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Bible Commentaries
Numbers 33

Coffman's Commentaries on the BibleCoffman's Commentaries

Verses 1-49

This remarkable chapter details the so-called “stations” of the children of Israel during the approximately forty years that elapsed between their exodus and their entry into Canaan. Practically nothing is known about most of the places mentioned here, although, here and there, one of the names corresponds with the location of events related in Exodus. “Twelve of the places mentioned are mentioned nowhere else in the Bible.”(F1) “Of all the seventeen places listed between Numbers 33:19-36, not a single one is known or can be pointed out with certainty (with the possible exception of Ezion-geber).”(F2) Many other scholars might be cited in agreement with the mystery that lies around these remarkable names.

Although these places are called “stations”, that is not the way God counted them. Keil pointed out that “The key Hebrew word here does not mean `station’ at all, but the `breaking of camp’, that is, the `marching out’.”(F3) Gray also observed this and translated as follows:

“And Moses wrote down their starting-places on their several stages, according to Yahweh’s commandment; and these are their stages defined by their several starting places.”(F4)

Gray stated that there are 41 of these,(F5) but his failure to get this accurate was due to his not counting the very first of the starting-places namely, Rameses. Dummelow thought there are “forty of these stations.”(F6) For centuries, there has been little divergence from the obvious truth that there are EXACTLY FORTY-TWO of these. W. Gunther Plaut, a very recent Jewish commentator declared emphatically that, “Forty-two way stations are listed in the recapitulation of the forty years wandering.”(F7)

It is most likely that it is in this number that we should seek the principal significance of the whole chapter. The very fact that so LITTLE is known about most of these places forces the conclusion that God Almighty had some other weighty reason for commanding the great Lawgiver to write these down. Our own conviction is that God does not have any worthless material in his Book (the Bible), and therefore we conclude that some very great significance lies in the very number FORTY-TWO itself.

Sure enough, when we pursue this, we can only be astounded at the ramifications of it. In the intricate correspondence between the number given in this chapter and the events and conditions identified with that same number subsequently in the Sacred Scriptures, we find overwhelming proof of God’s authorship of the words here given and of the inspiration of this section of the Holy Bible (as is the case, of course, with all of it).

In both the O.T. and the N.T., the grand analogy between the Two Israels of God is an ever-present, recurring phenomenon. Whole sections of the N.T. are based upon it, as in 1 Corinthians 10, and the Book of Hebrews. It is an axiom known to every true preacher of the Word that the wilderness wanderings of Israel are typical of the current Christian dispensation. Their baptism in the Red Sea is typical of Christian baptism. Their passage over the Jordan into Canaan typifies the entry of the Christian into heaven, after death (the Jordan), etc., etc.

Just as Israel was led through FORTY-TWO stations to the brink of entry into Canaan, into which promised land they were led by Joshua, a remarkable type of Jesus Christ in name and function; just so, the redemption of all men was accomplished through FORTY-TWO generations from Abraham to Jesus Christ as stressed in the very first chapter of the N.T.

There can hardly be any doubt whatever that “the forty-two months” of the Apocalypse is an anti-typical reference to these FORTY-TWO stations of the wandering Israel. The further such a premise is explored the more compelling is the evidence of its validity.


God nourishes his church during her probation (present dispensation) for “a thousand two hundred and three-score days” (exactly forty-two months). (See Revelation 12:6.)

The persecuted church is protected for “time, and times, and half a time” (Revelation 12:14). This means 3 1/2 years, that is, forty-two months!

The great scarlet Sea-Beast of Revelation 13, one of the three great enemies of God throughout this whole dispensation will continue “forty and two months” (the whole dispensation). Revelation 13:5.

God’s two witnesses (His Word and the Word-indwelt Church) will prophecy “a thousand two hundred and three score days” (forty-two months… the whole dispensation). Revelation 11:3.

The Holy City (Jerusalem) shall be trodden under foot “forty and two months” (Revelation 11:2). Jesus gave the same prophecy in these words: “Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles (nations), until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled” (identified as this whole dispensation). (Compare Revelation 11:2 and Luke 21:24.)

In the era of the “ten horns” (ten kings), during the days of the governmental hatred of “The Most High” and his “Saints,” all the time until the eternal judgment is depicted as “a time, and times and half a time.” Daniel 7:25.

During the final era of the fourth judicial hardening of Adam’s race and very near the judgment when evil shall almost totally prevail… that whole era was mentioned by Daniel thus:

“It shall be for a time, times, and a half; when they have made an end of breaking in pieces the power of the holy people, all these things shall be finished.” (Daniel 12:7)

There could hardly be any other source of all these repeated instances of the FORTY-TWO months theme (or equivalent) than that found here in the exact number of these FORTY-TWO stations of the wilderness wanderings. Here is the list:

RAMESES (Numbers 33:5);

SUCCOTH (Numbers 33:6);

ETHAM (Numbers 33:7);

PI-HAHIROTH (Numbers 33:8);

MARAH (Numbers 33:9);

ELIM (Numbers 33:10);

THE RED SEA (Numbers 33:11);

WILDERNESS OF SIN (Numbers 33:12);

DOPHKAH (Numbers 33:13);

ALUSH (Numbers 33:14);

REPHIDIM (Numbers 33:15);

SINAI (Numbers 33:16);

KIBROTH-HATTAAVAH (Numbers 33:17);

HAZEROTH (Numbers 33:18);

RITHMAH (Numbers 33:19);

RIMMON-PEREZ (Numbers 33:20);

LIBNAH (Numbers 33:21);

RISSAH (Numbers 33:22);

KEHELATHAH (Numbers 33:23);

MOUNT SHEPHER (Numbers 33:24);

HARADAH (Numbers 33:25);

MAKHELOTH (Numbers 33:26);

TAHATH (Numbers 33:27);

TERAH (Numbers 33:28);

MITHKAH (Numbers 33:29);

HASHMONAH (Numbers 33:30);

MOSEROTH (Numbers 33:31);

BENE-JAAKAN (Numbers 33:32);

HOR-HAGGIDGAD (Numbers 33:33);

JOTBATHAH (Numbers 33:34);

ABRONAH (Numbers 33:35);

EZION-GEBER (Numbers 33:36);

WILDERNESS OF ZIN (Numbers 33:36);

HOR (Numbers 33:41);

ZALMONAH (Numbers 33:42);

PUNON (Numbers 33:43);

OBOTH (Numbers 33:44);

IYE-ABARIM (Numbers 33:45);

DIBON-GAD (Numbers 33:46);

ALMON-DIBLATHAIM (Numbers 33:47);

ABARIM MOUNTAINS (Numbers 33:48);

PLAINS OF MOAB (Numbers 33:49).

We have provided this simplified summary of most of the chapter (through Numbers 33:49) rather than give the full text of the chapter. The pattern followed throughout is:

They journeyed from _____________________ and encamped in _______________. And they journeyed from __________ and encamped in ____________.

There are many very interesting things about this chapter, as pointed out by various scholars.

Gray noted that there are only two dates available for these journeys. There is the date of the start (given in Exodus), “the 15th day of the first month of the first year; and the date of Aaron’s death (at Hor) on the first day of the fifth month of the fortieth year (at the 34th station).”(F8)

In Numbers 33:3-4, Moses explained the departure of Israel from Rameses with the note, “while the Egyptians were burying all their first-born,” thus giving an explanation found nowhere else of why the Israelites got such a head start on their Exodus. The Egyptians were busy with the funerals for their first-born! “This is in perfect accordance with what we know of the Egyptians, who held that all other passions and interests should give place for the time to the necessary care for the departed.”(F9) Also, it should not be lost on the believing student that Numbers thus accords with the rest of the Pentateuch in that every previous line of the Books of Moses is assumed and recognized by many such inadvertent, off-hand references to things already related. It is impossible to suppose that previously unrelated fragments of “various sources” could have been combined with the synchronized results we have here.

In this chapter, “Moses is recorded as having kept a log book of the various stages.”(F10) Adam Clarke called it “a diary.” “We may consider the whole Book of Numbers as a diary, and indeed the first book of travels ever published.”(F11) This understanding also gives us the ideal explanation of the near-total lack of any logical outline. Numbers is not that kind of book. It is an account in the order of their happening of many of the strange things that befell Israel in the wilderness.

Despite the fact of many of the place-names in this chapter being absolutely unknown, Rameses in Egypt, the first point of their “starting out,” has been identified as “the metropolis of Goshen, the rallying place from which Israel began their excursion to the Holy Land.”(F12) He also identified it with the modern Cairo; but Thompson recently identified it as the ancient Tanis, the modern name of which is Qantir.(F13)

As already suggested, however, it is not in the information that we may garner here and there about any of those ancient places which carries any great significance for believers. It is the number of the stations, the constant protection and blessing of God bestowed upon his people in all kinds of circumstances, and God’s unyielding purpose of saving Adam’s race through Israel - these are the areas where we find the greatest inspiration of our faith.

Very little is known about what happened to Israel during most of the forty years wandering. Outside of the sabbath-breaker’s execution and Korah’s rebellion (Numbers 15; Numbers 16) what is written in this chapter just about sums up the record. What a comment this is on the deeds of men who have already rebelled against God! Nothing whatever that they do is of any consequence whatever! With their rebellion against God that “Lost Generation” terminated utterly their significance upon earth. It is the same today for any man who rejects the service of God!

Verses 50-56


“And Jehovah spake unto Moses in the plains of Moab by the Jordan of Jericho, saying, Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, When ye pass over the Jordan into the land of Canaan, then ye 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: and ye shall take possession of the land, and dwell therein; for unto you have I given the land to possess it. And ye shall inherit the land by lot according to your families; to the more ye shall give the more inheritance, and to the fewer thou shalt give the less inheritance: wheresoever the lot falleth to any man, that shall be his; according to the tribes of your fathers shall ye inherit. But if ye will not drive out the inhabitants of the land from before you, then shall those that ye let remain of them be as pricks in your eyes, and as thorns in your sides, and they shall vex you in the land wherein ye dwell. And it shall come to pass, that, as I thought to do unto them, so will I do unto you.”

This directive effectually ordered the extermination of the Canaanites whom Israel was commissioned to destroy and to possess their land. Men may scream about this if they wish; but it was altogether a just and necessary condition of Israel’s achievement of what God intended through them.

“Think of all the innocent people and little babies this condemned to death!” All right, let’s think of them. Their culture had become so vile, so reprobate and contrary to God’s will, that it was impossible for little children to be reared in such an environment in such a manner as to allow any possibility of their pleasing their Creator! Their whole civilization was out of control and justly consigned to destruction. As for the innocents and little children, Christ himself would take care of their redemption in the times and manner known to himself; and it was a mercy for them (in their depraved environment) to die. Furthermore, another phase of this often overlooked is that the vast majority of Adam’s race at that time were approaching a stage of wickedness, if indeed they had not already reached it, in which they deserved the same fate as the antediluvians who were totally removed by the Great Deluge. What a mercy it was, therefore, on the part of God, that he would continue the vast majority of Adam’s evil race as they were, but destroy only that portion of it that was necessary to provide a haven for the Chosen Race, through whom the hopes of all mankind were eventually to be delivered in the person of the holy Christ!

The only shameful thing about this commission to destroy the Canaanites was that Israel refused to do it, and in that alone lay their own total failure at last. Why did they not do it?

(1) The custom of the times allowed captured peoples to be used as slaves. It is not hard to see how Israel reacted to that.

(2) The lust of Israel was aroused and captured by the allurement of vast numbers of women, many of whom no doubt were persons of great physical beauty and attractiveness.

(3) There were still remnants of the old pagan superstitions in Israel as revealed in Stephen’s valedictory in Acts 7, and, in the case of the tribes of Manasseh and Ephraim, those pagan traditions went back to the very roots of their tribes. Rachel herself seems to have been, at least partially, an idolater, as witnessed by her stealing the gods ([~teraphiym]) of Laban; and Joseph married the daughter of the Egyptian Priest of On, and it is exceedingly likely that from these pagan roots, there eventually flowered the full paganism of the Northern Israel as denounced by all the minor prophets.

(4) Added to all of this, the natural revulsion of normal human beings against taking the lives of vast numbers of helpless and defeated peoples must have entered unto Israel’s utter failure to follow the Divine instructions here given.

(5) And, in addition to all this, the deployment of two and a half tribes of Israel east of Jordan robbed Israel of sufficient strength to have disposed of this commission quickly and efficiently.

“Demolish all their high places” (Numbers 33:52). Orlinsky gave the meaning of “high places” in this verse as, “cult places.”(F14) These were sex-oriented shrines erected under any convenient grove of trees or upon any hill-top eminence, and were characterized by the most depraved acts of orgiastic sex and perversion. The shameful immorality was rationalized as the “worship” of the Baalim (the gods of the land), the theory being that the sexual practices in those cultic centers was a form of “procuring the help of the gods in the production of fruitful harvests.” Of course, this destruction of that kind of worship was the absolute necessity that underlay God’s order to exterminate the Canaanites. The subsequent history of Northern Israel, and later, that of the Southern Israel also, afford an overwhelming demonstration of just how absolutely necessary such an order of extermination really was, and just what a wretched tragedy overwhelmed Israel because they failed to obey it!

Israel was commanded to drive out all of the inhabitants of the land. It was not enough for them to clear off enough land where they could exist. They were to take complete control of it for their God. God would not share this land with any other gods.(F15)

“Jehovah spake unto Moses in the plains of Moab” (Numbers 33:50). Repeatedly, we find the solemn affirmation God Himself is the author of the commandments given to Israel in the Pentateuch; and yet this is precisely the fact that many alleged “scholars” deny and contradict. Of such claims in this chapter, for example, Wade remarked that such citations, “Can at most imply that the writer used some writing which he attributed to Moses.”(F16) Such snide and arrogant denials are part and parcel of that found in Genesis where Satan said, “Ye shall not surely die.” No proof is offered; none is available; unbelievers need no proof; the fountain of unbelief is within themselves. As Whitelaw declared, “Of this document containing this itinerary, there can be no question that we have here elements of extreme and unquestioned antiquity.”(F17) In this light, by what authority can any man deny that Moses is the author of it? Indeed, who but Moses could have provided this? Why do not the critics busy themselves with finding out who wrote the diary of Julius Caesar, or the journal of Columbus, or the travels of Marco Polo? They could have a lot better luck on tasks like that!

We should not leave this chapter without observing that this and the final three chapters of Numbers are actually interim preparations for the crossing of Jordan, although, of course, the actual entry into Canaan will be related only after a number of Moses’ final words to the people have been given in the Book of Deuteronomy.

Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Numbers 33". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bcc/numbers-33.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
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