Bible Commentary: Numbers 33

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Bible Commentary

Numbers 33

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Israel's Journeys; Instructions for the Conquest of the Land 

This chapter contains a listing of the travels of the children of Israel, covering their 40 years in the wilderness, starting with the Exodus from Egypt. Some of the sites mentioned here, such as many of those in verses 5-18, are mentioned in Exodus and elsewhere in Numbers. Some are only given here, such as most of those mentioned in verses 19-29. But the list is not meant to be comprehensive, as there were other encampments that are not recorded here that are mentioned in Exodus and elsewhere in Numbers. God commanded Moses to draw up this account (verse 2). Since these were only temporary encampments for a traveling people, archaeologists have identified only a few of the actual locations with a reasonable degree of success.

After covering their journeys, God tells Moses to say to the children of Israel, "When you cross the Jordan River into the land of Canaan, you must drive out all the people living there. You must destroy all their carved and molten images and demolish all their pagan shrines" (verses 51-52, New Living Translation). The reason is to cleanse the land for the inheritance of the tribes of Israel so that they can worship the true God without interference from pagan influences and practices. God warns them: "If you fail to drive out the people who live in the land, those who remain will be like splinters in your eyes and thorns in your sides. They will harass you in the land where you live" (verse 55, NLT). God knows the land of Canaan is full of the symbols and representations of idolatrous worship—pictures, graven images, standing images, stone images, carved images, molten images—and false religious worship practices carried out on altars in groves or high places. These things will pollute those who come into contact with them. Jeremiah will later put it this way: "Learn not the way of the heathen" (Jeremiah 10:2, King James Version). If the children of Israel pollute themselves with the trappings of false worship, God warns that they, too, will be driven out of the Promised Land (Numbers 33:56).

As subsequent events will play out, however, Israel will not completely eradicate the pagan inhabitants of Canaan—and, sadly, will ultimately embrace idolatry, be overthrown, and be removed from the Promised Land just as God now warns them.