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Bible Commentaries

Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible
Numbers 33

 

 

Introduction

CHAP. XXXIII.

The two-and-forty journies of the Israelites are recounted: God enjoins the entire destruction of the Canaanites.

Before Christ 1452.


Verse 1

Numbers 33:1. These are the journeys of the children of Israel—with their armies As the journey of the Israelites, from their departure out of Egypt to their arrival in Canaan, was a continued succession of miracles, in which the interposition of Providence was most wonderfully displayed, God thought it proper that Moses should transmit to posterity a journal of their extraordinary travels: in executing which commission, he here recapitulates the principal stages of this long journey, and sets them all before the reader in one view, that those who will take the pains to examine things may be satisfied by what a train of miracles such a multitude of people were fed, supported, and defended for forty years, amidst a barren and inhospitable desart. Jeremiah 2:6. Deuteronomy 29:6. There is no event more memorable, and we may safely say, that, after the history of the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, there is nothing which gives us higher ideas of the Divine Providence, and of its care and dominion over second causes, than this. Dr. Beaumont observes, that "these journeys or removings figured the unstayed state of the church under Moses law otherwise than under the gospel of Christ, where we which have believed do enter into rest; Hebrews 4:3 by which our immoveable state is prophesied, Isaiah 33:20 and the accomplishment thereof is shewed by the apostle. Hebrews 12:27-28. Compare with these forty-two stations the forty-two generations from Abraham to Jesus, by whom we have entrance into the kingdom of God; as Joshua carried the people over Jordan into Canaan after these forty-two removings."


Verse 2

Numbers 33:2. Moses wrote their goings out, according to their journeys—and these are their journeys, &c.— Houbigant renders the verse, For Moses wrote, at the command of the Lord, their journeys, according to their several stages; and hence he thinks it may plainly be collected, that a daily journal of their occurrences was written, which was kept as a public deposit, and that the sacred writers (under Divine inspiration) drew their materials principally from these annals. See his note on Deuteronomy 4:34. Bishop Kidder thinks, that the words, by the command of the Lord, may well refer both to their journeyings, which were directed by God, Exodus 13:21; Exodus 14:2 and to Moses's description of them in this place, which tended to render the history more credible, and to perpetuate the memory of God's miraculous and special providence. Moses mentions but forty-two encampments in this chapter; not that the Israelites pitched their tents in no other places, but because these were most remarkable. Observe further, that almost all these places received from God himself, or the Israelites, the names which they bear in this journal; probably they had none before, these vast desarts being too little frequented for the different places to be exactly marked out before the departure from Egypt. We find some here of which Moses makes no mention in Exodus; others are named there in another manner, as will appear in the course of this chapter. But to convince the reader that he would be greatly mistaken if he took the stations, of which Moses speaks, for journeys made from one place to another without stopping, we only beg him to look at the 9th verse, where it is said, that from Morah the children of Israel came to Elim. It is farther from one of these places to the other than from Cairo to the Red Sea, which, says Dr. Shaw, is more than thirty hours journey; or, according to the accounts followed by Vignoles, from twenty-five to twenty-six hours.


Verse 3

Numbers 33:3. And they departed from Rameses Dr. Shaw, in his Travels, vol. 2: chap. 5 has given an accurate account of these several encampments; and in our notes upon the places where they are first mentioned, we have spoken fully concerning them. We shall, therefore, without troubling the reader any further, refer him to such passages.


Verse 4

Numbers 33:4. The Egyptians buried all their first-born They were so terrified by the sudden death of these their firstborn, that they pressed the Israelites to be gone; and they were so engaged in mourning for them, and giving them decent burial, that they thought not of pursuing the Israelites till some days after.


Verse 8

Numbers 33:8. And passed through the midst of the sea We cannot but recommend our readers to what M. Vignoles has written upon the event; he has given to the sentiment of M. Le Clerc all the evidence of which it is capable, and to the grandeur of the miracle all the light that can be desired. See his Chronol. tom. 1: p. 643, &c.

In the wilderness of Etham Etham was the second station; the geography of which, says Dr. Shaw, is not much better circumstanced than that of the first. If it appertained to the wilderness of the same name, which spread itself round the Heroopolitic gulph, and made after wards the Saracene of the old geography; then the edge of it (Numbers 33:6.) may be well taken for the most advanced part of it towards Egypt, and consequently to lie contiguous with some portion or other of the mountains of the lower Thebais, or of Mocatte or Mocattem, as they are called, near Kairo. The particular spot of it likewise may probably be determined, by what is recorded afterwards of the Israelites, Exodus 14:2 that upon their removing from the edge of this wilderness, they are immediately ordered to turn [to the south-east] from the course, as we may imagine, of their former marches, which was hitherto in an easterly direction, and to encamp before

Pi-hahiroth. As Pi-hahiroth, therefore, must lie to the right-hand of the wilderness of Etham, within, or on the other side of these mountains; so the second station, or the particular portion of this wilderness of Etham, may be fixed about fifty miles from Kairo. Travels, p. 308. M. de Monconys, in his Travels, speaking of this country, says, "At the end of these mountains (the same as described by Dr. Shaw) is a very wide tract of country, which extends to the Red Sea; the view of which is prodigiously fine for three hundred paces within the mountains; from whence you begin to discern it, and see this admirable natural perspective. We travelled in this plain from two in the afternoon till eight in the evening; and a day or two after we walked again for an hour in the plain, which winds about betwixt the high mountains all the way to the sea, and makes the plain look like an artificial canal, excepting its breadth, which is little less than two leagues." See Travels, in 12mo. Paris, 1695. It is evident, says, M. Vignoles, from what this author has observed, that the city of Etham was but a little way from the Red Sea, and in that wide champaign of which he here speaks. The sacred historian remarks, that Etham was on the edge of the wilderness, because there, indeed, the wilderness of Egypt, now in question, and which begins very near to Kairo, terminates, as M. Monconys and other travellers testify; the desart, which lies beyond the Red Sea, making part of Arabia. On this edge of the wilderness of Egypt, then, the Israelites encamped on the second day of their march. See Vignoles's Chronolog. lib. iii. c. 1. sect. 9.


Verse 10

Numbers 33:10. And encamped by the Red Sea Not by that part out of which they lately came, but more southerly, towards the Arabian desart. This station is omitted in Exodus, as well as those mentioned, Numbers 33:13 nothing very remarkable, it is supposed, having happened at those places.

Numbers 33:18-19. Pitched in Rithmah, &c.— This and the following stages are not mentioned in Exodus. Rithmah, from chap. Numbers 12:16 appears to have been in the wilderness of Paran, not far from Kadesh-barnea; and the other places seem to have been also in the same wilderness. Those who would see many bold conjectures upon this subject, will find them in Calmet on the place.


Verse 31

Numbers 33:31. And they departed from Moseroth, and pitched, &c.— Moses says the contrary in Deuteronomy 10:6 that they took their journey from Beeroth of the children of Jaakan, to Mosera. Drusius is of opinion, that there were two places of the name of Mosera; but, as all the encampments, from Numbers 33:16 to Numbers 33:35 were wanderings back again towards the Red Sea, for thirty-eight years together, it can be no wonder, if, in this tedious wilderness, they wandered backward and forward from Bene-jaakan to Moseroth, and from Moseroth to Bene-jaakan.


Verse 35

Numbers 33:35. And encamped at Ezion-gaber "Ezion-gaber," says Dr. Shaw, "being the place from whence Solomon's navy went for gold to Ophir, 1 Kings 9:26. 2 Chronicles 8:17 we may be induced to take it for the present Meenah el Dsahab; i.e. the port of gold. According to the account I had of this place from the monks of St. Catherine, it lies in the gulph of Eloth, betwixt two and three days journey from them; enjoying a spacious harbour, from whence they are sometimes supplied with plenty of lobsters and shell-fish. Meenah el Dsahab, therefore, from this circumstance, may be nearly at the same distance from Sinai with Tor, from whence they are likewise furnished with the same provisions; which, unless they are brought with the utmost expedition, frequently corrupt and putrefy. The distance betwixt the north-west part of the desart of Sin and Mount Sinai, is twenty-one hours; and if we further add three hours (the distance betwixt the desart of Sin and the port of Tor, from whence these fish are obtained), we shall have in all twenty-four hours, i.e. in round numbers, about sixty miles. Ezion-gaber, consequently, may lie a little more or less than that distance from Sinai, because the day's journeys, which the monks speak of, are not, perhaps, to be considered as ordinary and common ones, but such as are made in haste, that the fish may arrive in good condition. In Pococke's Description of the East, p. 157, Ezion-gaber is placed to the S.E. of Eloth, and at two or three miles only from it; which, I presume, cannot be admitted. For, as Eloth itself is situated upon the point of the gulph, Ezion-gaber, by lying to the S.E. of it, would belong to the land of Midian; whereas Ezion-gaber was undoubtedly a seaport in the land of Edom, as we learn from the authorities above related, viz. where king Solomon is said to have made a navy of ships in Ezion-gaber, which is אתאּאלות beside Eloth, on the shore of the Red Sea, in the land of Edom. Here it may be observed, that the word את eth, which we render beside, (viz. Eloth) should be rendered, together with Eloth; not denoting any vicinity betwixt them, but that they were both of them ports of the Red Sea, in the land of Edom." See Dr. Shaw's Travels, p. 322.


Verse 41-42

Numbers 33:41-42. Pitched in Zalmonah, &c.— Zalmonah and Punon are not mentioned in chap. Numbers 21:4 where it is said, that they journeyed from Hor—to compass the land of Edom; but we are not told where they pitched, which is here supplied. Zalmonah was, probably, so called from the brazen serpent which was there erected: it signifies an image.


Verse 45

Numbers 33:45. They departed from Iim, and pitched in Dibon-gad It is said, chap. Numbers 21:12 that they removed from thence, and pitched in the valley of Zared, near which, probably, Dibon-gad was situated. Most interpreters take Dibon-gad to be the same place which is called Dibon, and which fell to the portion of the Gadites, chap. Numbers 32:34 and is therefore called Dibon-gad, to distinguish it from another Dibon, which fell to the Reubenites, Joshua 13:17. But the context shews, that this Dibon was on the south side of Arnon, in the wilderness of Moab; whereas Dibon, both of the Gadites and Reubenites, was on the north side of that river. See Le Clerc.


Verse 49

Numbers 33:49. They pitched by Jordan from Beth-jesimoth A place where there was, probably, a temple to some deity; for beth, in composition, often signifies a temple, as Beth-peor, Beth-astaroth, Beth-baal Berith. Perhaps Jesimoth is the same with Jeshimon, chap. Numbers 21:20. Abel Shittim is called simply Shittim in chap. Numbers 25:1. This was the forty-second and last station. It is observable, says Dr. Shaw, that from mount Hor, the direction of their marches through Zalmonah, Punon, &c. seems to have been betwixt the north and north-east; for it does not appear that they wandered any more in the wilderness out of the direct way which was to conduct them through the country of Moab into the Land of Promise.

REFLECTIONS.—At God's command, Moses is ordered to keep a journal of their marches; which is here published, that they might remember and adore the guardian hand of the Lord upon them in this dangerous road. Particular notice is taken of their departure from Egypt; they came out with a high hand, under the conduct of their divinely-appointed leaders, whilst the Egyptians were digging the graves of their children, and lamenting the desolation of their idols. Amidst all the dangers of the way, and the greater dangers of their sins, God safely conducted them through the dreary wilderness, and, after forty years of wandering, had brought them safe to the borders of the promised land; thence to look back on the places of their manifold provocations with shame, and forward to the land of promise with enlivened hope. Note; (1.) It is useful to keep a diary of God's mercies and providences, that they may be remembered for our own and others' comfort or direction. (2.) This world is the Christian's wilderness; many a long year he is called to wander to and fro in it; but being under Divine guidance, amidst all his winding steps, he is led by the right way, and is sure to arrive safe at last at the land of glory.


Verses 50-52

Numbers 33:50-52. The Lord spake—ye shall drive out i.e. Entirely root out and destroy the inhabitants, for their idolatry and abominable vices, Exodus 23:33. Deuteronomy 20:16; Deuteronomy 20:20. As they were shortly to pass into the promised land, God commands Moses to give the Israelites a general but strict notice, how they should treat the inhabitants of that land, as the instruments of his just providence in the punishment of their long and incurable course of wickedness; and for preventing themselves from being tainted and misled, by their vicious example, into any superstitious practices. See this command, delivered by Moses, Deuteronomy 7:1; Deuteronomy 7:26. Respecting the word pictures, and their images and high places, see Leviticus 1:17 and Exodus 23:24.


Verse 55

Numbers 33:55. Pricks in your eyes, and thorns in your sides God here declares to the Israelites, that if they mix themselves with the Canaanites, whom they suffered to remain in the land, those Canaanites should be the instruments, in his hand, to chastise them, and should cause them evils as dolorous in their kind as those which arise from a thorn in the eye, or poignard in the side. See Ezekiel 28:24. Joshua intimated the same threatening to them before he died, Joshua 23:13 of which an angel put them in mind, Judges 2:3. And so it came to pass, as we read there, Numbers 33:13 and throughout that whole book.


Verse 56

Numbers 33:56. I shall do unto you, as I thought to do unto them That is to say, I will make you the slaves of those who have been slaves to you, and who shall drive you from your country as you have before driven them. See Judges 8:14; Judges 6:2.

REFLECTIONS.—Strict injunctions are given for the entire destruction of every monument of idolatry, and the utter extirpation of the people. It would be highly dangerous to maintain any friendship with them, or preserve the least relics of their idols, lest they should be ensnared thereby. We are peculiarly to guard against our besetting sin, and stop up every avenue of our heart, at which it might enter. If they were obedient, then their inheritance was secure; if disobedient, they should suffer that expulsion themselves, which they should have inflicted on the inhabitants. Note; (1.) We can be safe only by renouncing all peace with our sins. (2.) If we destroy not them, they will destroy us, body and soul, in hell.

 


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Bibliography Information
Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Numbers 33:4". Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/tcc/numbers-33.html. 1801-1803.

Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, November 19th, 2019
the Week of Proper 28 / Ordinary 33
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