go the long way around.


Aaron’s death approaches, and God instructs Moses to take his brother and Eleazar his nephew to the top of Mount Hor. There, Moses strips Aaron of his priestly garments, passing them to Eleazar, and God gathers Aaron’s soul. The people mourn the passing of the beloved leader. The Israel Bible points out that at a time when the heightened spiritual existence of the desert, where food fell from heaven and water was provided by God, is drawing to a close. God ensures that no vacuum is left in their spiritual leadership as the mantle passes from father to son, from Aaron to Eleazar.


The Canaanite king of the southern city of Arad sets out to fight against Israel and the people make a deal with God: if He grants them victory, they will utterly destroy the cities of the enemy. The Children of Israel are victorious, and fulfil their promise.


The people begin to get impatient on their journey and complain again about the lack of water and ordinary food. They say they are tired of the strange rations which fall from heaven. God sends fiery serpents to punish the people, who quickly realize the error of their ways and beg Moses to intercede with God. God tells Moses to build a brass serpent and place it on a pole, saying all those who look up to the brass serpent will be saved.


Moses sends messengers to Sihon, king of the Amorites, also asking for the right of passage. Instead he brings his army against the people. The Israelites smite the enemy forces, only to similarly confront the forces of Og, King of Bashan. God reassures Moses of Israelite victory and the nation takes the cities of both kings. This, the Israel Bible points out, marks the beginning of the conquest of the Promised Land. Although outside the original borders promised by God, these territories become an important part of the Jewish kingdom.


In addition, the Torah relates a number of destinations along the way, and songs of praise that the people sing in thanks to God for His wonders.


Virtual Classroom Discussion

Why do you think God uses a bronze serpent as the tool to save the stricken Israelites? Keep in mind that in 2 Kings 18, Hezekiah destroys that serpent in the context of eradicating idolatry from the land…

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