Moses sent messengers from Kadesh to the king of Edom, “Thus says your brother Israel: You know all the adversity that has befallen us: how our ancestors went down to Egypt, and we lived in Egypt a long time; and the Egyptians oppressed us and our ancestors; and when we cried to the Lord, he heard our voice, and sent an angel and brought us out of Egypt; and here we are in Kadesh, a town on the edge of your territory. Now let us pass through your land. We will not pass through field or vineyard, or drink water from any well; we will go along the King’s Highway, not turning aside to the right hand or to the left until we have passed through your territory.”
But Edom said to him, “You shall not pass through, or we will come out with the sword against you.” The Israelites said to him, “We will stay on the highway; and if we drink of your water, we and our livestock, then we will pay for it. It is only a small matter; just let us pass through on foot.” But he said, “You shall not pass through.” And Edom came out against them with a large force, heavily armed. Thus Edom refused to give Israel passage through their territory; so Israel turned away from them.
Thus says the Lord: For three transgressions of Edom, and for four, I will not revoke the punishment; because he pursued his brother with the sword and cast off all pity; he maintained his anger perpetually, and kept his wrath forever. So I will send a fire on Teman, and it shall devour the strongholds of Bozrah.
There’s a long history of mistrust behind this passage from the book of Numbers. Edomites are the descendants of Esau, and the Israelites are the descendants of Jacob. Jacob and Esau were competitive fraternal twins. You may recall how Jacob connived to get the birthright and blessing that rightfully belonged to Esau as the older of the two. Fast forward a few generations. The descendants of Jacob show up at the border of Edom, seeking passage through Edomite territory on their way to a new home in Canaan. Even though the Israelites give their word that they will not take advantage of their distant cousins, the Edomites refuse to welcome the Israelites and militarize the border to ensure that no one crosses.
But Edom’s lack of “welcome” has serious consequences. For generations following, Israel and Edom are bitter enemies. The prophet Amos references the incident and announces God’s judgment on Edom.
Questions for Reflection
What parallels (if any) do you see between the story of Edom and the history of U.S. immigration policy?
If a prophet of God were to review the “pity” of the U.S. toward immigrants, what might (s)he say?