Nu 33:1-15. Two and Forty Journeys of the Israelites -- from Egypt to Sinai.
1. These are the journeys of the children of Israel -- This chapter may be said to form the winding up of the history of the travels of the Israelites through the wilderness; for the three following chapters relate to matters connected with the occupation and division of the promised land. As several apparent discrepancies will be discovered on comparing the records here given of the journeyings from Sinai with the detailed accounts of the events narrated in the Book of Exodus and the occasional notices of places that are found in that of Deuteronomy, it is probable that this itinerary comprises a list of only the most important stations in their journeys -- those where they formed prolonged encampments, and whence they dispersed their flocks and herds to pasture on the adjacent plains till the surrounding herbage was exhausted. The catalogue extends from their departure out of Egypt to their arrival on the plains of Moab.
went forth ... with their armies -- that is, a vast multitude marshalled in separate companies, but regular order.
2. Moses wrote their goings out according to their journeys by the commandment of the Lord -- The wisdom of this divine order is seen in the importance of the end to which it was subservient -- namely, partly to establish the truth of the history, partly to preserve a memorial of God's marvellous interpositions on behalf of Israel, and partly to confirm their faith in the prospect of the difficult enterprise on which they were entering, the invasion of Canaan.
3. Rameses -- generally identified with Heroopoils, now the modern Abu-Keisheid (see on Ex 12:37), which was probably the capital of Goshen, and, by direction of Moses, the place of general rendezvous previous to their departure.
4. upon their gods -- used either according to Scripture phraseology to denote their rulers (the first-born of the king and his princes) or the idolatrous objects of Egyptian worship.
5. pitched in Succoth -- that is, |booths| -- a place of no note except as a temporary halting place, at Birketel-Hadji, the Pilgrim's Pool [Calmet].
6. Etham -- edge, or border of all that part of Arabia-Petræa which lay contiguous to Egypt and was known by the general name of Shur.
7. Pi-hahiroth, Baal-zephon ... Migdol -- (See on Ex 14:2).
8. Marah -- thought to be Ain Howarah, both from its position and the time (three days) it would take them with their children and flocks to march from the water of Ayun Musa to that spot.
9. Elim -- supposed to be Wady Ghurundel (see on Ex 15:27).
10. encamped by the Red Sea -- The road from Wady Ghurundel leads into the interior, in consequence of a high continuous ridge which excludes all view of the sea. At the mouth of Wady-et-Tayibeh, after about three days' march, it opens again on a plain along the margin of the Red Sea. The minute accuracy of the Scripture narrative, in corresponding so exactly with the geographical features of this region, is remarkably shown in describing the Israelites as proceeding by the only practicable route that could be taken. This plain, where they encamped, was the Desert of Sin (see on Ex 16:1).
12-14. Dophkah ... Alush ... Rephidim -- These three stations, in the great valleys of El Sheikh and Feiran, would be equivalent to four days' journey for such a host. Rephidim (Ex 17:6) was in Horeb, the burnt region -- a generic name for a hot, mountainous country. [See on Ex 17:1.]
15. wilderness of Sinai -- the Wady Er-Raheh.
Nu 33:16-56. From Sinai to Kadesh and Plains of Moab.
16-37. Kibroth-Hattaavah (|the graves of lust,| see on Nu 11:34) -- The route, on breaking up the encampment at Sinai, led down Wady Sheikh; then crossing Jebel-et-Tih, which intersected the peninsula, they descended into Wady Zalaka, pitching successively at two brief, though memorable, stations (De 9:22); then they encamped at Hazeroth (|unwalled villages|), supposed to be at Ain-Hadera (see on Nu 11:35). Kadesh, or Kadesh-barnea, is supposed to be the great valley of the Ghor, and the city Kadesh to have been situated on the border of this valley [Burckhardt; Robinson]. But as there are no less than eighteen stations inserted between Hazeroth and Kadesh, and only eleven days were spent in performing that journey (De 1:2), it is evident that the intermediate stations here recorded belong to another and totally different visit to Kadesh. The first was when they left Sinai in the second month (Nu 1:11; 13:20), and were in Kadesh in August (De 1:45), and |abode many days| in it. Then, murmuring at the report of the spies, they were commanded to return into the desert |by the way of the Red Sea.| The arrival at Kadesh, mentioned in this catalogue, corresponds to the second sojourn at that place, being the first month, or April (Nu 20:1). Between the two visits there intervened a period of thirty-eight years, during which they wandered hither and thither through all the region of El-Tih (|wanderings|), often returning to the same spots as the pastoral necessities of their flocks required; and there is the strongest reason for believing that the stations named between Hazeroth (Nu 33:8) and Kadesh (Nu 33:36) belong to the long interval of wandering. No certainty has yet been attained in ascertaining the locale of many of these stations. There must have been more than are recorded; for it is probable that those only are noted where they remained some time, where the tabernacle was pitched, and where Moses and the elders encamped, the people being scattered for pasture in various directions. From Ezion-geber, for instance, which stood at the head of the gulf of Akaba, to Kadesh, could not be much less than the whole length of the great valley of the Ghor, a distance of not less than a hundred miles, whatever might be the exact situation of Kadesh; and, of course, there must have been several intervening stations, though none are mentioned. The incidents and stages of the rest of the journey to the plains of Moab are sufficiently explicit from the preceding chapters.
18. Rithmah (|the place of the broom|) -- a station possibly in some wady extending westward of the Ghor.
19. Rimmon-parez, or Rimmon -- a city of Judah and Simeon (Jos 15:32); Libnah, so called from its white poplars (Jos 10:29), or, as some think, a white hill between Kadesh and Gaza (Jos 10:29); Rissah (El-arish); mount Shapher (Cassius); Moseroth, adjacent to mount Hor, in Wady Mousa. Ezion-geber, near Akaba, a seaport on the western shore of the Elanitic gulf; Wilderness of Zin, on the east side of the peninsula of Sinai; Punon, in the rocky ravines of mount Hor and famous for the mines and quarries in its vicinity as well as for its fruit trees, now Tafyle, on the border of Edom; Abarim, a ridge of rugged hills northwest of the Arnon -- the part called Nebo was one of its highest peaks -- opposite Jericho. (See on De 10:6).
50-53. ye shall drive out all the inhabitants of the land from before you -- not, however, by expulsion, but extermination (De 7:1).
and destroy all their pictures -- obelisks for idolatrous worship (see on Le 26:1).
and destroy all their molten images, and quite pluck down all their high places -- by metonymy for all their groves and altars, and materials of worship on the tops of hills.
54. ye shall divide the land by lot -- The particular locality of each tribe was to be determined in this manner while a line was to be used in measuring the proportion (Jos 18:10; Ps 16:5, 6).
55. But if ye will not drive out the inhabitants of the land from before you -- No associations were to be formed with the inhabitants; otherwise, |if ye let remain, they will be pricks in your eyes, and thorns in your sides| -- that is, they would prove troublesome and dangerous neighbors, enticing to idolatry, and consequently depriving you of the divine favor and blessing. The neglect of the counsel against union with the idolatrous inhabitants became fatal to them. This earnest admonition given to the Israelites in their peculiar circumstances conveys a salutary lesson to us to allow no lurking habits of sin to remain in us. That spiritual enemy must be eradicated from our nature; otherwise it will be ruinous to our present peace and future salvation.