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Bible Commentaries
Numbers 33

Dr. Constable's Expository NotesConstable's Expository Notes

Verses 1-49

After introductory comments (Numbers 33:1-2), Moses gave a list of 12 important places where Israel stopped from Egypt to Mt. Sinai (Numbers 33:3-15). Note that he did not describe the march by identifying the places where Israel stopped but by citing them as places from which they set out (Numbers 33:2). This emphasizes the importance of the goal of their journey: the Promised Land. They set out from these places on their trek to the land.

Moses described the journey from Mt. Sinai to Kadesh and from Kadesh back to Kadesh next (Numbers 33:16-36). This includes the period of 38 years in which Israel wandered while the older generations died out. From the comparatively small number of sites mentioned it is probable that Israel stayed at some locations for long periods of time. The nation was probably at rest much more than it was in transit during these years.

Some scholars believe Israel reversed directions after leaving Mt. Hor (Numbers 20:23) and marched north to bypass Edom at its north end rather than its south. [Note: E.g., Aharoni, p. 51.] This view depends on identifying Punon and Oboth (Numbers 33:42-44; cf. Numbers 21:10-11) with modern Feinan and el-Weibah, both of which are on Edom’s west side rather than the east. These identifications are not sure, however. Deuteronomy 2:8 says the Israelites turned at Elath and Ezion-geber, which are at the head of the Gulf of Aqaba. Therefore this view seems unlikely. [Note: Wood, Israel’s United . . ., p. 36, n. 11.]

The last leg of the journey was from Kadesh, the second time, to the plains of Moab (Numbers 33:37-49; cf. chs. 20-21). [Note: See Z. Kallai, "The Wandering-Traditions from Kadesh-Barnea to Canaan: A Study in Biblical Historiography," Journal of Jewish Studies 33:1-2 (Spring-Autumn 1982):175-184.]

"His [Aaron’s] death [Numbers 33:38-39] came at a great age-a mark of God’s blessing in his life. By the mercy of the Lord, his time was extended to the very last year of Israel’s desert experience; his own sin (Numbers 20) kept him from living into the time of the conquest of the land." [Note: Allen, "Numbers," p. 989.]

"Within the list of encampments are two short narratives that focus on the work of Moses (Numbers 33:2-3) and Aaron (Numbers 33:38-39). . . . Both narratives have the same comment that Moses (Numbers 33:2) and Aaron (Numbers 33:38) obeyed ’the command of the LORD.’ Thus one of the purposes of this list within the larger strategy of the book appears to be to give a brief review of the work of these two great leaders. God used them and their obedience to lead the people in the wilderness for the forty years." [Note: Sailhamer, The Pentateuch . . ., p. 419.]

"One impression cannot escape the student who has followed the account of Numbers up to this point, that is, the long-suffering grace of God in preserving a people as He had originally promised, through all the experiences of this vast number of places." [Note: Jensen, p. 119.]

Verses 1-56

B. Warning and encouragement of the younger generation chs. 33-36

God gave the final laws governing Israel’s entrance into the Promised Land (Numbers 33:50 to Numbers 36:13). However, first, Moses recorded at God’s command this list of places from which the Israelites had set out on their journey from Egypt to Canaan. This is the only statement in Numbers that directly claims Mosaic authorship, though the whole book assumes it (cf. Exodus 17:14; Exodus 24:4; Exodus 34:28; Deuteronomy 31:9; Deuteronomy 31:22; Deuteronomy 31:24). This list constitutes a memorial to the grace and faithfulness of God in thus far fulfilling His promises to the patriarchs. As a reminder of God’s care of His people, it would have been a great encouragement as the Israelites looked forward to taking their final step into the land.

2. Anticipation of the Promised Land 33:50-36:13

"The section breaks down into two groups of three laws each, carefully introduced by the clause ’and Yahweh spoke to Moses’ (. . ., Numbers 33:50; Numbers 34:1; Numbers 34:16; Numbers 35:1; Numbers 35:9; cf. Numbers 36:6) and surrounded by the phrase ’on the plains of Moab by the Jordan at Jericho’ (. . ., Numbers 33:50; Numbers 35:1; Numbers 36:13)." [Note: Ashley, p. 634.]

Verses 50-56

Instructions to drive out the Canaanites 33:50-56

This brief section of instructions introduces specific directions concerning the division of the land and its towns that follow in chapters 34-36.

The repetition of "all" (Numbers 33:52) stresses the importance of completely clearing the land of its inhabitants and their religious paraphernalia. God wanted to clean up the land spiritually and to make it a "holy land." The land was a gift from God to His first-born son, Israel (Numbers 33:53). God warned the Israelites what would happen to them if they were not completely obedient (Numbers 33:55-56). The Canaanites would be a constant source of irritation to them, and God would deal with His people as He planned to deal with the Canaanites.

Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Numbers 33". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dcc/numbers-33.html. 2012.
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