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Reference: Wilderness Of The Wanderings


(On Israel's route from Rameses to Sinai. (See EXODUS; EGYPT.) Kadesh or Kadesh Burned ("son of wandering" (Bedouin), or "land of earthquake," as Ps 29:8, "the Lord shaketh the wilderness of Cades") was the encampment from which the spies were sent and to which they returned (Nu 13:26; 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 Nu 12:16 with Nu 33:18, and Nu 13:3,21-26, 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 (Nu 33:18); Kadesh the second encampment, in the same district though not on the same spot, in the 40th year (Nu 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 (Nu 20:21-22). From the low ground of Kadesh the spies "went up" to search the land, which is called the mountain (Nu 13:17,21-22). The early encampment at Rithmah (Nu 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, Nu 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 (Nu 20:1).

At the first encampment they were at Kadesh for at least the 40 days of the spies' search (Nu 13:25); here Moses and the tabernacle remained (Nu 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," De 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 (De 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 (Nu 13:26; the limestone of the pyramids is thought to have been brought from Et Tih).

To this period belong the 17 stages of Nu 33:19-36. Early in the 40th year (Nu 20:1) Israel reassembled at Kadesh and stayed for three or four months (compare Nu 20:1 with Nu 20:22-28; 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 Nu 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 (Nu 21:3). In Nu 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 Nu 13:26; 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 Nu 15-19. The last year in the wilderness, the 40th, is referred to in Nu 20-36. During the 38 years Israel trafficked in provisions with surrounding tribes (De 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 (Nu 33:35). Traces of a population and resources are found in parts of the wilderness where now there are neither.

The hardships alluded to (De 1:19; 2:3; 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. Nu 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 (De 8:4 ff, De 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 (Isa 63:11-14; Ne 9:21; Am 2:10). God often besides at Rephidim and Kadesh (Ex 17:1, etc., Numbers 20) interposed to supply water (Jg 5:4; Ps 68:7, etc.; Isa 35:1, etc., Isa 41:17; 49:9-10; Ho 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 Eze 20:15 ff; Am 5:25, etc.; Ho 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 Ps 107:4,35-36). 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 (Nu 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 (Heb 11:13-16).

Next Etham, their strength, the believer's confidence of never being moved (Ps 30:6-7). At Pihahiroth Israel, shut in between the wil

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