Friday, March 27, 2015


I’ve been preaching through the Old Testament book of Numbers for over a year in our evening service. Numbers is important – the apostle Paul, after describing an event recorded in Numbers, says, “Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come” (1 Corinthians 10:11). A few weeks ago, someone glanced ahead to see what was in the text for the following study. As we were dismissing, he asked (with obvious skepticism), “what about chapter thirty-three?” Most of the chapter is a list of place names, most of which are referenced only here. It’s a travel journal describing the years between the Exodus and the entry into the Promised Land for the children of Israel. It includes scant details. The original accounts in Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers are far more interesting from a narrative point of view. So what do we learn from this text? Actually, something very important.

“These are the journeys of the children of Israel, who went out of the land of Egypt by their armies under the hand of Moses and Aaron. Now Moses wrote down the starting points of their journeys at the command of the Lord. And these are their journeys according to their starting points” (33:1,2).

It’s important that Moses writes this chronicles “at the command of the Lord.” We’ll see why in a moment. I’ve broken the long list down into its forty-two camping points to make a little more manageable.

One: Rameses (33:3-4)
They departed from Rameses in the first month, on the fifteenth day of the first month; on the day after the Passover the children of Israel went out with boldness in the sight of all the Egyptians. For the Egyptians were burying all their firstborn, whom the Lord had killed among them. Also on their gods the Lord had executed judgments.

Two: Succoth (33:5)
Then the children of Israel moved from Rameses and camped at Succoth.

Three: Etham (33:6)
They departed from Succoth and camped at Etham, which is on the edge of the wilderness.

Four: Pi Hahiroth (33:7)
They moved from Etham and turned back to Pi Hahiroth, which is east of Baal Zephon; and they camped near Migdol.

Five: Marah (33:8)
They departed from before Hahiroth and passed through the midst of the sea into the wilderness, went three days’ journey in the Wilderness of Etham, and camped at Marah.

Six: Elim (33:9)
They moved from Marah and came to Elim. At Elim were twelve springs of water and seventy palm trees; so they camped there.

Seven: By the Red Sea (33:10)
They moved from Elim and camped by the Red Sea.

Eight: In the Wilderness of Sin (33:11)
They moved from the Red Sea and camped in the Wilderness of Sin.

Nine: Dophkah (33:12)
They journeyed from the Wilderness of Sin and camped at Dophkah.

Ten: Alush (33:13)
They departed from Dophkah and camped at Alush.

Eleven: Rephidim (33:14)
They moved from Alush and camped at Rephidim, where there was no water for the people to drink.

Twelve: In the Wilderness of Sinai (33:15)
They departed from Rephidim and camped in the Wilderness of Sinai.

Thirteen: Kibroth Hattaavah (33:16)
They moved from the Wilderness of Sinai and camped at Kibroth Hattaavah.

Fourteen: Hazeroth (33:17)
They departed from Kibroth Hattaavah and camped at Hazeroth.

Fifteen: Rithmah (33:18)
They departed from Hazeroth and camped at Rithmah.

Sixteen: Rimmon Perez
They departed from Rithmah and camped at Rimmon Perez.

Seventeen: Libnah (33:20)
They departed from Rimmon Perez and camped at Libnah.

Eighteen: Rissah (33:21)
They moved from Libnah and camped at Rissah.

Nineteen: Kehelathah (33:22)
They journeyed from Rissah and camped at Kehelathah.

Twenty: Mount Shepher (33:23)
They went from Kehelathah and camped at Mount Shepher.

Twenty-One: Haradah (33:24)
They moved from Mount Shepher and camped at Haradah.

Twenty-Two: Makheloth (33:25)
They moved from Haradah and camped at Makheloth.

Twenty-Three: Tahath (33:26)
They moved from Makheloth and camped at Tahath.

Twenty-Four: Terah (33:27)
They departed from Tahath and camped at Terah.

Twenty-Five: Mithkah (33:28)
They moved from Terah and camped at Mithkah.

Twenty-Six: Hashmonah (33:29)
They went from Mithkah and camped at Hashmonah.

Twenty-Seven: Moseroth (33:30)
They departed from Hashmonah and camped at Moseroth.

Twenty-Eight: Bene Jaakan (33:31)
They departed from Moseroth and camped at Bene Jaakan.

Twenty-Nine: Hor Hagidgad (33:32)
They moved from Bene Jaakan and camped at Hor Hagidgad.

Thirty: Jotbathah (33:33)
They went from Hor Hagidgad and camped at Jotbathah.

Thirty-One: Abronah (33:34)
They moved from Jotbathah and camped at Abronah.

Thirty-Two: Ezion Geber (33:35)
They departed from Abronah and camped at Ezion Geber.

Thirty-Three: In the Wilderness of Zin, or Kadesh (33:36)
They moved from Ezion Geber and camped in the Wilderness of Zin, which is Kadesh.

Thirty-Four: Mount Hor (33:37-40)
They moved from Kadesh and camped at Mount Hor, on the boundary of the land of Edom. Then Aaron the priest went up to Mount Hor at the command of the Lord, and died there in the fortieth year after the children of Israel had come out of the land of Egypt, on the first day of the fifth month. Aaron was one hundred and twenty-three years old when he died on Mount Hor. Now the king of Arad, the Canaanite, who dwelt in the South in the land of Canaan, heard of the coming of the children of Israel.

Thirty-Five: Zalmonah (33:41)
So they departed from Mount Hor and camped at Zalmonah.

Thirty-Six: Punon (33:42)
They departed from Zalmonah and camped at Punon.

Thirty-Seven: Oboth (33:43)
They departed from Punon and camped at Oboth.

Thirty-Eight: Ije Abarim (33:44)
They departed from Oboth and camped at Ije Abarim, at the border of Moab.

Thirty-Nine: Dibon Gad (33:45)
They departed from Ijim and camped at Dibon Gad.

Forty: Almon Diblathaim (33:46)
They moved from Dibon Gad and camped at Almon Diblathaim.

Forty-One: In the Mountains of Abarim (33:47)
They moved from Almon Diblathaim and camped in the mountains of Abarim, before Nebo.

Forty-Two: In the Plains of Moab (33:48,49)
They departed from the mountains of Abarim and camped in the plains of Moab by the Jordan, across from Jericho. They camped by the Jordan, from Beth Jesimoth as far as the Abel Acacia Grove in the plains of Moab.

I mentioned that it was important that Moses wrote this “at the command of the Lord.” Despite their sin throughout the wilderness wanderings, not one of their failures is mentioned in this chronicle. Up to this point, Numbers has not held back at all in mentioning the faithlessness, disobedience, and sin of Israel. In this list, however, the debacles associated with certain place names go unmentioned here. It’s about grace. At any one of these places God could’ve destroyed the people in their sin and been perfectly justified. Forty-two place names that highlight the patience and grace of God.

Read Numbers 9:15-23. They did not move unless God moved. They did not stay unless God stayed. From a “human responsibility” point of view, they were utterly tied to a following of the Lord wherever He went, whenever He went. From a “God’s sovereignty” point of view, God never left them without His presence for a single moment in the wilderness. Each of these forty-two place names emphasizes this point. God never abandoned His people, and they didn’t take a step that wasn’t in the shadow of His Presence.

God provided for them in the wilderness. “I have led you forty years in the wilderness. Your clothes have not worn out on you, and your sandals have not worn out on your feet” (Deuteronomy 29:5). There were times He allowed them to hunger in the wilderness so that they would lean on His Word more and more: “He humbled you, allowed you to hunger, and fed you with manna which you did not know nor did your fathers know, that He might make you know that man shall not live by bread alone; but man lives by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the Lord. Your garments did not wear out on you, nor did your foot swell these forty years. You should know in your heart that as a man chastens his son, so the Lord your God chastens you” (Deuteronomy 8:3-5). Each of these forty-two places represents both preservation and discipline, both from a loving Father (read Hebrews 12:1-17...often).

They were delivered from Egypt, the kingdom of slavery and darkness, brought through the wilderness (in forty-two steps), and ultimately into the Promised Land. We can relate. We are currently in the wilderness of this world, between the bondage to darkness from which we came and the true heavenly Promised Land that awaits. “He has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love, in Whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins” (Colossians 1:13,14).

This idea of “the first month” in Rameses followed by forty-one other place names becomes an important symbol in the rest of the Bible for God’s provision and discipline. The forty-two of Numbers 33 becomes 42 months, 1,260 days, or 3 ½ years of God’s care and perfecting of His people in the time between their deliverance and homecoming. Let’s look at how the Holy Spirit uses this concept in the rest of the Bible.

“The fourth beast shall be
A fourth kingdom on earth,
Which shall be different from all other kingdoms,
And shall devour the whole earth,
Trample it and break it in pieces.
The ten horns are ten kings
Who shall arise from this kingdom.
And another shall rise after them;
He shall be different from the first ones,
And shall subdue three kings.
He shall speak pompous words against the Most High,
Shall persecute the saints of the Most High,
And shall intend to change times and law.
Then the saints shall be given into his hand
For a time and times and half a time.
But the court shall be seated,
And they shall take away his dominion,
To consume and destroy it forever.
Then the kingdom and dominion,
And the greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven,
Shall be given to the people, the saints of the Most High.
His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom,
And all dominions shall serve and obey Him”
(Daniel 7:23-27).

“A time and times and half a time.” 3 ½ years. Forty-two months. The people of God persecuted but preserved and ultimately given “an everlasting kingdom” (the eternal reality of which the earthly Promised Land of the O.T. is a symbol). This vision of Daniel’s describes the rise of the new covenant people of God in Christ during the days of the Roman Empire (the fourth beast) in the A.D. first century (and really, until today). Life is not easy for the people of God, but they will be preserved until they receive the Kingdom eternally. Daniel 7 is one of my favorite chapters – I think a good understanding of it goes a long way to understanding the rest of the Bible and our circumstances today as the people of God in the world.

Revelation contains three references to this time period:
  • “Then I was given a reed like a measuring rod. And the angel stood, saying, ‘Rise and measure the temple of God, the altar, and those who worship there. But leave out the court which is outside the temple, and do not measure it, for it has been given to the Gentiles. And they will tread the holy city underfoot for forty-two months. And I will give power to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy one thousand two hundred and sixty days, clothed in sackcloth’” (Revelation 11:1-3).
  • “Then the woman fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared by God, that they should feed her there one thousand two hundred and sixty days...the woman was given two wings of a great eagle, that she might fly into the wilderness to her place, where she is nourished for a time and times and half a time, from the presence of the serpent” (Revelation 12:6,14).
  • “And he was given a mouth speaking great things and blasphemies, and he was given authority to continue for forty-two months. Then he opened his mouth in blasphemy against God, to blaspheme His name, His tabernacle, and those who dwell in heaven. It was granted to him to make war with the saints and to overcome them. And authority was given him over every tribe, tongue, and nation. All who dwell on the earth will worship him, whose names have not been written in the Book of Life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world” (Revelation 13:5-8).
Each of these is a different view of the same period – that which is described in Daniel 7. From the unbelieving nations (11:2) to the serpent/dragon/devil (12:12-17) to the “beast rising up out of the sea” (13:1, the “sea” representing the unbelieving nations - 17:15; cf. Psalm 65:7; Isaiah 8:7; 17:12,13), the Church will be hounded during this time period between salvation and homecoming. During this wilderness wandering in the world, God will preserve and provide for His people. The Church will give testimony (1:2,9; 6:9; 11:7; 12:11,17; 17:3,6; 19:10; 20:4) to Christ, holding to Him alone, even above love for life (12:11,17). He will also test her dedication to Him, purging her of idolatry and faithlessness. This Exodus pattern is also found in Hebrews 3-4.

The Bible as a whole tells this story. In the Old Testament (specifically Numbers, in this case) it is a type, or shadow, of New Testament experience for the people of God. Forty-two camping locations between Egypt and the Promised Land represent our long experience from the waters of baptism at salvation to the opening of our eyes in Glory. In that time God will show His great grace to us, despite our many failures, idolatries, and faithlessness along the way – for we are covered with the blood of the Lamb. Along the way God will test us and purge us, even as He preserves and provides for us. The world will hate those in the camp of the saints as we wander, for they are instruments of that serpent of old. But one day we will cross the Jordan and be home. This is an unshakeable and unbreakable promise, our hope step-by-step as we go forward. 42 months. 3 ½ years. 1,260 days. Time, times, and half a time.

Let’s keep going, Church.
The La Sal mountains from Arches National Park, October 2013

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