Israel’s Journeys in the Wilderness
Numbers 33 lists forty-two camps Israel visited during the forty year journey in the wilderness. Notice that not every campsite visited by the children of Israel is listed in this itinerary in Numbers 33. So, why were these journeys recorded? Probably to inform us that although Elohim issued a decree that they would not enter the Promised Land for their distrust but they would move around from place to place wandering in the desert, we should not say that they were wandering for all forty years, and they had no rest. If we deduct fifteen of them, for they all took place before the decree in the second year from their exodus from Egypt and subtract a further ten camps which took place after Miryam’s death in the fortieth year, we will find that there is a gap of thirty-eight years, between chapter 19 and chapter 20 in the Book of Numbers about which we are given no record and during which period they made only seventeen journeys. Later on in this study, the present author will make a hypothesis regarding what might have taken place during the thirty-eight years in the Arabian desert.
We should also notice that the pattern of the narrative in Numbers 33 is interrupted three times with specific details about a particular site. The first of the interruptions is that of Passover and the Exodus (Num_33:3). The second interruption to the story is that of the stay at Elim with the twelve springs and the seventy palm trees (Num_33:9). The third interruption in the narrative is the death of Aaron (Num_33:38, Num_20:28).
And these are the camps of Israel in their journey from Egypt to the Promised Land as listed in Numbers 33.
THE FIRST YEAR
1. Rameses. They left Egypt in the first month, on the fifteenth day of the first month, on the morrow of the Passover
3. Etham, on the edge of the wilderness.
4. Migdol. Turned back to Pi Hahiroth, which is east of Ba’al Tsephon. And they camped near Migdol. And they departed from before Hahiroth and passed over through the midst of Yam Suph into the wilderness, went three days’ journey in the Wilderness of Etham and camped at Marah.
6. Elim. At Elim were twelve springs of water and seventy palm trees.
7. By Yam Suph.
8. the Wilderness of Sin.
11. Rephidim where there was no water for the people to drink.
12. at Mount Sinai where the Covenant was made; they stayed eleven months and twenty days in the Wilderness of Sinai and departed on the twentieth day of the second month of the second year.
THE SECOND YEAR
13. Qibroth Hatta’awah (Tav’erah).
14. Hatseroth. Miryam was afflicted with tzarat.
15. Rithmah in the Wilderness of Paran, at Qadesh, from where the twelve spies were sent.
IN THE WILDERNESS OF ARABIA
16. Rimmon Perets.
20. Mount Shapher.
28. Benei Ya’aqan.
29. Hor Haggidgad.
32. Etsyon Gever.
THE FORTIETH YEAR
33. Kadesh in the Wilderness of Tsin, in the first month. Miryam died there.
34. Mount Hor, on the boundary of the land of Edom where Aharon the priest died in the fortieth year after Israel had come out of the land of Egypt, on the first day of the fifth month.
38. Iye Ha-Avarim, at the border of Mo’av.
39. Divon Gad.
40. Almon Divlathayemah.
41. the mountains of Avarim, before Nebo.
42. the desert plains of Mo’av by the Yarden of Yericho. And they camped by the Yarden, from Beyth Yeshimoth as far as the Avel Shittim in the desert plains of Mo’av.
The forty-two camps Israel was stationed in during the forty years spent in the wilderness were not given unintentionally but for a reason. It is tempting (as other scholars have tried) to try to find a connection between these forty-two camps and the forty-two months which the chosen remnant will be hidden in the wilderness just before the coming of the Messiah in the Book of Revelation, but as of the moment this study is being done, the present author has not be able to find any excepting that there is no a short cut to the Promised Land and before entering the land the chosen ones are to undergo trials. However, David L. Stubbs has noticed something else intriguing namely that the forty-two camps can be broken down into six lists of seven each and found an association with the weekly Sabbath and entering into the Promised Land. He writes:
While speculative, if one divides the forty-two stages into seven parts, each with six stages, there are interesting results. At the end of the first part Israel is camped at Elim, with its suggestive mention of twelve springs and seventy palm trees. They cross the Red Sea and arrive at Mount Sinai in the twelfth stage. Immediately after this come the places associated with the first rebellion (Num_11:1-2). The seventh group starts with Oboth, the first place mentioned (Num_21:10) after the turning point of the narrative in Num_21:1-9. Given the association of rest with the seventh day, the Sabbath, and God’s statement in Deu_12:9 and Psa_95:11 that “they [the exodus generation] shall not enter my rest,” perhaps the seven divisions can be associated with the seven days of the week, ending with the Sabbath. Then, the final group of stages—associated with the final third of the book—is fittingly concerned with the preparation to enter into the rest of the promised land.