At Numbers 14:34 the statement occurs, “And ye shall know my hostility (erroneously translated, “And ye shall know my breach of promise”). The pronoun ye has reference to the apostate Israelites, who in the carnal rage had wanted to know why the Lord had brought them to the border of Canaan that they, their wives and their children, should be a prey. The notice, “And ye shall know my hostility,” must be taken to mean that the Lord would be continually against the apostates, would pursue them with His curse, until the carcasses of them all be wasted in the wilderness. But the Lord for the sake of His believing people did not abandon the nation. The view that He did so is in conflict with the facts communicated in the chapters 15-20 of the book of Numbers—chapters that refer to the interval of forty years. The legislation of Jehovah continued and the people were fed with manna from heaven. Some interpreters see in the further legislation in reference to the sacrifices a cropping out of an intimation that sacrifices were suspended during the period of the wilderness. However, Aaron’s making atonement for the people, who, after the punishment of Korah and his company, accused him and Moses of having killed the people of the Lord, plainly indicates that the sacrifices were not suspended. The nation lived before the face of God only because its sins were in unbroken continuity being covered by the blood of these sacrifices.
Now with respect to the order of the local residence or movements of the Israelites for the next forty years or less, the sacred narrative at Numbers 15:1 reaches a point where there is a blank. Just what the order of these movements was cannot be determined to any degree of certainty.
In chapter 33 (of the book of Numbers) there are enumerated twenty stations between Sinai and Kadesh and twenty two including Sinai and Kadesh. The enumeration is formed by the names of the following stations: Sinai, Kibroth-hattaavah, Hazeroth, Rithmah, Rimmonparez, Libnah, Risisah, Kehelathah, Mount Shepher, Haradah, Makheloth, Tahath, Tarah, Mithcah, Hashmonah, Moseroth, Bene-jaakan, Horhagidgad, Jotbathah, Ebronah, Ezion-gaber, the wilderness of Zin, which is Kadesh.
Of the eighteen stations between Sinai and Kadesh only two are recognized beyond debate, namely, Ezion- Gaber, which was at the head of the Elanitic Gulf, and Mount Hor. All the others have been only conjecturally identified. Now one view has it that Rithmah, the name of the station third after Sinai, was just another name for Kadesh and that therefore the stations mentioned after Rithmah occurred in wanderings that brought the host back again from Mount Seir by the Red Sea to Kadesh for the second time. According to this view, the host departed from Sinai, pitched successively at Kibroth-hattaavah and Hazeroth, and thereupon arrived at Rithmah, that is, Kadesh for the first time. Removing from this station, it turned south again. Camping successively at all the stations mentioned after Rithmah (Kadesh) and before Ezion-gaber, it finally pitched at this last named place—the extreme southern point of this part of the journey. Removing from Ezion-gaber, the host, according to the view under consideration, again turned north, on the same way that it had come and pitched at Rithmah (Kadesh) now for the second time.
The Israelites are thus held to have encamped at Kadesh twice during the period of their wanderings and as many times to have taken their journey from this station. To the first turning from Kadesh the notice at Deuteronomy 2:1 is referred, “And ye turned from Kadesh and took your journey in the wilderness by the way of the Red Sea and compassed Seir many days.” To this same turning, it is said, the notice at Numbers 14:25 must be made to apply, “Tomorrow turn ye (from Kadesh) and get you into the wilderness by the Red Sea.” To the second turning from Kadesh, the notice at Numbers 20:25 and the one at Numbers 33:37 are referred, “And the children of Israel journeyed from Kadesh and came to Mount Hor. And they removed from Kadesh and pitched in Mount Hor on the edge of the land of Edom.” Between the two encampments at Kadesh the period of the forty years or less is said to have lain. Such is the view. The objection to it is that, by taking Rithmah to be another name for Kadesh, it imputes to the Catalogue of chapter 33 an arbitrariness in the use of names that would make it worthless for that purpose for which it was evidently recorded in the book of Numbers. Thus the only acceptable view is that Rithmah was the name of a place other than Kadesh; that therefore there was only one encampment at Kadesh; and that thus the list of stations in chapter 33 is a catalogue, that gives the stations consecutively; that refers to localities by one and the same name, being the name elsewhere used in this book for the same place, and that gives the order of stations as accurately where we cannot verify them as it does in cases where we can. So then, the order of the movements of the host was not thus: Sinai, Kadesh, Ezion-Gaber, Kadesh, Hor, Mount Seir, Canaan; but the order was thus: Sinai, Ezion-gaber, Kadesh, Hor, Mount Seir, Canaan.
As the journey could have easily been made in less than a year, it is natural to ask just where, at which station, the forty years were spent. The notice at Deuteronomy 1:46: “So ye abode in Kadesh many days,” suggests the answer. This notice may be received as describing the whole period of forty years or less as a period spent at Kadesh. This long sojourn at Kadesh was spent in a nomadic life (verse 33 to chapter 14, your children shall be shepherds). It involved, of course, a dispersion and moving about over a large area, which may have included the most or all the desert of Paran and extended southward to the Elanitic Gulf (Red Sea). The journey from Sinai to Kadesh had made the Israelites familiar with much of this region. During the forty years they continued to move hither and thither in it, in search of pasture for their flocks. But the tabernacle and headquarters of the nation may have continued to abide after the events of chapter 14, at Kadesh. Here those dispersed to pasture the herds would gather from various points; first when the invasion of Canaan was to have begun from Kadesh (chapter 13:26), again the new generation of forty years.
Of the departure of the new generation from Kadesh chapter 20:14sqq. gives the account. Moses sent messengers from Kadesh to the king of Edom with the petition that he permit the Israelites to pass through his country. The king was unwilling. He refused “to give Israel passage through his border, wherefore Israel turned away from him.” Then follows the notice, “And the children of Israel, even the whole congregation, journeyed from Kadesh, and came unto Mount Hor.” To this passage we must take as parallel the one at 33:37, “And they removed from Kadesh and pitched in Mount Hor, on the edge of the land of Edom,” and the passage at Deuteronomy 2:1, “Then we turned and took our journey into the wilderness by the way of the Red Sea, as the Lord spake unto me: and we compassed Mount Seir many days.” The beginning of this movement was also the beginning of the execution of the command at Numbers 14:25 and given some thirty seven years previous, “Tomorrow turn ye and get you into the wilderness by the way of the Red Sea. This is a command to abandon the invasion of Canaan on the south, and turn in that direction that was afterwards successful. It was executed some thirty seven years later. Tomorrow presents no obstacle to this view. For the Hebrew machar, that is so rendered, has not the limited meaning that tomorrow has in English. It may also be translated in time to come.
The notice to the effect that “Moses sent messengers from Kadesh to the king of Edom,” proves conclusively that during the thirty seven years the tabernacle and headquarters of the nation continued to abide at Kadesh.
Some interpreters, when they picture to themselves the Israelites of the thirty seven years, have the idea of a vast multitude “being led up and down the awful desolations” of a wilderness, amid terrific suffering to men, women, children and cattle, “with no assignable purpose, except to spend out the allotted years”. In the light of the above observation, this idea appears to be incorrect. The nation was not led up and down awful desolations but was allowed to disperse to various points of fertility in the wilderness to pasture its herds. And there were several such points as several of the names of the stations indicate. Rithmah is a name derived from retem, meaning a broom brush, so that it may be presumed that the encampment at the place designated by this name was determined by the existence of vegetation. Then there is the name Rimmon-pares, “the pomegranate branch” Mount Shapher, ‘the mount of beauty,” Rissah, “dew,” Mithcah, “sweetness,” Hashmonah, “fatness, fruitfulness” Bene-jaakan, “the wells of the children of Jaakan,” Jotbathah, “goodness.” The district in which the wanderings took place must have been capable of supporting flocks and herds. For Deuteronomy 2:7 shows that Israel had greatly increased in substance and wealth during the thirty seven years.
It is held by some that the Lord, to mitigate their punishment, gave to their wanderings at least an apparent object, which determined their direction and extent. “When they found that they could not scale the mountain passes of the Amorites, their southward journey might well have for its object to find some passage through Edom to the East by the route they at last followed; and it may have been with this hope that they compassed Mount Seir for many days. Then, as at the end, they may have met with some refusal from the Edomites; and to have waited about their head-quarters at Kadesh, trying sometimes one passage and sometimes another, but shut out on both sides. . . .”
This is sheer conjecture. Were it true, then the nation during the period of the wanderings, lived in perpetual rebellion.