During the forty years in the wilderness, Israel moved from place to place, staying varying amounts of time in the different places. Only the most significant camps are listed, with many of the transitional camps simply ignored. While Deuteronomy 2 and 3 and Numbers 33 give additional details, an exact schedule is never given. Such information, while interesting, is not critical for our understanding of God’s workings.
“And the children of Israel set forward, and pitched in Oboth. And they journeyed from Oboth, and pitched at Ijeabarim, in the wilderness which is before Moab, toward the sunrising.” (Numbers 21:10-11)
Moab was on the south east side of the land of Israel, just north of Edom, near the Dead Sea. While many believe that the time in the wilderness took place in what we call the Sinai Peninsula, the record would seem to indicate otherwise, especially as we read Numbers 33. It is clear that Israel camped on the east side of Moab, in what is present day Jordan, out in the desert area. The record supports the belief that the crossing of the Red Sea was on the Gulf of Aqaba, rather than on the Gulf of Suez as is commonly believed.
“From thence they removed, and pitched in the valley of Zared. From thence they removed, and pitched on the other side of Arnon, which is in the wilderness that cometh out of the coasts of the Amorites: for Arnon is the border of Moab, between Moab and the Amorites. Wherefore it is said in the book of the wars of the LORD, What he did in the Red sea, and in the brooks of Arnon, And at the stream of the brooks that goeth down to the dwelling of Ar, and lieth upon the border of Moab.” (Numbers 21:12-15)
The Arnon river flows into the Jordan, and served as the boundary between Moab and the Amorites. Because Moab had denied them passage, Israel camped on the Amorite side of the Arnon, and came into conflict with the Amorites. These conflicts were recorded in the book of the wars of the Lord, but most are not included in scripture. The next passage gives only limited detail.
Just because a book is referred to in scripture does not mean it should be included. Unfortunately, many today would equate all ancient writings with scripture. As Solomon warns in Ecclesiastes 12:12, “…by these, my son, be admonished: of making many books there is no end;” Not all of them are “given by inspiration of God,” and are “profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:” like the scriptures are, according to II Timothy 3:16.
“And from thence they went to Beer: that is the well whereof the LORD spake unto Moses, Gather the people together, and I will give them water.
Then Israel sang this song, Spring up, O well; sing ye unto it: The princes digged the well, the nobles of the people digged it, by the direction of the lawgiver, with their staves. And from the wilderness they went to Mattanah: And from Mattanah to Nahaliel: and from Nahaliel to Bamoth: And from Bamoth in the valley that is in the country of Moab, to the top of Pisgah, which looketh toward Jeshimon.” (Numbers 21:16-20)
In Exodus 15, God had shown Moses a tree to cast into the water to purify it so the people could have water. At Meribah, he twice caused water to come out of the rock. At Beer, he instructed the children of Israel to dig a well. In each case, he provided water using a different means. Jesus did not always use the same approach in doing the various miracles. There is a tendency to think God can only do things a certain way. We need to understand that he does not always do things the same way. In each case it was God who provided the water, but the results depended on the people following God’s command. Significantly, it is stressed that the princes and nobles were the ones who did the actual digging, not the common people.