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Wilderness Wanderings

On Israel's route from Rameses to Sinai. Kadesh or Kadesh Burned ("son of wandering" (Bedouin), or "land of earthquake," as Psalm 29:8, "the Lord shaketh the wilderness of Cades") was the encampment from which the spies were sent and to which they returned (Numbers 13:26; Numbers 32:8), on the W. of the wilderness of Zin, which was N.E. of the wilderness of Paran; S. of the wilderness of Paran was the wilderness of Sinai between the gulfs of Akabah and Suez. Comparing Numbers 12:16 with Numbers 33:18, and Numbers 13:3; Numbers 13:21-26, we see that the Kadesh of Numbers 13 is the Rithmah of Numbers 33. The stages catalogued in this last chapter are those visited during the years of penal wandering.
        Rithmah (from retem the "broom" abounding there) designates the encampment during the first march toward Canaan (Numbers 33:18); Kadesh the second encampment, in the same district though not on the same spot, in the 40th year (Numbers 33:36-38); N. of Mount Her where Aaron died, and to which Israel marched as the first stage in their journey when denied a passage through Mount Seir (Numbers 20:21-22). From the low ground of Kadesh the spies "went up" to search the land, which is called the mountain (Numbers 13:17; Numbers 13:21-22). The early encampment at Rithmah (Numbers 33:18-19) took place in midsummer in the second year after the Exodus (for Israel left Sinai the 20th day of the second month, Numbers 10:11, i.e. the middle of May; next the month at Kibroth Hattaavah would bring them to July); the later at Kadesh the first month of the 40th year (Numbers 20:1).
        At the first encampment they were at Kadesh for at least the 40 days of the spies' search (Numbers 13:25); here Moses and the tabernacle remained (Numbers 14:44) when the people presumptuously tried to occupy the land in spite of Jehovah's sentence dooming all above 20 to die in the wilderness (the name Kadesh, "holy," may be due to the long continuance of the holy tabernacle there). After their repulse they lingered for long ("many days," Deuteronomy 1:45-46) hoping for a reversal of their punishment. At last they broke up their prolonged encampment at Kadesh and compassed Mount Seir many days (Deuteronomy 2:1), i.e. wandered in the wilderness of Paran until the whole generation of murmurers had died. The wilderness is called Et Tih, i.e. "of wandering," or "Paran," being surrounded W. and S. by the Paran mountains (Numbers 13:26; the limestone of the pyramids is thought to have been brought from Et Tih).
        To this period belong the 17 stages of Numbers 33:19-36. Early in the 40th year (Numbers 20:1) Israel reassembled at Kadesh and stayed for three or four months (compare Numbers 20:1 with Numbers 20:22-28; Numbers 33:38). Miriam died here. Soon the people gathered here in full number, exhausted the water supply, and were given water miraculously from the rock. Thence proceeding, they were at Mount Hor refused a passage through Edom; then by the marches of Numbers 33:41-49 they went round Edom's borders to Moab's plains. At Mount Hor Arad attacked them and brought destruction on his cities (Numbers 21:3). In Numbers 20:1 the words "Israel even the whole congregation" mark the reassembling of the people at the close of the 40 years, as the same words in Numbers 13:26; Numbers 14:1, mark the commencement of the penal wandering.
        The 38 intervening years are a blank, during which the covenant was in abeyance and the "congregation" broken up. The tabernacle and its attendant Levites, priests, and chiefs, formed the rallying point, moving from time to time to the different stations specified up and down the country as the people's head quarters. Qehelathah and Makhelot ("assembling," "assemblies") were probably places of extraordinary gatherings. At other times the Israelites were scattered over the wilderness of Paran as nomads feeding their flocks wherever they found pasture. This dispersion for foraging meets the objections raised on the ground of subsistence for such a multitude for so long. The plain er Rahah, W. of Sinai, now bare, is described by a traveler in the 16th century as a "vast green plain." The forests then existing tended to produce a greater rainfall and therefore better pasture than at present, when scarcely any wood is left (the Bedouins burning the acacias for charcoal).
        Various events and enactments belonging to the 38 years' wandering (the law of the meat offering, the stoning of the Sabbath breaker, etc., Numbers 15; Korah's rebellion, etc., Numbers 16; Aaron's rod budding, Numbers 17; the Levites' and priests' charge and portion, Numbers 18; the red heifer water of separation, Numbers 19) are recorded in Numbers 15:1-19:22. The last year in the wilderness, the 40th, is referred to in Numbers 20:1-36:13. During the 38 years Israel trafficked in provisions with surrounding tribes (Deuteronomy 2:26-29). The desert of wandering was the highway of caravans between Egypt and the East. Fish was obtainable from the Red Sea. They were encamped close to it at Ezion Geber (Numbers 33:35). Traces of a population and resources are found in parts of the wilderness where now there are neither.
        The hardships alluded to (Deuteronomy 1:19; Deuteronomy 2:3; Deuteronomy 8:15) refer to the 4Oth year marches through the Arabah, which seemed the worse by contrast with the fertile plains of Moab which they next reached. Numbers 21:4, "the soul of the people was much discouraged because of the way." Down the Arabah between the limestone cliffs of the Tih on the W. and the granite of Mount Seir on the E. they were for some days in a mountain plain of loose sand, gravel, and granite detritus, with little food or water, and exposed to sandstorms from the shore of the gulf. This continued until a few hours N. of Akaba (Ezion Geber), where the wady Ithm opened to their left a passage in the mountains northward to fertile Moab. The mauna, the quails, and the water, are but samples of God's continuous care (Deuteronomy 8:4 ff, Deuteronomy 29:5).
        The non waxing old of their raiment means God so supplied their wants, partly by ordinary and occasionally by miraculous means, that they never lacked new and untattered garments and shoes to prevent the foot swelling. Sheep, oxen, and traffic with tribes of the desert, ordinarily (under God's providence) supplied their need (Isaiah 63:11-14; Nehemiah 9:21; Amos 2:10). God often besides at Rephidim and Kadesh (Exodus 17:1, etc., Numbers 20) interposed to supply water (Judges 5:4; Psalm 68:7, etc.; Isaiah 35:1, etc., Isaiah 41:17; Isaiah 49:9-10; Hosea 2:14), and the Israelites from their stay in Egypt knew how to turn to best account all such supplies.
        It was a period of apostasy (compare Ezekiel 20:15 ff; Amos 5:25, etc.; Hosea 9:10). The Israelites probably made somewhat comfortable booths (as the booths erected in commemoration at the feast of tabernacles prove) and dwellings for themselves in their 38 years' stay (compare Psalm 107:4; Psalm 107:35-36). According to some they were the writers of the Sinaitic inscriptions in the wady Mokatteb, deciphered by Forster as recording events in their history at that time. Their stays in the several stations varied according to the guidance of the divine cloud from two days to a month or a year (Numbers 9:22). The date palm (generally dwarf but abounding in sustenance), acacia, and tamarisk are often found in the desert. From the acacia (Mimosa Nilotica) came the shittim wood of the tabernacle and gum arabic.
        The retem (KJV "juniper") or broom yields excellent charcoal, which is the staple of the desert. Ras Sufsafeh, the scene of the giving of the law, means willow head, willows abounding there, also hollyhocks and hawthorns, hyssop and thyme. The ghurkud is thought to be the tree cast by Moses into the Marah bitter waters; growing in hot and salt regions, and bearing a red juicy acidulous berry, but the fruit ripens in June, later than Israel's arrival at Marah. Mount Serbal may be named from its abounding in myrrh (ser). Spiritually, Rameses (dissolution of evil), Israel's starting point, answers to the penitent soul's first conviction of sin, haste to flee from wrath, and renunciation of evil. Israel's course first was straight for Canaan; so the believer's, under first impressions, is direct toward heaven. Succoth next, the place of booths, answers to the believer's pilgrim spirit (Hebrews 11:13-16).
        Next Etham, their strength, the believer's confidence of never being moved (Psalm 30:6-7). At Pihahiroth Israel, shut in between the wilderness, the mountains, and the sea, and pursued by Pharaoh's mighty hosts, answers to the believer's suddenly finding himself powerless, in great straits, and so driven to cry unto God. Man's extremity becomes God's opportunity. The month of destruction becomes "the month of deliverance" or else "wells," as Pihahiroth means; a glorious passage is opened to him through the Red Sea, i.e. a new and living way through the blood of Christ (Hebrews 10:19-20; 2 Timothy 4:17) He is baptized unto Christ not Moses, giving him dominion over sin through Christ's resurrection, whereby he too is raised from the death of sin (1 Corinthians 10:2; Romans 6:3-7); consequently, he sings the song of Moses and of the Lamb (Exodus 15; Revelation 15:3; Isaiah 12:1-3; Psalm 40:1-3).
        But he does not go far before he reaches Marah with its two bitter wells, afflictions seldom come single. He cries to Jehovah (Exodus 15:25) who in answer shows him the tree of life, whose leaves are for the healing of the nations, the cross of Christ which through faith by the operation of the Holy Spirit sweetens every bitter (Rth 1:20 margin; John 16:14; Revelation 22:2). The shortest distance between one encampment and another is that from Marah to Elim (a park or paradise of oaks) with its twelve pure springs and 70 palms; so happy communion with God follows close upon sanctified affliction. Next, Israel goes to the Red Sea to the plain of Taiyibeh ("good"); so it is good for the believer to go back to the blood of sprinkling. Next in the wilderness of Sin ("dross") Israel feeds on the heaven sent manna, their own resources failing; so the believer as he advances begins wholly to by faith on Christ the true counting all else but dross.
        Next, Dophkah signifies the believer's knocking at the heavenly door. Next, Alush (the lion's den) reminds us of the roaring lion Satan (1 Peter 5:8). Here Amalek ("your vexation"), i.e. the believer's besetting sin, is near, ready to "smite the hindmost" or laggers behind (Deuteronomy 25:18). Rephidim ("places of refreshment") with its water from the smitten rock typifies Christ, by being smitten yielding the living water (John 7:37-39; John 4:14). After so drinking Israel smote Amalek (Exodus 17:8); so faith which appropriates Jesus by the Spirit is what overcometh the world (1 John 5:4). The giving of the law at Sinai, and its being written by the finger of God on stone tables, typify the writing of the gospel law on the heart by the Holy Spirit.
        Israel's Sinaitic Pentecost answers to the Christian church's one, 50 days after Passover, our Good Friday and Easter (Acts 2; 2 Corinthians 3:2-7). Israel's material tabernacle of God typifies the spiritual tabernacle of God in the heart (John 14:23). Sinai with its fire marks that stage in the believer's life when, after having believed, he is brought nearer to God than before, being sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, the earnest of his coming inheritance (Ephesians 1:13-14). Kibroth Hattaavah ("the graves of lust") follows, the burial of remaining lusts with Christ by spiritual baptism. Then Hazeroth, "porch," the vestibule of heaven. Kadesh (holiness) is the last stage to heaven, were it not for backslidings. Then follows a miserable, irregular course, at one time toward Canaan, then back toward the Egypt of the world or to the Sinai of legalism; a spiritual blank, marked only by the Sabbath breaking case and the Korah rebellion against spiritual authority.
        Still Jehovah withdraws not His pillar of cloud and fire. If the backslider return to Kadesh, weeping there for his provocations (Deuteronomy 1:45), Jesus, the antitypical Joshua, will still bring him to the heavenly Canaan, though by a more trying way and with sore temptations, even at the hour of death, as Israel suffered from Baal-peor at the verge of Jordan (Numbers 25:1). A line drawn from Gaza to the S. of the Dead Sea bounds Israel proper. S. of the line is the desert now, which once contained the negeb or "S. country," and the Gerar pastures (Genesis 10:19; Genesis 20:1). S. of this lies the desert proper, a limestone plateau, projecting wedge-like into the Sinai peninsula, just as Sinai itself projects into the Red Sea. The cliff jebel Magrah, 70 miles S. of Hebron, terminates the hill country; et Tih, the southern portion, ends in a long cliff. It is drained on the W. by wady el Arish, "the stream of Egypt" (Isaiah 27:12), the southern bound of Israel, and on the E. by the wady el Deib going into the Dead Sea.
        The desert proper has only a few springs in the wadies, from whence by scraping holes one can bale up a little yellowish muddy water. Flints and fine black detritus form the surface, with parched brown herbage most of the year except for a brief season of verdure in spring. Stone circles and cairns attest the former existence of a primeval population. From this one ascends the plateau jebel el Mugrah, and then is in the hill country, "the South." Here are seen the stone remains of a prehistoric race and the hazerot or fenced enclosures of a pastoral people, probably the Amalekites whom Israel found here at the time of the Exodus. In a steep on the edge of the plateau is Ain Gadis (Kadesh according to Palmer, the starting point of the 40 years' wandering and again after it their starting point to Mount Hor and Canaan). In Numbers 13:17; Numbers 13:22, "they ascended by the S. (i.e. they ascended the plateau and passed through the negeb or south country) to Hebron," which was N.
        In the district at the head of wady Gharundel and beyond Ain Howharah are found nawamis, which tradition makes into houses built by Israelites to shield from the mosquitoes (compare the fiery flying serpents): circular, ten feet diameter, of unhewn stone, covered with a dome shaped roof, the top closed by a stone slab, and the sides weighted to prevent their springing out, the entrance door only two feet high, the hearth marked by charred wood and bones. They resemble the Shetland shielings or bothan. A second kind consists of stone circles, some 100 ft. in diameter, a cyst in the center covered with large boulders and having human skeletons; evidently sepulchral. The homes of the living close by were a collection of circles enclosed with rudely heaped walls, the permanent camps of a pastoral people; they sacrificed at the tombs of their dead. Possibly it was here that the hungry Israelites "ate the sacrifices of the dead" (Psalm 106:28); but "the dead" may mean the dead idols as opposed to the living God.
        These camps are mostly below jebel el Ejmeh, made of boulders packed together. At Erweis el Ebeirig there is elevated ground covered with stone enclosures not like the former. On a small hill is an erection of rough stones surmounted by a pyramidal white block; enclosures with stone hearths exhibiting the action of fire exist for miles around. Beneath the surface charcoal was found, and outside a number of stone heaps, evidently graves. Arab tradition makes these remains "the relics of a large hajj caravan, who on their way to Ain Hudherah lost their way in the desert Tih and never were heard of again." The Hebrew hag means a "feast" (Exodus 10:9), which was Israel's avowed object in going into the wilderness. No Muslim hajj ever could pass this way; the distance is just a day's journey from Ain Hudherah. All these marks identify this interesting site with the scene of Numbers 11:33-35; "there they buried the people that lusted, and the people journeyed from Kibroth Hattaavah unto Hazeroth and abode at Hazeroth."

Bibliography Information
Fausset, Andrew Robert M.A., D.D., "Definition for 'wilderness wanderings' Fausset's Bible Dictionary". - Fausset's; 1878.

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