Numbers 33 – Lessons From the Jews’ Journey in the Wilderness

Introduction: - The 42 stations from bondage to freedom. This chapter lists a total of 42 stations that the Jews stayed at between their departure location in Egypt and their final resting place in Jordan. To many people, this chapter is boring. Few churches bother to teach on it. We do not know the locations of most of these sites. We also don’t know what happened in many of these places. So why study it? There are several reasons. First, the Jews’ journey was “written for our instruction” (1 Cor. 10:11). The 42 stations in the wilderness symbolize our road from bondage to redemption. Exactly 42 names are listed in the genealogy between Abraham and Jesus (Matt. 1:2-17). Second, we learn of the great power and protection that God has for us when we are obedient to His will. Third, we learn that disobedience brings only heartache. Without faith, it is impossible to please God. Fourth, we learn that failure to learn from the Jews’ mistakes will likely cause us to repeat them. Fifth, by the mercy and grace of Christ’s blood, we celebrate that the evil things we do on our trip will one day be erased from God’s memory. The Jews’ travel log has had all their evil acts purged from it. Sixth, we should inspire ourselves not to wind up in heaven with an empty book. Unlike the Jews’ travel log, ours should be filled with great acts of faith, love, and charity, things which will not be forgotten. Finally, we must understand that Christ paid the ultimate sacrifice to deliver us from bondage. We must in turn keep ourselves out of bondage by staying set apart from the world.

Background: You are freed from bondage through Jesus’ death. Nu. 33:1-4.

  • The Book of Numbers records the Jews’ journey to freedom. God recorded for the Jews their journey to freedom so that they might never return to bondage: “These are the journeys of the sons of Israel, by which they came out of 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. 3 Now they journeyed from Rameses in the first month, on the fifteenth day of the first month; on the 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 fatally struck among them. The Lord had also executed judgments against their gods.” (Nu. 33:1-4). Many believers are tempted to skip the Old Testament. But those who ignore history are at risk of repeating it.

Moses led the Jew on their journey to freedom1

  • The death of the Passover Lamb brought freedom from bondage. After 400 years of bondage, God freed the Jews on Passover (Ex. 12:41; Nu. 33:3-4). During Passover, only the lamb’s blood allowed families to have death “pass over” their firstborn sons (Ex. 12:12-13, 22-23). God also gave the blood of his firstborn son to allow judgment to “pass over” us (Isa. 53:7; Jo. 1:29; 1 Pet. 1:18-19). The actual departure of the Jews happened the day after Passover. Their hasty departure did not afford them time to bake leavened bread (Ex. 12:34, 39). To celebrate God’s deliverance, the Jews celebrated the Feast of Unleavened Bread (a life without sin). Jesus was in the grave during this time. Through Christ, we are freed from our old sins. Have you fled from your sinful ways? Or, are you still hanging out with your prior captor (the devil) in your land of bondage?

  • Because of Christ’s death, you no longer need to fear your prior sins. “[T]he sons of Israel started out boldly in the sight of all the Egyptians.” (Nu. 33:3). “[T]hey plundered the Egyptians.” (Ex. 12:37). The Jews did not need to look back with shame at anything they had done while in captivity. We also don’t need to carry guilt regarding our old sins: “Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Rom. 8:1). We can also go boldly before God to petition Him: “Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.” (Heb. 4:16(KJV)). God has given each of us a spirit of power and love, not of fear: “For God has not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” (2 Tim. 1:7). If you feel that you need to be embarrassed by your old sins once you have repented of them, that fear is not from God. If you are judging brothers or sisters because of sins in their old lives, you are acting no differently than the Egyptians who pursued after the freed Jews. Forgive others, and you will be forgiven (Matt. 6:15).

1. God will provide for you in the wilderness when you follow Him. Nu. 33:5-15.

  • (Station No. 1-2) Give thanks that God dwells with you. After leaving Ramses (station 1), the Jews camped at Sukkoth: “5 Then the sons of Israel journeyed from Rameses and camped in Succoth.” ( Nu. 33:5; Ex. 12:37) (station 2). Sukkoth means a “booth” or a “tabernacle.” The Jews later made a “sukkoth” or tabernacle for God to dwell with them: “Let them construct a sanctuary for Me, that I may dwell (“tabernacle”) among them.” (Ex. 25:8). God dwelt with them to remind them that He delivered them: “I will dwell among the sons of Israel . . . They shall know that I am the Lord their God who brought them out of the land of Egypt, that I might dwell among them; I am the Lord their God.” (Ex. 29:45-46). The Jews later lived in booths one week a year to remember God’s deliverance and His provision: “I brought them out from the land of Egypt. I am the Lord your God.” (Lev. 23:42-43). God provided for the 600,000 men with “a large number of livestock.” (Ex. 12:37). He gave them food and water. He even protected their feet from swelling (Dt. 8:4). We too were “once slaves of sin.” (Rom 6:17). God sent His only son to deliver us (Jo. 1:14). God now dwells with us through His Holy Spirit (Jo. 14:16-18, 26). Give joyful thanks for your deliverance and that the Holy Spirit dwells with you. He in turn will bless you: “You shall celebrate a feast to the Lord your God . . . because the Lord will bless you in all your produce and in all the work of your hands, so that you will be altogether joyful.” (Dt. 16:15-17).

  • (Station No. 3) God gives strength to those who flee the world. The Jews next camped at Etham, which means “fortress.” “6 They journeyed from Succoth and camped in Etham, which is on the edge of the wilderness.” (Nu. 33:6; Ex. 13:20). At Etham,: “[t]he Lord was going before them in a pillar of cloud by day to lead them and a pillar of fire by night to give them light.” (Ex. 13:21-22). God let the Jews know that His incredible power went before them. He did not give us a Spirit of fear, but of strength (2 Tim. 1:7). When you walk with Him, do not fear men or the devil (Matt. 10:28; Lk. 12:4).

  • (Station No. 4) God protects us from the devil and our enemies when we flee sin. The Jews next camped at the sea (believed by many to be the Red Sea but by others to be the Gulf of Acaba), between two mountains that trapped them from fleeing: Pi Hahiroth (the “mouth of the gorges”) and Baal Zephon (the “lord of the north”). They camped near Migdol, which means “tower.” “7 Then they journeyed from Etham and turned back to Pi-hahiroth, which faces Baal-zephon; and they camped before Migdol.”(Nu. 33:7). God instructed the Jews to camp there so that they would appear trapped to Pharaoh’s army: “Pharaoh will think, ‘The Israelites are wandering around the land in confusion, hemmed in by the desert.’ And I will harden Pharaoh's heart, and he will pursue them. But I will gain glory for myself through Pharaoh and all his army, and the Egyptians will know that I am the Lord. So the Israelites did this.” (Ex. 14:2-4). But the Jews did not trust God when Pharaoh’s army came: “For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness.” (Ex. 14:12). God knew that the people would turn back in fear if given the chance. For this reason, He did not take them along the direct trade routes of the Mediterranean Coast where they would have cowered in the face of Egypt’s armies (Ex. 13:17). God showed His power to deliver by crushing Pharaoh’s army in the sea. He also showed the Jews their lack of faith. When we face our trials in the wilderness, we must have faith in God to protect us.

  • (Station No. 5) God tests us in the wilderness to show us the bitterness in our hearts. The Jews then traveled for three days “without water” and camped at Marah, which means “bitterness.” “8 They journeyed from Pi-hahiroth and passed through the midst of the sea to the wilderness; and they went three days’ journey in the wilderness of Etham and camped at Marah.” (Nu. 33:8; Ex. 15:22-24). Many believe that this place was in the Sinai Peninsula. Others believe that this place was in Midian (Saudi Arabia). At Marah, the Jews complained that the waters were bitter (Ex. 15:24). “They quickly forgot His works; they did not wait for His counsel, but craved intensely in the wilderness and tempted God in the desert.” (Ps. 106:13). Out of mercy, God did not rebuke the Jews. Instead, he had Moses throw a tree into the water, which He used to make the water drinkable (Ex. 15:25). The place was called Marah to show that bitterness still remained in their hearts, even though they had been set free. We too can carry bitterness in our hearts. If we have bitterness inside, we cannot expect good things to spring out of us: “Does a fountain send out from the same opening both fresh and bitter water?” (Jam. 3:11). When God uses a trial to reveal the bitterness in our hearts, we must repent of it.

  • (Station No. 6) God can provide life and comfort to you in the wilderness. The Jews next camped at Elim (“trees”) where there were twelve springs and seventy palm trees: “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.” (Nu. 33:9; Ex. 15:27). The twelve springs and the 70 palm trees symbolized that God would provide complete life and comfort for the 12 tribes of Israel. The 70 palm trees also corresponded to the 70 nations that name from Noah (Gen. 10). Through Christ, all the nations of the Earth became eligible to receive abundant life and comfort (Jo. 10:10).

  • (Station Nos. 7-10) God may test us with abundance to reveal covetousness in our hearts. The Jews were then tested in four desert camp sites. These included: (1) the coast of the Red Sea (“Yam Suph” –the sea of reeds); (2) a place in the “Desert of Sin;” (3) a place called Dophkah; and (4) a place called Alush: “10 They journeyed from Elim and camped by the Red Sea. 11 And 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.” (Nu. 33:10-13; Ex. 16:1). Although the Jews left with “a large number of livestock” (Ex. 12:37) they still complained about the “pots of meat that they had in Egypt.” (Ex. 16:3). God promised to “rain bread from heaven for you . . . every day, that I may test them . . .” (Ex. 16:4). At these locations, the Jews tried to hoard the manna that God provided. They did so even when told not to (Ex. 16:20). They were then told not to collect the manna on the Sabbath. But they tried to do so anyway. (Ex. 27). God has given us all that we need. When we covet, we violate the Tenth Commandment (Ex. 20:17; Dt. 5:21). When God shows us our hidden greed, He shows us that we don’t fully trust Him to provide for us. We must repent of our covetousness.

  • (Station No. 11) God may test us with scarcity to show us how much we trust Him. After leaving the four sites in the wilderness of sin, the Jews camped at Rephidim (“supports”) where there was no water for the people to drink: “14 And they journeyed from Alush and camped at Rephidim; now it was there that the people had no water to drink.” (Nu. 33:14; Ex. 17:1). Here, the Jews went from abundance to scarcity: “There was no water for the people to drink.” (Ex. 17:1). The people then quarreled with Moses, as if he were leading them: “Why now have you brought us up from Egypt to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?” (Ex. 17:3). Yet, God did not strike the Jews down. Out of mercy and grace, He commanded Moses to strike the rock at Horeb, and He provided water for the people (Ex. 17:6). He then renamed the place Massah “day of trial” and Meribah “provoked” because the people complained and tested Him saying: “Is the Lord among us or not?” (Ex. 17:7; Ps. 95:7-8; Heb. 3:7-8, 15). God may at times allow us to experience scarcity. He does so to show us where our trust and faith in Him is weak. When you fear scarcity, repent of your doubt in His ability to provide for you. Jesus commands: “Do not worry then saying what will we eat? or what will we drink? or what will we wear for clothing.” (Matt. 6:31). Do you trust in His provision?

2. Your Journey Should Include Time Spent Studying God’s Word.

  • (Station No. 12) The year spent studying God’s Law. After leaving the wilderness of sin, the Jews camped at Mount Sinai: “15 And they journeyed from Rephidim and camped in the wilderness of Sinai.” (Nu. 33:15; Ex. 19:2). Many believe this was in the Southern Sinai Peninsula. Others believe that it was in Midian or Saudi Arabia. Here, Moses received the Ten Commandments (Ex. 20:1-17), the ordinances for the Jews (Ex. 21-23), and the instructions for the Tabernacle (Ex. 25-31). Here, the Jews also built the golden calf, their seventh rebellion in the wilderness (Ex. 32). Moses then received a second set of Ten Commandments (Ex. 34). The Jews then built the Tabernacle where God came to dwell with them (Ex. 35-40). The priests then learned all of the rules for being priests in the book of Leviticus. Of the 40–year journey in the wilderness, the Jews spent more than an entire year here. Of the 40 chapters in Exodus, 21 chapters took place here. The entire book of Leviticus also took place here. The first nine chapters in Numbers also took place here. If we can draw lessons from the places on the journey, we should also draw a lesson from the length of time spent at this one place. As we travel from place to place in our lives, we must make sure that a large portion of our life is focused on the study of God’s Word.

  • Seven reasons why you need to study God’s Word. There are at least seven reasons to study God’s Word. First, God’s Word will be a light to your feet in the wilderness (Ps. 119:105). Second, the Holy Spirit speaks to you through the Word. Without knowledge of the Word, you are not giving the Spirit much to use to instruct you. Third, the Word is also our sword in spiritual warfare (Heb. 4:12). Without knowing the Word, you fight without any weapons. Fourth, without knowledge of God’s Law, you will not be fully knowledgeable of your sins (Rom. 3:20). Fifth, by studying God’s Word, you learn of His promises for you. Sixth, your faith comes from hearing His Word (Rom. 10:17). Finally, you will find joy in living according to God’s plan for you (Ps. 119:16).

3. Without Faith, You Cannot Please God or Enter the Promised Land. Nu. 33:16-18.

  • (Station No. 13.) Don’t long for your old lives. On the second month of the second year in the wilderness, the Jews headed toward the Promised Land (Nu. 10:11). Their initial journey lasted only three days, less than 20 miles (Nu. 10:33). But their murmuring begin only a day or two into their journey. The first place they stopped at was called “Taberah” or “burning.” “16 They journeyed from the wilderness of Sinai, and camped at Kibroth-hattaavah.” (Nu. 33:16; 11:3). At this place, the “rabble” among the Israelites demanded to know who would give them meat (Nu. 11:4). Yet, at the time, flocks of cattle and sheep traveled amongst them (Ex. 12:38; 17:3; 22; Nu. 11:22). The rabble also complained just after they were saved at the Red Sea (Ex. 16:1-21). These people were of mixed descent. Their loyalties were divided equally between Egypt and Israel, i.e, the flesh and the Spirit. Out of mercy and grace, God gave the Jews masses of quails (Nu. 11:18-20). Without giving thanks, the people then voraciously feasted. God responded by sending a plague on them as they were chewing the meat (Nu. 11:33). God renamed the camp “Kibroth Hattaavah,” which means the graves of lust.” (Nu. 11:34; 33:16). When we accept Christ, the Bible says that we are a “new creation.” Our old self and our old desires should pass away (Rom. 6:6). Yet, our old flesh wars with our Spirit (Eph. 4:22; Col. 3:9). God cannot accept our works when we are motivated by our flesh (Gal. 5:19-21). Christ also warned that “the flesh profits nothing.” (Jo. 6:63). Are you letting the lusts of your old self control you?

  • (Station No. 14) Don’t speak ill of others or covet what they have. The Jews next camped at Hazeroth:17 They journeyed from Kibroth-hattaavah and camped at Hazeroth.” (Nu. 33:17; 11:35; 12:16; Dt. 1:1). At Hazeroth, Miriam and Aaron murmured against Moses (Nu. 12:1). They complained about his interracial marriage to a Cushite (an Ethiopian) (Nu. 12:1). They also complained that Moses did not share authority with them. They believed that they were entitled to more power because God had spoken to them in the past (Nu. 12:2). Because Miriam initiated the rebellion, God afflicted her with leprosy for seven days (Nu. 12:10-15). We are not to covet what another person has. We are also not be “the accuser of the brethren.” (Rev. 12:10). He seeks to condemn each and every one of us for our sins (Job 1:6, 9-11; Zech. 3:1). Like Satan, one who spreads slander is called “a fool” in the Bible (Prov. 10:18). Slander is one of the signs of a “depraved mind” living by the deeds of the flesh (Rom. 1:28-30). Thus, we are not to speak ill of one another (Ps. 15:3; 50:19-20; Prov. 6:16-19; Jam. 4:11). If we slander, we cannot abide with God (Ps. 15:3; Prov. 10:31). When we have a valid criticism against a leader or anyone else, we are to correct the brother or sister in private and with love (Matt. 18:15-20).

  • (Station No. 15(a)) Without faith, it is impossible to please God. The Jews then camped at Rithmah, which means “wild broom” or “broom valley.” “18 They journeyed from Hazeroth and camped at Rithmah.” (Nu. 33:18). Nothing is recorded regarding this place. But it appears to be merged together with the next stop at “Kadesh.” Here, on the edge of the Promised Land, the Jews failed to trust God.

  • (Station No. 15(b)) Rebellion at the edge of the Promised Land. After leaving Rithmah, the Jews camped at “Kadesh.” There, they sent the 12 spies into the Promised Land (Nu. 13:26). Upon returning, the 12 men told Moses that they had returned from the land “to which you sent us.” (Nu. 13:27). They made no mention of the Lord. Their faith failed because they took their minds off the Lord. They did not believe God’s 10 prior promises to give them the Promised Land (Gen. 12:6-7; 13:14-15; 15:7; 17:8; 26:4; 28:13-15; 50:24; Ex. 12:25; 23:20-31; 33:1-3). The “giants” who stood before them appeared greater than God’s promises (Nu. 13:31-33). They were so motivated by fear that they even tried to appoint a leader to bring them back to their prior bondage in Egypt (Nu. 14:1-4). An “unbelieving heart” will cause a person to fall away from God (Heb. 3:12). If we act only upon what we can see and not by faith, it is not possible to please God with our actions (Heb. 11:6). When we fear the world, we give in to a “spirit of slavery.” (Rom 8:15). Like the Jews, we must also have faith in God and His promises.

4. Through Grace, God Can Provide For Even Wayward Believers. Nu. 33:19-35.

  • The squandered potential. As a result of their lack of faith, God sentenced the Jews to wander in the wilderness for 38 additional years until the entire generation died off (Nu. 14:29-38). The only mention that we have of most of the places that they went to are found in Numbers 33. For most of these places, we know absolutely nothing. There was nothing redeeming for God to record. It reveals a life of squandered potential. Yet, by the names of the places, we learn of God’s grace in providing for His people: “ . . . I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.” (Heb. 13:5).

  • (Station No. 16) After Rithmah, the Jews camped at Rimmon Perez: “19 They journeyed from Rithmah and camped at Rimmon-perez.” (Nu. 33:19). The name means “an abundance of pomegranates.” It suggests that God showed mercy and grace on a nation sentenced to wander until they all died off.

  • (Station No. 17) The Jews next camped at Libnah, which means “whiteness.” “20 They journeyed from Rimmon-perez and camped at Libnah.” (Nu. 33:20). The name again shows God’s grace. He would purify His people of their sins.

  • (Station No. 18) The Jews then camped at Rissah, which means “dew, watering, or distillation.” “21 They journeyed from Libnah and camped at Rissah.” (Nu. 33:21). The name again shows God’s mercy and grace. He provided for the Jews all the water that they needed while living in the hot desert heat.

  • (Station No. 19) The Jews then camped at Kehelathah, which means “assembly.” “22 They journeyed from Rissah and camped in Kehelathah.” (Nu. 33:22). God kept His people alive and together in the wilderness.

  • (Station No. 20) The Jews then camped Mount Shepher, which means “brightness.” “23 They journeyed from Kehelathah and camped at Mount Shepher.” (Nu. 33:23). God guided His wayward people by His pillar of light.

  • (Station No. 21) The Jews then camped at Haradah, “fright” or “fear.” “24 They journeyed from Mount Shepher and camped at Haradah.” (Nu. 33:24). God was there to comfort them each time they felt fear.

  • (Station No. 22) The Jews then camped at Makheloth, which also means “assemblies.” “25 They journeyed from Haradah and camped at Makheloth.” (Nu. 33:25). God miraculously kept hundreds of thousands of people together.

  • (Station No. 23) The Jews then camped at Tahath, which means “below.” “26 They journeyed from Makheloth and camped at Tahath.” (Nu. 33:26). It is one of the few names during this portion of the journeys that does not imply provision, protection, or refuge. This might be the place where Korah’s rebellion took place. He and his leaders were cast down to the pit “below”. (Nu. 16:32).

  • (Station No. 24) The Jews then camped at Terah.27 They journeyed from Tahath and camped at Terah.” (Nu. 33:27). The name can mean a “wild goat,” used as a sin offering. Terah was also the name of Abraham’s father (Gen. 11:26-28). The name suggests that God the Father provided a sin offering to cleanse His people after 14,700 died in God’s plague after Korah’s rebellion (Nu. 16:49).

  • (Station No. 25) The Jews then camped at Mithkah, which means “sweetness.” “28 They journeyed from Terah and camped at Mithkah.” (Nu. 33:28). Out of mercy and grace, God gave the Jews sweetness in the wilderness.

  • (Station No. 26) The Jews then camped at Hashmonah, which means “fatness.” “29 They journeyed from Mithkah and camped at Hashmonah.” (Nu. 33:29). Out of mercy and grace, God also gave the choicest things to His people.

  • (Station No. 27) The Jews then camped at Moseroth, which means “bonds”. “30 They journeyed from Hashmonah and camped at Moseroth.” (Nu. 33:30). While in the wilderness, God kept His bond with His people.

  • (Station No. 28) The Jews then camped at Bene Jaakan. It meant “the wells of the children of Jaakan.” “31 They journeyed from Moseroth and camped at Bene-jaakan.” (Nu. 33:31; Dt. 10:6-7). We don’t know who Jaakan was. Yet, a well is a source of water and life. The name suggests that God provided for His children.

  • (Station No. 29) The Jews then camped at Hor Haggidgad / Gudgodah, which means “cave of the Gidgad” “32 They journeyed from Bene-jaakan and camped at Hor-haggidgad.” (Nu. 33:32; Dt. 10:6-7). Its meaning today has been lost. Yet, in the context of the other names, it was most likely a place of refuge in the desert.

  • (Station No. 30) The Jews then camped at Jotbathah, “the land of brooks of water” “33 They journeyed from Hor-haggidgad and camped at Jotbathah.” (Nu. 33:33; Dt. 10:6-7). Again, the name suggests God’s provision for His people.

  • (Station No. 31) The Jews then camped at Abronah / “Ebronah,” which means “passage.” “34 They journeyed from Jotbathah and camped at Abronah.” (Nu. 33:34). God gave the Jews safe passage through the wilderness.

  • (Station No. 32) The Jews then camped at Ezion Geber, “the giant's backbone.” “35 They journeyed from Abronah and camped at Ezion-geber.” (Nu. 33:35). It came from the head of a mountain which runs out into the sea. The Jews were coming to the end of their journey. A backbone is a symbol of strength and resolve. The name suggests that God was building His people up for conquest.

5. Those Who Forget Their History Are Bound to Repeat It. Nu. 33:36-49.

  • (Station No. 33) The Jews repeated their same complaints to God. After leaving Ezion Geber, the Jews camped at Kadesh. “36 They journeyed from Ezion-geber and camped in the wilderness of Zin, that is, Kadesh.” (Nu. 33:36). The place should have seemed familiar. It was likely the 15th station in the wilderness (Nu. 13:26). Although the prior place was in the desert of “Paran” and this place was in the desert of “Zin,” it appears to be the same place. The Jews had just spent 37 years and six months walking in a circle. Thirty seven and a half years earlier, they rebelled at Kadesh believing that they would die if the entered the Promised Land (Nu. 13:26; 14:1-4). Near this place, they also complained about their water (Nu. 20:1-5). Possibly at the exact same place where they plotted to return to Egypt, they again believed that their old life of bondage was better: “Why have you made us come up from Egypt to bring us to this wretched place? . . nor is there water to drink.” (Nu. 20:5). God provided water during their entire journey. Yet, they still couldn’t bring themselves to trust God. Through grace, God “opened the rock and water flowed out.” (Ps. 106:41; 81:16; Isa. 48:21; Nu. 20:11). “[T]he rock was Christ.” (1 Cor. 10:3-4). Because the Jews forgot their history, they repeated their mistakes.

  • (Station No. 34) Aaron’s lack of faith on the edge of the promised land. The Jews then camped at Mount Hor on the border of Edom. “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 123 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 about the coming of the sons of Israel.” (Nu. 33:37-40; 21:1-3). Aaron died here (Nu. 20:28). God barred him from entering the Promised Land because he showed a lack of faith during the Meribah rebellion (Nu. 20:24). Aaron symbolized the faith of the people as the high priest. He failed to learn from the Jews’ prior failure of faith on the edge of the Promised Land. Without faith, we also cannot enter the Promised Land.

  • (Station No. 35) God protects us in the wilderness. They left Mount Hor and camped at Zalmonah, which means “shady.” “41 Then they journeyed from Mount Hor and camped at Zalmonah.” (Nu. 33:41). This was on a long route that the Jews took as they traveled around Edom through the desert (Nu. 21:4). The name suggests that God comforted His people, even in the hot desert sun.

  • (Station No. 36) Only our faith in Christ’s death on the cross will save us. They left Zalmonah and camped at Punon. “42 They journeyed from Zalmonah and camped at Punon.” (Nu. 33:42). The name may mean “darkness.” By process of elimination, this was most likely the place where the Jews stated that they “loathed” God’s manna and complained to Moses that he had: “brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness.” (Nu. 21:5). At this place, God sent fiery serpents and killed a number of the people (Nu. 21:6). In a foreshadowing of Christ, only those who looked on the raised bronze serpent and believed were saved (Nu. 21:8-9; Jo. 3:14-15). In order to enter the Promised Land, we also must look up the cross in faith.

  • (Station No. 37) The Jews next went to Oboth “bottles.” “43 They journeyed from Punon and camped at Oboth.” (Nu. 33:43). This was the first site after the bronze serpent (Nu. 21:10). Sadly, nothing is known about this place.

  • (Station No. 38(a-f)) God will protect us from our enemies in the wilderness. The Jews next camped at Iyeabarim on the border of Moab. “44 They journeyed from Oboth and camped at Iye-abarim, at the border of Moab.” (Nu. 33:44; 21:11). The name means “Ruins of Abarim.” Although not listed in this travel log, the Jews then camped at Wadi Zered and then at a side of Arnon on the border between the Moabites and the Amorites. They then journeyed to Beer, Mattanah, Nahaliel, Bamoth, a valley in Moab, and to the top of Mount Pisgah (Nu. 21:11-20). It was at these places that the Jews defeated two different Amorite kings in battle, King Sihon and King Og (Nu. 21:21, 33).

  • (Station Nos. 39 and 40) God will provide the spoils of spiritual war. The Jews then camped at Dibon Gad “wasting” and Almon Diblathaim “two cakes”. “45 They journeyed from Iyim and camped at Dibon-gad. 46 They journeyed from Dibon-gad and camped at Almon-diblathaim.” (Nu. 33:45-46; 21:30; Is. 15:9). After a war with two Amorite kings (the two cakes), “Israel lived [at Dibon Gad] in the land of the Amorites.” (Nu. 21:31). God gave the Jews this land and its possessions to prepare them for the Promised Land. Yet, the tribes of Reuben and Gad later decided that they liked the pleasures of what they could see there more than God’s promised land (Nu. 32:1-5). The name Dibon Gad means “pining” or “wasting.” The tribes who lived outside the protections of the promised land later wasted in strength.

  • (Station No. 41) God will provide safe passage to His people. The Jews then camped in the mountains of Abarim, near Nebo. “47 They journeyed from Almon-diblathaim and camped in the mountains of Abarim, before Nebo.” (Nu. 33:47). The name means “passages.” God provided safe passage to His people in the wilderness.

  • (Station No. 42) God meant for His people to be set apart from the world around them. The Jews then camped on the plains of Moab by the Jordan across from Jericho. On the plains of Moab, they camped along the Jordan from Beth Jeshimoth to Abel Shittim. “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.” (Nu. 33:48-49). Abel Shittim was a meadow of the acacias, frequently called simply “shittim” (Nu. 25:1; Josh. 2:1; Mic. 6:5). Here, Balaam tried unsuccessfully to curse Israel (Nu. 22-24). Then, Balaam, the Moabites, and the Midianites conspired to defile thousands of Jewish men with temple prostitutes (Nu. 25:1-2, 16-18; 31:16). In the comfort of the acacia groves after years of wandering in the wilderness, the Jews gave in to temptation. God responded by killing 24,000 Jews (Nu. 25:9) and thousands of Midianities (Nu. 31:7-18). We are to be set apart and holy as God’s holy priesthood (1 Pet. 2:5, 9; Rev. 1:6). We must not defile ourselves with the things of the world.

6. Through Mercy and Grace, God will Forget the Details of Your Sins in the Wilderness.

  • Rejoice that your sins will be blotted out. It is hard to know what sins the Jews committed simply by reading a travel log of the places that they went to. But that is exactly the point that God is trying to make. “For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more.” (Heb. 8:12). “I, even I, am He who blots out your transgressions, for My own sake, and remembers your sins no more.” (Is. 43:25). “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.” (Jer. 31:34). “[S]earch will be made for Israel’s guilt, but there will be none, and for the sins of Judah, but none will be found, for I will forgive the remnant I spare.” (Jer. 5:20). Give thanks that the sins on your journey will also be forgotten (Ro. 8:1).

  • Fill your book with things that will be remembered. Although God will forget your sins, He is anxious to reward you for your acts of faith, charity, and love. Store up for yourself treasures in heaven and a scrap book of great things to remember in heaven. Don’t make your book in heaven look like the Jews’ empty travel log.

7. Don’t Make Your Journey Wasted By Placing Yourself Back in Bondage. Nu. 33:50-56.

  • The command to drive out the Canaanites and their culture. God concluded with a warning for the Jews to keep the Promised Land from turning into a new place of bondage: “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 the Jordan into the land of Canaan, 52 you shall drive out all the inhabitants of the land from you, and destroy all their idolatrous sculptures, destroy all their cast metal images, and eliminate 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 maintain the land as an inheritance 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 pass on land as an inheritance according to the tribes of your fathers. 55 But if you do not drive out the inhabitants of the land from you, then it will come about that those whom you let remain of them will be like thorns in your eyes and like pricks in your sides, and they will trouble you in the land in which you live. 56 And just as I plan to do to them, I will do to you.’” (Nu. 33:50-56). God told the Jews to drive out the Canaanites and to “destroy all their figured stones and destroy all their molten images and demolish all their high places.” (Nu. 33:52). He warned that the Canaanites would become a snare to them if they tried to live with them: “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 side.” (Nu. 33:55; Ex. 23:23-33; Dt. 7:1-6; 12:29). God is “a jealous God.” (Ex. 20:3-6). He took great efforts to free the Jews. He did not free them from enslavement to Egyptian vices, only see them become enslaved to Canaanite vices. The same lesson applies to us. You must never take for granted how Jesus delivered at the cross.

  • Keep yourself free from the influences of the world. God commands you to be holy. (Lev. 11:44-7). For you are His light in this world (Matt. 5:14). “If your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness.” (Matt. 6:23). “You are [also] the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men.” (Matt. 5:13). “If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in Him (1 Jo. 2:15). If there are things in your life that are putting you into bondage, you must cut them out of your life. If you don’t, they will be “pricks” and “thorns” in your life (Nu. 33:55). Jesus freed you from your bondage with the ultimate sacrifice. Don’t make His sacrifice wasted by placing yourself back into bondage. Are you misusing His mercy and grace as a license to sin?

  • A special inheritance awaits those in heaven who are faithful. At the end of the journey, God repeats His instructions that everyone “live” in the Promised Land (Nu. 33:53). He also wants all of us to live in the Promised Land. He does not want any to perish. “The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.” (2 Pet. 3:9). His Word was a rebuke to the tribes of Rueben, Gad, and half of Manasseh, who decided to live outside the Promised Land (Nu. 32:33-42). God repeated His promise that the tribes’ reward in the Promised Land would be both by grace and by obedience. The division of land by lot (Nu. 33:54; 26:55) was an unearned act of grace. The Jews did nothing to deserve being there. Yet, the amount of their land would be increased or decreased based upon the size of the tribes (Nu. 33:55; 26:54). The size of each tribe was in turn directly related to their blessings from obedience or decline from rebellion. Our inheritance in heaven is also in part rewarded by mercy and grace. “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God;” (Eph. 2:8). We don’t deserve to be there. Yet, if we are faith-led obedient here on Earth, God has rewards for us in heaven. Store up your treasures in heaven, not here on Earth (Matt. 5:12).