The Forty Years in the Wilderness

Israel's Journey to the Promised Land

Outline and Chronology of the Journey

  • Departure from Egypt: 1st month l5th day

  • Cross the Red Sea

  • At Marah; Elim; Wilderness of Sin;

    • People Murmur

    • Quails and Manna 2nd month l5th day

  • At Rephidim: Water from Rock;

    • Battle with Amalek; Jethro

  • At Sinai: Ten Commandments; Covenant; 3rd month (?) day

    • Book of Laws; Moses 40 days in Mt.

    • Golden Calf; 2nd 40 days in Mt.

    • Tabernacle Built; Census 2nd year 2nd month last day

    • Set forward from Sinai 2nd year 2nd month 20th day

    • Had been at Sinai about a year

  • At Taberah: Fire; Quails; Plague

  • At Hazeroth:

    • Sedition of Miriam and Aaron

  • At Kadesh-barnea: Spies Sent;

    • People Rebel; Moses Intercedes;

    • People Defeated; More Laws;

    • Korah; 14,700 die; Aaron's Rod

  • 38 years in Surrounding Wilderness

  • At Kadesh-barnea, second time: 40th year last month

    • Miriam's Death; Water from

    • Rock; Moses' Sin

  • Final Start for Canaan

  • Edom Refuses Passage

  • Ar Mt. Hor: Aaron' Death 40th year 5th month last day

    • Israel Defeats Canaanites

    • South from Mt. Hor: Serpents

    • East and North around Edom

  • Then North along East Border of Moab

  • Conquer Amorites and Bashan

  • Camp on the Plains of Moab:

    • Balaam; Sin of Peor;

    • 24,000 Slain; Census;

    • Destruction of Midianites;

    • 2 1/2 Tribes Settles East of Jordan;

    • Moses' Farewell; His Death 40th year 11th month 1st day

  • They Cross the Jordan 41st year 1st month 10th day

  • Keep Passover; Manna Ceases 41st year 1st month 14th day

Chapter 1. The Census

This census, taken at Mt. Sinai, showed 603,550 males above the age of 20, exclusive of Levites (45-47). Another census, 38 years later, showed 601,730 (see chapter 26).

Chapters 2, 3, 4. Organization of the Camp

Every detail was assigned with military precision. This was necessary in handling so vast a multitude. Arrangement of tribes was:

When they broke camp, Judah and eastern tribes led the march. In center, the Tabernacle was bulwarked with southern and western tribes; northern tribes bringing up the rear.

Chapters 5, 6 . A Group of Laws

About Lepers; Restitution; Women suspected of Adultery; Vows. The Beautiful Benediction (6:24-26).

Chapters 7, 8, 9. Preparation for the Journey

Offerings of the Princes. Dedication of the Tabernacle. Levites Consecrated. Passover Observed. Could (9:15-25, see on Exodus 13:21).

Chapter 10, 11. They Set Forward to the Promised Land

At Mt. Sinai one year. The Cloud lifted. The Silver Trumpets sounded. Judah led the march. And they were on their way.

Within 3 days, at Taberah, they began Murmuring (10:33; 11:1-3). That was their specialty. They knew hot to Complain. God sent them quails, but smote them with a plague. (See on Exodus 16.)

Chapter 12. Sedition of Miriam and Aaron

Poor Miriam, before it was over, wished she had never started the thing. Moses was "very meek" (3). What an admirable trait in one of the greatest men of the ages! Jesus, was "meek," and said, "Blessed are the meek" (Matthew 5:5; 11:29).

Chapters 13,14. The Twelve Spies Sent lo Canaan

Moses planned to go directly from Sinai to Canaan, He went straight to Kadesh, 150 miles north of Sinai, 50 miles south of Beersheba, the south gateway to Canaan, intending to enter at once,

But the Spies brought a discouraging report, and the people refused to go forward, and would have stoned Moses except for the miraculous intervention of God. This was the crucial point of the journey. Within sight of the Promised Land, they turned back. For them the opportunity Never Returned. Caleb and Joshua, the two spies who wanted to go forward, were the only ones of the 600,000 men over 20 who lived to enter Canaan.

Chapters 15 to 19. Various Laws. Korah

Korah, jealous of Moses, sought to usurp his leadership. Moses went straight to God. And God settled the matter in no time. The earth opened, and the rebels went down.

Moses' Troubles

He sure had a lot of them. No sooner was he out of Egypt than trouble began. The Amalekites attacked immediately, and a year later at Kadesh. Edomites, Moabites, Ammonites, Amorites and Midianites, all joined hands to block Israel's path to Canaan.

And his own people, who had been delivered out of Egypt, and sustained, by Marvelous Miracles, murmured and murmured, and complained and complained and rebelled and rebelled. They began complaining in Egypt. Then at the Red Sea. Then at Marah. Then in the Wilderness of Sin. Then at Rephidim; at Taberah; Hazeroth;

Meribah; and now at Kadesh, in sight of the Promised Land, they flatly refused to go further, which must have well-nigh broken Moses heart.

Besides all this Moses had no end of trouble with his own trusted leaders. Aaron made the golden calf at Sinai. Miriam and Aaron tried to usurp his authority (chapter. 12). 10 of the 12 Spies led the people in their refusal to enter Canaan. They were ready to stone Moses (14:10; Exodus 17:4).

And, last of all, Moses was not permitted to enter the Promised Land, the one lifetime dream of his heart.

Except for the Miraculous Grace of God, we do not see how he could have borne up under it all. But when, on the banks of the Jordan, God took him to the Upper Land, then he understood.

Chapter 2O. Final Start for Canaan

There seems to be a gap of 38 years between the 19th and 20th chapter, covering the internal between the first arrival at Kadesh (13:26), and the final departure from Kadesh for Canaan. In the 33rd chapter there is a list of encampments, 40 in all, from Egypt to the Plains of Moab. Of these, 18 were between Rithmah and Kadesh. Rithmah may be another name for Kadesh.

We judge, from the expression, "many days at Kadesh" (Deuteronomy 1:46), and the mention of these 18 camping stations between the first and second arrivals at Kadesh, that, possibly, Kadesh may have been a sort of general headquarters, with these other encampments as God directed. Remaining for some time at one spot, with their flocks and herds on surrounding hills and valleys. Then moving on at signal from the Tent.

Moses' Sin, which cost him the Promised Land, seems to have been his failure to Give God Credit for the Miracle of Water (10: 12).

Miriam, Aaron and Moses Died, all three, in the same year. Miriam, at Kadesh (1), Aaron, at Mt. Hor (28). Moses, in Mt. Nebo (Deuteronomy 32:50; 34:1, 5). Miriam, about 130. Aaron, 123. Moses, 120.

"Gathered to his people" (24), is a beautiful Old Testament expression for Death, hinting Reunion with Loved Ones beyond the grave.

ARCHAEOLOGICAL NOTE: Kadesh-barnea (20:1; Deuteronomy 1:19). is now generally identified as 'Ain Kadees, a "strangely beautiful" oasis, fed by Two springs flowing from beneath a Rock cliff. Alongside is a dry spring. Cobern thinks that Moses must have struck the Rock above the Dry Spring. He struck "twice" (Numbers 20:11); and these Two new springs burst forth; and are still flowing.

Chapter 21. From Kadesh to the Jordan

Perhaps the coalition of Amalekites and Canaanites just to the north of Kadesh seemed too strong for Israel to attempt the direct route to Hebron. At any rate, God had other plans.

They started eastward, to go up the east shore of the Dead See, through Edom's territory. But Edom refused permission.

Then Moses turned southward, down the Araba, the desolate valley extending from Dead Sea to Red Sea, "a great and terrible wilderness," for the long, and circuitous, and hazardous route, around Edom and Moab, and then northward, along the borders of Arabia, as far as to Bashan, east of the Sea of Galilee, and then southwestward to the

Plains of Moab, opposite Jericho. God commanded Moses not to molest the Edomites, Moabites or Ammonites, even though they tried to stop Israel.

The Fiery Serpent (6-9). An historical fore-picture of the Gospel. As those who were bitten by poisonous serpents looked to the Brazen Serpent, and were healed; so, if we, who have been wounded by Sin, Look to Jesus, we Live (John 1:14).

The Israelites afterward made an Idol of the Brazen Serpent, called it Nehushtan, and burned incense to it, till 700 years later, Hezekiah destroyed it (2 Kings 18:4).

Conquest of Gilead and Bashan (21-35). The Amorites, who had crossed to the east of the Jordan, attacked Israel. Moses had refrained from attacking any of the nations through whose country he marched. But now that the Amorites attacked, he fought back, and took their country. Then Bashan attacked; and he defeated them; and the region east of the Jordan was his.

How Could the Wilderness Support 3,000,000 tor 40 Years?

By the DIRECT MIRACULOUS HELP OF GOD. The Miracles were so Continuous and so Stupendous that the evident intention of the record is that it Could Not Have Been Done Except by the Hand of God. To those who find it difficult to believe these things, we

answer: for some of us, it is easier to believe them, exactly as they are recorded, than it is to believe the Strange and Fanciful Theories invented to discredit them. They are in accord whit the entire Bible story. The numbers recorded may be a misreading of the text. Perhaps the "thousands" were "clan groups." If so, it might be possible drastically to reduce the totals without doing despite- to the text.

The Purpose of the Wilderness Miracles, we may think, was: 1. To Preserve the Nation. In God's plan a Messianic Nation had been devised to pave the way for a Coming Messiah. 2. To build in the nation, which had been nurtured in Egyptian Idolatry, Faith in

GOD, the One True God; and to be en Example, for all time to come, that God can be Trusted in all the exigencies of life. 3. For effect on surrounding nations, particularly Canaanites; that they might understand that the movement of Israel toward Canaan was of God, and that it would be with God that they would have to reckon.

Aside from various accompanying miracles, the Transplanting of a Whole Great Nation, bodily, from one land to another' meanwhile maintaining it 40 years in a Desert, was in itself one of the most Stupendous Miracles to the ages.

ARCHAEOLOGICAL NOTE: Israel's Route. Recent excavations have revealed the ruins of hundreds of fortified cities that once covered the hills of Moab, Ammon and Gilead, indicating dense populations, and powerful peoples, of the time of Moses.

Chapters 22 to 25 Balaam

His prophecies were a remarkable prediction of Israel's influential place in history, through a "Star," to arise out of Jacob (24:17). Though God used him to utter correct prophecy, yet, Balaam, for money, was instigator of Israel's shameful Sin with Moabite and Midianite Women, for which Balaam was slain, and 24,000 Israelites perished (31:8, 16; 25:9). And Balaam's name became a synonym (2 Peter 2:15; Jude 11; Revelation 2:14).

Chapter 26. 2nd Census

Wilderness life must have been hard, for, of 600,000 above 20, at the first census (chapter 1), only 2 beyond 60 survived. The younger generation inured to, and hardened by, the desert, were a different class of men from what their fathers had been as slaves freshly freed from the fleshpots of Egypt. The book of NUMBERS is named from these Censuses.

Chapters 27 to 36. Various Regulations and Events

Brotherless Daughters (27). Feasts and Offerings (28, 29). Vows (30). Slaughter of Midianites (11). Two Tribes and a Half settled east of Jordan (32). Summarized Diary of the 40 Years (31), Directions for the Division of the Land (34; see on Joshua 13). Levitical Cities (35: see on Joshua 21). Brotherless Daughters (36, also 27).

The Jewish Calendar

There was a Sacred year, and a Civil year. The Sacred year began in the Spring. The Civil year began in the Fall. The 7th Sacred month was the 1st Civil month. The Year was divided into 12 Lunar Months, with a 13th Month 7 times in every 19 years.

The Natural Day was from sunrise to sunset. The Natural Night, from sunset to sunrise. The Civil Day was from sunset to sunset.

Hours were counted from 6 in the morning, and 6 in the evening. The First Watch, in the evening, was from 6 to 9; Second Watch,

9 to 12; Third Watch, 12 to 3; Fourth Watch, 1 to 6.

The Feast of Dedication was instituted later in Maccabean times; the Feast of Purim, in the times of Esther.


The Bible is God's Word. An integral part of the Bible record it MIRACLE, for the Specific Purpose of showing it to be God's Word. Except for Miracles, how could we know it to be a Revelation of God? No Miracle, No Evidence of Deity.

While Miracles ere e very conspicuous feature of the Bible, they are not abundant in all parts of the Bible. Bible Miracles, not including Prophecies and their Fulfillment, are particularly noticeable in Four Great Periods, centuries apart:

    • At Establishment of Nation: Moses and Joshua: 1400 B.C.

    • At Crisis in Struggle with Idolatry: Elijah and Elisha: 850 B.C.

    • At Captivity, when Idolatry was Victorious: Daniel: 600 B.C.

    • At Introduction of Christianity: Jesus and the Apostles.

The Miracles of Moses

Aside from Jesus, it has never been given to any man to be agent of so many stupendous manifestations of Divine Power:

The Plagues of Egypt. Waters of Red Sea Dried Up. Water Made Sweet at Marah. Quails Sent in Wilderness of Sin, and at Taberah. Manna Supplied Daily for ,40 Years. Water from the Rock at Rephidim, and Meribah. Cataclysmic Scenes at Sinai. God's Voice from the Mountain. The Ten Commandments Written on Stone with God's Finger. Moses' Face Shone. Moses Talked Face to Face with God. Miriam's Leprosy Sent and Removed, Korah and his Rebels Swallowed by Earth. Punitive Plagues at Taberah, Kadesh and Peor. Aaron's Rod Buds. People Healed by Brazen Serpent. Balaam's Ass

Speaks. Balaam Utters Amazing Prophecies. Israel Guided 40 Years by a Supernatural Cloud. Clothes Waxed Not Old, and Feet Swelled Not.

Moses could not have delivered Israel out of Egypt, and sustained them in the Wilderness 40 years, without the Direct Miraculous Help of God. This high privilege, as in case of Paul, was accompanied by almost unbelievable Suffering.