Numbers 33 – Review of the Exodus, Preview of the Conquest
A. Introduction: Leaving Egypt.
1. (1-2) The account of Israel’s journey, written by the command of the LORD.
These are the journeys of the children of Israel, who went out of the land of Egypt by their armies under the hand of Moses and Aaron. Now Moses wrote down the starting points of their journeys at the command of the LORD. And these are their journeys according to their starting points:
a. These are the journeys of the children of Israel: Numbers 33 is the remarkable record of the journey of Israel from Egypt to the threshold of the Promised Land. 42 place names are given, starting with Rameses of Egypt and ending with the plains of Moab.
i. As Israel prepared itself to cross the Jordan and conquer Canaan, it was good for this second generation from Egypt to remember the faithfulness of God over the last 40 years. Remembering God’s goodness in the past was preparation for the challenges of the future.
ii. “From Rameses, the place of departure, to Abel-Shittim, in the plains of Moab, forty-two stations in all are given at which the Israelites pitched. Of these about twenty-four are named either in Exodus, in other parts of the Book of Numbers, or in Deuteronomy. Some eighteen, therefore, are mentioned in this passage and nowhere else.” (Watson)
iii. Allen describes the difficulty the following list gives to the geographer: “The chapter presents numerous difficulties, however, once one brings out the map. Most of the sites were desert encampments, not cities with lasting archaeological evidences. Many of the places in the listing are not recorded elsewhere in Exodus and Numbers (e.g., most of the places in Numbers 33:19-29).”
b. Moses wrote down the starting points of their journeys at the command of the LORD: Moses compiled his written record over the 40 years of Israel’s journey in the wilderness and did so at God’s command.
i. Both Wenham and Cole organize the list into six cycles of seven places each. This arrangement is presented below. “It appears as a bare and uninteresting list of names and yet it tells the story of a people guided by God through discipline.” (Morgan)
ii. “The unknown places, like those men remembered only for their inclusion in a family tree, receive recognition as sites where God’s eternal purposes were worked out. Though from a human point of view nothing memorable may have happened at Dophkah or Alush, these are recorded as places where the hosts of Israel, the Lord’s army, marched through on their way to the promised land.” (Wenham)
iii. Several commentators point out that this list is presented in the style that ancient kings in the Near East listed their conquests and triumphs. This was Yahweh’s victory procession from Egypt to the edge of Canaan.
2. (3-4) The departure from Egypt.
They departed from Rameses in the first month, on the fifteenth day of the first month; on the day after the Passover the children of Israel went out with boldness in the sight of all the Egyptians. For the Egyptians were burying all their firstborn, whom the LORD had killed among them. Also on their gods the LORD had executed judgments.
a. The children of Israel went out with boldness in the sight of all the Egyptians: Though they were slaves for hundreds of years, they did not leave Egypt in shame. God gave them the boldness to leave as conquerors, not as escaping slaves.
b. On their gods the LORD had executed judgments: The plagues the LORD brought upon Egypt were not randomly chosen. They were specifically intended to humble the people and rebuke the people for their belief in the bizarre and demonic Egyptian deities.
B. Israel’s Journey from Egypt to the Plains of Moab.
1. (5-10) Stage 1: From Egypt to the Red Sea (Exodus 12-16).
Then the children of Israel moved from Rameses and camped at Succoth. They departed from Succoth and camped at Etham, which is on the edge of the wilderness. They moved from Etham and turned back to Pi Hahiroth, which is east of Baal Zephon; and they camped near Migdol. They departed from before Hahiroth and passed through the midst of the sea into the wilderness, went three days’ journey in the Wilderness of Etham, and camped at Marah. They moved from Marah and came to Elim. At Elim were twelve springs of water and seventy palm trees; so they camped there.
They moved from Elim and camped by the Red Sea.
a. Succoth…Etham…Pi Hahiroth….Marah…Elim…the Red Sea: These six places (counting after the starting place of Rameses) mark Israel’s journey in the first stage of the exodus. According to some sources (Allen, Clarke, Trapp), the names of these places have the following associations.
· Succoth: Booths.
· Desert of Etham (unknown).
· Pi Hahiroth: Mouth of Burning.
· Marah: Bitter Spring.
· Elim: Place of Trees.
· The Red Sea: Sea of Reeds.
i. As is often the case with the meanings of biblical names, one must be careful to not invest too much spiritual significance in what are sometimes speculative interpretations. “Mr. Bromley, in his Way to the Sabbath of Rest, considers each name and place as descriptive of the spiritual state through which a soul passes in its way to the kingdom of God. But in cases of this kind fancy has much more to do than judgment.” (Clarke)
ii. The Red Sea: “By the Red Sea we are not to understand a sea, the waters of which are red, or the sand red, or any thing else about or in it red; for nothing of this kind appears. It is called in Hebrew yam suph, which signifies the weedy sea.” (Clarke)
b. They moved from Marah and came to Elim: With a wonderful touch, God made no mention of Israel’s great sin at Marah but did note the refreshing springs at Elim (twelve springs of water and seventy palm trees).
i. “In his enumeration of the halting places of Israel, Moses mentions Marah and Elim. In the case of the former, he does not dwell on the murmuring of the people over the bitter stream: but in the case of Elim, he loves to dilate on the twelve springs of water, and the three-score and ten palm trees, under which they pitched. Years of weary travel had not obliterated the memory of the refreshment afforded by those seventy palms.” (Meyer)
ii. “There is no word of their murmurings, either at Marah or Rephidim. It is thus that God deals with us. ‘I, even I, am He that blotteth out thy transgressions for mine own sake, and will not remember thy sins.’ When God forgives, He forgets.” (Meyer)
2. (11-17) Stage 2: From the Wilderness of Sin to Hazeroth (Exodus 16-19; Numbers 10-11).
They moved from the Red Sea and camped in the Wilderness of Sin. They journeyed from the Wilderness of Sin and camped at Dophkah. They departed from Dophkah and camped at Alush. They moved from Alush and camped at Rephidim, where there was no water for the people to drink.
They departed from Rephidim and camped in the Wilderness of Sinai. They moved from the Wilderness of Sinai and camped at Kibroth Hattaavah. They departed from Kibroth Hattaavah and camped at Hazeroth.
a. Camped in the Wilderness of Sinai: This portion of the journey took them about a year, but most of the time was not spent in traveling, but in receiving the law at Mount Sinai.
b. Wilderness of Sin…Dophkah…Alush…Rephidim…Wilderness of Sinai…Kibroth Hattaavah…Hazeroth: These seven places mark Israel’s journey in the second stage of the exodus. According to some sources (Allen, Clarke, Trapp), the names of these places have the following associations.
· Wilderness of Sin (unknown).
· Dophkah: Beaten.
· Alush (unknown).
· Rephidim: Spreading.
· Wilderness of Sinai (unknown).
· Kibroth Hattaavah: Graves of Desire.
· Hazeroth: Settlements.
i. In this and the following stages are many places not previously recorded in Exodus, Leviticus, or Numbers. “Numbers 10:33-13:25 mentions only three stopping-places between the mountain of the Lord and Kadesh in the wilderness of Paran, Taberah, Kibroth-hattaavah and Hazeroth (11:3, 34-35), whereas Numbers 33:16-36 mentions twenty-two stages beginning with the wilderness of Sinai and ending ‘with the wilderness of Zin (that is Kadesh)’.” (Wenham)
3. (18-24) Stage 3: From Rithmah to Haradah.
They departed from Hazeroth and camped at Rithmah. They departed from Rithmah and camped at Rimmon Perez. They departed from Rimmon Perez and camped at Libnah. They moved from Libnah and camped at Rissah. They journeyed from Rissah and camped at Kehelathah. They went from Kehelathah and camped at Mount Shepher. They moved from Mount Shepher and camped at Haradah.
a. Rithmah…Rimmon Perez…Libnah…Rissah…Kehelathah…Mount Shepher…Haradah: These seven places mark Israel’s journey in the third stage of the exodus. According to some sources (Allen, Clarke, Trapp), the names of these places have the following associations.
· Rithmah: Binding.
· Rimmon Perez: Pomegranate Beach.
· Libnah: White.
· Rissah (unknown).
· Kehalathah: Assembly.
· Mount Shepher: Mount of Beauty.
· Haradah: Frightening.
4. (25-31) Stage 4: From Makheloth to Bene Jaakan (Deuteronomy 10).
They moved from Haradah and camped at Makheloth. They moved from Makheloth and camped at Tahath. They departed from Tahath and camped at Terah. They moved from Terah and camped at Mithkah. They went from Mithkah and camped at Hashmonah. They departed from Hashmonah and camped at Moseroth. They departed from Moseroth and camped at Bene Jaakan.
a. Makheloth…Tahath…Terah…Mithkah…Hashmonah…Moseroth…Bene Jaakan: These seven places mark Israel’s journey in the fourth stage of the exodus. According to some sources (Allen, Clarke, Trapp), the names of these places have the following associations.
· Makheloth: Place of Assembly.
· Tahath: Lower.
· Terah (unknown).
· Mithcah: Sweetness.
· Hashmonah: Swiftness.
· Moseroth: Bands.
· Bene Jaakan: Sons of Yaaqan.
5. (32-41) Stage 5: From Hor Hagidad to Zalmonah (Numbers 20-21).
They moved from Bene Jaakan and camped at Hor Hagidgad. They went from Hor Hagidgad and camped at Jotbathah. They moved from Jotbathah and camped at Abronah. They departed from Abronah and camped at Ezion Geber. They moved from Ezion Geber and camped in the Wilderness of Zin, which is Kadesh. They moved from Kadesh and camped at Mount Hor, on the boundary of the land of Edom.
Then Aaron the priest went up to Mount Hor at the command of the LORD, and died there in the fortieth year after the children of Israel had come out of the land of Egypt, on the first day of the fifth month. Aaron was one hundred and twenty-three years old when he died on Mount Hor.
Now the king of Arad, the Canaanite, who dwelt in the South in the land of Canaan, heard of the coming of the children of Israel.
So they departed from Mount Hor and camped at Zalmonah.
a. Hor Haggidgad…Jotbathah…Abronah…Ezion Geber…Kadesh…Mount Hor…. Zalmonah: These seven places mark Israel’s journey in the fifth stage of the exodus. According to some sources (Allen, Clarke, Trapp), the names of these places have the following associations.
· Hor Haggidgad: The Hollow of Gidgad.
· Jotbathah: Pleasantness.
· Abronah: Regions Beyond.
· Ezion Geber: Mighty Trees.
· Kadesh: Sanctuary.
· Mount Hor (unknown).
· Zalmonah: Resemblance or Image.
b. Aaron the priest went up to Mount Hor at the command of the LORD: The camp at Mount Hor is given special mention, honoring the death and burial place of Aaron, the brother of Moses and first high priest of Israel.
6. (42-49) Stage 6: From Punon to the Plains of Moab (Numbers 21-22).
They departed from Zalmonah and camped at Punon. They departed from Punon and camped at Oboth. They departed from Oboth and camped at Ije Abarim, at the border of Moab. They departed from Ijim and camped at Dibon Gad. They moved from Dibon Gad and camped at Almon Diblathaim. They moved from Almon Diblathaim and camped in the mountains of Abarim, before Nebo. They departed from the mountains of Abarim and camped in the plains of Moab by the Jordan, across from Jericho. They camped by the Jordan, from Beth Jesimoth as far as the Abel Acacia Grove in the plains of Moab.
a. Punon…Oboth…Ije Abarim…. Dibon Gad…Almon Diblathaim…the mountains of Abarim: These six places (up to the plains of Moab) mark Israel’s journey in the sixth stage of the exodus. According to some sources (Allen, Clarke, Trapp), the names of these places have the following associations.
· Punon (unknown).
· Oboth: Water Skins.
· Ije Abarim: The Heaps of Abarim.
· Dibon Gad: Built Up by Gad.
· Almon Diblathaim: Hidden Figs (possibly).
· Mountains of Abarim: The Mountains Beyond.
b. They camped by the Jordan, from Beth Jesimoth as far as the Abel Acacia Grove in the plains of Moab: This was Israel’s current position, on the threshold of Canaan. In a few months, they would go from the plains of Moab across the Jordan, into the Promised Land.
i. “The encampments of the thousands of Israel stretched from Beth Jeshimoth…to Abel Shittim…in the lowlands of Moab. The distance from these two sites, north to south, was over five miles—a suitable spread for the thousands of the tribes of Israel.” (Allen)
C. Looking ahead: The conquest of Canaan.
1. (50-53) The command to conquer the inhabitants of Canaan.
Now the LORD spoke to Moses in the plains of Moab by the Jordan, across from Jericho, saying, “Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them: ‘When you have crossed the Jordan into the land of Canaan, then you shall drive out all the inhabitants of the land from before you, destroy all their engraved stones, destroy all their molded images, and demolish all their high places; you shall dispossess the inhabitants of the land and dwell in it, for I have given you the land to possess.
a. You shall drive out all the inhabitants of the land from before you: God had a special role for the nation of Israel regarding the people of Canaan. He used them as a unique instrument of judgment against the Canaanites.
i. This challenge or command looks forward to the seventh stage of Israel’s journey from Egypt. Led by Joshua, Israel would conquer the land of Canaan and drive out the Canaanites.
b. Drive out all the inhabitants of the land…destroy all their engraved stones…destroy their molded images…demolish their high places: This strong language, expressed in four different Hebrew verbs (translated drive out, destroy, destroy, and demolish), explained God’s command to leave nothing of Canaanite culture to encourage idolatry and immorality.
i. Israel was not to tolerate a co-existence with the depraved idolatry and immorality of the Canaanites, which included even human sacrifice. “No false pity or selfish motive was to operate in such fashion as to leave any corrupting influence behind. The unequivocal command to drive out all, was based on the tenderest regard of God for the well-being of the chosen people, and through them, the whole [human] race.” (Morgan)
ii. “Shall we suffer those vipers to lodge in our bosoms till they eat out our hearts?” (Trapp)
iii. “Pluralism in the form of peaceful coexistence with idolatry would be impossible, both for the well-being of the people and the sanctity of the land Yahweh had given as a gift to his people.” (Cole)
iv. Demolish their high places: “We know from the Book of Judges and subsequent history, the law, especially in regard to the demolition of high places, became practically a dead letter.” (Watson)
2. (54) The command to possess the land of Canaan.
And you shall divide the land by lot as an inheritance among your families; to the larger you shall give a larger inheritance, and to the smaller you shall give a smaller inheritance; there everyone’s inheritance shall be whatever falls to him by lot. You shall inherit according to the tribes of your fathers.
a. You shall divide the land by lot as an inheritance among your families: God’s intent was not only to bring judgment on the corrupt culture of the Canaanites but also to give the land to Israel to possess.
b. To the larger you shall give a larger inheritance, and to the smaller you shall give a smaller inheritance: God commanded that the land be distributed fairly, generally according to the size of the tribe.
3. (55-56) Israel is warned of the consequences of not driving out the Canaanites and their influence.
But if you do not drive out the inhabitants of the land from before you, then it shall be that those whom you let remain shall be irritants in your eyes and thorns in your sides, and they shall harass you in the land where you dwell. Moreover it shall be that I will do to you as I thought to do to them.’”
a. If you do not drive out the inhabitants of the land from before you, then it shall be that those whom you let remain shall be irritants in your eyes and thorns in your sides: If Israel failed to drive the Canaanites out of the land, they could still occupy the Promised Land. However, the idolatry and immorality of the Canaanites would find a place among Israel and be a source of constant trouble and irritation.
i. “The description of trouble is, of course, sadly prophetic. The remaining Canaanites were to be barbs in the eye and pricks in the side (images that Joshua uses in his farewell address; see Joshua 23:13).” (Allen)
b. It shall be that I will do to you as I thought to do to them: This warning was eventually fulfilled in Israel’s history. Though they possessed the land, they did not fully drive out the Canaanites or destroy their influence. By following the Canaanite idolatry and immorality, eventually God drove Israel out of the land in exile.
i. The abiding spiritual principle teaches us that it is of no use for the church to succeed in the eyes of man – as Israel had succeeded when they occupied the land and became a legitimate nation, instead of an enslaved people – if it merely allows the corrupt practices and attitudes of the Canaanites to take root among God’s people. If, spiritually speaking, a similar thing happens among God’s people today, they should expect to be eventually driven from their place of apparent success or influence.