Looking back to move ahead: Numbers 33


Today’s reading: Numbers 33-34.

Sometimes we ignore our past because we are so preoccupied by the present, or because we want to forget some of its painful events. But God keeps reminding his people, and us, to look back and remember so that we can celebrate all that God has done in our lives.

At the LORD’s command Moses recorded the stages in their journey. This is their journey by stages… Numbers 33:2

Moses lists the forty-odd places that the Israelites camped during their forty years in the wilderness. The list isn’t exhaustive. There are a few other places mentioned elsewhere, and there might have been others not important enough to write down. Some of the names are familiar. Some are unknown. Here are a few of them:

  • Succoth. Literally, booths. Their first night on the road out of Egypt, camping in makeshift shelters. It’s also a name for the Feast of Tabernacles.
  • near Migdol. Up against the Red Sea. Water before them and Pharaoh’s chariots closing in upon them. God delivers them by parting the sea.
  • Marah, where the water was too bitter to drink until God told Moses how to make it sweet.
  • Desert of Sinai, including Mt. Sinai, where God gave them the Law.
  • Kibroth Hattaavah, the “graves of lusting” where many who were dissatisfied with manna died when they gorged themselves on the quail that God sent.
  • Kadesh-Barnea, the oasis where the Israelites first camped as they spied out the Promised Land, rejecting the call of Joshua and Caleb to invade. Nearly forty years later the Israelites return to Kadesh as the older generation dies out.
  • Mount Hor, where Aaron died.
  • the plains of Moab, where Balaam blessed them but taught the Midianites how to entice them to sexual immorality and idolatry.

As Samuel would later tell the Israelites, set up a stone of remembrance, Ebenezer, so that you will recall how God helped you, and know that the LORD brought you all this way. Each of us needs to set up our own monuments that remind us how God helped us. Certainly we want to remember the victories God gave us. As for our failures, we need to remind ourselves that even then God was working to forgive us and get us back on the road. Moses’ list recalls every place that God camped with them, giving them victory and retrieving them from defeat.

The forty-two stations named in Numbers 33 as camping places for the children of Israel on their way to Palestine, while they cannot all of them be identified, can be determined in sufficient numbers to show that it is not a fictitious list, nor a mere pilgrim’s diary, since the scenes of greatest interest, like the region immediately about Mount Sinai, are specially adapted to the great transactions which are recorded as taking place. Besides, it is incredible that a writer of fiction should have encumbered his pages with such a barren catalogue of places. But as part of the great historical movement they are perfectly appropriate.  George Frederick Wright, in The Testimony of the Monuments to the Truth of the Scriptures by R. A. Torrey


Image by deeplifequotes on Flickr, CC by-nc-sa 2.0