In Num. 20.14-21, Israel requests passage to pass through Edom but is denied. Of interest are the elements that add to Israel's request (e.g. historical preamble, and self-imposed conditions to encourage Edom to accept their request). Using politeness theory, this article finds these elements to be strategies of politeness, and also show that Israel has a strategy of increasing politeness during the communication with Edom. In contrast, Edom is impolite, which indicates it wishes to be superior to Israel. This is consistent with the Bible's portrayal of Edom as a 'bad brother' to Israel. The ability of politeness theory to bring out subtleties in communication in the Bible shows that it is a useful heuristic device to assist with the interpretation of biblical texts.