The stages of the Exodus (Num 33:1-33:49)

“These are the stages by which the Israelites went out of the land of Egypt in military formation under the leadership of Moses and Aaron. Moses wrote down their starting places, stage by stage, by command of Yahweh. These are their stages according to their starting places.”

Here we have the full itinerary of the Exodus from a sacerdotal source with the stops that they made. It is said that Moses wrote this down each place where they stopped. Obviously, throughout, he is doing things at Yahweh’s command. You get a full view of the Exodus, step by step. Most of this is based on the books of Exodus and the early parts of Numbers. Moses and Aaron were clearly the leaders.

“They set out from Rameses in the first month, on the fifteenth day of the first month. On the day after the Passover, the Israelites went out boldly in the sight of all the Egyptians. Meanwhile, the Egyptians were burying all their first-born, whom Yahweh had struck down among them. Yahweh executed judgments even against their gods.”

Everything starts with the Passover in Egypt. The very next day, the 15th day of the 1st month, they set out boldly from Rameses. The Egyptians were burying all their first-born, because Yahweh had struck them down and passed judgment on the Egyptian gods.

“So the Israelites set out from Rameses, and camped at Succoth. They set out from Succoth, and camped at Etham, which is on the edge of the wilderness. They set out from Etham, and turned back to Pi-hahiroth, which faces Baal-zephon. They camped before Migdol. They set out from Pihahiroth, passed through the sea into the wilderness, went a three days’ journey in the wilderness of Etham, and camped at Marah. They set out from Marah, and came to Elim. At Elim there were twelve springs of water and seventy palm trees, and they camped there.”

Where did they go next? Rameses was in Egypt as was Succoth. The town of Etham is a little more difficult to locate, although there is a desert with that name. This town probably was somewhere between Succoth and Baal-zephon, which is also in Egypt. Migdol is like a watch tower, while Pihahiroth is the mouth of the water, about ten miles from Suez, where they crossed the Red Sea. They then went south to Marah, which is in the wilderness of Etham. Elim was about ten miles south of Marah, along the Gulf of Suez or the Red Sea. It almost seems like an oasis with 12 water springs and 70 palm trees. There is no mention of any magical crossing of the Red Sea with the waters killing the Egyptians.

“They set out from Elim, and camped by the Red Sea. They set out from the Red Sea, and camped in the wilderness of Sin. They set out from the wilderness of Sin, and camped at Dophkah. They set out from Dophkah, and camped at Alush. They set out from Alush, and camped at Rephidim, where there was no water for the people to drink.”

Dophkah, Alush, and Rephidim were even further south, being desert camps. They then turned around from Mount Sinai and headed north along the Gulf of Aqaba to a number of desert camps. Obviously Rephidim was not a good place to camp since there was no water.

“They set out from Rephidim, and camped in the wilderness of Sinai. They set out from the wilderness of Sinai, and camped at Kibroth-hattaavah. And they set out from Kibroth-hattaavah, and camped at Hazeroth. They set out from Hazeroth, and camped at Rithmah. They set out from Rithmah, and camped at Rimmon-perez. They set out from Rimmon-perez, and camped at Libnah. They set out from Libnah, and camped at Rissah. They set out from Rissah, and camped at Kehelathah. They set out from Kehelathah, and camped at Mount Shepher. They set out from Mount Shepher, and camped at Haradah. They set out from Haradah, and camped at Makheloth. They set out from Makheloth, and camped at Tahath. They set out from Tahath, and camped at Terah. They set out from Terah, and camped at Mithkah. They set out from Mithkah, and camped at Hashmonah. They set out from Hashmonah, and camped at Moseroth. They set out from Moseroth, and camped at Bene-jaakan. They set out from Bene-jaakan, and camped at Hor-haggidgad. They set out from Hor-haggidgad, and camped at Jotbathah. They set out from Jotbathah, and camped at Abronah. They set out from Abronah, and camped at Ezion-geber. They set out from Ezion-geber, and camped in the wilderness of Zin, that is Kadesh. They set out from Kadesh, and camped at Mount Hor, on the edge of the land of Edom.”

There is very little information about most of these camp stops whose names never appear in any other biblical texts.   They stayed some time at Mount Sinai and at Kadesh, which is near Canaan.

“Aaron the priest went up Mount Hor at the command of Yahweh and died there, in the fortieth year after the Israelites had come out of the land of Egypt, on the first day of the fifth month. Aaron was a hundred and twenty-three years old when he died on Mount Hor. The Canaanite, the king of Arad, who lived in the Negeb in the land of Canaan, heard of the coming of the Israelites.”

Aaron died just as they were to enter the Promised Land in the 40th year of the journey at the age of 123. The Canaanite king heard that the Israelites were coming so they went over to the east side of the Jordan up through Edom and Moab, just north of the Dead Sea.

“They set out from Mount Hor, and camped at Zalmonah. They set out from Zalmonah, and camped at Punon. They set out from Punon, and camped at Oboth. They set out from Oboth, and camped at Iye-abarim, in the territory of Moab. They set out from Iyim, and camped at Dibon-gad. They set out from Dibon-gad, and camped at Almon-diblathaim. They set out from Almon-diblathaim, and camped in the mountains of Abarim, before Nebo. They set out from the mountains of Abarim, and camped in the plains of Moab by the Jordan at Jericho. They camped by the Jordan from Beth-jeshimoth as far as Abel-shittim in the plains of Moab.”

If this reading is correct there were about fifty explicitly mentioned places of the various camping sites, which would not be that many for forty years. There they were in the plains of Moab waiting to enter the Promised Land.

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