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Numbers 20:12-21

Context
The Lord’s Judgment

20:12 Then the Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not trust me enough 1  to show me as holy 2  before 3  the Israelites, therefore you will not bring this community into the land I have given them.” 4 

20:13 These are the waters of Meribah, because the Israelites contended with the Lord, and his holiness was maintained 5  among them.

Rejection by the Edomites

20:14 6 Moses 7  sent messengers from Kadesh to the king of Edom: 8  “Thus says your brother Israel: ‘You know all the hardships we have experienced, 9  20:15 how our ancestors went down into Egypt, and we lived in Egypt a long time, 10  and the Egyptians treated us and our ancestors badly. 11  20:16 So when we cried to the Lord, he heard our voice and sent a messenger, 12  and has brought us up out of Egypt. Now 13  we are here in Kadesh, a town on the edge of your country. 14  20:17 Please let us pass through 15  your country. We will not pass through the fields or through the vineyards, nor will we drink water from any well. We will go by the King’s Highway; 16  we will not turn to the right or the left until we have passed through your region.’” 17 

20:18 But Edom said to him, “You will not pass through me, 18  or I will come out against 19  you with the sword.” 20:19 Then the Israelites said to him, “We will go along the highway, and if we 20  or our cattle drink any of your water, we will pay for it. We will only pass through on our feet, without doing anything else.”

20:20 But he said, “You may not pass through.” Then Edom came out against them 21  with a large and powerful force. 22  20:21 So Edom refused to give Israel passage through his border; therefore Israel turned away from him.

1 tn Or “to sanctify me.”

sn The verb is the main word for “believe, trust.” It is the verb that describes the faith in the Word of the Lord that leads to an appropriate action. Here God says that Moses did not believe him, meaning that what he did showed more of Moses than of what God said. Moses had taken a hostile stance toward the people, and then hit the rock twice. This showed that Moses was not satisfied with what God said, but made it more forceful and terrifying, thus giving the wrong picture of God to the people. By doing this the full power and might of the Lord was not displayed to the people. It was a momentary lack of faith, but it had to be dealt with.

2 sn Using the basic meaning of the word קָדַשׁ (qadash, “to be separate, distinct, set apart”), we can understand better what Moses failed to do. He was supposed to have acted in a way that would have shown God to be distinct, different, holy. Instead, he gave the impression that God was capricious and hostile – very human. The leader has to be aware of what image he is conveying to the people.

3 tn Heb “in the eyes of.”

4 tn There is debate as to exactly what the sin of Moses was. Some interpreters think that the real sin might have been that he refused to do this at first, but that fact has been suppressed from the text. Some think the text was deliberately vague to explain why they could not enter the land without demeaning them. Others simply, and more likely, note that in Moses there was unbelief, pride, anger, impatience – disobedience.

5 tn The form is unusual – it is the Niphal preterite, and not the normal use of the Piel/Pual stem for “sanctify/sanctified.” The basic idea of “he was holy” has to be the main idea, but in this context it refers to the fact that through judging Moses God was making sure people ensured his holiness among them. The word also forms a wordplay on the name Kadesh.

6 sn For this particular section, see W. F. Albright, “From the Patriarchs to Moses: 2. Moses out of Egypt,” BA 36 (1973): 57-58; J. R. Bartlett, “The Land of Seir and the Brotherhood of Edom,” JTS 20 (1969): 1-20, and “The Rise and Fall of the Kingdom of Edom,” PEQ 104 (1972): 22-37, and “The Brotherhood of Edom,” JSOT 4 (1977): 2-7.

7 tn Heb “And Moses sent.”

8 sn Some modern biblical scholars are convinced, largely through arguments from silence, that there were no unified kingdoms in Edom until the 9th century, and no settlements there before the 12th century, and so the story must be late and largely fabricated. The evidence is beginning to point to the contrary. But the cities and residents of the region would largely be Bedouin, and so leave no real remains.

9 tn Heb “found.”

10 tn Heb “many days.”

11 tn The verb רָעַע (raa’) means “to act or do evil.” Evil here is in the sense of causing pain or trouble. So the causative stem in our passage means “to treat wickedly.”

12 tn The word could be rendered “angel” or “messenger.” Some ambiguity may be intended in this report.

13 tn The Hebrew text uses הִנֵּה (hinneh) to emphasize the “here and now” aspect of the report to Edom.

14 tn Heb “your border.”

15 tn The request is expressed by the use of the cohortative, “let us pass through.” It is the proper way to seek permission.

16 sn This a main highway running from Damascus in the north to the Gulf of Aqaba, along the ridge of the land. Some scholars suggest that the name may have been given by the later Assyrians (see B. Obed, “Observations on Methods of Assyrian Rule in Transjordan after the Palestinian Campaign of Tiglathpileser III,” JNES 29 [1970]: 177-86). Bronze Age fortresses have been discovered along this highway, attesting to its existence in the time of Moses. The original name came from the king who developed the highway, probably as a trading road (see S. Cohen, IDB 3:35-36).

17 tn Heb “borders.”

18 tn The imperfect tense here has the nuance of prohibition.

19 tn Heb “to meet.”

20 tn The Hebrew text uses singular pronouns, “I” and “my,” but it is the people of Israel that are intended, and so it may be rendered in the plural. Similarly, Edom speaks in the first person, probably from the king. But it too could be rendered “we.”

21 tn Heb “to meet him.”

22 tn Heb “with many [heavy] people and with a strong hand.” The translation presented above is interpretive, but that is what the line means. It was a show of force, numbers and weapons, to intimidate the Israelites.



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