1 - 2 Each Journey Is Noted
1 These are the journeys of the sons of Israel, by which they came out from the land of Egypt by their armies, under the leadership of Moses and Aaron. 2 Moses recorded their starting places according to their journeys by the command of the LORD, and these are their journeys according to their starting places.
It is time to look back at the journey. All places where the people have been are listed. This does not happen by the command of Moses, but “by the command of the LORD”. He looks back on His people’s journey through the wilderness.
When He looks back on our journey, it is often different from the way we look back. If we look back on it, we notice: our great unfaithfulness on the one hand and the great faithfulness of God on the other hand (Deu 8:2-3). We have already forgotten a lot. The wilderness wind has erased many traces of our journey. But God still sees every footstep of us in the wilderness sand.
When God looks back on the journey, it is to show how His people have walked before Him, how they have set out and how they have camped. In this enumeration he does not speak about revolt, but about progress. If we had only this list of places, we could conclude that Israel from Egypt to Moab faithfully moved from one place to another in good order.
The situation is that the new generation has replaced the old one. However, the report gives the impression that there has never been an earlier generation. The people who arrive in the plains of Moab are seen as the people who have left Egypt. With this report God indicates that His plans and intentions will be realized, despite the loss and disappearance of an entire generation.
Certain events are mentioned, but they are not events that refer to the sins of the people. At any place we can think of our way with Him and His way with us. He wants us to think about that as He does. Such memories can only exist after we have left that event or place. Only then can we look back and God here proposes to do so with His eyes.
It is good to be reminded once again of God’s vision of our journey in connection with the upcoming entry into the land of promise. We see His interest in all our activities, for every step we have taken in the wilderness, for every experience we have gained there.
Nor is there any guidance through the cloud. As we pass by the places, the thought arises of the spiritual energy that the people showed again and again by going from place to place. Of course it happened under the guidance of the cloud (Num 9:15-23), but from that point of view the journey is not described here. Here God, as it were, attributes all the good things of the people to themselves.
We can also apply this to the journey of Christianity through the ages. God also sees in this a core that has performed true Christianity for Him. He also looks back on that journey that way. For His attention are the believers who have gone the way in spiritual energy, with all the exercises that this has brought with it. They have always passed on the torch of the testimony.
The journey is described from journey to journey or from resting place to resting place. At the same time, the description indicates that each time it was only a temporary rest. Every place of rest has given an experience. After the experience they had to move on, to the next place, to a new experience. God knows at any time in what place or situation we are.
3 - 4 The Start of the Journey
3 They journeyed from Rameses in the first month, on the fifteenth day of the first month; on the next day after the Passover the sons of Israel started out boldly in the sight of all the Egyptians, 4 while the Egyptians were burying all their firstborn whom the LORD had struck down among them. The LORD had also executed judgments on their gods.
From the beginning of the description of the journey until the end of it, it is the same people, although it actually consists of very different persons at the end of the journey. God does not see the people in those who have fallen, but in those who have remained standing. Literally the “they” of verse 3 have perished in the wilderness. But the LORD sees in the people the true core.
Their trek begins with the exodus from Egypt. Every place they visit afterwards is followed by a new exodus. Nowhere in the wilderness is there a definitive place of rest, just as Egypt has not been (cf. Heb 11:13-14). That is how it has gone with Christianity. There is always the thread that runs through the testimony of God. He has always given times of rest and refreshment. There experiences were gained and lessons were learned, after which they had to set out.
This we also can apply to the local church. It may be necessary to set out to find a new resting place. If there are difficulties, we must ask ourselves how we can set out from them. Are there solutions in the Word that would allow us, as a local church, to set out from the difficulties?
When leaving Egypt, it is mentioned that it happens “the next day after the Passover”. That assumes the direct connection between what the Passover represents and the redemption from Egypt’s slavery. There is also talk of “boldly” which is literally “with a high hand”. This is the high hand of the LORD. It represents His exalted and mighty act in redemption. Only He is capable of something so wonderful.
What God does in redemption, He does not do in secret. It happens “in the sight of all Egyptians”, they are witnesses of it. And not only that. The “high hand” of the LORD by which He conducts His people is a hand that has struck Egypt in judgment. While God’s people are leaving, Egypt must concern itself with the results of God’s judgment. Every funeral is a tangible and fatal proof for them of God’s exaltedness above their gods.
5 - 49 Places and Events During the Journey
5 Then the sons of Israel journeyed from Rameses and camped in Succoth. 6 They journeyed from Succoth and camped in Etham, which is on the edge of the wilderness. 7 They journeyed from Etham and turned back to Pi-hahiroth, which faces Baal-zephon, and they camped before Migdol. 8 They journeyed from before Hahiroth and passed through the midst of the sea into the wilderness; and they went three days’ journey in the wilderness of Etham and camped at Marah. 9 They journeyed from Marah and came to Elim; and in Elim there were twelve springs of water and seventy palm trees, and they camped there. 10 They journeyed from Elim and camped by the Red Sea. 11 They journeyed from the Red Sea and camped in the wilderness of Sin. 12 They journeyed from the wilderness of Sin and camped at Dophkah. 13 They journeyed from Dophkah and camped at Alush. 14 They journeyed from Alush and camped at Rephidim; now it was there that the people had no water to drink. 15 They journeyed from Rephidim and camped in the wilderness of Sinai. 16 They journeyed from the wilderness of Sinai and camped at Kibroth-hattaavah. 17 They journeyed from Kibroth-hattaavah and camped at Hazeroth. 18 They journeyed from Hazeroth and camped at Rithmah. 19 They journeyed from Rithmah and camped at Rimmon-perez. 20 They journeyed from Rimmon-perez and camped at Libnah. 21 They journeyed from Libnah and camped at Rissah. 22 They journeyed from Rissah and camped in Kehelathah. 23 They journeyed from Kehelathah and camped at Mount Shepher. 24 They journeyed from Mount Shepher and camped at Haradah. 25 They journeyed from Haradah and camped at Makheloth. 26 They journeyed from Makheloth and camped at Tahath. 27 They journeyed from Tahath and camped at Terah. 28 They journeyed from Terah and camped at Mithkah. 29 They journeyed from Mithkah and camped at Hashmonah. 30 They journeyed from Hashmonah and camped at Moseroth. 31 They journeyed from Moseroth and camped at Bene-jaakan. 32 They journeyed from Bene-jaakan and camped at Hor-haggidgad. 33 They journeyed from Hor-haggidgad and camped at Jotbathah. 34 They journeyed from Jotbathah and camped at Abronah. 35 They journeyed from Abronah and camped at Ezion-geber. 36 They journeyed from Ezion-geber and camped in the wilderness of Zin, that is, Kadesh. 37 They journeyed from Kadesh and camped at Mount Hor, at the edge of the land of Edom. 38 Then Aaron the priest went up to Mount Hor at the command of the LORD, and died there in the fortieth year after the sons of Israel had come from the land of Egypt, on the first [day] in the fifth month. 39 Aaron was one hundred twenty-three years old when he died on Mount Hor. 40 Now the Canaanite, the king of Arad who lived in the Negev in the land of Canaan, heard of the coming of the sons of Israel. 41 Then they journeyed from Mount Hor and camped at Zalmonah. 42 They journeyed from Zalmonah and camped at Punon. 43 They journeyed from Punon and camped at Oboth. 44 They journeyed from Oboth and camped at Iye-abarim, at the border of Moab. 45 They journeyed from Iyim and camped at Dibon-gad. 46 They journeyed from Dibon-gad and camped at Almon-diblathaim. 47 They journeyed from Almon-diblathaim and camped in the mountains of Abarim, before Nebo. 48 They journeyed from the mountains of Abarim and camped in the plains of Moab by the Jordan [opposite] Jericho. 49 They camped by the Jordan, from Beth-jeshimoth as far as Abel-shittim in the plains of Moab.
This list of the places and events that have occurred during the trip shows the forty years of the wilderness journey. Places are mentioned that we only encounter in this list. Other places call events to the mind that we find recorded in Exodus or Numbers.
So it is with our lives. Some events are clear to our minds, others we don’t remember. But God has recorded the overview of our whole life (Job 31:4). No fragment of the film of our lives has been cut away. We will have it for us in its entirety when our lives will be revealed before the judgment seat of Christ (2Cor 5:10).
Here an outline with places where something happened and where they are mentioned:
Rameses – Judgment on Egypt and exodus from Egypt – Exo 12:37
Succoth – Exo 12:37
Etham – Located on the edge of the wilderness – Exo 13:20
Pi-hahiroth – Through the Red Sea and three-day trips through the wilderness of Etham – Exo 14:2
Marah – Exo 15:23
Elim – 12 water sources and 70 palm trees – Exo 15:27
Wilderness of Sin – Exo 16:1
Rephidim – No water to drink for the people – Exo 17:1
Wilderness of Sinai– Exo 19:1
Kibroth-hattaavah – Num 11:34
Hazeroth – Num 11:35
Wilderness of Zin – Num 20:1
Mount Hor – Aaron dies, 123 years, 40 years after the exodus; Canaanite hears of approaching Israelites – Num 20:22,24-29
Oboth – Num 21:10
Iye-abarim or ruins of Abarim – Num 21:11
Mountains of Abarim – Num 27:12
Plains of Moab – from Beth-jeshimoth to Abel-shittim – Num 22:1
50 - 56 How the People Can Dwell in the Land
50 Then the LORD spoke to Moses in the plains of Moab by the Jordan [opposite] Jericho, saying, 51 “Speak to the sons of Israel and say to them, ‘When you cross over the Jordan into the land of Canaan, 52 then you shall drive out all the inhabitants of the land from before you, and destroy all their figured stones, and destroy all their molten images and demolish all their high places; 53 and you shall take possession of the land and live in it, for I have given the land to you to possess it. 54 You shall inherit the land by lot according to your families; to the larger you shall give more inheritance, and to the smaller you shall give less inheritance. Wherever the lot falls to anyone, that shall be his. You shall inherit according to the tribes of your fathers. 55 But if you do not drive out the inhabitants of the land from before you, then it shall come about that those whom you let remain of them [will become] as pricks in your eyes and as thorns in your sides, and they will trouble you in the land in which you live. 56 And as I plan to do to them, so I will do to you.’”
After a look back we now get a look ahead. After the description of the wilderness journey behind them, the eyes of the people are turned to the land. The wilderness journey teaches us that we are on our way to our actual destination. It is significant that, while the people are not yet in the land, the thoughts of the people are already focused on staying in the land. This is also the case in Numbers 15. There it is about something that is going to happen in the land. Here it is different. Here it is about the land itself.
We read a lot in the Bible about our stay as Christians on earth, about the difficulties and exercises that this brings with it. We recognize this in practice. What is often less important to us as Christians is that we can already concern ourselves with the heavenly land. We can also read about this in God’s Word.
An important distinction with Israel can be noted here. With Israel it is a succession of events: first the wilderness journey, then the land. For us both the one and the other is already true: we live both in the wilderness and in the land. Not that we experience both at the same time. When we are struggling due to illness or problems in the family or at work, we experience that we are in the wilderness. But at another time, when we read God’s Word and think about our blessings in Christ, we experience that we are in the heavenly land. What literally happens to Israel is spiritually true for us.
Israel has arrived in the plains of Moab. The experiences of the wilderness are behind them. Now they can focus on the blessings of the land. In Deuteronomy this is discussed in detail; in Joshua they are conquered. Here in Numbers we find a piece of the book of Joshua, as it were. In this section the LORD speaks to the Israelites about the extermination of idols and the division of the land (cf. Num 26:53-56).
It is part of the preparation for the conquest of the land. We need to know what we are going to do; we need to calculate the costs. We must realize that there are enemies and idols.
In the land of promise we find idols. They represent forces of wickedness and rulers in the heavenly places. This is what we are dealing with in Christianity. It is precisely there that the imitation of the service to God is present. This imitation is nourished by demons who use nominal Christians. The reintroduction of the law is idolatry, a work of demons (Gal 4:8-10). Idolatry is the putting things that are not of the Lord in the place of the Lord.
The consequence of maintaining idolatry in any form is that the blessing of the land is not taken possession of. That is why idolatry must be radically eradicated. Then, as tribes, as separate local churches, we will be able to enjoy the inheritance given to us by the Lord. An example that every local church has received its own inheritance can be seen in the New Testament in the letters written to separate churches.
For Israel it is a dangerous human kindness to spare the enemies of God. It comes down to unbelief by saving themselves in battle with these enemies. It all too often leads to a connection with them. The result is that one shares in the judgment that rests on these enemies of God. Joshua warns the people in his farewell speech with the same words (Jos 23:11-13).