Feb. 25 Reading: Numbers 33-34 Commentary
“These are the journeys of the children of Israel, who went out of the land of Egypt by their armies under the hand of Moses and Aaron. Now Moses wrote down the starting points of their journeys at the command of the Lord.” (Num. 33:1-2)
Numbers 33 – From Egypt to Canaan
Ever wonder how the future is going to turn out? Trying to figure out what is ahead in your life? Well, one important thing to understand is that you can’t know where you are going unless you remember where you have been. Our future holds our destiny, but the past leads us into that destiny.
The past is our foundation and our teacher. What happened in the past molds and shapes us into the person we are today and will be tomorrow. While pasts don’t define us, we do need a proper perspective of what God has done for us. Then we can properly experience what he will do in us going forward.
That’s why passages like Numbers 33 are important. Yes, it seems mundane and boring to read about all the places Israel traveled. But it’s their history. And with each stop along the way, God did something to shape them into people ready to enter the Promised Land. They needed to be reminded of that by hearing the narrative of their journeys.
Of course the journey began at Rameses in Egypt “on the fifteenth day of the first month; on the day after the Passover the children of Israel went out with boldness in the sight of all the Egyptians” (v. 3). They went out in boldness because God had judged Egypt for their wickedness with the ten plagues designed to soften Pharoah’s heart to let the Hebrews leave their captivity. It all culminated with the 10th plague, the killing of the firstborn son of all families (probably all non-Hebrew) who had not followed the Passover regulations set down by the Lord (Exodus 12).
We don’t know the exact spot of all the named locations they stopped along the way. A map can be found here that shows the possible route of their journey. A few specific events are noted in the passage:
1. They passed through the Red Sea after leaving Hahiroth (v. 8).
2. There were 12 springs of water at Marah (v. 9).
3. No water was found at Rephidim (v. 14).
4. Aaron died at Mt. Hor at 123 years of age (v. 38-39).
The 40-year journey ended once the people “camped in the plains of Moab by the Jordan, across from Jericho” (v. 48).
Instructions for Conquering the Land
In Numbers 33:50-56, God gave Moses and the people instructions about conquering Canaan. Some key points included:
1. They were to “drive out all the inhabitants” (v. 52). None of the people currently occupying the land were to remain.
2. God instructed them to destroy all the religious artifacts and symbols of the nations (v. 52).
3. This was doable because “…I [God] have given you the land to possess” (v. 53).
4. Each family (tribe) would receive an inheritance (section of land) based on tribal size (v. 54).
5. God said if Israel did not obey, the heathen nations would become troublesome and “…be irritants in your eyes and thorns in your sides, and they shall harass you in the land where you dwell” (v. 55). Furthermore, God would bring the kinds of punishment on Israel that he brought on the foreign nations (v. 56).
These instructions serve symbolic meaning for us. We all have personal challenges that serve as “thorns in our side.” They keep us from experiencing all God has to offer. To experience victory and the abundant life Jesus described in John 10:10 requires the removal of these things. What do you need to drive out of your life today?
God just charged the people with a great task – conquer Canaan and drive out all its inhabitants. That task would not be easy. But with God leading the way, it would be successful.
Numbers 34 gives details about the boundaries of the new nation (vv. 3-13. Additionally, Moses lists the names of the men God chose to divide the land (vv. 16-29).
The first map below shows the boundaries of the land based on Numbers 34.
This second map shows the division by tribes, circa the time of Joshua. Notice the tribes of Gad, Reuben and half the tribe of Manasseh that received their inheritance east of the Jordan River. All the land west of the Jordan is considered Israel proper.
You may also notice that the tribal boundaries do not extend in full to the boundary limits seen in the Numbers 34 image. That’s because, contrary to God’s instructions, the people did not completely drive out the inhabitants of the land. We will read more about that in the book of Joshua.
Questions to Consider:
Life is a series of stages. We live in each one for a season. Each one presents its own challenges, heartaches and rewards. And in each one, God has something for us to learn about ourselves and about Him. Do you focus more on the past or the future? What is your past teaching you?
Numbers 33 records how God moved Israel through the wilderness step by step, from location to location. When the time to be at one camp ended, they moved on to the next at God’s direction. How is God moving you today? Are you content with where he has you now?
What other points would you want to know about in our Numbers 33-34 commentary? Email us here with questions or comments.