In Summary: Well, reading through Numbers 33 might have felt like a beating. It was almost a beating, what with all the location references and the big loop the Israelites take.
That is really the main summary here. It’s not earth-shattering or amazing, not astounding or magnificent. It’s just a travelogue. These are real places, though we are not fully aware of the locations of all of them. There is an aim to the rambling, but it is not a path that we can fully follow.
The chapter also includes the passing of Aaron the High Priest. At 123, he had lived his years. The people then come to the area around Nebo, where Moses will die before Joshua leads the Israelites across the Jordan to Jericho.
In Focus: The chapter concludes with a command. Remember to drive out all the inhabitants of the land, destroy all of their idols, do not keep their religion!
And as you take the land, divide it among yourselves, fairly. The bigger families should start with more, the smaller with less—but use lots to distribute it so there is no favoritism. Why? Because there was equal work to be done.
If you do not follow and honor this command, though, there is a consequence: Numbers 33:56 records God’s clear, dire warning. Disobedience is why the Canaanites are being judged, so this is the same potential consequence to you. Walk properly.
In Practice: Three things in practice:
1. Sometimes, it takes some wandering to get where you are going. Keep wandering until you get there. Especially if your wandering is led by God, through His Word. You may feel lost or bored, but that wilderness path is the way to the Promised Land.
2. Time eventually catches us all. What legacy do we leave? Obedience or a mixed heart?
3. Give people a fair start. The land was to be divided equally and proportionately based on family sizes. After that, though, wealth shifted and changed. It should have done so based on work ethic, but we can all be certain that sometimes unethical behaviors unbalanced the scales a bit, too. Still—allow people the benefit of a clean start when possible.
4. As you commit to walk with God, as you take your life, destroy the old vestiges. Do not put them in the attic or even hold them as trophies to remind you what you have overcome. Destroy it all, give it no power over you.
Obviously, this does not apply to destroying people, but fix your relationships. Do not leave yourself drawn down and away.
In Nerdiness: There are many people bothered by the lack of archaeological evidence for the Exodus route. It feels like we should have a better grasp of where they went and when they went there.
This is where the faith aspect comes into play. We trust that the text says what God intends it to say, even if we cannot find it in the dirt. Do we go dig only where the text indicates? Not really—but we acknowledge that the Scriptural text might guide our understanding.
Also notice a bit of foreshadowing in Numbers 33:40. Let’s see how that comes back to us. I like the New American Commentary’s description here of the trip around the Wilderness as Israel’s Victory March. There had to be some intimidation in this body of people roaming the desert fringes with everyone wondering… “Where are they going to attack?”