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Bible Commentaries
Numbers 33

Ellicott's Commentary for English ReadersEllicott's Commentary

Verse 1


(1) These are the journeys of the children of Israel . . . —The word which is rendered journey appears to denote primarily the breaking up of the encampments, which lasted for very different periods, and which, during the protracted wanderings in the wilderness, may have been of the average duration of a twelvemonth. The list of the encampments is expressly said to have been written by Moses, and it served as a permanent memorial, on the one hand, of the sin and rebellion of the nation, and, on the other hand, of the faithfulness and long-suffering of God in leading and sustaining His people throughout their sojourn in the wilderness.

Verse 2

(2) By the commandment of the Lord.—It does not clearly appear whether these words should be understood of the record of the journeys of the Israelites as being made by Moses in obedience to a Divine command, or whether they should be understood of the journeys themselves as being taken in obedience to the Divine command.

Verses 3-5

(3-5) And they departed . . . —In these verses the departure from Rameses, at which place the Israelites seem to have been gathered together previously to the exodus, is related as in Exodus 12:37. The places of encampment from Succoth to the wilderness of Sinai (Numbers 33:6-15) agree with those which are recorded in Exodus 13:20 (Succoth and Etham), 14:2 (Pi-hahiroth and Migdol), 15:22 (the wilderness, i.e., of Shur), 15:23-27 (Marah and Elim), 16:1 (wilderness of Sin), 17:1 (Rephidim), except that there is no mention in Exodus of the station at the Red Sea (Numbers 33:10), and of the stations at Dophkah and Alush (Numbers 33:12-13). The first two stations named after the departure from Sinai, viz., Kibroth-hattaavah, or the graves of lust, and Hazeroth, enclosures, agree with those which are found in Numbers 11:34-35. The next station named in this list is Rithmah. Now, according to Numbers 12:16, the next encampment after Hazeroth was in the wilderness of Paran, from whence Moses, in obedience to the Divine command, sent the spies to search out the land of Canaan (Numbers 13:3). If, then, we compare these two accounts, and take into further consideration the fact that the Wady Abu Retemat is not far distant from Kadesh, and that, according to Robinson (I., p. 279), it abounds with the retem, or broom, and that near it there is a copious spring of water called Ain el Kudeirât, it seems reasonable to infer that the encampment at Rithmah which is recorded in this chapter is the same as that at Kadesh, “in the wilderness of Paran,” as recorded in Numbers 12:16. If this inference be admitted, it is reasonable to conclude further that the seventeen places of encampment which are mentioned in Numbers 33:19-36 between Rithmah and Kadesh are those at which the Israelites pitched their camps during the thirty-eight years of wandering in the wilderness. An apparent difficulty, however, arises on this supposition out of a comparison of Numbers 33:30-33 of this chapter with Deuteronomy 10:6-7, where we find mention made of four places which appear to be identical with those named in this chapter, viz., Beeroth of the children of Jaakan, Mosera, Gudgodah, and Jotbath, which correspond to Bene-jaakan, i.e., the children of Jaakan (an abbreviation, probably, of Beeroth-bene-Jaakan, i.e., the wells of the sons of Jaakan), Moseroth, the plural form of Mosera, Hor-hagidgad, i.e., the cave of Gidgad or Gudgodah, and Jotbathah, an alternative form of Jotbath. The apparent difficulty, however, of the identification arises out of the fact that whereas in this chapter the Israelites are said to have journeyed from Moseroth to Bene-jaakan, they are represented in Deuteronomy 10:6 to have journeyed “from Beeroth of the children of Jaakan to Mosera.” It is evident, however, that in Deuteronomy 10:0, where the account is manifestly parenthetical, the reference is to the journeys of the Israelites after the final breaking up of the encampment at Kadesh, at the expiration of the thirty-eight years of wandering in the wilderness; whereas, if the supposition stated above is correct, the reference in this chapter is to the period of the wanderings in the wilderness after the first departure from Kadesh. In this case a change in the order of encampments presents no difficulty, inasmuch as whilst the Israelites, at the later period, must, in all probability, have taken the most direct course open to them from Kadesh to Ezion-geber, there is no improbability involved in the supposition that at the earlier period, whilst wandering about in the wilderness, their places of encampment should have been determined not so much by geographical considerations as by the particular advantages which each spot presented in regard to pasturage and water. It may be observed, further that if the supposition above stated is correct, it will account for the fact that, whereas seventeen places of encampment between Rithmah and Ezion-geber are named in Numbers 33:19-35, no intermediate stations between Ezion-geber and Kadesh are mentioned in Numbers 33:36, the same places of encampment, as may reasonably be inferred, being selected (if, indeed, any formal encampments were made during so hasty a journey) on the return to Kadesh as had been previously occupied on the journey from Kadesh to Ezion-geber, which is at the northern extremity of the Elanitic Gulf.

Verses 37-38

(37, 38) And they removed from Kadesh . . . —See Numbers 20:22-29, and Notes.

Verse 40

(40) And King Arad . . . —See Numbers 21:1, and Note.

Verses 43-44

(43, 44) And pitched in Oboth . . . —See Numbers 21:10-11.

Verse 45

(45) From Iim.—Instead of the seven intermediate stations between Ijim, or Iie-abarim, and the plains of Moab, which are mentioned in Numbers 21:11-20, we find only three mentioned in this chapter: viz., Dibon of Gad, Almon-diblathaim, and Mount Abarim before Nebo, none of which agree in name with the stations mentioned in Numbers 21:0. In regard to the number of stations, the diversity may probably be explained on the supposition that Numbers 21:0 mentions those stations only which were of historical importance—as, e.g., those from which any military expedition was made—whilst Numbers 33:0 appears to mention every place in which an organised camp was erected, and in which the Tent of Meeting was formally set up. If this supposition be correct, no difficulty is involved in the fact that fewer stations are named between Mount Hor and Ije-abarim in Numbers 21:0 than in Numbers 33:0, whilst more stations are. named between Ije-abarim and Arboth-Moab in Numbers 33:0 than in Numbers 21:0. There is a further diversity, however, in the two accounts as regards the names of the intermediate stations between Ije-abarim and the plains of Moab. In respect of the stations between Mount Hor and Ije-abarim, if we suppose Zalmonah to have been the station at which the brazen serpent was set up (see Numbers 21:10, and Note), the difference between the two accounts consists only in the insertion in Numbers 33:0 of the station at Punon, between Zalmonah and Oboth. In respect of the stations, however, between Ije-abarim and Arboth-Moab there is not only a difference in the number, but also in the names of the stations. But this difference is easily accounted for when it is remembered that a host consisting of 600,000 men, with their wives, children, and cattle, must have extended over a large area, and, in the case of an inhabited country in which towns and villages abounded, may have occupied more than one of these at the same time. (Comp. Numbers 33:49, where the Israelites are represented as encamping “from Beth-jesimoth even unto Abel-shittim.”) Hence there is no difficulty in connecting the formal encampment at Dibon of Gad (Numbers 33:45) with some one or more of the stations on the north of the Arnon mentioned in Numbers 23:13-19, or in connecting Almon-diblathaim, which appears to have been situated on the north or north-west of Dibon (Comp. Jeremiah 48:22, where Beth-diblathaim is mentioned in conjunction with Dibon and Nebo) with Bamoth—i.e., heights—which, if identical with Bamoth-Baal (Numbers 22:4), is mentioned by Joshua (Joshua 13:17) in immediate connection with Dibon. In regard to the last station named in this chapter before the encampment in the plains of Moab—viz., “the mountains of Abarim, before Nebo”—there can be no doubt as to the identity of the station with that in “the valley in the country (or, field) of Moab, at the top of Pisgah,” in Numbers 21:20. According to Deuteronomy 34:1, Mount Nebo was a peak of Pisgah, which, as we learn from Deuteronomy 32:49, was one of the mountains of Abarim; and the place of the burial of Moses, who died upon the top of Pisgah, is described as “the valley”—i.e., the well-known valley—“in the land of Moab” (Deuteronomy 34:6).

In Dibon-gad.—Or, Dibon of Gad. The reference is probably to the fact which has already been mentioned in Numbers 32:34, that the children of Gad rebuilt or fortified Dibon, which stood on the northern side of the river Arnon, and which is one of the towns named in Numbers 32:3 as situated in that portion of the country which the Reubenites and the Gadites desired to possess.

Verse 49

(49) Beth-jesimoth even unto Abel-shittim . . . —See Numbers 22:1, and Note, and Numbers 25:1, where Abel-shittim is mentioned as Shittim.

Verse 52

(52) And destroy all their pictures.—The word which is here rendered “pictures” denotes “imagery,” or “engraved figures.” In Leviticus 26:1 the material named is stone—“a stone of imagery,” i.e., a stone which has been formed into an idol. (Comp. Exodus 34:13, where, however, a different word is used for “ images.”)

All their high places.—Hebrew, bamoth. The reference here is probably to the altars which were frequently erected on the high places. (Comp. Numbers 22:41, where Balaam is brought by Balak “up into the high places of Baal.”)

Verse 54

(54) And ye shall divide the land by lot . . . —See Numbers 26:53-56, and Note.

Verse 56

(56) Moreover it shall come to pass . . . —Better, And it shall come to pass that, as I have thought (or, determined) to do unto them, so will I do unto you. It must be borne in mind that the idolatrous inhabitants of Canaan were never wholly exterminated, and the pernicious influence which they exercised was felt throughout the whole of the history of the Israelites until the judgments threatened against them were finally executed in the Assyrian and Babylonian captivities.

Bibliographical Information
Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on Numbers 33". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ebc/numbers-33.html. 1905.
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