“And Moses sent messengers from Kadesh unto the king of Edom, 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: Let us pass, I pray thee, through thy country: we will not pass through the fields, or through the vineyards, neither will we drink of the water of the wells: we will go by the king's high way, we will not turn to the right hand nor to the left, until we have passed thy borders.
And Edom said unto him, Thou shalt not pass by me, lest I come out against thee with the sword.” (Numbers 20:14-18)
The Edomites were descendants of Esau, Jacob’s brother. Encamped on the border of Edom at Kadesh, Moses requested permission to cross Edomite territory in an effort to prevent conflict. He offered assurances they would not leave established roadways, or even stop for water to drink on their way across. Rather than granting the request, the king of Edom responded that any effort would be regarded as an invasion and met with force.
“And the children of Israel said unto him, 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 any thing else, go through on my feet.
And he said, Thou shalt not go through. And Edom came out against him with much people, and with a strong hand. Thus Edom refused to give Israel passage through his border: wherefore Israel turned away from him. And the children of Israel, even the whole congregation, journeyed from Kadesh, and came unto mount Hor.” (Numbers 20:19-22)
Israel made a second appeal that was rudely rejected. The king of Edom came out aggressively to confront them. Israel then returned to mount Sinai and the wilderness where they had spent so much time. They would spend thirty eight more years traveling around from the upper Arab peninsula north to present day Syria. Numbers 33 lists the various camps.
“And the LORD spake unto Moses and Aaron in mount Hor, by the coast of the land of Edom, saying, Aaron shall be gathered unto his people: for he shall not enter into the land which I have given unto the children of Israel, because ye rebelled against my word at the water of Meribah. Take Aaron and Eleazar his son, and bring them up unto mount Hor: And strip Aaron of his garments, and put them upon Eleazar his son: and Aaron shall be gathered unto his people, and shall die there.
And Moses did as the LORD commanded: and they went up into mount Hor in the sight of all the congregation. And Moses stripped Aaron of his garments, and put them upon Eleazar his son; and Aaron died there in the top of the mount: and Moses and Eleazar came down from the mount. And when all the congregation saw that Aaron was dead, they mourned for Aaron thirty days, even all the house of Israel.” (Numbers 20:23-29)
Because they took the credit for giving Israel water, rather than giving it to God, when they said, “must we fetch you water out of this rock?”, neither Moses or Aaron would be allowed to enter the promised land. Moses was commanded to publicly make Eleazar high priest in Aaron’s place on mount Hor. Aaron then died there and Moses and Eleazar returned to the camp, where a thirty day mourning period was observed. Aarons death occurred in the fortieth year after their deliverance from Egypt, according to Numbers 33:38-39. “And Aaron the priest went up into mount Hor at the commandment of the LORD, and died there, in the fortieth year after the children of Israel were come out of the land of Egypt, in the first day of the fifth month. And Aaron was an hundred and twenty and three years old when he died in mount Hor.”
This was about six months before Moses spoke to the nation of Israel in Deuteronomy, according to Deuteronomy 1:3. At the conclusion of his message to them, Moses himself died and a little over a month later, after a month long mourning period, Israel would enter the Promised Land.
Aaron’s death is recorded out of historical order here to emphasize the seriousness of failing to give God his just credit and glory.