Encampments of the Israelites. (1-49) The Canaanites to be destroyed. (50-56)
Verses 1-49 This is a brief review of the travels of the children of Israel through the wilderness. It is a memorable history. In their travels towards Canaan they were continually on the remove. Such is our state in this world; we have here no continuing city, and all our removes in this world are but from one part a desert to another. They were led to and fro, forward and backward, yet were all the while under the direction of the pillar of cloud and fire. God led them about, yet led them the right way. The way God takes in bringing his people to himself is always the best way, though it does not always seem to us the nearest way. Former events are mentioned. Thus we ought to keep in mind the providences of God concerning us and families, us and our land, and the many instances of that Divine care which has led us, and fed us, and kept us all our days hitherto. Few periods of our lives can be thought upon, without reminding us of the Lord's goodness, and our own ingratitude and disobedience: his kindness leaves us without excuse for our sins. We could not wish to travel over again the stages we have passed, unless we could hope, by the grace of God, to shun the sins we then committed, and to embrace such opportunities of doing good as we have let slip. Soon will our wanderings end, and our eternal state be fixed beyond recall; how important then is the present moment! Happy are those whom the Lord now guides with his counsel, and will at length receive to his glory. To this happiness the gospel calls us. Behold now is the accepted time, now is the day of salvation. Let sinners seize the opportunity, and flee for refuge to the hope set before them. Let us redeem our time, to glorify God and serve our generation; and he will carry us safely through all, to his eternal kingdom.
Verses 50-56 Now that they were to pass over Jordan, they were entering again into temptation to follow idols; and they are threatened that, if they spared either the idols or the idolaters, their sin would certainly be their punishment. They would foster vipers in their own bosoms. The remnant of the Canaanites, if they made any peace with them, though but for a time, would be pricks in their eyes, and thorns in their sides. We must expect trouble and affliction from whatever sin we indulge; that which we are willing should tempt us, will vex us. It was intended that the Canaanites should be put out of the land; but if the Israelites learned their wicked ways, they also would be put out. Let us hear this and fear. If we do not drive out sin, sin will drive us out. If we are not the death of our lusts, our lusts will be the death of our souls.
Numbers 33:1-15 . TWO AND FORTY JOURNEYS OF THE ISRAELITES--FROM EGYPT TO SINAI.
1. These are the journeys of the children of Israel--This chapter may be said to form the winding up of the history of the travels of the Israelites through the wilderness; for the three following chapters relate to matters connected with the occupation and division of the promised land. As several apparent discrepancies will be discovered on comparing the records here given of the journeyings from Sinai with the detailed accounts of the events narrated in the Book of Exodus and the occasional notices of places that are found in that of Deuteronomy, it is probable that this itinerary comprises a list of only the "most important" stations in their journeys--those where they formed prolonged encampments, and whence they dispersed their flocks and herds to pasture on the adjacent plains till the surrounding herbage was exhausted. The catalogue extends from their departure out of Egypt to their arrival on the plains of Moab.
went forth . . . with their armies--that is, a vast multitude marshalled in separate companies, but regular order.
2. Moses wrote their goings out according to their journeys by the commandment of the Lord--The wisdom of this divine order is seen in the importance of the end to which it was subservient--namely, partly to establish the truth of the history, partly to preserve a memorial of God's marvellous interpositions on behalf of Israel, and partly to confirm their faith in the prospect of the difficult enterprise on which they were entering, the invasion of Canaan.
3. Rameses--generally identified with Heroopoils, now the modern Abu-Keisheid which was probably the capital of Goshen, and, by direction of Moses, the place of general rendezvous previous to their departure.
4. upon their gods--used either according to Scripture phraseology to denote their rulers (the first-born of the king and his princes) or the idolatrous objects of Egyptian worship.
5. pitched in Succoth--that is, "booths"--a place of no note except as a temporary halting place, at Birketel-Hadji, the Pilgrim's Pool [CALMET].
6. Etham--edge, or border of all that part of Arabia-Petræa which lay contiguous to Egypt and was known by the general name of Shur.
7. Pi-hahiroth, Baal-zephon . . .
8. Marah--thought to be Ain Howarah, both from its position and the time (three days) it would take them with their children and flocks to march from the water of Ayun Musa to that spot.
9. Elim--supposed to be Wady Ghurundel
10. encamped by the Red Sea--The road from Wady Ghurundel leads into the interior, in consequence of a high continuous ridge which excludes all view of the sea. At the mouth of Wady-et-Tayibeh, after about three days' march, it opens again on a plain along the margin of the Red Sea. The minute accuracy of the Scripture narrative, in corresponding so exactly with the geographical features of this region, is remarkably shown in describing the Israelites as proceeding by the only practicable route that could be taken. This plain, where they encamped, was the Desert of Sin
12-14. Dophkah . . . Alush . . . Rephidim--These three stations, in the great valleys of El Sheikh and Feiran, would be equivalent to four days' journey for such a host. Rephidim ( Exodus 17:6 ) was in Horeb, the burnt region--a generic name for a hot, mountainous country.
15. wilderness of Sinai--the Wady Er-Raheh.
Numbers 33:16-56 . FROM SINAI TO KADESH AND PLAINS OF MOAB.
16-37. Kibroth-Hattaavah ("the graves of lust," route, on breaking up the encampment at Sinai, led down Wady Sheikh; then crossing Jebel-et-Tih, which intersected the peninsula, they descended into Wady Zalaka, pitching successively at two brief, though memorable, stations ( Deuteronomy 9:22 ); then they encamped at Hazeroth ("unwalled villages"), supposed to be at Kadesh, or Kadesh-barnea, is supposed to be the great valley of the Ghor, and the city Kadesh to have been situated on the border of this valley [BURCKHARDT; ROBINSON]. But as there are no less than eighteen stations inserted between Hazeroth and Kadesh, and only eleven days were spent in performing that journey ( Deuteronomy 1:2 ), it is evident that the intermediate stations here recorded belong to another and totally different visit to Kadesh. The first was when they left Sinai in the second month ( Numbers 1:11 , 13:20 ), and were in Kadesh in August ( Deuteronomy 1:45 ), and "abode many days" in it. Then, murmuring at the report of the spies, they were commanded to return into the desert "by the way of the Red Sea." The arrival at Kadesh, mentioned in this catalogue, corresponds to the second sojourn at that place, being the first month, or April ( Numbers 20:1 ). Between the two visits there intervened a period of thirty-eight years, during which they wandered hither and thither through all the region of El-Tih ("wanderings"), often returning to the same spots as the pastoral necessities of their flocks required; and there is the strongest reason for believing that the stations named between Hazeroth ( Numbers 33:8 ) and Kadesh ( Numbers 33:36 ) belong to the long interval of wandering. No certainty has yet been attained in ascertaining the locale of many of these stations. There must have been more than are recorded; for it is probable that those only are noted where they remained some time, where the tabernacle was pitched, and where Moses and the elders encamped, the people being scattered for pasture in various directions. From Ezion-geber, for instance, which stood at the head of the gulf of Akaba, to Kadesh, could not be much less than the whole length of the great valley of the Ghor, a distance of not less than a hundred miles, whatever might be the exact situation of Kadesh; and, of course, there must have been several intervening stations, though none are mentioned. The incidents and stages of the rest of the journey to the plains of Moab are sufficiently explicit from the preceding chapters.
18. Rithmah ("the place of the broom")--a station possibly in some wady extending westward of the Ghor.
19. Rimmon-parez, or Rimmon--a city of Judah and Simeon ( Joshua 15:32 ); Libnah, so called from its white poplars ( Joshua 10:29 ), or, as some think, a white hill between Kadesh and Gaza ( Joshua 10:29 ); Rissah (El-arish); mount Shapher (Cassius); Moseroth, adjacent to mount Hor, in Wady Mousa. Ezion-geber, near Akaba, a seaport on the western shore of the Elanitic gulf; Wilderness of Zin, on the east side of the peninsula of Sinai; Punon, in the rocky ravines of mount Hor and famous for the mines and quarries in its vicinity as well as for its fruit trees, now Tafyle, on the border of Edom; Abarim, a ridge of rugged hills northwest of the Arnon--the part called Nebo was one of its highest peaks--opposite Jericho.
50-53. ye shall drive out all the inhabitants of the land from before you--not, however, by expulsion, but extermination ( Deuteronomy 7:1 ).
and destroy all their pictures--obelisks for idolatrous worship
and destroy all their molten images, and quite pluck down all their high places--by metonymy for all their groves and altars, and materials of worship on the tops of hills.
54. ye shall divide the land by lot--The particular locality of each tribe was to be determined in this manner while a line was to be used in measuring the proportion ( Joshua 18:10 , Psalms 16:5 Psalms 16:6 ).
55. But if ye will not drive out the inhabitants of the land from before you--No associations were to be formed with the inhabitants; otherwise, "if ye let remain, they will be pricks in your eyes, and thorns in your sides"--that is, they would prove troublesome and dangerous neighbors, enticing to idolatry, and consequently depriving you of the divine favor and blessing. The neglect of the counsel against union with the idolatrous inhabitants became fatal to them. This earnest admonition given to the Israelites in their peculiar circumstances conveys a salutary lesson to us to allow no lurking habits of sin to remain in us. That spiritual enemy must be eradicated from our nature; otherwise it will be ruinous to our present peace and future salvation.