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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible

Numbers 33

 

 

Introduction

F. FUTURE PROSPECTS IN THE LAND (chapters 26-36).

We now come to the final main section of the book. It will commence with the numbering of Israel, a sign that they were making ready for the final push, and is divided up into rededication and preparations for entering the land (chapters 26-32), and warning and encouragement with respect to it (chapters 33-36). The first section concentrates on the mobilisation and dedication of the people of Yahweh, and the punishment of those who by their behaviour hinder that mobilisation and dedication.

In terms of the overall pattern of the book the first section covers the mobilisation of Israel, the appointment of Joshua on whom was the Spirit and the death of Moses For Sin (chapters 26-27), which compares with the earlier murmuring of Israel, the appointment of elders on whom came the Spirit, and the plague on Miriam because of sin (chapters 11-12). This then followed by the dedication of Israel through Feasts, Offerings and Vows and the purifying of Transjordan through vengeance on the Midianites and settlement of the two and a half Tribes (chapters 28-32) which compares with the purification and dedication of Israel in chapters 5-10.

Analysis of the section.

(I). Preparation for Entering the Land (chapters 26-32).

This can be divided up into:

a Numbering of the tribes for possessing the land (Numbers 26:1-51).

b Instructions concerning division of the land (Numbers 26:52-62).

c Vengeance had been brought on those who had refused to enter the land (Numbers 26:63-65).

d Regulation in respect of land to be inherited by women and others (Numbers 27:1-11).

e Provision of a dedicated shepherd for the people of Israel (Numbers 27:12-23).

e Provision of a dedicated people and future worship in the land (Numbers 28-29).

d Regulation in respect of dedicatory vows made by women and others (Numbers 30)

c Vengeance to be obtained on Midian (Numbers 31:1-24).

b Instructions concerning division of the spoils of Midian (Numbers 31:25-54).

a Settlement of the Transjordanian tribes in possessing land (Numbers 32).

(II) Warning and Encouragement of The Younger Generation (chapters 33-36).

a Review of the journey from Egypt to the plains of Moab (Numbers 33:1-49).

b Instruction concerning the successful possession of and dividing up of the land in the future (Numbers 33:50 to Numbers 34:15).

c The Leaders who will divide the land for them are appointed (Numbers 34:16-29).

d Provision of cities for the Levites. (Numbers 35:1-5)

d Provision of cities of refuge and prevention of defilement of the land (Numbers 35:6-34).

c The Leaders of the tribe of Manasseh approach Moses about the possible loss of part of their division of the land as a result of the decision about the daughters of Zelophehad (Numbers 36:1-4).

b Instruction concerning women who inherit land so as to maintain the dividing up of the land which they successfully possess (Numbers 36:5-12)

a Final summary of the book and colophon. The journey is over. They are in the plains of Moab opposite Jericho (Numbers 36:13).

In this section stress is laid on preparation for entering the land.

II). Warning and Encouragement of The Younger Generation (chapters 33-36).

This final section of the book is full of hope, the kind of hope that was in the hearts of Israel when they first mobilised at Sinai. It reiterates the successful journey from Egypt to the plains of Moab, lays out details of how they were to divide the land that they would soon inherit, as the Gadites, Reubenites and half tribe of Manasseh had already done, describes that land in realistic terms as a goal to aim at, appoints the very leaders who will have responsibility for that task, tells them of the necessity to provide cities for the Levites and cities of refuge for the maintenance of the holiness of the land, and brings the whole to a conclusion with the glorious example of the daughters of Zelophehad, demonstrating how their struggle for fair treatment ended in success because of their faithfulness and trust in Yahweh and their final obedience to His commands. This last human interest story, which also carried within it other valuable lessons concerning the guaranteeing of the land to those to whom it would be allotted, would act like a spur to all the people as they sought to copy the trustfulness and obedience of these courageous daughters of Zelophehad. The inspiration that it was comes out in the constant references to it. It had seized the imagination of Israel (Numbers 26:33; Numbers 27:1; Numbers 27:7; Numbers 36:2-11), and was thus seen as a suitable ending for the book.

Analysis of the Section.

a Review of the journey from Egypt to the plains of Moab (Numbers 33:1-49).

b Instruction concerning dividing up the land by lot in the future so that each man has his lot and for the purifying of the land (Numbers 33:50-56).

c Description of the land to be inherited (Numbers 34:1-15).

d The Leaders who will divide the land for them are appointed (Numbers 34:16-29).

e Provision of cities for the Levites. (Numbers 35:1-8)

e Provision of cities of refuge and prevention of defilement of the land (Numbers 35:9-34).

d The Leaders of the tribe of Manasseh approach Moses about the possible loss of part of their division of the land as a result of the decision about the daughters of Zelophehad (Numbers 36:1-2 a).

c Description of the problem relating to the land inherited by the daughters of Zelophehad (Numbers 36:2-4).

b Instruction concerning women who inherit land so as to maintain the lot in the dividing up of the land (Numbers 36:5-12)

a Final summary of the book and colophon. The journey is over. They are in the plains of Moab opposite Jericho (Numbers 36:13).

It is quite clear that the book itself sees each of these passages as an encouragement ready for the crossing over into the land. Each of them is a confirmation to them that the conquest will in essence be completed within their lifetime and the lifetime of their leaders. The setting of it in between the journeying to the plain of Moab, and their actually being there stresses the context of the whole. It promises that they will possess a land to divide up after removing those who defile it, describes that land and who will divide it up, guarantees that they will possess sufficient cities to be able to give forty eight to the Levites, and that they will be able to set up Cities of Refuge for the purpose of keeping the land free from defilement, and finally affirms the necessity for each part of the land to remain with the tribe to whom it was allotted, and encourages all by describing how the five women of faith and loyalty, the daughters of Zelophehad, of whom all had now heard, brought their story to a happy ending by fully obeying Yahweh.

This all confirms the purpose of the whole book, encouragement for the battles ahead. If the date of its writing is pushed into the future it loses its main purpose, and we have to ask why some theoretical future writer should have designed it in this way. He would have spent considerable time achieving something that had no significance. It only has significance if the invasion is about to begin.

1). A Review of The Journey From Egypt to the Plains of Moab (Numbers 33:1-49).

By its nature this passage is a list of encampments made on the journey from Egypt to the plains of Moab. As a historical travel narrative it could not be patterned chiastically (an evidence for its genuineness), and we are told that it was written down by Moses at Yahweh’s command (compare Exodus 17:14).

The purpose of its placing here was as evidence of how Yahweh had brought them thus far and provided for them in the way, and as confirmation of the certainty that now Yahweh would successfully bring to completion what He had so successfully brought to this point.

The fact that Moses is said to have written it down should not surprise us. In the course of the journey from Egypt Moses had been told by Yahweh to write down historical events related to Yahweh (Exodus 17:14), and we are regularly informed that he had at various times written down God’s instructions (Exodus 24:4; Exodus 34:27; Numbers 33:1-2; Deuteronomy 31:9; Deuteronomy 31:22). Now we also learn that he had written down details of their journeyings. It is clear that Moses was in the habit of writing things down. Thus we can be confident that his writings formed the basis for this book along with the others in the Pentateuch. And that is why we are constantly told that we are reading the words that Yahweh spoke to Moses. Who the collator and scribe was who finalised the books we are not told, but the probable suspicion must lie on Joshua, Moses’ servant, who certainly for a period was restricted to the early tent of meeting (Exodus 33:11) for some unstated purpose. But, however that may be, what follows is specifically said to have been recorded directly by Moses.

The vast majority of the places mentioned in the list are unidentifiable, and in the nature of the case will be for ever unidentifiable. We are not even sure where the Israelites crossed the Reed Sea and which exact direction the children of Israel took. It was known at the time and that was what mattered. What we do know is that they went through the wilderness (in order to throw off any danger of pursuit, and in order to avoid meeting enemies of any size), that the journey to Sinai took the slow moving Israelites two months (Exodus 19:1), and that they ended up in Kadesh in the Negeb Any site which cannot be reached within two months from Egypt at say two to three miles a day at the most (and thus roughly at the most one hundred and eighty miles) must be rejected, and that is without taking into consideration any stops that they made.

Furthermore we must recognise that over a period of three thousand years many changes will have taken place in that wilderness. Wind and weather would slowly change everything. And even the weather itself will have altered to quite some extent. It was probably rainier then. Thus what were once positive signs which could have identified the places would already probably already have begun to exist no longer even by the beginning of the first millennium BC, and we can be sure that by the time of the Exile the wilderness would have looked a very different place. So while Josephus and sources of tradition, coming at or after the end of that millennium, might seem to us to have existed a long time ago (and did), it was at least 1200 years after the death of Moses. That being so it is questionable if any information that they give us is any more reliable than ours, indeed probably less so.

Furthermore the encampments listed here were not close to sites of permanent residence. Thus they would not have fixed names. Most names given would have been transitory, either given by the Israelites themselves, or picked up from a desert tribesman who gave his own tribe’s local name for the venue. Any names attaching today can have no certain connection with those long ago days, for they may simply have arisen from the desire to satisfy the curiosity of pilgrims, both Jewish and Christian. We must then ever remain in ignorance of the direction of the wilderness journey (exciting though the attempt might be). In view of the nature of the area its detail cannot validly be used to favour any theory.

But when they were written the place names were pregnant with meaning, for there were those alive who could remember them vividly. Some of them had been connected with never to be forgotten experiences.

The fact that there are forty two place names may be significant. Forty two is seven (the number of divine perfection) times three (the number of completeness) times two (intensifying the numbers). It was a complete and divinely perfect journey.

One last point before we plunge into the wilderness. We must not see this as one vast desert. The land would vary from fairly good pasture land, to sparse stony land, to limestone plateau, to sandstone hills, to rocky semi-desert to real desert, and back again. There were springs in some places, and many oases, while the water table was often not far below the ground and could be reached by digging. Water was usually available for those who knew where to find it.


Verse 1-2

1). Summary Of The Journey From Egypt To The Plains of Moab.

Numbers 33:1-2

‘These are the journeys of the children of Israel, when they went forth out of the land of Egypt by their hosts under the hand of Moses and Aaron. And Moses wrote their goings out according to their journeys by the commandment of Yahweh, and these are their journeys according to their goings out.’

We are informed here what the list of place names is all about. They describe the journey of the children of Israel who left Egypt in their hosts, under the hand of Moses and Aaron (note the attempt to rehabilitate Aaron), travelling from Egypt to the plains of Moab, and they were written down by Moses. ‘Their goings out’ signifies where they broke camp. Each place was to be seen as a temporary stopping point where the Dwellingplace was set up and from which they then set out on their journey towards the land promised to their forefathers.

As Christians we must never settle down comfortably anywhere. This world is not our home. We are just passing through. Each stage in our lives, especially those of our spiritual blessings, is a place from which we are to set out for the next thing that God has for us. That does not mean that we should be restless, but rather simply ready to be obedient, fulfilling His will at each place, but always ready to move on when commanded to further and further blessings.


Verses 3-15

The Journey From Egypt To Sinai (Numbers 33:3-15).

The first station from which Israel set out was Rameses, the twelfth was the wilderness of Sinai. This may be totally coincidental, or it may have been deliberate in order to tie in with the twelve tribes of Israel. During that time they moved from being a loose association of tribes to being the covenant people of Yahweh.

Numbers 33:3

‘And they journeyed from Rameses in the first month, on the fifteenth day of the first month, on the morrow after the passover, the children of Israel went out with a high hand in the sight of all the Egyptians,’

The commencement of the journey is precisely dated, tying in with Exodus 12. It started on the fifteenth day of the first month, the first day of Unleavened Bread after the Passover night, when the children of Israel went out in triumph in the sight of the Egyptians. It began in triumph. The Egyptians did nothing to stop them. It was a reminder that now as they approached Canaan they could also go ‘with a high hand’, that is, confidently and courageously.

Numbers 33:4

‘While the Egyptians were burying all their first-born, whom Yahweh had smitten among them. On their gods also Yahweh executed judgments.’

For it was while the Egyptians were burying their firstborn whom Yahweh had smitten. And He had not only smitten the firstborn, He had revealed His judgments against all the gods of Egypt. Here we have a direct reference to Exodus 12:12. In the Exodus little is actually said about the gods of Egypt, but here it is emphasised so that Israel might recognise that the Canaanite gods would also be able to do nothing against them and that Yahweh would smite them too. It was also to bring out that against Yahweh even the most powerful of gods, the gods of Egypt, could do little. They were as putty in His hands.

Numbers 33:5

‘And the children of Israel journeyed from Rameses, and encamped in Succoth.’

Then the children of Israel had journeyed from Rameses, where they had been toiling on the rebuilding of the city, to Succoth (Exodus 12:37), with all their herds and flocks. They had arrived in a hurry and not fully prepared for travel, for they had been thrust out (Exodus 12:39). They had rejoiced in that they were on their way to freedom. Succoth may well have been ‘tkw’ (near Pithom), which was on the regular way out of Egypt for those who were seeking to escape, and was where refugees from the wilderness were processed as they entered Egypt. It is mentioned in the Tale of Sinuhe, and in Papyri Anastasi V and VI.

The problem for us is that none of these places have been definitely identified. It is rare for a site to divulge its name (as in fact the site at Gibeon in Canaan did, but it is a rare exception), and identifications thus for a large part remain tenuous, something which must ever be remembered before too much is built on them.

Numbers 33:6

‘And they journeyed from Succoth, and encamped in Etham, which is on the edge of the wilderness.’

And from Succoth they had travelled to Etham on the edge of the wilderness (Exodus 13:20), where they encamped. This is an unidentified site on the way to the sea crossing. By this time the pillar of cloud led them by day and the pillar of fire watched over them by night.

Numbers 33:7

‘And they journeyed from Etham, and turned back unto Pi-hahiroth, which is before Baal-zephon: and they encamped before Migdol.’

From Etham they did a detour to Pi-hahiroth which was by Baalzephon and encamped before Migdol (tower). See Exodus 14:2. Note the name of Baalzephon which confirms the worship of Baal in that area. Migdol would be a border post and was ‘by the sea’ (Exodus 14:2), that is near to an inner waterway which helped to form the borders of Egypt. Both Baalzephon and Midgdol are mentioned in Egyptian texts as being near Wadi Tumilat.

But the sea appeared to have them entrapped. We do not know where this ‘sea’ was. It probably no longer exists. It would be a continuation of the Gulf of Suez, but may not have been directly connected with it. There were probably a number of such seas or lakes. And they were probably all called ‘the Reed Sea’.

Numbers 33:8

‘And they journeyed from before Hahiroth, and passed through the midst of the sea into the wilderness, and they went three days’ journey in the wilderness of Etham, and encamped in Marah.’

From there they went to Hahiroth (Pi-hahiroth - Exodus 14:9). It was there that Pharaoh thought that he had them cornered, and where they panicked as they realised that the Egyptians were hard on their tail. And that was where the miracle happened and they passed through the sea, into the wilderness where they could disappear from view, leaving a broken Egyptian army behind them.

From there they travelled on a ‘three days journey’ through the Wilderness of Shur to Marah where they found no water (Exodus 15:22-23). This caused their first ‘murmuring’ in the wilderness, until Moses was guided by Yahweh to a tree which could turn the bitter waters sweet. And there he formulated basic ‘statutes and ordinances’ which would guide their lives as they moved on. His law-giving had begun. With a mixed multitude among them from many nations (Exodus 12:38) it was necessary, with Egypt behind them, for some basic rules to be laid down.

And there, where they had seen the waters healed, Yahweh promised them freedom from diseases if only they would hear His voice and obey Him.

Numbers 33:9

‘And they journeyed from Marah, and came to Elim, and in Elim were twelve springs of water, and threescore and ten palm-trees; and they encamped there.’

From Marah they came to Elim (Exodus 15:27) where there were ‘twelve springs of water, and threescore and ten palm-trees’. And there too they encamped. It is clear that the traditions of Exodus were burned into Moses’ mind.

Note too that while we have been briefly remembering all that happened, all that Moses has brought out is their coming out of Egypt with a high hand, the smiting of the gods of Egypt, and this water with its palm trees. He wants one or two lessons to come home as an introduction to this section, but this is not the main point of the exercise. The point was that eventually they could always be sure that Yahweh would always be with them and bring them to a place of fruitfulness. ‘Twelve springs’ would indicate sufficiency of water for all the twelve tribes, and ‘seventy’ (seven intensified) palm trees indicated the divine perfection of the food supply.

Numbers 33:10

‘And they journeyed from Elim, and encamped by the Reed Sea.’

The seventh encampment was by the Reed Sea. This would be on the Gulf of Suez. Up to this point, then, we have a general idea of the route that they were taking. It was avoiding the routes where they might meet up with those who would betray them to the Egyptians, and moving towards the territory in which Moses had spent many years during his time among the Midianites.

Numbers 33:11

‘And they journeyed from the Reed Sea, and encamped in the wilderness of Sin.’

From there they made their way into the wilderness of Sin, ‘which is between Elim and Sinai’ (Exodus 16:1). This was on the fifteenth day of the second month. They had now been journeying exactly a moon period (roughly four weeks). It was around this time that the manna began.

Numbers 33:12-14

‘And they journeyed from the wilderness of Sin, and encamped in Dophkah. And they journeyed from Dophkah, and encamped in Alush. And they journeyed from Alush, and encamped in Rephidim, where was no water for the people to drink.’

Travelling through the wilderness of Sin they came to Dophkah. Dophkah may mean ‘smeltery’ and indicate the presence of copper mining, but there was much copper mining in the area. It cannot be identified with any confidence. From there they moved to Alush and then to Rephidim. Note that these are the names of where they encamped. The aim would always be to find water, but at Rephidim there was no water. Neither Dophkah or Alush are mentioned in Exodus, but Rephidim is mentioned in Exodus 17. It was there that water was brought from a rock when Moses smote it, and that they had their first encounter with the Amalekites. The Amalekites probably saw them as trespassing on their grazing lands and rallied in order to oppose them.

“Where was no water for the people to drink.” This is the last comment made until they reach Mount Hor in Numbers 33:37. Given what occurred over that period this is quite remarkable. It may suggest that Moses saw the whole period from this point on as a ‘dry period’. Yahweh had intended plenty for them (Numbers 33:9), but because of their faithlessness and unbelief it was to be a period of spiritual dryness. Even Sinai resulted in the worship of the molten calf.

Incidentally these small comments added to lists are typical of many ancient lists. We can compare for example the Sumerian king lists where similar small comments occur now and again. It is modern man who likes his lists to be stark and barren.

Numbers 33:15

‘And they journeyed from Rephidim, and encamped in the wilderness of Sinai.’

Their twelfth listed encampment was in the wilderness of Sinai. They arrived at this in the third month (Exodus 19:1). But we do not know where Sinai was. The earliest traditions are at least 1500 years after the event. This is no grounds for confidence. All we can probably safely say is that it was in the gulf of Suez, simply because of distance travelled. (Jebel Musa is the traditional site, but a number of others such as Jebel Sin Bisher, are variously supported).

Their time spent there is covered from Exodus 19 onwards. There they received the covenant, and made and erected God’s new Dwellingplace. They arrived as a conglomeration of people, they left it as a covenant nation. The mixed multitude had mainly now become one with Israel, by being absorbed into the tribes.

From that point on every place where they set up a proper encampment would also be the place where the Dwellingplace of Yahweh was set up. Thus it obtained a kind of sacredness. Possibly one reason for the list was so that they might be specifically remembered.


Verse 16

‘And they journeyed from the wilderness of Sinai, and encamped in Kibroth-hattaavah.’

Kibroth-hattaavah was where they buried those whose desires for fresh meat got the better of them (12:34). The journey from Sinai to Kadesh was one of eleven days for the normal traveller (Deuteronomy 1:2). This and Hazeroth are the only two encampments mentioned on that journey.


Verse 17

‘And they journeyed from Kibroth-hattaavah, and encamped in Hazeroth.’

Hazeroth was the last stop before Kadesh. At Hazeroth Miriam and Aaron confronted Moses on the question of status and were confounded (Numbers 12:1-16). It will be noted that the first arrival at Kadesh (13:26) is passed over here. Because of the disobedience of Israel it was deliberately ‘blotted out’. Their journey, which should have been almost over, would continue for another thirty eight years ‘in the wilderness’.

Thus Hazeroth is made the fourteenth stop (twice seven) on the journey. This was the journey as Yahweh had meant it to be, the divinely perfect one. What followed was outside what God had purposed, although He did not desert His people (Deuteronomy 2:7).


Verse 18

‘And they journeyed from Hazeroth, and encamped in Rithmah.’

Some seek to associate Rithmah with Kadesh in some way, but the only ground for doing so is that it follows Hazeroth, and we know that Kadesh followed Hazeroth (Numbers 11:35; Numbers 12:16). It is, however, quite possible. The tribes would probably divide over a number of oases. But it could equally have been the next stage after leaving Kadesh for the wandering in the wilderness, for the whole point of not mentioning Kadesh was that the first visit to Kadesh was deliberately blotted out. We have seen how the writer did this with the forty years in the wilderness (chapters 15-19), and how he did it with Korah’s death (Numbers 16:32-35 where Korah’s death is remarkably not mentioned). Now he does the same thing for Kadesh (he will do the same thing for Simeon in Deuteronomy 33 because of their sin at the plains of Moab). How long Israel remained at Kadesh after their failure to enter the land we do not know (some would see them as remaining there for a good part of the thirty eight years). In Deuteronomy we learn that they remained there ‘many days’ (Numbers 1:46). However, that could be anything from a few months upwards. But eventually their journeys recommenced, and the itinerary that now follows is the record of that wandering in the wilderness, Numbers 33:19-36 covering the scantily covered period in Numbers 14:25 to Numbers 20:1. It is a reminder that it was a long and weary period of wandering.


Verses 19-30

‘And they journeyed from Rithmah, and encamped in Rimmon-perez. And they journeyed from Rimmon-perez, and encamped in Libnah. And they journeyed from Libnah, and encamped in Rissah. And they journeyed from Rissah, and encamped in Kehelathah. And they journeyed from Kehelathah, and encamped in mount Shepher. And they journeyed from mount Shepher, and encamped in Haradah. And they journeyed from Haradah, and encamped in Makheloth. And they journeyed from Makheloth, and encamped in Tahath. And they journeyed from Tahath, and encamped in Terah. And they journeyed from Terah, and encamped in Mithkah. And they journeyed from Mithkah, and encamped in Hashmonah. And they journeyed from Hashmonah, and encamped in Moseroth.’

This list of unknown names speaks volumes to us. Most of the first part of the list of names from Rameses to Hazeroth were well recorded in the history in Exodus, and in 11:35. Some of the final names will be recorded in the history. But the middle section are totally unmentioned. This is confirmation that the middle period was deliberately blanked out as far as the history was concerned. Moses had a record of the names of the places visited, where the Dwellingplace had been set up. He knew what had happened at each of them. But all that was to be ignored. Indeed as far as the rest of Numbers was concerned, apart from the incidents of Korah and the rod that budded which illustrate the rebellion at Kadesh, the whole period between the first leaving of Hazeroth and the second arrival at Kadesh, is as though it had not been. It was a blot on the name of Israel.

It may, however, be that we have reference to Moseroth (plural of Moserah) in the reference to Moserah (‘chastisement’) in Deuteronomy 10:6. But it is equally possible that each name was allocated to a different place and a different incident, with Moseroth (the plural) stressing a deeper level of chastisement than Moserah.


Verses 31-33

‘And they journeyed from Moseroth, and encamped in Bene-jaakan. And they journeyed from Bene-jaakan, and encamped in Hor-haggidgad. And they journeyed from Hor-haggidgad, and encamped in Jotbathah.’

This can be compared with Deuteronomy 10:6-7 where we read, ‘And the children of Israel journeyed from Beeroth (the wells of) Bene-jaakan to Moserah (chastisement). There Aaron died, and there he was buried; and Eleazar his son ministered in the priest’s office in his stead. From there they journeyed to Gudgodah (similar to ‘the caves (hor) of ha-gidgad’); and from Gudgodah to Jotbathah, a land of brooks of water.’ But this latter description is a passing of this way a second time, for it refers to the time when Aaron died (compare Numbers 33:38), while Numbers refers to a time prior to the second arrival at Kadesh (33:37), well before the death of Aaron. It is not an unlikely event that they at some stage covered the same ground twice in view of the circumstances, especially as they knew that there was water there, and they were avoiding Edom. Either they visited Moserah in a different order the second time, or Moserah is different from Moseroth.

From Deuteronomy we gather that both Bene-jaaken and Jotbathah were selected out the second time precisely because they were sources of abundant water, and that would no doubt be why they were chosen as camp sites the first time. Thus a visit, and possibly a long stay, on the way from Kadesh to Ezion-geber, and a further visit on the way from Kadesh to Edom, at a time of such shortage that even Kadesh was lacking in water (Numbers 20:2), is not to be ruled out. During the wilderness wandering they would necessarily seek out abundant water supplies, and stay at such places as long as possible (they were not going anywhere).


Verse 34-35

‘And they journeyed from Jotbathah, and encamped in Abronah. And they journeyed from Abronah, and encamped in Ezion-geber. And they journeyed from Ezion-geber, and encamped in the wilderness of Zin (the same is Kadesh).’

Note that the journey from Jotbathah to Eziongeber took place with only one encampment mentioned, and then from Ezion-geber to Kadesh in one long march. The intervening land was clearly very inhospitable so that they did not tarry anywhere but made their way as quickly as possible, simply bedding down for the night and not setting up an encampment.

For we do know that Ezion-geber was on the gulf of Aqabah (1 Kings 9:26; 1 Kings 22:48) and was thus a good long march from Kadesh, and presumably, in view of what the second visit there tells us about its placement, from Jotbathah.


Verse 37

‘And they journeyed from Kadesh, and encamped in mount Hor, in the edge of the land of Edom.’

The forty years being over Moses brought Israel back to Kadesh. This, as it were, re-established the journey from Egypt and discounted all that had gone between this and the last visit to Kadesh. The journey now began towards the eastern border of Canaan. This would take them round the Dead Sea and up its eastern side. Thus they set off from Kadesh and reached Mount Hor, which was near Moserah, on the border of the land of Edom. See for this 20:22.


Verse 38-39

‘And Aaron the priest went up into mount Hor at the commandment of Yahweh, and died there, in the fortieth year after the children of Israel were come out of the land of Egypt, in the fifth month, on the first day of the month. And Aaron was a hundred and twenty and three years old when he died in mount Hor.’

It was on Mount Hor that Aaron was to die ‘at the commandment of Yahweh’, the Lord of life and death. This was almost exactly forty years since they had left Egypt, and was on the first day of the fifth month (they had left Egypt on the fifteenth day of the first month). He died at the age of one hundred and twenty three. At first sight this appears to be an exact number, but it may simply be one hundred and twenty (three generations - a man of this age in fact often called himself ‘three’) plus three for completeness. Being older than Moses who would shortly die at ‘one hundred and twenty’ (Deuteronomy 34:7) the three indicated that he was the elder brother. Moses had had three periods of life, life in Egypt, life among the Midianites, and the period of deliverance, each of which could be seen as ‘a generation’ (idealistically forty years).

The mention of his long life here and not earlier was because earlier his sins were still in mind. Now that that has been dealt with Aaron could be given his final accolade. To the ancients his length of life would be seen as evidence of his righteousness. It was evidence that he had been pleasing to Yahweh.


Verse 40

‘And the Canaanite, the king of Arad, who dwelt in the South in the land of Canaan, heard of the coming of the children of Israel.’

At this same time had come the Canaanite king of Arad who, living in ‘the South’ (the Canaanite part of the Negeb, compare Genesis 12:9), had ‘heard of the coming of the children of Israel’ and hoped to drive them away (Numbers 21:1-3). There is, in the way that this is put, the indication that the arrival of Israel was news which put fear in the hearts of the Canaanites (compare Numbers 14:14; Deuteronomy 2:25; Exodus 15:14-16).

Thus the writer deliberately once more puts us in touch with the history described earlier, which he has deliberately neglected in the middle section. History has, as it were recommenced


Verses 41-43

‘And they journeyed from mount Hor, and encamped in Zalmonah. And they journeyed from Zalmonah, and encamped in Punon. And they journeyed from Punon, and encamped in Oboth.’

The middle two encampments are ignored in the history which speaks simply of moving from Mount Hor to Oboth (Numbers 21:4-11). But they were important as places where the Dwellingplace had been set up.


Verse 44

‘And they journeyed from Oboth, and encamped in Iye-abarim, in the border of Moab.’

For this compare Numbers 21:11. It is apparent that the list has the histories in mind.


Verses 45-48

‘And they journeyed from Iyim (a shortening of Iye-abarim), and encamped in Dibon-gad. And they journeyed from Dibon-gad, and encamped in Almon-diblathaim. And they journeyed from Almon-diblathaim, and encamped in the mountains of Abarim, before Nebo. And they journeyed from the mountains of Abarim, and encamped in the plains of Moab by the Jordan opposite Jericho.’

This contrasts with Numbers 21:12-13; Numbers 21:18-20 which says, ‘From there they journeyed, and encamped in the valley of Zered. From there they journeyed, and encamped on the other side of the Arnon, which is in the wilderness, which comes out of the border of the Amorites -- and from the wilderness they journeyed to Mattanah, and from Mattanah to Nahaliel; and from Nahaliel to Bamoth; and from Bamoth to the valley that is in the field of Moab, to the top of Pisgah, which looks towards Jeshimon (or ‘down on the desert’).’

The difference probably lies in the purpose of the descriptions. These in Numbers 33 refer to the places where they encamped and set up the Dwellingplace (or in the early part the old Tent of Meeting - Exodus 33:7-11). Anywhere were the Dwellingplace was set up was special. That is possibly one reason for this list in Numbers 33. It indicated the march of Yahweh and where He stayed. Those in Numbers 21 refer to sites of well known interest, which were not necessarily campsites. Alternately the change of Dibon to Dibon-gad (Dibon of Gad) may suggest that these in Numbers 33 were the new names given by the children of Israel as in Numbers 32:38. That would explain why unexpectedly there was not a single similar name.

(We must not make too much of these differences. The descriptions in chapter 21 only include two specific ‘place’ names, Mattanah and Nahaliel (and this latter simply means ‘the valley of God’). Bamoth is ‘the heights’, the river valley and mountain sites are general descriptions).


Verse 49

‘And they encamped by the Jordan, from Beth-jeshimoth even to Abel-shittim in the plains of Moab.’

And finally they arrived in the plains of Moab and encamped between Beth-jeshimoth (House of the Deserts, near the north-east shore of the Dead Sea) and Abel-shittim (meadow or brook of Shittim). ‘Between the desert and the meadow/brook’ may be intended by the writer also to emphasise both from where they came (the wilderness), and where they now were (in a pleasant watered land). The journey was now over.


Verses 50-56

2). The Dividing Up Of The Land That Was Set Before Them (Numbers 33:50 to Numbers 34:29).

Having arrived at the plains of Moab with the land visible over the Jordan, a preliminary indication of what would be expected of them, and what they might expect to receive, was now provided for them. This will be followed in Numbers 34 by a brief description of the land and the names of those who will divide it out between them. The picture is being dangled in front of their eyes of the prize that lies before them.

Instruction Concerning Dividing Up The Land By Lot in the Future So That Each Man Has His Lot and For the Purifying of the Land (Numbers 33:50-56).

a Introductory words of Yahweh (Numbers 33:50-51).

b When they enter the land they are to drive out the inhabitants of the land (Numbers 33:50-52).

c They are to take possession of the land (33:53).

c They are to inherit the land by lot fairly, and each is to have his ‘lot’ (Numbers 33:54).

b If they do not drive out the inhabitants of the land they will be a constant pain and trouble to them (Numbers 33:55).

a Final warning of Yahweh (Numbers 33:56).

There were two prongs to the requirements. One was that they were to receive the land by lot. It was theirs for the taking, and Yahweh Himself would dispose of it among them. And the second was that they must remember His word about driving out the Canaanites in their totality. The land must be purified from all the sin and idolatry that had been committed in it.

Numbers 33:50

‘And Yahweh spoke to Moses in the plains of Moab by the Jordan at Jericho, saying,’

These are triumphant words. This time when Yahweh spoke to Moses it was on the very borders of the promised land.

Numbers 33:51-52

Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them, When you pass over the Jordan into the land of Canaan, then you shall drive out all the inhabitants of the land from before you, and destroy all their figured stones, and destroy all their molten images, and demolish all their high places.”

Their solemn duty on possessing the land is again stressed. They must drive out all the inhabitants of the land, and must destroy all tokens of idolatry and places for their worship (compare Numbers 32:21; Exodus 23:24-33; Exodus 34:10-14; Deuteronomy 7:2; Deuteronomy 7:5 and often). The land had to be cleansed by the driving out or destruction of all that offended Yahweh, for the iniquity of these nations had now reached overflowing (compare Genesis 15:16).

Numbers 33:53

And you shall take possession of the land, and dwell in it; for I have given to you the land that you might possess it.”

And on the positive side they themselves were to possess it and dwell in it, to live in its cities and farm its fields. For Yahweh was giving it to them for this purpose. This was the dream for which they would fight.

Numbers 33:54

And you shall inherit the land by lot according to your families; to the more you shall give the more inheritance, and to the fewer you shall give the less inheritance. Wherever the lot falls to any man, that shall be his; according to the tribes of your fathers shall you inherit.”

And when they did inherit the land it was to be by lot, which would indicate Yahweh’s will in its disposal, and they were to do it by and in accordance with their clans. The many would receive much, the fewer less. This was their inheritance from Yahweh. All was to be by lot and not by man’s devising. Each man would receive what the lot indicated. And all would receive within their tribes, and dependent on their size.

Numbers 33:55

But if you will not drive out the inhabitants of the land from before you, then will those whom you allow to remain of them be as pricks in your eyes, and as thorns in your sides, and they will vex you in the land in which you dwell.”

But if they failed to drive out the inhabitants of the land, those inhabitants would remain, ever to be to them a sore in their eyes, thorns in their sides, a vexation. (compare Joshua 23:12-13; Judges 2:3; Psalms 106:34; Psalms 106:36). It would permanently mar the enjoyment of their dwelling in the land.

Note the vivid picture. They would be well aware from their days of wandering of the prickly bushes that could tear at the eyes, and the thorns that could pierce their sides. This was not something that they would want to find in the new land.

Numbers 33:56

And it will come about, that, as I thought to do to them, so will I do to you.”

And even more, if they neglect to purify the land from idolatry Yahweh Himself will do to Israel what He had thought to do to those nations. They would come to be in such a state that He would drive them out, and destroy their places of worship. And they would have brought it all on themselves. This is the basis of all the warnings and prophecies elsewhere, see especially Leviticus 26:14-39; Deuteronomy 28:15-68.

There is a reminder here for us that as we too go forward with God we must remove from our lives all that could hinder our forward march, so that we might please Him Who has chosen us to be soldiers (2 Timothy 2:4-5). We too must set aside every weight and the sin which does so easily beset us (Hebrews 12:1). We too must avoid what attacks the eye (Matthew 5:29; Matthew 6:23; Matthew 18:9) and the thorns that seek to tear at us (1 Timothy 6:9)

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Numbers 33:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/numbers-33.html. 2013.

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