But the king of Edom said, “Stay out of my land or I will meet you with an army!” . . . Because Edom refused to allow Israel to pass through their country, Israel was forced to turn around. - Numbers 20:18, 21
We can choose our friends, even if we do not have a similar freedom of choice with our relatives. In many instances, our closest friends are also our nearest relatives, but experience shows that it is not uncommon for tensions to exist between those who share a common heritage and genetics! In an extended family, quite often the origins of the tensions are long past, but succeeding generations keep the tensions alive by recounting, and even exaggerating, slights and insults. In extreme instances, bloody conflict has resulted.
Strong tensions existed between the Israelites and the Edomites. They were “relatives” (20:14), having descended from the brothers Jacob and Esau. But Esau’s unresolved enmity toward Jacob became Edom’s bitter grudge against Jacob’s descendants. If Edom and Israel could have stayed out of each other’s way, all would have been well. But in the long march from Egypt to the Promised Land, the land of Edom offered a convenient route. So Moses “sent ambassadors to the king of Edom” (20:14), courteously asking permission for the Israelites to travel through Edomite territory. He reminded them of their blood relationship, he recounted Israel’s hardships and the blessings of divine intervention, and he promised that no harm would come to either the economy or the infrastructure of the land. The king of Edom not only rejected the request but threatened military action if Moses and his people trespassed. Faced with a fight, the Israelites, deciding in this instance that “discretion is the better part of valor,” turned around and embarked on yet another wearisome detour.
While it was understandable that the king of Edom was nervous about allowing this vast crowd of people, along with their flocks and herds, to traverse his land, the extent and manner of his reaction speaks volumes about his state of mind. Deep antagonisms were at work. Otherwise, he would have mixed his natural trepidation with concern for the well-being of his relatives, and would have made some attempt to help them even if he couldn’t allow them to go through the territory.
Perhaps the Edomites were still smarting over the way that Esau, their forefather, had been mistreated by his brother Jacob, the forefather of the Israelites, years before, and they had not been willing to “let bygones be bygones.” In such cases someone needs to decide enough is enough, and instead of prolonging the estrangement, take steps to resolve the tension.
It may not always be possible to make your relatives your best friends, but it is surely worth working hard to ensure they aren’t your worst enemies.
For Further Study: Numbers 20:14-29
Excerpted from The One Year Devotions for Men, Copyright ©2000 by Stuart Briscoe. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers. All rights reserved.
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