All the events recorded from Exodus 3 to the end of Deuteronomy occurred during a forty two year period. Everything from Exodus 12 through Numbers 9 occurred during the first year when they came out of Egypt. Almost all the events listed after Numbers 20 and all of Deuteronomy took place during the last year in the wilderness. Only a few references are made to the intervening thirty nine years, and even those references tend to refer to a general area rather than to a specific camp site. As a result it is difficult to determine exactly when or where those events occurred. This is further complicated because the names given different places are descriptive and frequently were used for more than one location, some what like Springfield or Farmington are used in the United States.
“These are the journeys of the children of Israel, which went forth out of the land of Egypt with their armies under the hand of Moses and Aaron. And Moses wrote their goings out according to their journeys by the commandment of the LORD: and these are their journeys according to their goings out.” (Numbers 33:1-2)
Jewish history gives a little more information, but most of the details are still unclear. The author of Numbers gives us a chronological listing of all the thirty nine different places Israel camped for a significant period during the forty one years they were in the wilderness. Because it refers to specific camps rather than general areas, it is still difficult to pin down the exact locations of some of the events. Sometimes more than one name is applied to a single location.
“And they departed from Rameses in the first month, on the fifteenth day of the first month; on the morrow after the passover the children of Israel went out with an high hand in the sight of all the Egyptians. For the Egyptians buried all their firstborn, which the LORD had smitten among them: upon their gods also the LORD executed judgments.” (Numbers 33:3-4)
The Egyptians were preoccupied with burial of their children when Israel fled from the area known as Ramses, including the land of Goshen, giving them a headstart. Once the funerals were over, Pharaoh realized the Israelites were gone and pursued them.
"And the children of Israel removed from Rameses, and pitched in Succoth. And they departed from Succoth, and pitched in Etham, which is in the edge of the wilderness. And they removed from Etham, and turned again unto Pihahiroth, which is before Baalzephon: and they pitched before Migdol.” (Numbers 33:5-7)
At Succoth Israel took the caravan route stretching from Morocco to China. They followed the Silk Road east to Etham, on the east side of the valley enclosing the Gulf of Suez, an arm of the Red Sea. In an effort to escape the Egyptians, they turned south east into the wilderness at Etham arriving at Pihahiroth, near the edge of the Gulf of Aqaba, another arm of the Red Sea on the twenty second day of the month. The Egyptians caught up with them there. Over a century later Pihahiroth became an Egyptian outpost.
"And they departed from before Pihahiroth, and passed through the midst of the sea into the wilderness, and went three days' journey in the wilderness of Etham, and pitched in Marah.” (Numbers 33:8)
On the twenty second day of the month they crossed the Gulf of Aqaba next to the ancient city of Baalzephon, and camped there That day they watched the destruction of the Egyptian army, and for the first time were able to take time to let the bread rise before baking it. Three days later they came to Marah where the water was bitter and unusable.
“And they removed from Marah, and came unto Elim: and in Elim were twelve fountains of water, and threescore and ten palm trees; and they pitched there. And they removed from Elim, and encamped by the Red sea. Nu 33:11 And they removed from the Red sea, and encamped in the wilderness of Sin. And they took their journey out of the wilderness of Sin, and encamped in Dophkah. Nu 33:13 And they departed from Dophkah, and encamped in Alush. And they removed from Alush, and encamped at Rephidim, where was no water for the people to drink." (Numbers 33:10-14)
From Marah, Israel proceeded south to Elim where they spent several days befor continuing south west where they camped on the edge of the Gulf of Aqaba. From the camp on the Gulf of Aqaba, they turned northeast through the wilderness of Sin to Rephidim, where Moses was instructed to strike the rock.
“And they departed from Rephidim, and pitched in the wilderness of Sinai.” (Numbers 33:15)
The Sinai Wilderness was named for it’s outstanding feature, Mount Sinai. They arrived there about three months after leaving Egypt, and would remain in the area over nine months. The events that occurred during that period are described between Exodus 19 and Numbers 9.
“And they removed from the desert of Sinai, and pitched at Kibrothhattaavah. And they departed from Kibrothhattaavah, and encamped at Hazeroth. ” (Numbers 33:16-17)
It was at Kibrothhattavah, the people’s complaining resulted in God giving the quail. The complaints over Moses’ wife occurred at about this time.
“And they departed from Hazeroth, and pitched in Rithmah. And they departed from Rithmah, and pitched at Rimmonparez. And they departed from Rimmonparez, and pitched in Libnah.” (Numbers 33:18-20)
From Hazeroth Israel went into the Wilderness of Paran, carefully avoiding Moabite and Edomite territory after being refused to cross it. The spies went into the Land of Canaan from Paran, and after refusing to cross into the promised land the Amalekites and Canaanites forced them back to the southwest along the Gulf of Aqaba and through Midianite territory as far as the area around Mount Sinai or Hor. They then proceeded north and east again. The events described between Numbers 9 and 33 are not all in chronological order.
“And they removed from Libnah, and pitched at Rissah. And they journeyed from Rissah, and pitched in Kehelathah. And they went from Kehelathah, and pitched in mount Shapher. And they removed from mount Shapher, and encamped in Haradah. And they removed from Haradah, and pitched in Makheloth. And they removed from Makheloth, and encamped at Tahath. And they departed from Tahath, and pitched at Tarah. And they removed from Tarah, and pitched in Mithcah. And they went from Mithcah, and pitched in Hashmonah.
And they departed from Hashmonah, and encamped at Moseroth. And they departed from Moseroth, and pitched in Benejaakan. And they removed from Benejaakan, and encamped at Horhagidgad. And they went from Horhagidgad, and pitched in Jotbathah. And they removed from Jotbathah, and encamped at Ebronah. And they departed from Ebronah, and encamped at Eziongaber. And they removed from Eziongaber, and pitched in the wilderness of Zin, which is Kadesh. And they removed from Kadesh, and pitched in mount Hor, in the edge of the land of Edom.” (Numbers 33:21-37)
For thirty nine years they wandered around northern Saudi Arabia and Jordan, trying to avoid trespassing on the lands of Moab and Edom. In the fortieth year, they were again at Mount Hor, on edge of the Edomite land. Miriam was buried at Kadesh,
“And Aaron the priest went up into mount Hor at the commandment of the LORD, and died there, in the fortieth year after the children of Israel were come out of the land of Egypt, in the first day of the fifth month. And Aaron was an hundred and twenty and three years old when he died in mount Hor.” (Numbers 33:38-39)
Aarons death preceded that of Moses by only a few months, During that time Joshua was appointed to lead Israel into Canaan.
“And king Arad the Canaanite, which dwelt in the south in the land of Canaan, heard of the coming of the children of Israel.” (Numbers 33:40)
After forty years wandering in the wilderness, a potential threat to all the surrounding countries, Israel was being carefully watched. The Canaanites were aware of Joshua’s appointment and intentions.
“And they departed from mount Hor, and pitched in Zalmonah. And they departed from Zalmonah, and pitched in Punon. And they departed from Punon, and pitched in Oboth. And they departed from Oboth, and pitched in Ijeabarim, in the border of Moab.
And they departed from Iim, and pitched in Dibongad. And they removed from Dibongad, and encamped in Almondiblathaim. And they removed from Almondiblathaim, and pitched in the mountains of Abarim, before Nebo. And they departed from the mountains of Abarim, and pitched in the plains of Moab by Jordan near Jericho. And they pitched by Jordan, from Bethjesimoth even unto Abelshittim in the plains of Moab.” (Numbers 33:41-49)
The defeat of the Amorites and the king of Bashan, and failure of the Moabites to curse Israel must have caused a lot of consternation, and especially after they conquered the Midianites. This time they did not hesitate to cross Moabite territory in their approach to Canaan, coming right to the Jordan just across from Jericho. It was from that area Moses delivered the book of Deuteronomy.