And they pitched by Jordan, from Bethjesimoth even to Abelshittim in the plains of Moab.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)Beth-jesimoth even unto Abel-shittim . . . —See Numbers 22:1, and Note, and Numbers 25:1, where Abel-shittim is mentioned as Shittim.Numbers 33:49. Abel-shittim — The place where the people sinned in the matter of Peor, called simply Shittim, Numbers 25:1; but here Abel-shittim, for the grievous mourning (Abel signifying mourning) which was there, both for the heinous crimes committed, and the severe judgments inflicted. This was their forty-second and last station, before their entrance into Canaan, and here we left them in the last transactions of this history.Numbers 21:4, etc. Abel-shittim; called Shittim, Numbers 25:1, and here Abel-shittim, for the grievous mourning which there was both for the heinous crimes committed, and horrible judgments there inflicted. Numbers 25:1 and here it has the addition of Abel to it, to signify mourning, from the mourning of the children of Israel on account of the plague, in which 24,000 persons died, Numbers 25:1. And they pitched by Jordan, from Bethjesimoth even unto Abelshittim in the plains of Moab.
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)Verse 49. - From Beth-jesimoth even unto Abel-shittim. Beth-jesimoth, "house of the wastes," must have been very near the point where Jordan empties itself into the Dead Sea, on the verge of the salt desert which bounds that sea on the east. It formed the boundary of Sihon's kingdom at the south-west corner. Abel-shittim, "meadow of acacias," is better known by the abbreviated name "Shittim" (Numbers 25:1; Micah 6:5). Its exact site cannot be recovered, but the Talmud states that it was twelve miles north of the Jordan mouth. Probably the center of the camp was opposite to the great fords, and the road leading to Jericho. NOTE ON THE TWO LISTS OF STATIONS BETWEEN EGYPT AND THE JORDAN. There can be no question that the chief interest of the Itinerary here given is due to its literary character as a document containing elements at least of extreme and unquestioned antiquity. At the same time it is a matter of some importance to compare it with the history as given at large in Exodus and Numbers, and to note carefully the points of contact and divergence. It is evident at first sight that no pains have been taken to make the two lists of stages agree, each list containing several names which the other lacks, and (in some cases) each having a name of its own for what appears to be the same place. With respect to the latter point, the explanation usually given seems quite natural and satisfactory: the names were in many cases given by the Israelites themselves, and in others were derived from some small local peculiarity, or belonged to insignificant hamlets, so that the same encampment may very well have received one name in the official record of the movements of the tabernacle, and retained another in the popular recollection of the march. With respect to the former point, it may fairly be argued that the narrative only records as a rule the names of places where something memorable occurred, and indeed does not always mention the place even then, while the Itinerary is simply concerned with the consecutive encampments as such. It would be more correct to say that the narrative is essentially fragmentary, and does not purport to record more than certain incidents of the wanderings. We have, therefore, no difficulty in understanding why the Itinerary gives us the names of three stations between Egypt and Mount Sinai not mentioned in Exodus. There is much more difficulty with the ensuing notices, because the name of Kadesh only occurs once in the list, whereas it is absolutely necessary, in order to bring the narrative into any chronological sequence, to assume (what the narrative itself pretty clearly intimates) that there were two encampments at Kadesh, separated by an interval of more than thirty-eight years. It has accordingly been very generally agreed that the Rithmah of the Itinerary is identical with the nameless station "in the wilderness of Paran," afterwards called Kadesh in the narrative. This is of course an assumption which has only probabilities to support it, but it may fairly be said that there is nothing against it. The retem, or broom, is so common that it must have given a name to many different spots - a name too common, and possessing too few associations, to stand its ground in popular remembrance against any rival name (see note on verse 18). It has been argued by some that the whole of the twenty-one stages enumerated in verses 16-35 were made on the one journey from Sinai to Kadesh; and as far as the mere number goes there is nothing improbable in the supposition; the "eleven days" of Deuteronomy 1:2 are no doubt the days of ordinary travelers, not of women and children, flocks and herds. It is true that the supposition is commonly connected with a theory which throws the whole historical narrative into confusion, viz., that Israel spent only two years instead of forty in the wilderness; but that need not cause its rejection, for the whole thirty-eight may be intercalated between verse 36 and verse 37 of the Itinerary, and we could explain a total silence concerning the wanderings of those years better than we can the mention of (only) seventeen stations. The only serious difficulty is presented by the name Ezion-geber, which it is very difficult not to identify with the place of that name, so well known afterwards, at the head of the Elanitic Gulf; for it is impossible to find the last stage towards Kadesh at a spot as near to Sinai as to any of the supposed sites of Kadesh. It is of course possible that more than one place was known as the "giant's backbone;" but, on the other hand, the fact that at Moseroth Israel was near Mount Hor, and that they made five marches thence to Ezion-geber, is quite in accordance with the site usually assigned to it. It must remain, therefore, an unsettled point as to which nothing more can be said than that a balance of probabilities is in favour of the identification of Rithmah with the first encampment at Kadesh. Proceeding on this assumption, we have thereafter eleven names of stations concerning which nothing is known, and nothing can be with any profit conjectured. Then come four others which are evidently the same as those mentioned in Deuteronomy 10:6, 7. That this latter passage is a fragment which has come into its present position (humanly speaking) by some accident of transcription does not admit of serious debate; but it is evidently a fragment of some ancient document, possibly of the very Itinerary of which we have only an abbreviation here. Comparing the two, we are met at once with the difficulty that Aaron is said to have died and been buried at Moserah, whereas, according to the narrative and the Itinerary, he died on Mount Hor during the last journey from Kadesh. This is not unnaturally explained by assuming that the official name of the encampment under, or opposite to, Mount Hor, from which Aaron ascended the mountain to die, was Moserah or Moseroth, and that the Israelites were twice encamped there - once on their way to Ezion-geber and back to Kadesh, and again on the last march round Edom, to which the fragment in Deuteronomy refers. There remain, however, unexplained the singular facts -
1. That the station where Aaron died is called Moserah in Deuteronomy 10:6, whereas it is called Mount Hor not only in the narrative, but in the Itinerary, which nevertheless does give the name Moseroth to this very station when occupied on a previous occasion.
2. That the fragment gives Bene-Jaakan, Moseroth, Gudgod, and Jotbath as stages on the last journey, whereas the Itinerary gives them (the order of the first two being inverted) as stages on a previous journey, and gives other names for the encampments of the last journey. There is no doubt room for all four, and more besides, between Mount Hor and Oboth; but it cannot be denied that there is an appearance of error either in the fragment or in the Itinerary. A further objection has been made to the statement that Israel marched from Ezion-geber to Kadesh, both on the score of distance and of the apparent absurdity of returning to Kadesh only to retrace their steps once more. It is replied
(1) that the return to Kadesh for the final move may have been hurried, and no regular encampment pitched;
(2) that when Israel returned to Kadesh it was still in expectation of entering Canaan "by the way of the spies," and in ignorance that they would have to treat with Edom for a passage - much more that they would have to come down the Arabah once again. Lastly, with respect to the names which occur after Ije-abarim, we have again an almost total want of coincidence with this peculiarity, that the narrative gives seven names where the Itinerary only gives three. It must, however, be remembered that the whole distance from the brook of Arnon, where the Israelites crossed it, to the Arboth Moab is only thirty miles in a straight line. Over this short distance it is quite likely that the armies of Israel moved in lines more or less parallel, the tabernacle probably only shifting its place as the general advance made it desirable. That the two accounts are based on different documents, or drawn from different sources, is likely enough; but both may nevertheless be equally correct. If (as regards the last march) one record was kept by Eleazar, and another by Joshua, the apparent disagreement may be readily explained.
CHAPTER 33:50-34:29 Numbers 20 and 21. On Mount Hor, and Aaron's death there, see at Numbers 20:22. For the remark in Numbers 33:40 concerning the Canaanites of Arad, see at Numbers 21:1. On Zalmonah, Phunon, and Oboth, see at Numbers 21:10; on Ijje Abarim, at Numbers 21:11; on Dibon Gad, Almon Diblathaim, and the mountains of Abarim, before Nebo, Numbers 21:16-20. On Arboth Moab, see Numbers 22:1.
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