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Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblial Literature
In our office of tracing the steps of the Israelites from Goshen to Palestine, we have conducted them across the Red Sea to their first great station on its eastern bank, and thence onward along the shore and over the cliffs of that sea, till, following them up Wady Hebron, we placed and left them before Mount Horeb, in the capacious plain Rahah, which, having its widest part in the immediate front of that immense mass of rock, extends as if with two arms, one towards the north-west, the other towards the north-east. A belief prevailed that there was no spot in the Sinaitic district on which the people of Israel could assemble. But Dr. Robinson has shown that this opinion is incorrect, and that in all probability the plain er-Râhah, over which Mount Horeb impends, is the spot where the congregation of Israel assembled. 'We were surprised,' says he, 'as well as gratified to find here, in the inmost recesses of these dark granite cliffs, this fine plain spread out before the mountain, and I know not where I have felt a thrill of stronger emotion than when, in first crossing the plain, the dark precipices of Horeb rising in solemn grandeur before us, we became aware of the entire adaptedness of the scene to the purposes for which it was chosen by the Great Hebrew legislator.'
After having been about a year in the midst of this mountainous region, the Israelites broke up their encampment, and began their journey in the order of their tribes, Judah leading the way with the ark of the covenant, under the guidance of the directing cloud (, sq.; 10:11, sq.). They proceeded down Wady Seikh, having the wilderness of Paran before them, in a northwesterly direction; but having come to a gorge in the mountains, they struck in a north-northeasterly direction across a sandy plain, and then over the Jebel et-Tih, and came down Wady Zulakah, to the station Taberah. It took the army three days to reach this station. Whatever name the place bore before, it now received that of Taberah (fire), from a supernatural fire with which murmurers, in the extreme parts of the camp, were destroyed as a punishment for their guilt. Here, too, the mixed multitude that was among the Israelites not only fell a-lusting themselves, but also excited the Hebrews to remember Egyptian fish and vegetables with strong desire, and to complain of the divinely supplied manna. The discontent was intense and widely spread. Moses became aware of it, and forthwith felt his spirit misgive him. He brings the matter before Jehovah, and receives Divine aid by the appointment of seventy elders to assist him in the important and perilous office of governing the gross, sensuous, and self-willed myriads whom he had to lead to Canaan. Moreover, an abundance of flesh meat was given in a most profuse supply of quails. It appears that there were now 600,000 footmen in the congregation.
The next station was Kibroth-hattaavah, near which there are fine springs and excellent pasturage. This spot, the name of which signifies 'graves of lust,' was so denominated from a plague inflicted on the people in punishment of their rebellious disposition (; ). Thence they journeyed to Hazeroth, which Robinson, after Burckhardt, finds in el-Hudhera, where is a fountain, together with palm-trees. At Hazeroth, where the people seem to have remained a short time, there arose a family dissension to increase the difficulties of Moses. Aaron, apparently led on by his sister Miriam, who may have been actuated by some feminine pique or jealousy, complained of Moses on the ground that he had married a Cushite, that is an Arab wife, and the malcontents went so far as to set up their own claims to authority as not less valid than those of Moses. An appeal is made to Jehovah, who vindicates Moses, rebukes Aaron, and punishes Miriam (Numbers 12).
'And afterward the people removed from Hazeroth, and pitched in the wilderness of Paran,' at Kadesh (; ). Here it was that twelve men (spies) were sent into Canaan to survey the country, who went up from the wilderness of Zin () to Hebron; and returning after forty days, brought back a very alarming account of what they had seen. It is evident that at this point there is a great blank in the Scripture narrative of the wanderings of the Israelites. They were ordered to turn back into the desert 'by the way of the Red Sea.' In this wilderness they wandered eight and thirty years, but little can be set forth respecting the course of their march. The next notice of the Israelites is, that in the first month they came into the desert of Zin and abode again at Kadesh; here Miriam dies; Moses and Aaron bring water from the rock; a passage is demanded through the land of Edom, and refused; and they then journeyed from Kadesh to Mount Hor, where Aaron dies in the fortieth year of the departure from Egypt, in the first day of the fifth month, corresponding to a part of August and September. Here, then, between August of the second year and August of the fortieth year, we have an interval of thirty-eight years of wandering in the desert.
In this way the Scriptural account of the journeyings of the Israelites becomes perfectly harmonious and intelligible. The eighteen stations mentioned only in the general list in the book of Numbers as preceding the arrival at Kadesh, are then apparently to be referred to this eight and thirty years of wandering, during which the people at last approached Ezion-geber, and afterwards returned northwards a second time to Kadesh, in the hope of passing directly through the land of Edom. Their wanderings extended, doubtless, over the western desert; although the stations named are probably only those head-quarters where the tabernacle was pitched, and where Moses and the elders and priests encamped; while the main body of the people was scattered in various directions.
Where, then, was Kadesh? Clearly, on the borders of Palestine. We agree with Robinson and Raumer in placing it nearly at the top of the Wady Arabah, where, indeed, it is fixed by Scripture, for in we read, 'Kadesh, a city in the uttermost of thy (Edom) border.' The precise spot it may be difficult to ascertain, but here, in the wilderness of Zin, which lay in the more comprehensive district of Paran, is Kadesh to be placed.
When we begin to take up the thread of the story at the second visit to Kadesh, we find time had, in the interval, been busy at its destructive work, and we thus gain confirmation of the view which has been taken of such second visit. No sooner has the sacred historian told us of the return of the Israelites to Kadesh, than he records the death and burial of Miriam, and has, at no great distance of time, to narrate that of Aaron and Moses. While still at Kadesh a rising against these leaders takes place, on the alleged ground of a want of water. Water is produced from the rock at a spot called hence Meribah (strife). But Moses and Aaron displeased God in this proceeding, probably because they distrusted God's general providence and applied for extraordinary resources. On account of this displeasure it was announced to them that they should not enter Canaan. A similar transaction has been already spoken of as taking place in Rephidim (). The same name, Meribah, was occasioned in that as in this matter. Hence it has been thought that we have here two versions of the same story. But there is nothing surprising, under the circumstances, in the outbreak of discontent for want of water, which may well have happened even more than twice. The places are different, very wide apart; the time is different; and there is also the great variation arising out of the conduct and punishment of Moses and Aaron. On the whole, therefore, we judge the two records to speak of different transactions.
Relying on the ties of blood () Moses sent to ask of the Edomites a passage through their territory into Canaan. The answer was a refusal, accompanied by a display of force. The Israelites, therefore, were compelled to turn their face southward, and making a turn round the end of the Elanitic gulf reached Mount Hor, near Petra, on the top of which Aaron died. Finding the country bad for traveling, and their food unpleasant, Israel again broke out into rebellious discontent, and was punished by fiery serpents which bit the people, and much people died, when a remedy was provided in a serpent of brass set on a pole (, sq.). Still going northward, and probably pursuing the caravan route from Damascus, they at length reached the valley of Zared (the brook), which may be the present Wady Kerak, that runs from the east into the Dead Sea. Hence they 'removed and pitched on the other side of Arnon, which is in the border of Moab, between Moab and the Amorites' (). Beer (the well) was the next station, where, finding a plentiful supply of water, and being rejoiced at the prospect of the speedy termination of their journey, the people indulged in music and song, singing 'the song of the well' (). The Amorites being requested, refused to give Israel a passage through their borders, and so the nation was again compelled to proceed still in a northerly course. At length having beaten the Amorites, and Og, King of Bashan, they reached the Jordan, and pitched their tents at a spot which lay opposite Jericho. Here Balak, King of the Moabites, alarmed at their numbers and their successful prowess, invited Balaam to curse Israel, in the hope of being thus aided to overcome them and drive them out. The intended curse proved a blessing in the prophet's mouth. While here the people gave way to the idolatrous practices of the Moabites, when a terrible punishment was inflicted, partly by a plague which took off 24,000, and partly by the avenging sword. Moses, being commanded to take the sum of the children of Israel, from twenty years upwards, found they amounted to 600,730, among whom there was not a man of them whom Moses and Aaron numbered in the wilderness of Sinai (; ). Moses is now directed to ascend Abarim, to Mount Nebo, in the land of Moab, over against Jericho, in order that he might survey the land which he was not to enter on account of his having rebelled against God's commandment in the desert of Zin (; ). Conformably with the divine command, Moses went up from the plains of Moab unto the mountain of Nebo, to the top of Pisgah, and there he died, at the age of 120 years: 'His eye was not dim, nor his natural force abated' (Deuteronomy 34). Under his successor, Joshua, the Hebrews were forthwith led across the Jordan, and established in the Land of Promise.
Thus a journey, which they might have performed in a few months, they spent forty years in accomplishing, bringing on themselves unspeakable toil and trouble, and in the end, death, as a punishment for their gross and sensual appetites, and their unbending indocility to the divine will (; ). Joshua, however, gained thereby a great advantage; inasmuch as it was with an entirely new generation that he laid the foundations of the civil and religious institutions of the Mosaic polity in Palestine. This advantage assigns the reason why so long a period of years was spent in the wilderness.
Kitto, John, ed. Entry for 'Wandering'. "Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblial Literature". https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/kbe/w/wandering.html.