Numbers 33
Pulpit Commentary
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.
Verse 1. - These are the journeys. The Hebrew word מַסְעֵי is rendered σταθμοί by the Septuagint, which means "stages" or "stations." It is, however, quite rightly translated "journeys," for it is the act of setting out and marching from such a place to such another which the word properly denotes (cf. Genesis 13:3; Deuteronomy 10:11).
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.
Verse 2. - And Moses wrote their goings out (מוּצָא. Septuagint, ἀπάρσεις) according to their journeys by the commandment of the Lord. The latter clause (עַל־פִי יְהוָה) may be taken as equivalent to an adjective qualifying the noun "goings out," signifying only that their marches were made under the orders of God himself. It is more natural to read it with the verb "wrote;" and in that case we have a direct assertion that Moses wrote this list of marches himself by command of God, doubtless as a memorial not only of historical interest, but of deep religious significance, as showing how Israel had been led by him who is faithful and true faithful in keeping his promise, true in fulfilling his word for good or for evil. The direct statement that Moses wrote this list himself is strongly corroborated by internal evidence, and has been accepted as substantially true by the most destructive critics. No conceivable inducement could have existed to invent a list of marches which only partially corresponds with the historical account, and can only with difficulty be reconciled with it - a list which contains many names nowhere else occurring, and having no associations for the later Israelites. Whether the statement thus introduced tells in favour of the Mosaic authorship (as usually accepted) of the rest of the Book is a very different matter, on which see the Introduction.
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.
Verse 3. - They departed from Rameses. Hebrew, Raemses. See on Exodus 1:11; 12:37. The brief description here given of the departure from Egypt touches upon every material circumstance as related at large in Exodus 11:41. In the sight of all the Egyptians. The journey was begun by night (Exodus 12:42), but was of course con-tinned on the following day.
For the Egyptians buried all their firstborn, which the LORD had smitten among them: upon their gods also the LORD executed judgments.
Verse 4. - Buried all their first-born, which the Lord had smitten among them. Literally, "were burying (Septuagint, ἔθαπτον) those whom the Lord had smitten among them, viz., all the first-born." The fact that the Egyptians were so universally employed about the funeral rites of their first-born - rites to which they paid such extreme attention - seems to be mentioned here as supplying one reason at least why the Israelites began their outward march without opposition. It is in perfect accordance with what we know of the Egyptians, that all other passions and interests should give place for the time to the necessary care for the departed. Upon their gods also the Lord executed judgments. See on Exodus 12:12, and cf. Isaiah 19:1. The false deities of Egypt, having no existence except in the imaginations of men, could only be affected within the sphere of those imaginations, i.e., by being made contemptible in the eyes of those who feared 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.
Verse 6. - Etham. See on Exodus 13:20.
And they removed from Etham, and turned again unto Pihahiroth, which is before Baalzephon: and they pitched before Migdol.
Verse 7. - Pi-hahiroth. Hebrew, "Hahi-roth," without the prefix. See on Exodus 14:2.
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.
Verse 8. - In the wilderness of Etham. This is called the wilderness of Shur in Exodus 15:22, nor is it easy to explain the occurrence of the name Etham in this connection, for the Etham mentioned in verse 6 lay on the other side of the Red Sea. We do not, however, know what physical changes have taken place since that time, and it is quite possible that at Etham there may have been a ford, or some other easy means of communication, so that the strip of desert along the opposite shore came to be known as the wilderness of Etham.
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.
Verse 9. - Elim. See on Exodus 15:27.
And they removed from Elim, and encamped by the Red sea.
Verse 10. - Encamped by the Red Sea. This encampment, like those at Dophkah and at Alush (verse 13), is not mentioned in the narrative of Exodus. The phraseology, however, used in Exodus 16:1; Exodus 17:1 leaves abundant room for intermediate halting-places, at which it is to be presumed that nothing very noteworthy happened Nothing whatever is known of these three stations.
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.
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.
And they departed from Rephidim, and pitched in the wilderness of Sinai.
Verse 15. - The wilderness of Sinai. See on Exodus 19:1.
And they removed from the desert of Sinai, and pitched at Kibrothhattaavah.
And they departed from Kibrothhattaavah, and encamped at Hazeroth.
Verse 17. - Kibroth-hattaavah... Hazeroth. See on Numbers 11:34, 35.
And they departed from Hazeroth, and pitched in Rithmah.
Verse 18. - Rithmah. Comparing this verso with Numbers 12:16 and Numbers 13:26, it would appear as if Rithmah were the station "in the wilderness of Paran" from which the spies went up, and to which they returned - a station subsequently known by the name of Kadesh. There are two difficulties in the way of this identification. In the first place we should then only have three names of stations between Sinai and the southern border of Palestine, on what is at least eleven days' journey. This is, however, confessedly the case in the historical narrative, and it admits of explanation. We know that the first journey was a three days' journey (Numbers 10:33), and the others may have been longer still, through a country which presented no facilities for encamping, and possessed no variety of natural features. In the second place, Rithmah is not Kadesh, and cannot be connected with Kadesh except through a doubtful identification with the Wady Retemat in the neighbourhood of Ain Kudes (see note at end of chapter 13). It is, however, evident from Numbers 12:16, as compared with Numbers 13:26, that Kadesh was not the name originally given to the encampment "in the wilderness of Paran." It seems to have got that name - perhaps owing to some popular feeling with respect to an ancient sanctuary, perhaps owing to some partial shifting of the camp - during the absence of the spies. Rithmah, therefore, may well have been the official name (so to speak) originally given to the encampment, but subsequently superseded by the more famous name of Kadesh; this would explain both its non-appearance in the narrative of Numbers, and its appearance in the Itinerary here.
And they departed from Rithmah, and pitched at Rimmonparez.
Verse 19. - Rimmon-parez. The latter part of the name is the same as parats or perets, which commonly signifies a breaking out of . Divine anger. This place may possibly have been the scene of the events related in chapters 16, 17, but the Targum of Palestine connects them with Kehelathah.
And they departed from Rimmonparez, and pitched in Libnah.
Verse 20. - Libnah. Hebrew לִבְנָה ("whiteness") may perhaps be the same as the Laban (לָבָן, "white") mentioned in Deuteronomy 1:1. So many places, however, in that region are distinguished by the dazzling whiteness of their limestone cliffs that the identification is quite uncertain. The site of this, as of the next eight stations, is indeed utterly unknown; and the guesses which are founded on the partial and probably accidental similarity of some modern names (themselves differently pronounced by different travelers) are utterly worthless. Of these eight names, Kehelathah and Makheloth seem to be derived from קָהָל, "an assembling," and thus give some slight support to the supposition that during the thirty-eight years the people were scattered abroad, and only assembled from time to time in one place. Rissah is variously interpreted "heap of ruins," or "dew;" Shapher means "fair," or "splendid;" Haradah, or Charadah, is "terror," or "trembling" (cf. 1 Samuel 14:15); Tahath is a "going down," or "depression;" Tarah is "turning," or "delay;" Mithcah signifies "sweetness," and may be compared (in an opposite sense) to Marah.
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.
Verse 30. - Hashmonah. This is possibly the Heshmon of Joshua 15:27, since this was one of the "uttermost cities... toward the coast of Edom, southward." The name, however ("fruitfulness"), was probably common on the edge of the desert. Moseroth. This is simply the plural form of Moserah ("chastisement"), and is no doubt the place so called in Deuteronomy 10:6 (see note at end of chapter).
And they departed from Moseroth, and pitched in Benejaakan.
Verse 31. - Bene-Jaakan. The full name is given in Deuteronomy 10:6 as Beeroth-beni-Jaakan, "the wells of the children of Jaakan." Jaakan, or Akan, was a grandson of Seir, the legendary tribe father of the Horites of Mount Seir (Genesis 36:20, 27; 1 Chronicles 1:42). The wells of the Beni-Jaakan may well have retained their name long after their original owners had been dispossessed; or a remnant of the tribe may have held together until this time.
And they removed from Benejaakan, and encamped at Horhagidgad.
Verse 32. - Hor-ha-gidgad. The MSS. and Versions are divided between Chor. ("cave.") and Her ("summit," or "mountain"). Gid-gad is no doubt the Gudgodah of Deuteronomy 10:7.
And they went from Horhagidgad, and pitched in Jotbathah.
Verse 33. - Jotbathah. The meaning of this name, which is apparently "excellent," is explained by the note in Deuteronomy 10:7 "Jotbath, a land of rivers of waters." It would be difficult to find such a land now in the neighbourhood of the Arabah, but there are still running streams in some of the wadys which open into the Arabah towards its southern end.
And they removed from Jotbathah, and encamped at Ebronah.
Verse 34. - Ebronah, or "Abronah," a "beach," or "passage," called "the Fords" by the Targum of Palestine. It is conjectured that it lay below Ezion-geber, just opposite to Elath, with which place it may have been connected by a ford at low tide, but this is quite uncertain.
And they departed from Ebronah, and encamped at Eziongaber.
Verse 35. - Ezion-gaber, or rather "Etsion-geber," the "giant's backbone." This can hardly be other than the place mentioned in 1 Kings 9:26; 2 Chronicles 8:17 as the harbour of King Solomon's merchant navy. At this later date it was at the head of the navigable waters of the Elanitic Gulf, but considerable changes have taken place in the shore line since the age of Solomon, and no doubt similar changes took place before. It was known to, and at times occupied by, the Egyptians, and the wretched village which occupies the site is still called Aszium by the Arabs. The name itself would seem to be due to some peculiar rock formation - probably the serrated crest either of a neighbouring mountain or of a half-submerged reef.
And they removed from Eziongaber, and pitched in the wilderness of Zin, which is Kadesh.
Verse 36. - The wilderness of Zin, which is Kadesh. See on chapter Numbers 20:1.
And they removed from Kadesh, and pitched in mount Hor, in the edge of the land of Edom.
Verse 37. - Mount Hor. See on Numbers 20:22.
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.
Verse 38. - In the fortieth year... in the first day of the fifth month. This is the only place where the date of Aaron's death is given. It is in strict accordance with the Divine intimation that Israel was to wander forty years in the wilderness (Numbers 14:33, 34), that period being understood, according to the usual mercy of God, which shortens the days of evil, to include the time already spent in the wilderness.
And Aaron was an hundred and twenty and three years old when he died in mount Hor.
Verse 39. - An hundred and twenty and three years old. He had been eighty-three years old when he first stood before Pharaoh, forty years before (Exodus 7:7).
And king Arad the Canaanite, which dwelt in the south in the land of Canaan, heard of the coming of the children of Israel.
Verse 40. - And king Arad... heard of the coming. See on chapter Numbers 21:1. The introduction of this notice, for which there seems no motive, and which has no assignable connection with the context, is extremely perplexing. It is not simply a fragment which has slipped in by what we call accident (like Deuteronomy 10:6, 7), for the longer statement in chapter Numbers 21:1-3 occupies the same position in the historical narrative immediately after the death of Aaron. It is difficult to suppose that Moses wrote this verse and left it as it stands; it would rather seem as if a later hand had begun to copy out a statement from some earlier document - in which it had itself perhaps become misplaced - and had not gone on with it.
And they departed from mount Hor, and pitched in Zalmonah.
Verse 41. - Zalmonah. This place is not elsewhere mentioned, and cannot be identified. Either this or Punon may be the encampment where the brazen serpent was set up; according to the Targum of Palestine it was the latter.
And they departed from Zalmonah, and pitched in Punon.
Verse 42. - Punon. Perhaps connected with the Pinon of Genesis 36:41. The Septuagint has Φινώ, and it is identified by Eusebius and Jerome with Phaeno, a place between Petra and Zoar where convicts were sent to labour in the mines. Probably, however, the march of the Israelites lay further to the east, inasmuch as they scrupulously abstained from trespassing upon Edom.
And they departed from Punon, and pitched in Oboth.
And they departed from Oboth, and pitched in Ijeabarim, in the border of Moab.
Verse 44. - Oboth... Ije-abarim. See on Numbers 21:11.
And they departed from Iim, and pitched in Dibongad.
Verse 45. - Dibon-gad. This encampment may have been the same as that previously called by the name of Nabaliel or Bamoth (Numbers 21:19, and see on Numbers 33:34). Several stages are here passed over in the Itinerary. At a time when the conquest and partial occupation of large districts was going on, it would be hard to say what regular stages were made by the host as such (see note at end of chapter).
And they removed from Dibongad, and encamped in Almondiblathaim.
Verse 46. - Almon-diblathaim. Probably the same as the Beth-diblathaim mentioned in Jeremiah 48:22 as a Moabitish town contignous to Dibon, Nebo, and Kiriathaim. The name, which signifies "hiding-place of the two circles" or "cakes," was doubtless due either to some local legend, or more probably to the fanciful interpretation of some peculiar feature in the landscape.
And they removed from Almondiblathaim, and pitched in the mountains of Abarim, before Nebo.
Verse 47. - The mountains of Abarim, before Nebo. The same locality is called "the top of Pisgah, which looketh toward the waste," in Numbers 21:20 (see note there, and at Numbers 27:12). Nebo is the name of a town here, as in Numbers 32:3, 38, and in the later books; in Deuteronomy (Deuteronomy 32:49; Deuteronomy 34:1) it is the name of the mountain, here included in the general designation Abarim.
And they departed from the mountains of Abarim, and pitched in the plains of Moab by Jordan near Jericho.
Verse 48. - In the plains of Moab. See on Numbers 22:1.
And they pitched by Jordan, from Bethjesimoth even unto Abelshittim in the plains of Moab.
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
And the LORD spake unto Moses in the plains of Moab by Jordan near Jericho, saying,
Verse 50. - And the Lord spake. It is quite obvious that a new section begins here, closely connected, not with the Itinerary which precedes it, but with the delimitation which follows. The formula which introduces the present command is repeated in Numbers 35:1, and again in the last verse of chapter 36, thus giving a character of its own to this concluding portion of the Book, and to some extent isolating it from the rest.
Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, When ye are passed over Jordan into the land of Canaan;
Verse 51. - When ye are passed over Jordan. Previous legislation had anticipated the time when they should have come into their own land (cf. Numbers 15:2; Leviticus 23:10), but now the crossing of the river is spoken of as the last step on their journey home.
Then ye shall drive out all the inhabitants of the land from before you, and destroy all their pictures, and destroy all their molten images, and quite pluck down all their high places:
Verse 52. - Ye shall drive out. The Hebrew word (from יָרַשׁ) is the same which is translated "dispossess" in the next verse. The Septuagint has in both cases ἀπολεῖτε, supplying (like the A.V.) the word "inhabitants" in verse 53. The Hebrew word, however, seems to have much the same sense as the English phrase "clear out," and is, therefore, equally applied to the land and the occupants of it. No doubt it implies extermination as a necessary condition of the clearance. Their pictures. מַשְׂכִּלֺיּתָם. Septuagint, τὰς σκοπιὰς αὐτῶν, (their outlooks, or high places). The Targums of Onkelos and Palestine have "the houses of their worship;" the Targum of Jerusalem has "their idols." The same word occurs in Leviticus 26:1, in the phrase אֵבֶן מַשְׂכִּית, which is usually rendered "a stone image," i.e., a stone shaped into some likeness of man. If so, מַשְׂכִּית by itself has probably the same meaning; at any rate it can hardly be "a picture," nor is there the least evidence that the art of painting was at all practiced among the rude tribes of' Canaan. The same word, maskith, is indeed found in Ezekiel 8:12 in connection with "gravings" (from חָקַק; cf. Isaiah 22:16; Isaiah 49:18 with Ezekiel 4:1; Ezekiel 23:14) on a wall; but even this belonged to a very different age. Their molten images, צַלְמֵי מַסֵּכֹתָם, "images cast of brass." Septuagint, τὰ εἰδωλα τὰ χονευτά The word tselem is only elsewhere used in the Pentateuch for that "likeness" which is reproduced in Divine creation (Genesis 1:26, 27; Genesis 9:6) or in human generation (Genesis 5:3); in the later books, however (especially in Daniel), it is freely used for idols. On "massakah," see on Exodus 32:4; Isaiah 30:22. Their high places. בָמוֹתָם. See on Leviticus 26:30. The Septuagint translates Bamoth in both places by στῆλαι, and of course it was not the high places themselves, which were simply certain prominent elevations, but the monuments (of whatever kind) which superstition had erected upon them, which were to be plucked down. As a fact, it would seem that the Jews, instead of obeying this command, appropriated the Bamoth to their own religious uses (cf. 1 Samuel 9:12; 1 Kings 3:2; Psalm 78:58, &c.). The natural result was, as in all similar cases, that not only the Bamoth, but very many of the superstitions and idolatries connected with them, were taken over into the service of the Lord.
And ye shall dispossess the inhabitants of the land, and dwell therein: for I have given you the land to possess it.
Verse 53. - I have given you the land. "The earth is the Lord's," and no one, therefore, can dispute his right in the abstract to evict any of his tenants and to put others in possession. But while the whole earth was the Lord's, it is clear that he assumed a special relation towards the land of Canaan, as to which he chose to exercise directly the rights and duties of landlord (see on Deuteronomy 22:8 for a small but striking instance). The first duty of a landlord is to see that the occupancy of his property is not abused for illegal or immoral ends; and this duty excuses, because it necessitates, eviction under certain circumstances. It is not, therefore, necessary to argue that the Canaanites were more infamous than many others; it is enough to remember that God had assumed towards the land which they occupied (apparently by conquest) a relation which did not allow him to overlook their enormities, as he might those of other nations (see on Exodus 23:23-33; 34:11-17, and cf. Acts 14:16; Acts 17:30). It was (if we like to put it so) the misfortune of the Canaanites that they alone of "all nations" could not be suffered to "walk in their own ways," because they had settled in a land which the Lord had chosen to administer directly as his own earthly kingdom.
And ye shall divide the land by lot for an inheritance among your families: and to the more ye shall give the more inheritance, and to the fewer ye shall give the less inheritance: every man's inheritance shall be in the place where his lot falleth; according to the tribes of your fathers ye shall inherit.
Verse 54. - Ye shall divide the land by lot. These directions are repeated in substance from Numbers 26:53-56. Every man's inheritance. Not only the tribe, but the family and the household, was to receive its special inheritance by lot; no doubt in such a way that the final settlement of the country would correspond with the blood relationships of the settlers.
But if ye will not drive out the inhabitants of the land from before you; then it shall come to pass, that those which ye let remain of them shall be pricks in your eyes, and thorns in your sides, and shall vex you in the land wherein ye dwell.
Verse 55. - If ye will not drive out the inhabitants. As was in fact the case (Judges 1). The warning is here given for the first time, because the danger was now near at hand, and had indeed already shown itself in the matter of the Midianitish women and children. Pricks in your eyes, and thorns in your sides. Natural symbols of dangerous annoyances. Possibly the thickets which fringe the Jordan supplied them with present examples. In Joshua 23:13 we have "scourges in your sides, and thorns in your eyes," which sounds somewhat more artificial. In Judges 2:3, where this warning is quoted, the figure is not expressed at all: "they shall be in your sides."
Moreover it shall come to pass, that I shall do unto you, as I thought to do unto them.
Verse 56. - I shaft do unto you as I thought to do unto them, i.e., I shall execute by other hands upon you the sentence of dispossession which ye shall have refused to execute upon the Canaanites. The threat (although in fact fulfilled) does not necessarily involve any prophecy, since to settle down among the remnants of the heathen was a course of action which would obviously and for many reasons commend itself to the Israelites. Indolence and cowardice were consulted by such a policy as much as the natural feelings of pity towards vanquished and apparently harmless foes. The command to extirpate was certainly justified in this case (if it could be in any) by the unhappy consequences of its neglect. Israel being what he was, and so little severed in anything but religion from the ancient heathen, his only chance of future happiness lay in keeping himself from any contact with them. On the morality of the command itself, see on the passages referred to, and on the slaughter of the Midianites. As a fact, the extirpation of the conquered did not offend the moral sense of the Jews then any more than it did that of our heathen Saxon ancestors. Where both races could not dwell in security, it was a matter of course that the weaker was destroyed. Such a command was therefore justified at that time by the end to be attained, because it was not contrary to the moral law as then revealed, or to the moral sense as then educated. Being in itself a lawful proceeding, it was made a religious proceeding, and taken out of the category of selfish violence by being made a direct command of God.
The Pulpit Commentary, Electronic Database. Copyright © 2001, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2010 by BibleSoft, inc., Used by permission

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