38 Contentious Years of Israel in Arabia

Posted by on Jul 2, 2017

Little is known of the 38 years Israel lived in the desert of Arabia. “What was the life of Israel in Arabia?” and “Why a smaller number of people entered the Land?” are the questions we will seek answers in this study.

In the article Israel’s Whoring in Egypt, we studied that the Israelites lived a comfortable life in the Egyptian exile and had they remained a moment longer there, they would have risked becoming part of it and there would have been no children of Israel to redeem.

The children of Israel were taken out of Egypt and brought to the mountain of YHVH in Arabia: Sinai. Israel stayed in the Wilderness of Sinai, in the camp, for 11 months (compare Exo 19:1-2 and Num 9:1-4).

There YHVH made a covenant with them, gave them the Torah, and when the tribes were transformed into a nation, they headed for the Promised Land.

However, there is another episode of Israel’s redemption from Egypt — 38 years of contention of Israel with YHVH in the desert of Arabia.

38 years later: The new generation came out of Arabia

Assembling of the Congregation at Kadesh.
In the first month the children of Israel came into the desert of Tsin (Num 20:1) in the 40th year of their wanderings in Arabia in the very same place at Kadesh where the sentence had been decreed 38 years before, that they should remain in the desert for 40 years, until the rebellious generation that rejected the Land had died out.

Between the two dates in Num 1:1 “the first day of the second month of the second year after they were come out of Egypt” and in Num 33:38 the death of Aaron are no less than 38 years and 3 months (see also Deu 2:14): the time Israel was wandering in the desert of Arabia as a punishment for rejecting the Land.

The Egypt inside Israel for 38 years in Arabia

But, YHVH, who already saved His people from the idolatrous Egypt and brought them to the borders of the land promised to the patriarchs, had to deal with one more issue—the Egypt inside Israel—it took YHVH seven days to take Israel out of Egypt, but forty years to take Egypt out of Israel.

We read from the Book of Numbers as the nation of Israel came into the Wilderness of Tsin where there was no water to drink,

And Yehovah spoke to Mosheh, saying, “Take the rod and assemble the congregation, you and your brother Aharon. And you shall speak to the rock before their eyes, and it shall give its water. And you shall bring water for them out of the rock and give drink to the congregation and their livestock.” (Num 20:7-8)

In Hebrew, we will read in a deeper level thus,

(Num 20:7) וַיְדַבֵּר יְהוָה אֶל־מֹשֶׁה לֵּאמֹֽר׃

(Num 20:8) קַח אֶת־הַמַּטֶּ֗ה וְהַקְהֵל אֶת־הָעֵדָה אַתָּה וְאַהֲרֹ֣ן אָחִ֔יךָ וְדִבַּרְתֶּם אֶל־הַסֶּלַע לְעֵינֵיהֶם וְנָתַן מֵימָיו וְהֹוצֵאתָ לָהֶם מַיִם מִנ־הַסֶּ֔לַע וְהִשְׁקִיתָ אֶת־הָעֵד֖ה וְאֶת־בְּעִירָם׃

Now, if we start reading  (in red) at letter “yud” in the first word of Num 20:7 by counting every eleventh letter forward (from right to left), we will read the encoded name יִשְׁמָעֵאל “Ishmael” in the Hebrew text. Ishmael was the son of Avraham from the Egyptian Hagar and became the father of all Arabs.

The Hebraic but also Semitic name “Ishmael” means “El hears” or “God hears”, but more properly “El listens up”. 

The Bible codes

Bible Codes cannot be used to predict future events. Rather, they reflect the fact that YHVH the Ancient of days, who wrote the Torah in Hebrew, embedded providential evidence of future events in the Hebrew letters of the text.

Likewise, prophecy is not a prediction and the prophets are not fortunetellers. Prophecy and Bible codes are not meant to predict the future, but to warn the people about the future, about the coming danger. Therefore, prophecy is not a Damoclean Sword. Even the darkest prophecy can be diverted, if there is repentance. Repentance can achieve anything. This means that a Bible code and the related prophecy are a subject of interpretation; it may or may not be fulfilled: all depends on His will.

By saying that, we may ask the question as to why the name of Ishmael the son of Hagar was encoded in this particular passage concerning Israel’s rebellion against Mosheh and Aharon.

There are no vain words in the Torah and the Prophets and if a Bible code, which is considered the very literal Word of the Creator, says something about or in connection with a certain event, we need to be prudent and pay a close attention.

For more insight on Bible codes and how they may relate to the current political events, the reader may want to refer to the article Obama, ISIL, and the Bible Code. 

And in order to find an answer to our question, we will need to do some contextual analysis and see whether we can find this connection.

Ishmael vs. Israel

Let us go back to the time of Avraham when, according to the Biblical account, he sent away Hagar and his son Ishmael from the camp. We should remember that Ishmael was thirteen when he was circumcised and Yitschak (Isaac) was born a year later, therefore Ishmael was fourteen years old when Yitschak was born.

Unlike today, in the ancient cultures, the children were weaned a few years after birth. Then it is possible that Ishmael was seventeen or even nineteen years old when he was expelled from the family and Yitschak was then five years old.

For more insight on the reason why Ishmael was expelled from Avraham’s family, the reader may refer to the article Did Really Ishmael Mock the Little Isaac?

We read from the account in Genesis 21 that that day Avraham arose up early in the morning, took bread and a bottle of water, gave them to Hagar and Ishmael, and sent them away. As they strayed, they came in the wilderness of Beer-sheba, with no water to drink.

Back to the future, four hundred and forty years later, the children of Avraham from the promised son Yitschak, the brother of Ishmael, came into the Wilderness of Tsin, where there was no water to drink. These are the settings according to the Biblical narratives.

Now, let us draw a parallelism between these two events to see if we can find any similarities and differences. We read from the accounts in Genesis 21 and Numbers 20:

And the water in the bottle was spent, and she cast the child under one of the shrubs. And she went, and sat her down over against him a good way off, as it were a bow-shot; for she said: ‘Let me not look upon the death of the child.’ And she sat over against him, and lifted up her voice, and wept. And Elohim heard the voice of the lad; and the angel of Elohim called to Hagar out of heaven, and said unto her: ‘What is to you, Hagar? fear not; for Elohim has heard the voice of the lad where he is. Arise, lift up the lad, and hold him fast by your hand; for I will make him a great nation.’ (Gen 21:14-19)

Now there was no water for the congregation and they assembled against Mosheh and against Aharon. And the people contended with Mosheh and spoke, saying, “If only we had died when our brothers died before Yehovah! Why have you brought up the assembly of Yehovah into this wilderness, that we and our livestock should die here? And why have you brought us up out of Egypt, to bring us to this evil place? – not a place of grain or figs or vines or pomegranates, and there is no water to drink.” (Num 20:2-5)

In the story of Ishmael, Elohim opened Hagar’s eyes and she saw a well of water. She went and filled the bottle with water, and gave the lad to drink. They survived and as it was promised to Hagar, Ishmael became a great nation.

In the story of Israel, four hundred and forty years later, YHVH spoke to Mosheh to take his rod and assemble the congregation of Israel. Then He told Mosheh to speak to the rock before their eyes to give its water to the people and their livestock. They survived and as it was promised to Avraham, Israel became a great nation and entered the Promised Land.

In order to properly understand the situations of having to choose between good or bad decision, we should notice how the descendants of Avraham— Ishmael and Israel — acted.

First, both Ishmael and Israel fell in difficult situations: they were in the wilderness with no water to drink. Both survived as they were given water, but this is where the similarities end.

In the situation of Hagar and Ishmael, there was an existential threat for their survival. It was life or death.

On the other side, we see no threat for the survival of the nation of Israel. On the contrary, they had the super food manna to eat; they had their live stock and milk to drink and they were not even close to any threat of extinction.

And this is how Ishmael and Israel acted under the given circumstances. Hagar the Egyptian and her son Ishmael in desperation lifted up their voices and wept to Elohim.

On the other side, the people contended with Mosheh and spoke bad words against YHVH. They wish to return to Egypt, as their fathers who died in the desert did, rather than to enter the Promised Land at whose threshold they were standing. They were lusting for grain, figs, vines, and pomegranates, as if these had not been promised to them.

We should also notice another difference in the narratives in Genesis and Numbers.

While the personal and intimate Name of Yehovah is used in the story of contention of the children of Israel with Mosheh, the Highest revealed Himself to Hagar and Ishmael only by His title “Elohim”, “a powerful one”, and only through an angel.

We should notice that when Hagar and Ishmael were in the desert they did not contended with Elohim, but wept out to Him out of desperation.

While on the other side, Israel did not contend with Mosheh but with YHVH, despite the fact that it was Him who sustained them during the forty years in the wilderness and it was Him who brought them to the land, and it was Him who promised them the land of milk and honey.

Perhaps, that was the reason for the Bible code in our passage: to contrast Ishmael to Israel in order to teach us something.

The censuses that raise questions

What is this that is taught to us?

In the Book of Numbers, we are told, there are two censuses of the children of Israel taken 38 years apart: the time Israel was in the desert of Arabia. They are listed in the first and in the twenty-sixth chapters of the Book of Numbers.


Reuben            46,500                            43,730

Simeon            59,300                            22,200

Gad                  45,650                            40,500

Judah               74,600                            76,500

Issachar            54,400                            64,300

Zebulun            57,400                            60,500

Ephraim           40,500                            32,500

Manasseh         32,200                            52,700

Benjamin         35,400                            45,600

Dan                  62,700                            64,400

Asher               41,500                            53,400

Naphtali           53,400                            45,400


TOTALS       603,550                          601,730

We could expect that during the 38 years Israel spent in the desert of Arabia the nation could have been enlarged significantly just by considering the natural birth rate and the super food they had.

Therefore, it would be reasonable to expect that Israel would have much larger population after 38 years in Arabia than what we see in the second census.

At first glance, it is obvious that Israel lost 1,820 men of battle, with the tribes of Reuven, Simeon, Gad, Ephraim, and Naphtali contributing much to it.

What happened between these two chapters that decreased Israel’s population we are not told in the Torah, but there are some clues which we will consider below.

The first census numbers those Israelites who came out of Egypt. This generation that eventually died during the 38 years of Israel in the desert of Arabia, was one of rebellion (see Num 14:29).

The second census numbers the new generation, the generation that would stand at the bank of the Yarden River eagerly awaiting to enter the Land.

We should note that these two censuses seem to mark a nearly mirrored division in the Book of Numbers, namely, that there is a gap of 38 years between Chapter 19 and Chapter 20.

During this hidden for us period of 38 years, Israel camped in 18 locations in the desert of Arabia, from station 15 to station 32 (see Num 33:18-35 and Chapter Israel’s Journeys in the Wilderness of the present author’s book The Reckoning of Time).

In the first census 603,550 men twenty years old and older were numbered and only 22,273 firstborn males (Num 3:40-43); that would make one firstborn per every twenty-seven. How can it be so?

There are two possible causes that can explain the apparent discrepancy.

The first possible but less likely cause could have been a high mortality rate among the newborn (those who had not reach the age of thirty days, Num 3:15) and the second reason: a possible decimation.

In the second census, taken after 38 years Israel wandered in the desert of Arabia, a smaller number was counted. However, there was a third cause that might have led to decrease of the population and this will be explained further below.

From the table above, we noticed that at the first census, the tribe of Simeon had 59,300 men of war (making it the third biggest tribe), but at the time of the second census, it lost 37,100 men, and with only 22,200 men of war this tribe became the smallest one in Israel.

How do we interpret this?

When the remnant of the tribe of Simeon entered the land, they did not inherit its own territorial tribal land. Instead, this tribe inherited cities within the territory of the tribe of Yehudah (Jos 19:1-9) because, they did not have enough number of men to dispossess the Kana’anites. Therefore, it is very unlikely that this tribe had lost so many people due to natural causes that prevented it from taking its portion of the land. There must have been something that caused such a decrease in numbers after Israel spent 38 years in the desert of Arabia.

We should remember that this is why YHVH did not give Israel the whole land promised to Avraham, but only a portion of it because as a nation Israel was too small to conquer it. The same rule applied to the tribe of Simeon, too.

In the book titled The Exodus Case by Dr. Lennart Möller (which book the present author highly recommends), the author makes the hypothesis that during the 38 years in the desert some left Israel and settled in Arabia.

In support of his hypothesis, Dr. Möller shows ancient maps on which one can recognize the names of these settlements: typical Hebrew names; the name of one of them is very recognizable: Ras Israel (p.384).

Dr. Möller makes the hypothesis that Yemenite Jews may well have been the sons of Yamin (Gen 46:10, Exo 6:15, Num 26:12), one of the major family of the Simeon tribe. Most likely, most of the Simeonites left Israel and gave their father’s name to the modern day Yemen (Yaman in Arabic). The similarities are not be overlooked.

So, it is very possible, that Israel lost numbers in the second census, because some of the tribes of Reuven, Simeon, Gad, Ephraim, and Naphtali left Israel during those 38 years and establish their own settlements throughout Arabia.

The Book of The Wars of YHVH

The Time of Reckoning hypothesis is that while wandering in Arabia for 38 years, the children of Israel most likely fought the local people and lost lives in addition to the splitting of the nation.

In support of this hypothesis is a very interesting book, the Book of The Wars of YHVH, barely mentioned in Num 21:14 immediately after the 38 years of exile in Arabia.

And if the Book of The Wars of YHVH is given to us in Chapter 21 of Numbers and nowhere else, just after the 38 years spent in the desert, it is given there for a reason.

It is very possible that the Book of The Wars of YHVH depicts those wars that YHVH might have fought for Israel, because it is reasonable to expect that the local people, the Ishmaelites, would have fought the Israelites to protect their land.

The lesson Israel learned after 38 years in Arabia

The Rabbinical commentaries explain the large reduction in Simeon’s population was due to the fact that the Simeonites were the major perpetrator in the worship of Pe’or with the daughters of Midian. Read more here.

Although this might be true, this was not the only instance in which Israel was so decimated.

We read of plagues and other catastrophes following the sins of the Golden Calf, the “complainers” and the lust for meat, the sin of the ten spies (Numbers 13-14:38), the attempt to enter the Land (Num 14:39-45), and the rebellion of Korach (Numbers 16:1-50). Indeed other tribes, too, show a fall in population (though none as drastic as Shimon’s), and the people as a whole are fewer despite the natural increase one would expect after the children of Israel lived 38 years in the desert of Arabia.

The commentaries further note that whole families were wiped out from Israel. In the second census there were five Simeonite clans instead of six, Gad had likewise lost a family, and Benjamin had lost five.

Undoubtedly, the whoring with the daughters of Mo’av and the aftermath of it had contributed to the decrease of Israel’s population. Nevertheless, it cannot explain completely the loss of numbers in the second census.

For instance, between the first and second census the tribe of Simeon had lost 37,100 men which made this tribe the smallest on Israel, even smaller than the tribe of Levi. Even if the 24,000 who perished in the plague (Num 25:9) were all Simeonites, there are still 13,100 unexplained whom the tribe lost sometime during the 38 years of wandering in the desert of Arabia and before the whoring with the daughters of Mo’av.

It is true that the loss of more than 600,000 male from twenty years and older (those who refused to enter the land) had also contributed to the significant decrease of Israel’s population. The oldest males (except the Levites) born during the 38 years in Arabia were no older than fifty-seven which would make Israel a pretty young nation.

Nevertheless, there must be another reason for Israel’s decrease and the present author believes that a large portion of the people left Israel during these 38 years and settled throughout Arabia.

With all that being said, we may conclude that Israel’s contention with YHVH in the Wilderness of Tsin (which cost Mosheh his entry into the land) was not the only time they rebelled against Him. But they might have contented with YHVH all those 38 years in the Arabian exile.

Perhaps, this is why the Bible code in Num 20:7-8 is given to us: to make us think of the contrast between Ishmael and Israel and find the answer, namely, that the people contended with YHVH Elohim.

However, there is another question we need to ask ourselves and it is: “Are we doing any better in our “Arabia?”

May we merit seeing the coming of our Mashiach speedily in our days.