In Numbers 20:18-21, the messengers reach the nameless king of Edom, but when they ask permission to cross through his land, they’re met with immediate denial. Well, it’s the king of Edom’s land, he can do whatever he wants. Simply asking failed, so the messengers sweeten the deal by offering to pay the king for any water they drink from his land as they pass through.
Well hold on now! First of all, Moses never told the messengers they could do any wheelin’-n’-dealin’, but even if he did give them the authority, why would they need to buy water? Moses just said they wouldn’t drink any of Edom’s water, which means they already had enough water to cross Edom, which means that offering to pay for any the take is charade since Edom won’t make a dime from the water-laden Israelites!
Okay, let’s assume that this is just another one of the bible’s unintended plot holes and that the king could actually make money from the Israelites passing through his borders. If that is the case, you’d expect him to accept the new deal, yet he refuses again. What’s going on here?
The bible doesn’t explain why the king refuses, but commentators confidently claim it’s because of a feud between the Israelites and the Edomites. If you remember way back in Genesis, Esau (who later founded Edom) was robbed of his birthright by Jacob, so the hate-fires still burn brightly in Edom! Even though that happened a few centuries ago. Even though Moses is merely Jacob’s great-great-grandson. Even though the Israelites were locked away in Egypt so they couldn’t possibly have done anything wrong to the Edomites in those few hundred years. But I digress.
Those who read the story of Esau and Jacob (and aren’t completely immoral) will recognize that it is actually Jacob who is the villain of the story because he took advantage of Esau and hoodwinked their father. I guess Esau didn’t forget after all! That being the case, I can understand why the king of Edom wouldn’t trust the offspring of Jacob with his land. However, those on team-Jacob tend to see this minor inconvenience to the Israelites as an acceptable reason for the Israelites to conquer Edom later in the bible!
I should also point out how this whole Edom / Esau story seems grafted onto the bible. The “red” names don’t fit with the time line, Esau’s list of progeny back in Genesis was out of place then just as this Edom story is out of place in Numbers, and even the syntax here doesn’t match with the rest of the book. The messengers and the king are referred to as “Israel” and “Edom” respectively, as if they speak for their entire nations, but nearly everywhere else in the book people are referred to by their name or title.