From Slaves to Soldiers

Chapter 33

Under Yahweh’s direction, Moses kept a record of every time Israel moved from camp to camp after they left Egypt. They organized with precision under the command of Moses and Aaron and marched out of Rameses the day after Passover on the fifteenth day of the first month after Yahweh exposed the nonsense of the gods of Egypt.

Their first camp was Succoth. After 430 years Yahweh’s complete army left Egypt and Yahweh kept watch over them all night – and because he did, all Israel, for all generations were to honor him by keeping watch on that night every year.[1] Israel left Egypt in military formation but Yahweh avoided the road through the land of the Philistines, which happened to be the shortest route, because he knew that they would encounter war going that way. The Israelites had been many years under the yoke of the Egyptians and Yahweh knew that they weren’t equipped to fight a war. Therefore, he led the people on the Wilderness Road around the Red Sea.[2] Their next camp was Etham.

Yahweh did a peculiar thing then. He turned Israel around and headed them back in the direction they came from. Pharaoh’s spies would think they were confused and turning in circles when they turned south and camped at the mouth of the pass on the shore of the Red Sea. It looked to Pharaoh as though they were in a spot where they couldn’t escape from him. Yahweh told Moses when he redirected Israel that Pharaoh would think they were confused and decide to peruse them. He also assured Moses that he knew Pharaoh’s heart and what he would do, so he was using this as another demonstration of his power meant to confirm that he is Yahweh – God – the great I AM.[3] Then he told them to circle back and camp near Pi Hahiroth not far from the sea. Yahweh turned the sea to dry land for Israel to walk over [4] and drowned the perusing Egyptians. They sang praises to Yahweh there and three days later when fresh water was scares and throats were dry, they complained loudly. At Yahweh’s command Moses threw a stick of wood in the water and it became sweet so Israel could drink it. Moses told the Israelites that Yahweh wanted to transform them the way he had the water. He had brought them out of Egypt where they lived for the benefit of Pharaoh. Now he would show them a better way. They were to listen to him and follow his directions. They would be living in his presence and under his protection. He said, “I AM Yahweh, your healer.” Yahweh would heal them by renewing their minds so that they would be able to understand the will of Yahweh for their lives. [5]

After they left the sweet water of Mariah they came to twelve springs of water and seventy palm trees at Elim and set up camp. Seventy symbolizes perfect spiritual order carried out with all power – or great fullness. Twelve symbolizes Yahweh’s power and authority or blessing and care for Israel.[6]

Two months and fifteen days after Israel left Egypt they left Elim. They had been camping under the palm trees amid springs of water and traveling in the wilderness again made them grumpy. They started finding fault with Moses and Aaron again asking why their God didn’t just let them die in comfort in Egypt where they had plenty to eat. The “good old days” always seem so much better than they actually were. We like to remember the days of our youth when everything was so much better. We remember lying around in the sun and conveniently forget how cold it was getting to the outhouse in winter or trying to read by candlelight. Israel forgot how the whip felt on their backs when they didn’t produce enough bricks for their Egyptian taskmasters. They also forgot the miracles at the Red Sea and Mariah.[7] Yahweh, in his great mercy, gave them bread from heaven and quail from the sea.

Israel left the Red Sea and camped in the Wilderness of Sin; left the Wilderness of Sin and camped at Dophkah; left Dophkah and camped at Alush; left Alush and camped at Rephidim where there was no water for the people to drink. Yahweh gave them water from the rock. The Amalekites attacked and were defeated by the power of Yahweh. Israel left there and went to the Wilderness of Sinai where Yahweh met them and gave them the Ten Commandments.

Israel left the Wilderness of Sinai and camped at Kibroth Hattaavah (Graves of Lust) where they complained about not having meat to eat. [8] Yahweh sent them so many quail from the sea that they over ate, got sick, and died. Their gluttony killed them, as Yahweh knew it would.

Yahweh’s chosen people left Kibroth Hattaavah and camped at Hazeroth where Mariam and Aaron criticized Moses because his wife was a Cushite woman.

Altogether there are 42 camps listed. The Pri Tzadik taught that the fortytwo stops of Israel in the wilderness correspond to the fortytwo letter name of HaShem, a Hebrew term for God that literally means “the name. This is based on an understanding that the first fortytwo letters of the Torah contain one of HaShem’s names. According to the Kabbalah, HaShem brought[9] the world into being by virtue of the first fortytwo letters of the Torah. They were the fortytwo periods of creation. The fortytwo camps in the wilderness travels of Israel repeat the genesis of the world and suggest a second process of creation that lasted forty years – the creation of the nation of Israel.

Abraham ben Samuel Abulafia (Hebrew:אברהם בן שמואל אבולעפיה‎), the founder of the school of “Prophetic Kabbalah” thought that the divine name consisting of fortytwo letters was derived from the first fortytwo letters of Bereshit (Hebrew for “in the beginning,”), which starts with the letter bet and ends with the letter mem. Mem bet represent fortytwo in Hebrew. The name “I Am that I Am”, comes out to 42 in gematria.

These camps are like the phases that Yahweh’s chosen people experience as we move through life, preparing for a new chapter in life. As Israel moved through the wilderness for forty years they were in training for their transition into the Promised Land. Each camp and each journey was an opportunity to reach a higher level of spiritual growth and bond with Yahweh and his law. Each camp was a time to learn something about Yahweh so that when it came time to enter the Promised Land Israel would be ready for her new life. The goal was to bind the chosen people together in love for their God, Yahweh.

In the fortieth year after the chosen people left Egypt Israel left Kadesh and camped at Mount Hor on the border of Edom. On the first day of the fifth month Aaron the priest climbed the mountain at the command of Yahweh and died there. He was 123 years old when he died on Mount Hor.

The Canaanite king of Arad who ruled in the Negev of Canaan heard that the Israel had arrived.

Israel’s camp on the Plains of Moab at Jordan-Jericho stretched along the banks of the Jordan from Beth Jeshimoth to Abel Shittim (Acacia Meadow). Beth-Jeshimoth is on the northern margin of the Dead Sea and means house of destruction. Acacia wood is noted for its spines, and contains the idea of piercing.

Yahweh told Moses to tell his people that when they crossed the Jordan into Canaan they were to drive out the native population and destroy their carved idols and cast images, level their worship mounds and take over the land for their home.

The Canaanites had not heeded the message Yahweh sent them through the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah; nor did they pay attention to the historical example of the flood. Yahweh had placed Abraham and his family in the land in order to witness to the Canaanites, as Noah had previously. Their unwillingness to repent and change even to escape judgment shows how bad they really were.

Yahweh told Moses to divide the land by lot according to the size of the clans of each tribe. Large clans were to get more land while smaller clans got smaller tracts of land to farm.

Yahweh warned Israel that if it didn’t drive out the native population every person left would be like a cinder in their eye or a splinter in their foot. Did you ever try to walk with a splinter in your foot or see with something in your eye – even an eyelash? It can’t be done. It would cause Israel boundless difficulty and it would end up in the same place as Canaan. Depravity is destructive and would destroy even Yahweh’s chosen nation.

As Cory Baugher says, “Today the church is not called to execute justice on the wicked in the same way. This does not mean that Yahweh has changed His mind on what He considers wickedness or how to execute justice. Rather, for the same reason that only ten nations were marked for destruction and the others (even though they were unbelievers) were left alone in the First Testament, so today, in a post-Second Testament world, not every nation or people group is marked for destruction though they are unbelievers as well. Likewise, Yahweh did not choose Israel alone to execute justice in every case throughout history. He also used the flood to judge the world, the plagues and the Red Sea to judge Egypt, fire to judge Sodom and Gomorrah, and the Assyrians and Babylonians to judge Israel. Today He is still judging people by many means we do not always recognize because we do not have divine revelation.”[10]


Summary of chapter 33

This chapter details the breaking of camps – the marching out – of the children of Israel throughout the roughly forty years between their departure from Egypt and their entry into Canaan.

The principal significance of this chapter seems to be in the number forty-two. The number forty-two is significant throughout scripture. The fact that so little is known about most of these places suggests that Yahweh had a reason for commanding the Moses to write these down that wasn’t geographical. Yahweh doesn’t have any worthless material in his Book. However, the power of this record is in the record of faithful protection and blessing that Yahweh gave to his chosen people and his firm purpose of saving the human race through Israel.

There are only two dates presented for Israel’s travels. There is the date of the start, the 15th day of the first month of the first year; and the date of Aaron’s death (at Hor) on the first day of the fifth month of the fortieth year at the 34th camp.

Moses explained the departure of Israel from Rameses. He said it was while the Egyptians were burying all their first-born, explaining why the Israelites got such a head start on Egypt when they left. The Egyptians put all other passions and interests aside while they cared for the departed.

The whole civilization of the Canaanite people was out of control and justly consigned to destruction. The charge to exterminate the Canaanites and possess their land was altogether a just and necessary condition if Israel’s were to achieve what Yahweh intended to do through them.


Prayer: I will sing to you, my God, with your entire creation. I will praise you with the song of the water fall and babbling brook. I will listen to the wind sing your praise and let my heart sing along. I will sing in harmony with the rustling trees as they sway to the music of the gentle breeze and shout for joy with the loud claps of thunder that keep time with flashing light. I will worship you with joy and come before you with happy songs. I will acknowledge that you are God before the whole world. You made me, and I belong to you. We are your people – we are the sheep of your pasture. I will enter your gates with thanksgiving in my heart and skip into your courts with praise. You are good; your love is eternal and your faithfulness lasts forever. You are a blessing to my life forever and ever.



Things to think about

  1. Why do you think Yahweh wanted Moses to keep a record of every camp they left?
  2. What should ancient Israel have remembered from leaving the first camp?
  3. Why didn’t Yahweh take his chosen people directly to Canaan on the most direct route?
  4. Why did he take them so far away and then turn them back to the Red Sea?
  5. Why was it important for Israel to be aware of the difference between who he is and the gods of human invention? Why is it important for us to constantly remind ourselves of who our God, Yahweh, is?
  6. What is significant about the number forty-two?
  7. What is the most important thing for the ancient Israelites – and us – to remember about the places that the chosen people camped along their wilderness journey?



[1] Out of Bondage by Allison Kohn, page 96

[2] IBID 103

[3] IBID 109

[4] Psalm 66

[5] Out of bondage, page 119


[7] Out of Bondage, 124, 125

[8] Chapter 11

[9] According to some classical interpretations, the world was fortytwo thousand years old when Adam was created. That would mean that the age of the Earth is 15,340,500,000.



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