Death of Aaron

Numbers 33:31‑38;Deuteronomy 10:6  •  6 min. read  •  grade level: 11
As regards the difficulty arising from the passage in Deuteronomy1 regarding Aaron's death, it is one of those passages which are the strongest possible proofs of not only the authenticity but the personal knowledge of the author, because there is apparent contradiction, which is immediately solved when you examine all the details-a proof that it is written by one who knew them, and, having the consciousness of the links which united the parts, was not sensible of the necessity of making it hang together as a fabricated story.
It is quite true that, in appearance, Deut. 10 makes Aaron die before reaching Meribah-kadesh, where, according to Numbers, he sinned and incurred the penalty of death. Mr. N.'s proof is Num. 33:31-3831And they departed from Moseroth, and pitched in Bene-jaakan. 32And they removed from Bene-jaakan, and encamped at Hor-hagidgad. 33And they went from Hor-hagidgad, and pitched in Jotbathah. 34And they removed from Jotbathah, and encamped at Ebronah. 35And they departed from Ebronah, and encamped at Ezion-gaber. 36And they removed from Ezion-gaber, and pitched in the wilderness of Zin, which is Kadesh. 37And they removed from Kadesh, and pitched in mount Hor, in the edge of the land of Edom. 38And Aaron the priest went up into mount Hor at the commandment of the Lord, and died there, in the fortieth year after the children of Israel were come out of the land of Egypt, in the first day of the fifth month. (Numbers 33:31‑38). Moseroth being mentioned in verse 31 before Kadesh, where Moses sinned; Mosera, in Deuteronomy 10 as the place of Aaron's death, which would be thus before coming to Meribah, where he sinned; for in Deut. 10 it is said he died at Mosera, consequently at Moseroth (Numbers 33: 31); but in this list of Numbers this Moseroth is before he came to Kadesh-barnea, where the sin was committed for which he was condemned to die in the wilderness. In one word, Mosera, where he died, Deuteronomy 10, is in Num. 33:3131And they departed from Moseroth, and pitched in Bene-jaakan. (Numbers 33:31) before Kadesh, where he sinned.
Now, if we look at these accounts superficially (Mr. N. must forgive me if I employ the word he has consecrated to this use), this objection may seem plausible enough. But it is perfectly certain that Israel went from Moseroth to Ezion-gaber, back to Moseroth, and again back to Ezion-gaber, then to go round Edom. This circumstance, which clears up the whole matter, shows that the knowledge of the facts was of that personal kind which is not aware of the difficulty of one who is a stranger to them, because personal consciousness of the whole is a continual explanation of them. If the reader pays attention, the first two places mentioned in Deuteronomy are in inverse order to that in which they are named in Num. 1 may first remark that they continued in this neighborhood thirty-seven years; so that many journeys might have been made; but there is something more precise than that. In Num. 33 they go from Moseroth by Bene-jaakan, Hor-hagidgad, to Ezion-gaber. From Ezion-gaber they go back to Hor. (Num. 21.) After Aaron's death they go from Mount Hor back to the Red Sea—that is, to Ezion-gaber—to compass the land of Edom, and go up the other side of the mountain district. That is, we have one journey from Moseroth to Ezion-gaber, another back to Mount Hor, where Aaron died; and, as Num. 21 shows, a journey from Mount Hor back to Ezion-gaber. At the end of the second of these journeys Aaron dies; that is, when they had gone back to Mount Hor.
That the last journey from Mount Hor to Ezion-gaber was after the death of Aaron is certain from Num. 21, because we have the attack of Arad the Canaanite there, and also in Num. 33:4040And king Arad the Canaanite, which dwelt in the south in the land of Canaan, heard of the coming of the children of Israel. (Numbers 33:40). So that after the last verse we have a journey from Mount Hor to the Red Sea (as in chap. 21); but in chapter 33 we had one already from Moseroth to Ezion-gaber through a district called Hor-hagidgad. Hence they must have gone back from Eziongaber to the place Aaron died at, still on the west side of Edom; for it is only on the last journey they turned round to go up on the east side.
The first journey from Moseroth to Ezion-gaber was by Benejaakan or "the sons of Jaakan," Hor-hagidgad, and Jotbathah. The second journey was back from Ezion-gaber to the place where Aaron died. Now the journey in Deuteronomy is from the wells of the children of Jaakan to Mosera (that is, part of a journey back along the road they had come, at the end of which, in Mosera, Aaron dies); exactly as, in Numbers, we have seen them go back from Ezion-gaber to Hor where Aaron died, and thence set out again for Ezion-gaber.
But this is not all. We have in Deuteronomy some stations after Aaron's death in Mosera, whither they had returned from Ezion-gaber, as in Numbers we have seen they did. They go thence to Gudgodah, and from Gudgodah to Jotbathah (that is, the road back again to Ezion-gaber, which is exactly the route spoken of in Num. 21 and 33). In a word, Numbers gives us a journey from Moseroth to Ezion-gaber-one back to Hor-and thence back to Ezion-gaber, or the Red Sea, finally to leave the district. At the end of the one back to Hor Aaron dies.2
Deuteronomy gives us the last two stations on the second journey, or the one back. Then Aaron dies; and then, after his death, we have two stations on the road, which, from Num. 33:32, 3332And they removed from Bene-jaakan, and encamped at Hor-hagidgad. 33And they went from Hor-hagidgad, and pitched in Jotbathah. (Numbers 33:32‑33), we know was the road back to Ezion-gaber-exactly the one we know, from Num. 21:44And they journeyed from mount Hor by the way of the Red sea, to compass the land of Edom: and the soul of the people was much discouraged because of the way. (Numbers 21:4), the Israelites took on leaving Mount Hor. That is, there is the most perfect exactitude in the account; yet so given as to show it must have flowed from personal acquaintance with facts, or it never could have come out in the order it does. Deut. 10 gives us demonstrably the end of the second journey (i.e., the one back from Ezion-gaber, and the beginning of the third-Aaron dying at the end of the second, exactly as in Numbers). The only additional circumstance in Numbers is, that Aaron went up Mount Hor to die. Deuteronomy names only the station, which must, by the order of the journey, have been in the district of the Hor range. All the details confirm this order of march.
Thus, instead of being incompatible, they are the fullest confirmation that nobody could have written these accounts but one personally acquainted with the facts. I may add that their passage by Kadesh is omitted in Deuteronomy; but this is no way surprising, as it only gives us the last two stations-Bene-jaakan and Moseroth.