Esau’s Inheritance. The book of Numbers is partly a narrative of Israel’s desert wanderings interspersed with the laws and requirements of the offerings and also, rules for dividing the land of Canaan. Deuteronomy recounts (and summarizes) the events of the desert years and here we find God’s command to Moses to begin the final leg of the journey home to Canaan: “Then we turned, and took our journey into the wilderness [desert]by the way of the Red sea, as the LORD spake unto me: and we compassed [circled] mount Seir [Edom] many days. And the LORD spake unto me, saying, Ye have compassed this mountain long enough: turn you northward. And command thou the people, saying, Ye are to pass through the coast of your brethren the children of Esau, which dwell in Seir; and they shall be afraid of you: take ye good heed unto yourselves therefore: Meddle not with them; for I will not give you of their land, no, not so much as a foot breadth; because I have given mount Seir unto Esau for a possession.” (Deut. 2:1-5) We have to go to Genesis for the backstory to Esau’s possession. When Jacob returned to Canaan to live, Esau, “went into the country from the face of his brother Jacob.” (Gen. 36:6) Two verses later, we learn the location of the land where Esau fled: “Thus dwelt Esau in mount Seir: Esau is Edom.” (Gen. 36:8) The Lord warned Israel that He had given Edom to Esau and He would not give any of this land to them.
Numbers 20, where we are studying this week, gives some extra details that Edom denied Moses’ request for passage: “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.” (Num. 20:17-18) Note that Moses said Israel would use, “the king’s high way” to pass through Edom. The Hebrew says: דֶּרֶךְ הַמֶּלֶךְ – “derech ha-melech”. The word הַמֶּלֶךְ (ha-melech) means “the king” while דֶּרֶךְ (derech) means ‘way’ or ‘path’ hence the phrase, “king’s high way” in the AV.
Two Major Trade Routes. Two vitally important trade routes criss-crossed the land of Canaan joining three major continents: Africa, Europe and Asia. The King’s Highway extended from Egypt (in Africa) across the Sinai Peninsula, northward across Transjordan, past Damascus and onwards to Mesopotamia (in Asia) and the Euphrates River. The Via Maris (Latin for “way of the sea”) is the modern name for an ancient trade route linking Egypt with the northern empires of Syria and Mesopotamia. Its earlier name was “Way of the Philistines“, a reference to a passageway through the Philistine Plain (which today consists of Israel’s southern coastal plain and the Gaza Strip). It was the most important route from Egypt to Syria in the Fertile Crescent and followed the Israeli Mediterranean coastal plain before crossing over into the plain of Jezreel and the Jordan valley. Together with the King’s Highway, the Via Maris was one of the major trade routes connecting Egypt with Mesopotamia on the western edge of the Fertile Crescent.
|The Via Maris (purple), King’s Highway (red), and other ancient Levantine trade routes, c. 1300 BCE (Wikipedia)|
The Long Road Home. According to the Biblical record, during the Exodus from Egypt, God instructed Moses to purposefully avoid the Via Maris route:“And it came to pass, when Pharaoh had let the people go, that God led them not through the way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near; for God said, Lest peradventure the people repent when they see war, and they return to Egypt. But God led the people about, through the way of the wilderness of the Red sea: and the children of Israel went up harnessed out of the land of Egypt.” Exodus 13:17-18 The Lord knew that by following the shorter Via Maris route, Israel would encounter the Philistines. Instead, He led them into the desert so that He could save them from Egypt at the Red Sea.
After the 40 years of the desert wanderings, Moses would now finally lead Israel up the King’s Highway until they crossed over the Jordan river into Canaan. In modern Jordan, Highway 35 and Highway 15 follow The King’s Highway, connecting Irbid in the north with Aqaba in the south. The southern part of the route crosses several deep wadis, making it a highly scenic if curvy and rather low-speed road. (see photo at the top) The Lord picked the King’s Highway as Israel’s long road to their new home – Canaan. He knew it was in the desert, far from water; but He was the water of life. It was far from food – but He supplied their food. It was steep and hard to climb; but He would give them strength. It was curvy and one could become easily lost; but He was their guide. Yes, the Lord choose the King’s Highway on purpose to teach Israel that He would supply all they needed on the long walk home. The Lord wanted to develop in the children of Israel the faith in Him that they at first lacked (hence wandering in the desert for 40 years). The desert is always the best school for developing faith because it is a place where we truly must trust the Lord for even basic needs. Is your life path hard and steep? Confusing? Lacking in even basic resources? Don’t despair! The Lord may be sending you this direction on purpose to increase your faith. Remember if you only walk on the flatlands of the Via Marias, yes you will reach your destination faster and easier, but you won’t arrive with as much faith!