There are many spectacular vistas throughout the Nabatean site of Petra. Located in the ancient Edomite territory of the modern country of Jordan today, a day in Petra is usually, as I say, a 250-300 picture day! At every turn, there is a unique photo op! On this most recent tour to Israel and Jordan, my hike to Mt. Hor, the highest peak in these Seir Mountain range of Petra, provided yet another spectacular view! Even more than the view, it provided me a visit with Aaron.
In Numbers 20, the Bible tells us that Mount Hor was the location where Aaron, Israel’s High Priest during the days of the Exodus and desert wondering, handed the ministry of being the spiritual leader of the Israelites to his son Eleazar. It would be here where Aaron died.
Here’s the story from Numbers 20 – “The whole Israelite community set out from Kadesh and came to Mount Hor. At Mount Hor, near the border of Edom, the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, ‘Aaron will be gathered to his people. He will not enter the land I give the Israelites, because both of you rebelled against my command at the waters of Meribah. Get Aaron and his son Eleazar and take them up Mount Hor. Remove Aaron’s garments and put them on his son Eleazar, for Aaron will be gathered to his people; he will die there.’ Moses did as the Lord commanded: They went up Mount Hor in the sight of the whole community. Moses removed Aaron’s garments and put them on his son Eleazar. And Aaron died there on top of the mountain. Then Moses and Eleazar came down from the mountain, and when the whole community learned that Aaron had died, all the Israelites mourned for him thirty days (Numbers 20:22-29).”
While the “whole community” gathered for this passing of the priestly baton (perhaps 100s of thousands or more), I (and my Beduin escort riding on his mule) was the only one around on this 2 hour hike to the top. This solo voyage started as soon as we entered this grand site of Petra. Leaving the group to the care of our guide, I was thrilled to be able to set out on yet another unique Petra experience. I’ve known about the trail that leads up to this highest peak of this ancient city, but I didn’t know the specific way. About 45 minutes into the hike, the white-dome top of Mt. Hor came into view. Also called Jebel Harun (in Arabic, “mountain of Aaron”), this is only the traditional site where the Numbers 20 story unfolded (others contend that Mt. Hor may be located in the Zin Desert in the eastern Negev on Israel’s side. Nonetheless, the beauty of God’s creation on the way to the top was jaw-dropping.
The final ascent included cut steps into the rock. It was an exhilarating experience to reach the top and encounter the panoramic view. Looking west, I could see across the Aravah into southern Israel. With the great visibility because of the rains the previous day, the visibility must have been 25+ miles. Looking north and west, I could actually look down to the mountains of Petra. It actually required me to zoom in with the camera to located the famous Monastery tomb located at the end of the far reaching 2+ mile trail that begins at the bottom of the Roman street. Even the High Place looked relatively unimpressive from this vantage point. Incidentally, both the Monastery and the High Place are spectacular in their own unique way!
I spent about 30 minutes on top, taking pictures and eating lunch. But I also wanted to intentionally pause to consider the story of Numbers 20. Even if this traditional mountain top for Mt. Hor may not be the actual place, it was a mountain-top experience for me. Aaron wasn’t perfect, yet he was used of God. I’m not perfect either (not necessarily a news flash). Indeed, Aaron faltered and lead his people away from God at times. How many of us have faltered too? Yet the role of the priesthood was transferred here. Eleazar would now assume the role of High Priest. It would now be Aaron’s son who would enter the Holy of Holies once a year to offer atonement for his people. Just to ponder that it as on a mountain like this, perhaps even this mountain, where Moses would remove the priestly garments from his brother Aaron, and place them on Eleazar.
My best guess is that the transfer of priestly leadership was an emotional one for Moses, Aaron, and Eleazar. It was a day when Moses lost a brother, when Eleazar lost a father, and when Aaron would enter eternity.
Now since I know the trail, I am hopeful that on future trips I lead to Jordan that I will be able to take people to the top of Mt. Hor. It’s a difficult and longer hike, and it is certainly only for the more experienced hiker. But like my visit with Aaron on top, a rewarding encounter awaits!