Israel’s Growth and Bondage & The Exodus

Jacob and Joseph were the two leaders of the Israelites, so now that their dead what’s going to happen to the Israelites?

According to historical sources, the events that took place in Genesis were a total of 2,369 years, and the events that took place in Exodus didn’t being until 350 years later. 

What happened in those 350 years is anyone’s guess, and probably not important or You would have had Moses write them down since it’s believed that he’s the author of the first five books of the Bible.

Prior to Exodus God had given two premonitions that come true in Exodus.

“And he said unto Abram, Know of a surety that thy seed shall be a stranger in a land that is not theirs, and shall serve them; and they shall afflict them 400 years;

Pithom, Egyptian Per-Atum or Per Tum (“Estate of Atum”), probably modern Tall al-Maskhūṭah, ancient Egyptian city located near Ismailia in Al-Ismāʿīliyyah muḥāfaẓah (governorate) and mentioned in the Bible (Exodus 1:11) as one of the treasure houses built for the pharaoh by the Hebrews prior to the Exodus.

Although Pithom has been identified as Tall al-Maskhūṭah, excavations at the site have revealed that, aside from an unfortified outpost of the Hyksos period (see ancient Egypt: The Second Intermediate period), the earliest layers do not predate the 7th century bce.

The monuments of Ramses II that in the past have been used as a dating criterion for the site were apparently transported to Tall al-Maskhūṭah, perhaps by the kings of the 30th dynasty (380–343 bce; see ancient Egypt: The 28th, 29th, and 30th dynasties), to adorn this later city.

And also that nation, whom they shall serve, will I judge: and afterward shall they come out with great substance. 

And though shalt go to thy fathers in peace; thou shalt be buried in a good old age. 

But in the 4th generation they shall come hither again: for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet full” (Gen 15:13-16).

“And God spake unto Israel in the visions of the night, and said, Jacob, Jacob.  And he said, Here am I. 

And he said, I am God, the God of thy father: fear not to go down into Egypt; for I will there make of thee a great nation” (Gen 46:2-3).

“Now there arose up a new king over Egypt, which knew not Joseph. 

And he said unto his people, Behold, the people of the children of Israel are more and mightier than we. 

Come on, let us deal wisely with them; lest they multiply, and it come to pass, that, when there falleth out any war, they join also unto our enemies, and fight against us, and so get them up out of the land. 

Therefore, they did set over them taskmasters to afflict them with their burdens.  And they built for Pharaoh treasure cities, Pithom and Ramses. 

But the more they afflicted them, the more they multiplied and grew.  And they were grieved because of the children of Israel” (Ex 1:8-12).

Pi-Ramesses (also known as Per-Ramesses, Piramese, Pr-Rameses, Pir-Ramaseu) was the city built as the new capital in the Delta region of ancient Egypt by Ramesses II (known as The Great, 1279-1213 BCE). It was located at the site of the modern town of Qantir in the Eastern Delta and, in its time, was considered the greatest city in Egypt, rivaling even Thebes to the south. The name means ‘House of Ramesses’ (also given as ‘City of Ramesses’) and was constructed close by the older city of Avaris.

The association of the new city with Avaris gave it instant prestige in that Avaris was already legendary by the time of Ramesses II as the capital of the Hyksos who had been defeated and driven from Egypt by Ahmose I (c. 1570-1544 BCE), initiating the period of Egypt’s empire now referred to as the New Kingdom (c. 1570 – c. 1069 BCE). The victory of Ahmose at Avaris, ending Hyksos control of the Delta, was greatly respected by the people of the New Kingdom, but even before that Avaris had been an important center for trade.

Associating his city with Avaris, therefore, was a clever choice of Ramesses II but hardly surprising in that he was well known for his skill in promoting himself and his grand projects. The size and grandeur of Pi-Ramesses, capital of Egypt, would make it far more famous than Avaris ever was, and its association with the long and glorious reign of Ramesses II ensured the memory of the city would live on long after it was abandoned toward the end of the New Kingdom of Egypt.

“The Egyptians made the Israelites’ lives miserable, becoming slaves.  They were forced to make bricks to build houses. 

But when children were born the new Pharaoh told the Hebrew midwives to kill the boys, but they feared God and didn’t obey so the Hebrews continued to populate. 

Pharaoh again demanded that all the boys be drowned in the river” (Ex 1:13-22).

“And there went a man of the house of 2Levi, and took to wife a daughter of Levi. 

And the woman conceived, and bare a son: and when she saw him that he was a goodly child, she hid him three months. 

And when she could no longer hide him, she took for him an ark of bulrushes, and daubed it with slime and with pitch, and put the child therein; and she laid it in the flags by the river’s brink” (Ex 2:1-3).

“And the daughter of Pharaoh came down to wash herself at the river; and her maidens walked along by the river’s side; and when she saw the ark among the flags, she sent her maid to fetch it. 

And when she had opened it, she saw the child: and, behold, the babe wept.  And she had compassion on him, and said, This is one of the Hebrews’ children. 

Then said his sister to Pharaoh’s daughter, Shall I go and call to thee a nurse of the Hebrew women, that she may nurse the child for thee? 

And Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, Go.  And the maid went and called the child’s mother. 

And Pharaoh’s daughter said unto her, Take this child away, and nurse it for me, and I will give thee thy wages.  And the woman took the child, and nursed it. 

And the child grew, and she brought him unto Pharaoh’s daughter, and he became her son.  And she called his name Moses: and she said, Because I drew him out of the water.

And it came to pass in those days, when Moses was grown, that he went out unto his brethren, and looked on their burdens: and he spied an Egyptian smiting a Hebrew, one of his brethren. 

And he looked this way and that way, and when he saw that there was no man, he slew the Egyptian, and hid him in the sand” (Ex 2:5-12).

When Pharaoh heard of the killing he sought to execute Moses, but he ran to the land of Midian.  Moses was sitting at a well when seven women came to fill their troughs. 

The shepherds that showed up tried to run them away, but Moses protected them and helped them fill the troughs.  When finished he went back to their father Reuel’s house with them.

Amenhotep I, also called Amenophis I, king of ancient Egypt (reigned 1514–1493 bce), son of Ahmose I, the founder of the 18th dynasty (1539–1292 bce). He effectively extended Egypt’s boundaries in Nubia (modern Sudan).

The biographies of two soldiers confirm Amenhotep’s wars in Nubia. As shown by a graffito from the seventh year of his reign, he reached the frontier at the Second Cataract of the Nile, probably establishing a frontier farther south on Sai Island. Amenhotep also raided Libya, but no details of the operation are recorded. His only confirmed activities in Asia are the reopening of the mines at Sinai and the reoccupation of the fortress erected there during the Middle Kingdom (1938–c. 1630 bce), but there is indirect evidence that he held territory in Syria.

A fine small alabaster sanctuary of the king, as well as a range of smaller chapels, has been recovered at Karnak, and the king’s official in charge of construction credits another temple to Amenhotep. His tomb was probably a rock-cut structure separated from its mortuary temple, a departure from earlier royal practice. He founded the cemetery workers’ village at Dayr al-Madīnah in western Thebes, and in later periods both the king and his mother were worshipped there.

Reuel invited Moses to stay and even gave him his daughter Zipporah to marry, and they had a son, Gershom.

In time, Pharaoh died and the Israelites cried out to God for help.

“And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. 

And God looked upon the children of Israel, and God had respect unto them” (Ex 2:24-25).

1 The Bible doesn’t’ tell who the Pharaoh at this time was, but historians seem to believe that the one that turned the Israelites into slaves was Ahmose I (1570-1545 B.C.). 

He was the Pharaoh of the 18th Dynasty and even though not well known of and certainly not good to the Hebrew people, was possibly the best Pharaoh Egypt ever had. 

His son, Amenhotep I (1545-1562 B.C.) was the one that ordered all Hebrew male babies be executed.

Amenhotep II is often thought to be the Pharaoh of the Exodus.  Yet, it’s also believed that Thutmose III might have been the one that finally made the Hebrews crack. 

He’s often identified as the Pharaoh of the Great Oppression and called the Napoleon of Ancient Egypt.

2 Levi was one of the brother’s that killed all the people for raping Dinah.  He’s also the grandson on the mother’s side to Moses, Aaron, and Miriam, and the great grandfather on the father’s side.

3 It’s impossible to understand why a loving God would allow horrible things to happen, such as the Holocaust, but God has His reasons. 

God allows things to happen for a purpose, or He is controlling the situation, such as the incident of Moses. 

If Pharaoh wouldn’t have ordered that all Hebrew males  be drowned then Moses never would have been saved by Pharaoh’s daughter and if that wouldn’t have happened then Moses wouldn’t have been trained in all of Egypt’s wisdom to fit him for his calling. This is explained more in theMoses and Egyptian and Literature.”

From the beginning of Moses’ life God directed it, and even guided him to Reuel, which means friend of El.  El pertains to El Shaddai or God Almighty (Ex 6:3). 

Reuel is also called Jethro and Jether, which means excellency.

The Exodus

“Let my people go” proclaimed Moses to Pharaoh.   No event in Israel’s history was more central to Israel’s faith than the Exodus, God’s miraculous deliverance of the Hebrew people out of their bondage. 

The songs of Moses and Miriam exulted in the power of Israel’s God whose strength defied the might of Egypt on Israel’s behalf (Ex 15). 

Later prophets recalled in tender terms God’s gracious act of liberation and His sustaining hand throughout the long years of wandering in the wilderness (Hos 11:1; Jer 2:2-6). 

In the midst of the Sinai, God called the tribes of Israel into a covenant relationship with Him, giving birth to a nation (Ex 19:3-6; 20). 

Date of the Exodus

Few questions of Old Testament history present more problems than the date of the Exodus. 

Competent scholars debate whether the event occurred in the 15th century (1440 B.C.), the 13th century (1250 B.C.), or James Ussher says sometime around the 1600s. 

Amenhotep II was born to Thutmose III and a minor wife of the king: Merytre-Hatshepsut. He was not, however, the firstborn son of this pharaoh; his elder brother Amenemhat, the son of the great king’s chief wife Satiah, was originally the intended heir to the throne since Amenemhat was designated the ‘king’s eldest son” and overseer of the cattle of Amun in Year 24 of Thutmose’s reign.

The former is the traditional date and is based largely on 1 Kgs 6:1, which says that Israel left Egypt 480 years before Solomon built the temple at Jerusalem. 

Since the building of the temple can be dated to about 960 B.C., the addition of 480 years appears to place the Exodus in 1440 B.C. 

Other biblical chronology notes also seem to support a 15th century date.  Judges 11:26 implies the presence of Israel in the Transjordan for 300 years preceding the time of Jephthah who lived about 1100 B.C.  But the exact time Exodus took place is of little matter. 

Geography of the Sinai

Few areas on earth offer the splendor and beauty of the Sinai.  Yet the harsh living conditions that prevail in the Sinai have prevented all but Bedouin tribesmen and a few hardy monks in search of solitude from investigating ins secrets. 

Only recently has the Sinai begun to yield its treasures to explorers and archaeologists alike.

The Sinai Peninsula is a triangle of land measuring 150 miles across the top and 260 miles along the sides.   Two arms of the Red Sea – the Gulfs of Suez and Aqabah – flank it on the west and east, respectively.  

Most people visualize the Sinai as a flat, sandy desert and are unprepared for the rich geological diversity nature has granted to this land.  The Sinai is a desert with little rain and harsh climatic extremes. 

Vegetation is scarce except for the occasional oasis that lends a splash of green to an otherwise barren landscape.

It displays of multicolored sandstone, deep wadis enclosed by towering cliffs, and majestic pink granite peaks of southern Sinai provide a feast for the eyes. Geographically, this area covers 23,220 square miles. 

Route of the Exodus

The route of the Exodus has been hotly debated. Since there are no archaeological artifacts from the Exodus itself and place names seldom match places identifiable today, we are left to sort out the probable route based on clues from the biblical accounts and the land itself. Three main routes of the Exodus to Mt. Sinai have been proposed.

Click on Image to read more.

The Bible contains many geographical notations in Deuteronomy, Numbers, and Exodus about the route of the Exodus.  

Numbers 33 gives a comprehensive listing of all the encampments, from Egypt to the Plains of Moab opposite Jericho.  

Yet the information provided can be interpreted in several ways, leading to different ideas about the route.  

Scholars have proposed three basic routes – the northern, central, and southern route theories – each based on the biblical text. 

Over a dozen mountains have been identified by different scholars as suitable candidates for Mount Sinai, where Moses received the Ten Commandments.  

Only a few sites mentioned in the Exodus have been identified with some certainty.  

Raamses, the point of origin, has been conclusively identified with Qantir, while the central rallying point of Kadesh-barnea seems plausibly located at Ain el-Qudeirat or one of several nearby springs. Most other identifications remain tentative.

Location of Mount Sinai and Possible Route Theories 

An extended discussion of the location of Mount Sinai lies beyond the scope of this work. 

Obviously the location of the sacred mount depends on what route the Israelites took. 

Several arguments have been made for a northern route theory. Moses’ request to make a three-day journey into the desert to offer sacrifice to God implies a mountain close to Goshen, the eastern Nile Delta (Ex 5:3).  

The encounter with the Amalekites at Rephidim (Ex 17:8-16), a seminomadic people who appear elsewhere as inhabitants of the northern Sinai and the southern wildernesses of Palestine, suggests a northern locale for Mount Sinai.  

Mount Sinai, also called Mountain of Moses or Mount Hareh, Hebrew Har Sinai, Arabic Jabal Mūsā, granitic peak of the south-central Sinai Peninsula, Janūb Sīnāʾ (South Sinai) muḥāfaẓah (governorate), Egypt.

Mount Sinai is renowned as the principal site of divine revelation in Jewish history, where God is purported to have appeared to Moses and given him the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20; Deuteronomy 5).

According to Jewish tradition, not only the decalogue but also the entire corpus of biblical text and interpretation was revealed to Moses on Sinai. The mountain is also sacred in both the Christian and Islamic traditions.

Because scholars differ as to the route of the Israelite exodus from Egypt and the place-names in the scriptural account cannot be identified in terms of present sites, a positive identification of the biblical Mount Sinai cannot be made. Mount Sinai itself, however, has long been accepted as the site in the traditions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

Finally, a few poetic passages (Deut 33:2; Hab 3:3) associate Mount Sinai with Paran, an ill-defined term used to describe the wilderness south and southwest of Palestine, perhaps implying a northern crossing. 

A northern route would take the Israelites toward Lake Menzaleh, perhaps along the narrow spit of land encompassing Lake Sirbonis, and then to Kadesh-barnea.

In this scenario Mount Sinai could be identified with Jebel Magharah, Jebel Halal, or Jebel Yeleq.  An alternative would locate Mount Sinai at Jebel Sinn Bishr southeast of the Bitter Lakes.  

Such an identification satisfies the “three day” request of Moses and fits well with the statement that Kadesh-barnea was an eleven-day journey from Mount Sinai (Deut. 1:2). 

A few scholars locate Mount Sinai in Saudi Arabia, perhaps near Petra or further south in the Arabian peninsula at el-Khrob or Hala el-Bedr.

Moses’ flight to the land of Midian (Ex 2:15; 18:1), normally identified with portions of the Arabian Peninsula, lend some support to this hypothesis.

Yet it is readily admitted that the Midianites’ migratory range took them beyond the Arabian peninsula (cf. 1 Kgs 11:18; Jud 6:1-6; Num 13:29; 25:6-7).  

Supporters of an Arabian Mount Sinai also point to the description of God’s appearance on Mount Sinai (Ex 19:18), suggesting that earthquakes and volcanic activity are implied.  

Evidence of volcanic activity in historical times has been noted along the western Arabian coast.  However, the language of Exodus 19 may be better understood as the language of theophany – that is, language used to describe the awesome appearance of God rather than descriptions of volcanic or earthquake activity (cf. Mic 1:24; Ps 18:7-15).  

If the Israelites journeyed to an Arabian Mount Sinai, presumably they would traverse the center of the Sinai peninsula, likely along the Moslem pilgrimage route from Africa to Mecca known as the Darb el-Hajj.  

However, in this writer’s view, an Arabian Mount Sinai seems unlikely. 

Several factors suggest the Israelites fled southward into Sinai and that Mount Sinai should be located in the southern sector of the peninsula.  

First, Ex 13:17 warned against travel by the “way of the land of the Philistines.”

This route, which hugged the northern coast, was the major military route used by the pharaohs and was heavily garrisoned. 

As part of the great trunk route – the International Coastal Highway – this road would be watched closely by the Egyptians. 

Second, Deuteronomy 1:2 locates Mount Sinai as an 11 day journey from Kadesh-barnea, a note that fits best with a Mount Sinai located somewhere in the southern peninsula. 

Third, the Israelites lost the exact location of Mount Sinai after 850 B.C. when Elijah fled to the holy mountain.  

Had the holy mountain been located in the more frequented regions of the north, surely its location would be remembered. 

The problem of Kadesh-Barnea is simply stated: Has the site been correctly identified? If so, why have we found no remains from the Exodus period?

Kadesh-Barnea was the most important stop on the Exodus. The site also has special connections with Moses and his family. The journey of the Israelites through the desert from Egypt ended at Kadesh-Barnea. Here the Israelite tribes first rallied as one nation having a common spiritual vision. From here, the Israelites attempted to penetrate Canaan. And it was here, at Kadesh-Barnea, that they stayed for a generation.

Located between the Wilderness of Paran (Numbers 13:3) and the Wilderness of Zin (Numbers 13:21), Kadesh-Barnea was the site of a series of seminal and dramatic events that befell the wandering Israelites during their years in the desert.

The Exodus Route Described

The Exodus began at Raamses, the administrative center of the 19th Dynasty (Ex 12:37).  

Known to the Egyptians as “House of Rameses,” this sprawling capital included royal palaces and houses for high Egyptian officials who served the court.  

The Hebrews knew the buildings well because their labor had supplied the bricks for construction.  Moving southeast to Succoth, the multitude avoided the more heavily traveled “way of the land of the Philistines” at God’s command (Ex 13:17).

Succoth has been identified with Tell el-Maskhu- tah at the eastern end of the Wadi Tumilat, conceded to be the TKW (an Egyptian vocalization of an ancient place name) mentioned in Egyptian records.

Succoth was a border town where frontier officials kept check on migrating tribes as they entered Egypt from Sinai. 

Approaching the Sea

After Succoth, Exodus mentions four sites in connection with two encampments before the deliverance of the Sea:

Etham, Pi-hahiroth, Migdol, and Baal-zephon (Exod. 13:20; 14:2). 

Despite this geographic detail, the direction of the march is uncertain; several alternatives are possible.

The Hebrews could have continued eastward following the “way to Shur,” or they could have “turned back” north, becoming trapped in the area around Lake Menza-leh.  

The latter was a saltwater marsh region known in Egyptian records for the papypus reeds that grew in the area.

More likely, Moses took a southeast track toward the wilderness. An Egyptian document relates the story of two fugitive slaves tracked by officials south of Succoth.  

The story mentions two sites with names very similar if not identical to Etham and Migdol.  This suggests that the Hebrews followed a route used by slaves that led them away from authorities.

Deliverance at the Sea

Encamped at Pi-hahiroth, the Israelites found themselves caught between the sea before them and the pursuing Egyptians.

In a great miracle, God parted the waters by sending a strong east wind, allowing the children of Israel to escape.

We only know with certainty, three of the nearly 50 places listed in the exodus between Egypt and the Jordan 40 years later. Rameses (Goshen), Ezion-Geber (modern Elat) and Mt. Nemo. God has chosen for us to know only the starting, midway and ending cities. Nothing in between is known for certain.

Additionally, of all the wilderness areas mentioned in the exodus, we only know for certain that the Wilderness of Shur was in Midian where Ishmael settled.

We do not know for certain any of the following places: Mt. Sinai, Wilderness of Sinai, Kadesh Barnea, Wilderness of Zin, Wilderness of Paran. All these places are interdependent on each other. The fact that there are over 15 different proposed sites for Mt. Sinai on three different continents proves this.

In trying to locate the crossing point of the Red Sea, we need to follow closely what the Bible says. Of course the actual crossing point needs to be possible, logical and harmonize with scripture. For example, crossing a shallow freshwater lake like the Bitter Lakes, where winds merely blew the water away, creates a problem for how the Egyptian army would be drowned. On the other hand, a crossing through the center of either the Gulf of Suez or Gulf of Aqaba where the water is often 1800 meters deep, easily explains the drowning of the army, but creates a problem in actually getting one million men, women, children and livestock to negotiate the steep 60 degree downward slope to the bottom almost a mile deep, then back up the other equally steep side.

The date of the exodus was 1446 BC, in the 18th dynasty of Egypt, 480 years before Solomon built the Temple: 1 Kings 6:1. About 70 years later, Pharaoh Akhenaten (1379 – 1362 BC) would arise and promote a monotheism that worshipped the sun god Aten.

All things considered, we are proposing that the Straits of Tiran in the Gulf of Aqaba, is the best candidate crossing point in 1446 BC.

Several passages call this body of water Yam  Suph, sometimes translated “Red Sea” but more properly “Sea of Reeds” (Ex 13:18; 15:4).

Traditionally, the north end of the Gulf of Suez has been identified with the Yam Suph, but the head of the Gulf is located a considerable distance south of Succoth.  

Likely, the chariots of pharaoh would have overtaken the fleeing Israelites sooner than the time required to reach the Gulf of Suez .

One of the lakes bordering Egypt and the Sinai (Lake Timsah or one of the Bitter Lakes) seems a more likely scene of this mighty act of God. 

Entering the Wilderness

After the miraculous sea crossing, Moses led the Israelites for three days into the wilderness of Shur (Ex 15:22).  

The harsh reality of life in the Sinai quickly gripped the tribes in this arid, desolate land.  The contrast with the flesh-pots of Egypt could not have been more dramatic.  

A few scrub trees in this region are the only sign of life in an otherwise barren landscape.  

Little wonder that the Israelites raised a cry for water, which God answered at Marah, a Hebrew word meaning “bitter,” by turning the bitter waters of an oasis sweet. 

Continuing down the coast of Sinai, the next encampment at Elim (Wadi Gharan-del?) afforded abundant springs and date groves.  Some scholars identify Jebel Sin-Bishr, about fifty miles south of Suez, with Mount Sinai.   

Convenient desert tracks lead from this mountain northeastward to Kadesh-barnea.  

The reference to a three-day journey requested by Moses to go and worship God (Ex 5:3) admittedly fits Jebel Sin-Bishr better than other candidates for Mount Sinai, but possibly the route of Exodus led further south away from the arm of pharaoh.

Approaching Sinai

Moses led the children of Israel beyond Elim into the Wilderness of Zin, where the divine provision of manna and quail began (Ex 16:1).  

Perhaps their route took them near the Egyptian turquoise mines at Serabit el-Khadim.  In this region the mountains begin to reach higher into the sky, and twisting wadis radiate off in many directions.

The Israelites must have experienced a sense of alienation and fear as they pressed deeper into the wilderness, where only the sustaining and guiding hand of Yahweh prevented utter disaster.

Multicolored sandstone gave way to pink-hued granite as the tribes made their way perhaps along the Wadi Feiran leading to the heart of the southern peninsula.  An attack by the Amalekites at Rephidim was successfully repelled (Ex 17).

Rephidim has been traditionally identified with Oasis Feiran, although the identification seems unlikely.  Perhaps the Wadi Refayid is a better candidate.  

The Amalekites did not normally range this far south, possibly another argument for a northern crossing.

Mount Sinai

Finally, after three months, the Israelites arrived within a plain below the massive peaks of southern Sinai and encamped before the mountain appointed by God (Ex 19:1; 3:12).  

At Mount Sinai, Yahweh made a covenant with Israel, giving to Moses the Ten Commandments (Ex 19-20).  

Tradition long has identified Mount Sinai with Jebel Musa (7,482 feet), although other higher peaks like Jebel Katerin (8,651 feet) and Jebel Umm Shomar (8,482 feet) rise above the traditional site.

Below Jebel Musa, the Greek Orthodox Monastery of Saint Catherine, built by Justinian about A.D. 550, marks the traditional spot where early Christians believed Moses met God at the burning bush (Ex 3).

Springs in the immediate vicinity still supply water for both Bedouin flocks and monks alike.

Wilderness of Paran
There are two main wildernesses mentioned in Scripture: the Wilderness of Paran and the Wilderness of Zin. The wilderness of Paran is the location of much of the wilderness wanderings.

Numbers 10:12 (KJV) “And the children of Israel took their journeys out of the wilderness of Sinai; and the cloud rested in the wilderness of Paran.”

On to Kadesh-barnea

After a year’s stay at Mount Sinai, the Israelites commenced their journey again, traveling northeastward toward Kadesh-barnea about 150 miles away.

The main narrative in Numbers 10-13 mentions only three stopping places, although Numbers 33 lists twenty encampments. None can be identified with certainty.  

Most likely the route followed a series of wadis (transliteration of Arabic word for a rocky watercourse that is dry except during rainy seasons) slightly inland from the Gulf of Aqabah.  

Their route took them through the Wilderness of Paran (Num 10:12; 12:16), apparently an ancient term used to describe large portions of Sinai. 

Along the way, Miriam and Aaron futilely challenged Moses’ leadership (Num 12), and the people continued to complain about their provisions (Num 11).  

After an indeterminate time, the tribes finally arrived at Kadesh-barnea on the border between Sinai and Canaan. 

The Sojourn at Kadesh

Kadesh-barnea became a gathering place for the tribes during an extended stay of 38 years, occasioned by their unfaithfulness to God.

Kadesh-barnea has been located on the northern edge of the Sinai, either at Ain el-Qudeirat or Ain Qedis, both sites having important springs.  

The Israelites likely utilized all available water sources during their prolonged stay.  Although the immediate surroundings were inviting, the broader environs of Kadesh-barnea were harsher. 

The Bible associates Kadesh-barnea with the Wilderness of Zin, a land contorted by geology and practically devoid of vegetation and water.

The Wilderness of Zin stretched northeastward from Kadesh, which itself lay in the Wilderness of Paran (Num 13:26). 

Kadesh-barnea stood at the junction of two important roads; one linked Egypt with Edom, and the other extended from the Gulf of Aqabah northward through the Negeb in the hill country of Canaan.

The following is an outline of the major events centered upon Kadesh-barnea.

Wilderness Wanderings
Numbers 13:1-3 (KJV) “And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying, Send thou men, that they may search the land of Canaan, which I give unto the children of Israel: of every tribe of their fathers shall ye send a man, every one a ruler among them.

And Moses by the commandment of the LORD sent them from the wilderness of Paran: all those men were heads of the children of Israel.”

Events During the Sojourn at Kadesh-Barnea

I.   Moses sent out the twelve spies to reconnoiter the Promised Land (Num 13).  The spies left the Wilderness of Paran,  entered the Negeb, and traveled through the central mountain range of western Palestine.  

Their route took them through the Negeb and the mountains of western Palestine as far north as Lebo-hamath.  

Grapes retrieved from the Valley of Eschol indicate their journey took place in the summer.  

The spies brought back a divided report. The majority reported that the land was well fortified and could not be conquered, but Caleb and Joshua urged the people to seize the promised land (Num 13:25-33). 

II. The people, alarmed by the report of the spies, made plans to return to Egypt despite the pleas of Joshua and Caleb that the land could be taken.

Moses’ intervention for Israel’s rebellion against God spared the people, but God decreed a punishment of 40 years of wandering that would eliminate the unbelieving generation (Num 14:1-35). 

III. Unwilling to accept God’s verdict, the men of Israel attempted to storm the land of Canaan from the south, but were repulsed by a combination of Amalekites and Canaanites at Hormah in the vicinity of Beer-sheba (Num 14:39-45); Deut 1:41-46).  

IV. Further rebellion led by Korah, Dathan, and Abiram only confirmed the faithlessness that infected the tribes (Num 16). 

V.  Miriam, Moses’ sister and a prophetess, died at Kadesh-barnea (Num 16). 

VI. Moses provided water for the complaining Israelites at Kadesh-barnea (Num 20:2-13; cf. Ex 17:1-7).  At Kadesh, God punished both Moses and Aaron for their arrogant actions by forbidding them entrance into the Promised Land.

VII. Shortly after leaving Kadesh-barnea, on the way to Edom, Aaron died and was buried at Mount Hor (Num 20:22-29).  Moses consecrated Aaron’s son Eleazar in the place of his father. 

The oldest historical record we have regarding the location of Mt. Hor is by Josephus, who located it at Petra.

Maps up until 1831 AD located Both Kadesh Barnea and Mt. Hor at or near Petra.

However, between 1831 and 1916 AD, the location for Kadesh and Mt. Hor were moved from Petra to four places: In 1831, Karl Von Raumer chose Ein Hasb for Kadesh Barnea. In 1838 Edward Robinson chose Ein El Weibeh. just a few km south of Ein Hasb. Between 1881-1916 AD, Kadesh was located at Ein Qedeis. Between 1916 -2005 AD Kadesh was thought to be at Ein el-Qudeirat. Since 2005 AD, Kadesh has been stored back to the Petra area.

As a result of moving Kadesh, there was a necessity to move Mt. Hor, since they are only one stop apart in the exodus route.

Between 1881 to the present time, Jebel Maderah has been the choice for Mt. Hor by those who believe Kadesh is at Ein el-Qudeirat.

The location of Mount Hor cannot be established with certainty, but likely it lay northeast of Kadesh-barnea on the way to Edom; one suggestion is that Mount Hor should be identified with Jebel Madura. 

The journey from Kadesh-barnea to the Plains of Moab, narrated in Num 20-21; 33; Deut 1-2; and Jud 11:12-28, presents numerous geographical problems.  

Num 20, 21:4, and Deut 2 describe a detour to the east forced upon Israel when the kings of Edom and Moab refused a request by Moses to cross their kingdoms (Num 20:14-21).  

However, Num 33 and Num 21:10-20 seem to suggest a route that leads across the Arabah to the King’s Highway.  

The difference in the accounts are not easily harmonized, but a major detour best satisfies the main narrative.  

Perhaps the movements of more than one group of Israelites are reflected in these accounts, a hypothesis that is attractive if we consider the movements up to the crossing of the Zered as part of the wanderings. 

Israel initially moved northeast into the Wilderness of Zin, where Aaron died and was buried on Mount Hor (Num 20:24-29).

The Israelites may have traveled as far as the Arabah before it became clear that the kings of Edom and Moab would not let them pass.  

Turning south, the tribes followed the “way of the Red (Reed) Sea,” arriving at Ezion-geber at the top of the Gulf of Aqabah (Num 14:25; Deut 2:1). 

At Ezion-geber another command to turn north and bypass their distant kinsmen, the Edomites and Moabites, can be interpreted in two ways (Deut 2:3-12).  

Perhaps Moses selected a desert track along the edge of the desert that skirted Edom and Moab to the east.  This route, the “way of the wilderness of Moab,” certainly was used at some point.  

King Solomon built a fleet of ships at Ezion-Geber which is near Elath on the shore of the Red Sea, in the land of Edom…and they went to Ophir and brought from there gold…and they brought it to King Solomon” (1 Kings 9:26).

Another possibility is that the tribes moved north along the eastern edge of the Arabah to Punon, a site known for its copper deposits. The bronze serpent episode fits well in this region (Num 21:6-9).

Continuing up the Zered River through difficult terrain, the Israelites skirted Moab by taking the desert road around Moab (Deut 2:8).

Finally, Moses led Israel down and across the great gorge of the Arnon and   intersected the King’s Highway. 

Amorite kings controlled much of the Transjordan Plateau stretching beyond them to the north. 

The days of battle had Moses sent messengers to Sihon, king of Heshbon, entreating the Amorites to allow Israel safe passage, a request that Sihon refused.

Heshbon was an important city on the King’s Highway and a key to controlling the lush grazing lands of the mishor or “tableland” of Moab.   

Sihon refused the request and gathered his force for attack.  At Jahaz, the tribes defeated Sihon’s army and subsequently conquered Amorite villages scattered between the Arnon and southern Gilead (Deut 2:24-37; Num 21:21-32). 

Next, Israel attacked Og, king of Bashan, seizing the towns and villages of his kingdom (Num 21:33-35; Deut 3:1-11).  

At the heart of the market town of Deir ‘Alla in the Jordan Valley, c. 230m below sea level, stands an imposing archaeological mound. Tell Deir ‘Alla (mound of the high monastery), has been identified by some scholars as biblical Succoth, and by others as Penuel, both punished by Gideon for refusing to help pursue the Midianites (Judg. 8:4-17). Excavations since the 1960s, by Dutch and Jordanian teams, show that the tell was almost continuously occupied from r. 1700 to 400 BC, Middle Bronze Age to the Hellenistic era, though most remains are from the Iron Age.

A large Late Bronze Age sanctuary with associated workshops, contained a quantity of pottery, much of it not locally made. These foreign objects speak of an extensive trade network between Egypt, Mesopotatmia, the Levant and Mycene in which the sanctuary played a significant part. It functioned for about 400 years before being destroyed in an earthquake and fire in the early 12th century ac.

The settlement continued to flourish in the Iron Age, still as an important trading station with cultic significance. Among the most important finds were some inscriptions in an early form of Aramaic. One, in black and red ink dating from the 9th century BC ‘(unique in being written on a wall), recounts a prophecy of Balaam son of Beor, a character who also appears in the Bible (Num. 22-24) in a rather unfavorable light.

These victories brought much of the territory from the Arnon to Mount Hermon in the north under Israel’s control, land eventually divided among the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and East Manasseh. 

The victorious Israelites made camp in the Plains of Moab at Shittim, opposite Jericho beyond the Jordan.  Their successes brought fear to other kings in the region.  

Balak, king of Moab, sought the service of Baalam, son of Beor, to place a curse on Israel in an effort to forestall further victories (Num 22-24).   

Aramaic texts found at Tell Deir Alla in the Jordan Valley included prophecies of this same Baalam, whose fame as a seer continued for generations.

God caused Baalam to bless Israel, although the people of Israel joined themselves to the pagan god Baal of Peor, resulting in 24,000 (Num 25). 

Moses delivered his final address to Israel in the Plains of Moab. 

Because of his disobedience in the wilderness, Moses would be permitted only to view the Promised Land from the heights of nearby Mount Nebo (Num 20:8-13). 

Yet he had accomplished his purpose; Israel was now poised to strike across the Jordan and claim the land promised to her forefathers.  With the death of Moses, Joshua the son of Nun took his place.