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Bible Commentaries

Keil & Delitzsch Old Testament Commentary

Numbers 33

Verses 1-49

As the Israelites had ended their wanderings through the desert, when they arrived in the steppes of Moab by the Jordan opposite to Jericho ( Numbers 22:1), and as they began to take possession when the conquered land beyond Jordan was portioned out (ch. 32), the history of the desert wandering closes with a list of the stations which they had left behind them. This list was written out by Moses “at the command of Jehovah” (Numbers 33:2), as a permanent memorial for after ages, as every station which Israel left behind on the journey from Egypt to Canaan “through the great and terrible desert,” was a memorial of the grace and faithfulness with which the Lord led His people safely “in the desert land and in the waste howling wilderness, and kept him as the apple of His eye, as an eagle fluttereth over her young, spreadeth abroad her wings, taketh them, beareth them on her wings” (Exodus 19:4; Deuteronomy 32:10.).

Numbers 33:1-15

The first and second verses form the heading: “ These are the marches of the children of Israel, which they marched out, ” i.e., the marches which they made from one place to another, on going out of Egypt. מסּע does not mean a station, but the breaking up of a camp, and then a train, or march (see at Exodus 12:37, and Genesis 13:3). לצבאתם (see Exodus 7:4). בּיד , under the guidance, as in Numbers 4:28, and Exodus 38:21. למסעיהם מוצאיהם , “ their goings out (properly, their places of departure) according to their marches,” is really equivalent to the clause which follows: “ their marches according to their places of departure.” The march of the people is not described by the stations, or places of encampment, but by the particular spots from which they set out. Hence the constant repetition of the word ויּסעוּ , “ and they broke up.” In Numbers 33:3-5, the departure is described according to Exodus 12:17, Exodus 12:37-41. On the judgments of Jehovah upon the gods of Egypt, see at Exodus 12:12. “With an high hand:” as in Exodus 14:8. - The places of encampment from Succoth to the desert of Sinai (Numbers 33:5-15) agree with those in the historical account, except that the stations at the Red Sea (Numbers 33:10) and those at Dophkah and Alush (Numbers 33:13 and Numbers 33:14) are passed over there. For Raemses, see at Exodus 12:37. Succoth and Etham (Exodus 13:20). Pihahiroth (Exodus 14:2). “ The wilderness ” (Numbers 33:8) is the desert of Shur, according to Exodus 15:22. Marah, see Exodus 15:23. Elim (Exodus 15:27). For the Red Sea and the wilderness of Sin, see Exodus 16:1. For Dophkah, Alush, and Rephidim, see Exodus 17:1; and for the wilderness of Sinai, Exodus 19:2.

Numbers 33:16-35

In vv. 16-36 there follow twenty-one names of places where the Israelites encamped from the time that they left the wilderness of Sinai till they encamped in the wilderness of Zin, i.e., Kadesh. The description of the latter as “the wilderness of Zin, which is Kadesh,” which agrees almost word for word with Numbers 20:1, and still more the agreement of the places mentioned in Numbers 33:37-49, as the encampments of Israel after leaving Kadesh till their arrival in the steppes of Moab, with the march of the people in the fortieth year as described in Num 20:22-22:1, put it beyond all doubt that the encampment in the wilderness of Zin, i.e., Kadesh (Numbers 33:36), is to be understood as referring to the second arrival in Kadesh after the expiration of the thirty-eight years of wandering in the desert to which the congregation had been condemned. Consequently the twenty-one names in vv. 16-36 contain not only the places of encampment at which the Israelites encamped in the second year of their march from Sinai to the desert of Paran at Kadesh, whence the spies were despatched into Canaan, but also those in which they encamped for a longer period during the thirty-eight years of punishment in the wilderness. This view is still further confirmed by the fact that the two first of the stations named after the departure from the wilderness of Sinai, viz., Kibroth-hattaavah and Hazeroth, agree with those named in the historical account in Numbers 11:34 and Numbers 11:35. Now if, according to Numbers 12:16, when the people left Hazeroth, they encamped in the desert of Paran, and despatched the spies thence out of the desert of Zin (Numbers 13:21), who returned to the congregation after forty days “into the desert of Paran to Kadesh ” (Numbers 13:26), it is as natural as it well can be to seek for this place of encampment in the desert of Paran or Zin at Kadesh under the name of Rithmah, which follows Hazeroth in the present list (Numbers 33:18). This natural supposition reaches the highest degree of probability, from the fact that, in the historical account, the place of encampment, from which the sending out of the spies took place, is described in so indefinite a manner as the “desert of Paran,” since this name does not belong to a small desert, just capable of holding the camp of the Israelites, but embraces the whole of the large desert plateau which stretches from the central mountains of Horeb in the south to the mountains of the Amorites, which really form part of Canaan, and contains no less than 400 (? 10,000 English) square miles. In this desert the Israelites could only pitch their camp in one particular spot, which is called Rithmah in the list before us; whereas in the historical account the passage is described, according to what the Israelites performed and experienced in this encampment, as near to the southern border of Canaan, and is thus pointed out with sufficient clearness for the purpose of the historical account. To this we may add the coincidence of the name Rithmah with the Wady Abu Retemat, which is not very far to the south of Kadesh, “a wide plain with shrubs and retem ,” i.e., broom (Robinson, i. p. 279), in the neighbourhood of which, and behind the chalk formation which bounds it towards the east, there is a copious spring of sweet water called Ain el Kudeirât. This spot was well adapted for a place of encampment for Israel, which was so numerous that it might easily stretch into the desert of Zin, and as far as Kadesh.

The seventeen places of encampment, therefore, that are mentioned in vv. 19-36 between Rithmah and Kadesh, are the places at which Israel set up in the desert, from their return from Kadesh into the “desert of the way to the Red Sea” (Numbers 14:25), till the reassembling of the whole congregation in the desert of Zin at Kadesh (Numbers 20:1).

And they removed from Eziongeber, and encamped in the desert of Zin, that is Kadesh: ” the return to Kadesh towards the end of the thirty-ninth year is referred to here. The fact that no places of encampment are given between Eziongeber and Kadesh, is not to be attributed to the “plan of the author, to avoid mentioning the same places of encampment a second time,” for any such plan is a mere conjecture; but it may be simply and perfectly explained from the fact, that on this return route-which the whole of the people, with their wives, children, and flocks, could accomplish without any very great exertion in ten or fourteen days, as the distance from Aila to Kadesh through the desert of Paran is only about a forty hours' journey upon camels, and Robinson travelled from Akabah to the Wady Retemath, near Kadesh, in four days and a half-no formal camp was pitched at all, probably because the time of penal wandering came to an end at Eziongeber, and the time had arrived when the congregation was to assemble again at Kadesh, and set out thence upon its journey to Canaan. - Hence the eleven names given in Numbers 33:19-30, between Rithmah and Moseroth, can only refer to those stations at which the congregation pitched their camp for a longer or shorter period during the thirty-seven years of punishment, on their slow return from Kadesh to the Red Sea, and previous to their entering the Arabah and encamping at Moseroth.

This number of stations, which is very small for thirty-seven years (only seventeen from Rithmah or Kadesh to Eziongeber), is a sufficient proof that the congregation of Israel was not constantly wandering about during the whole of that time, but may have remained in many of the places of encampment, probably those which furnished an abundant supply of water and pasturage, not only for weeks and months, but even for years, the people scattering themselves in all directions round about the place where the tabernacle was set up, and making use of such means of support as the desert afforded, and assembling together again when this was all gone, for the purpose of travelling farther and seeking somewhere else a suitable spot for a fresh encampment. Moreover, the words of Deuteronomy 1:46, “ ye abode in Kadesh many days,” when compared with Numbers 2:1, “then we turned, and took our journey into the wilderness of the way to the Red Sea,” show most distinctly, that after the sentence passed upon the people in Kadesh (Num 14), they did not begin to travel back at once, but remained for a considerable time in Kadesh before going southwards into the desert.

With regard to the direction which they took, all that can be said, so long as none of the places of encampment mentioned in Numbers 33:19-29 are discovered, is that they made their way by a very circuitous route, and with many a wide detour, to Eziongeber, on the Red Sea.

The places of encampment on the journey of the fortieth year from Kadesh to Mount Hor, and round Edom and Moab into the steppes of Moab, have been discussed at Num 20 and 21. On Mount Hor, and Aaron's death there, see at Numbers 20:22. For the remark in Numbers 33:40 concerning the Canaanites of Arad, see at Numbers 21:1. On Zalmonah, Phunon, and Oboth, see at Numbers 21:10; on Ijje Abarim, at Numbers 21:11; on Dibon Gad, Almon Diblathaim, and the mountains of Abarim, before Nebo, Numbers 21:16-20. On Arboth Moab, see Numbers 22:1.

Verses 50-56

These instructions, with which the eyes of the Israelites were directed to the end of all their wandering, viz., the possession of the promised land, are arranged in two sections by longer introductory formulas (Numbers 33:50 and Numbers 35:1). The former contains the divine commands ( a) with regard to the extermination of the Canaanites and their idolatry, and the division of the land among the tribes of Israel (Numbers 33:50-56); ( b) concerning the boundaries of Canaan (Numbers 34:1-15); ( c) concerning the men who were to divide the land (Numbers 34:16-29). The second contains commands ( a) respecting the towns to be given up to the Levites (Numbers 35:1-8); ( b) as to the setting apart of cities of refuge for unintentional manslayers, and the course to be adopted in relation to such manslayers (Num 35:9-34); and ( c) a law concerning the marrying of heiresses within their own tribes (Numbers 36:1-13). - The careful dovetailing of all these legal regulations by separate introductory formulas, is a distinct proof that the section Numbers 33:50-56 is not to be regarded, as Baumgarten, Knobel, and others suppose, in accordance with the traditional division of the chapters, as an appendix or admonitory conclusion to the list of stations, but as the general legal foundation for the more minute instructions in Num 34-36.

Numbers 33:50-56

Command to Exterminate the Canaanites, and Divide their Land among the Families of Israel.

Numbers 33:51-53

When the Israelites passed through the Jordan into the land of Canaan, they were to exterminate all the inhabitants of the land, and to destroy all the memorials of their idolatry; to take possession of the land and well therein, for Jehovah had given it to them for a possession. הורישׁ , to take possession of (Numbers 33:53, etc.), then to drive out of their possession, to exterminate (Numbers 33:52; cf. Numbers 14:12, etc.). On Numbers 33:52, see Exodus 34:13. משׂכּית , an idol of stone (cf. Leviticus 26:1). מסּכת צלמי , idols cast from brass. Massecah, see at Exodus 32:4. Bamoth, altars of the Canaanites upon high places (see Leviticus 26:30).

Numbers 33:54-56

The command to divide the land by lot among the families is partly a verbal repetition of Numbers 26:53-56. וגו לו יצא אל־אשׁר : literally, “into that, whither the lot comes out to him, shall be to him” (i.e., to each family); in other words, it is to receive that portion of land to which the lot that comes out of the urn shall point it. “According to the tribes of your fathers:” see at Numbers 26:55. - The command closes in Numbers 33:55, Numbers 33:56, with the threat, that if they did not exterminate the Canaanites, not only would such as were left become “thorns in their eyes and stings in their sides,” i.e., inflict the most painful injuries upon them, and make war upon them in the land; but Jehovah would also do the very same things to the Israelites that He had intended to do to the Canaanites, i.e., drive them out of the land and destroy them. This threat is repeated by Joshua in his last address to the assembled congregation (Joshua 23:13).

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The Keil & Delitzsch Old Testament Commentary is a derivative of a public domain electronic edition.
Bibliographical Information
Keil, Carl Friedrich & Delitzsch, Franz. "Commentary on Numbers 33". Keil & Delitzsch Old Testament Commentary. 1854-1889.