Then they journeyed from Mount Hor by the Way of the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom; and the soul of the people became very discouraged on the way. (Numbers 21:4)
There are some commentators who believe that the incident involving the king of Arad and the subsequent destruction of his cities occurred many years before Aaron died at Mount Hor. In fact, these same commentators believe this encounter precipitated the expedition of the spies, which of course, resulted in the evil report and the subsequent journey through the desert. It is true that, having just compassed the land of Edom, they would not have been very close to Arad which was situated in the Negev. Now, if that is the case, why is this narrative placed here, presumably out of sequence?
The answer given by rabbinical commentators is that, God through Moses, wanted to remind us of the obstacles Israel had to overcome in order to enter the land. Specifically, the threat of war was always there and had been an impediment from the very beginning of their journey. The very reason God did not lead them from Egypt directly into the land of Canaan was because He knew the people would “change their minds when they see war, and return to Egypt” (Exodus 13:17).
Considering that this narrative regarding Arad comes immediately after Edom had stood in their way, this narrative was another reminder of the threats against them. More importantly, it served as a reminder of God’s ability to destroy their enemies and empower them to overcome the obstacles.
As we go on our journey and encounter our own obstacles, it is easy to forget what has transpired in the past and focus only what we see before us. It is important, then, to be reminded of how God has brought us through those trials of the past and find hope and confidence that He will continue to guide through the present.
Threats and opposition to God’s people and purpose have always been and will continue to be part of this existence, that is, until Messiah returns and puts down all of His enemies. Until then, we must be committed to the notion that we are here to fight — not against flesh and blood — but against the Adversary of our soul and the kingdom of darkness. Let’s not allow the prospect of war prevent us from going forward, even if to the very gates of hell. We can be confident that, in Messiah, those gates will not prevail.
Blessings and Shalom,