Numbers 20:14-17 explains that the realm of Kadesh butts up against Edom, which was first mentioned way back in Genesis being the land to where Esau moved. Moses intends to pass through Edom now, but before he does, he sends a messenger into land to explain the plight of the Israelites and beg the king for passage. Moses goes into detail about how awful their situation is what with being mistreated by the Egyptians and being left to wander by their Lord. He explains that, while in Edom, they will not take any of their food, drink any of their water, or even leave the road.
This passage seems pretty straightforward by itself, but when you remember the background, everything is wrong. First of all, up until now, the Israelites have been acting like the NSA—unethically spying on everyone they can. And when they’re not spying, they’re attempting to conquer! So, what’s with this passive “asking for permission” attitude? Are the Israelites finally learning a lesson in manners (HA! Just you wait!)?
Second, the Israelites aren’t just walking wherever they want, they’re following columns of dust and fire, and there has never been any indication that these columns communicate their planned destinations to Moses. So how is it Moses knows they need to travel through Edom? Did he watch the column of dust enter Edom and send in messengers? Why didn’t he do this same thing for all the other lands they walked through?
But the strangest problem of all is, the Israelites have 40 years of wandering left to do, so why is it so important that they travel through Edom right now? It’ll take like, what, a couple weeks to go around? Even if it took 10 years, who cares, do they not have time to spare? You could argue that the Israelites needed to go through Edom to replenish their supplies, except Moses specifically pointed out that they wouldn’t touch any food or water or even leave the main road.
No, something is rotten in the state of Edom.