A timeline for the wilderness wanderings (Numbers 20)

Illustration: Kadesh Barnea valley

Because they failed to trust God after having heard the ten spies’ negative majority report about Canaan (Numbers 13), God required the Israelites to wander for 40 years until every disbelieving person aged twenty or older had passed away (Numbers 14:26-35). This fourty-year period began retroactively on the day Israel had left Egypt – the fifteenth day of the first month of the first year, according to the Hebrew calendar (Numbers 33:3), as well as the day after the first Passover – and lasted until the first Passover in the promised land, the fourteenth day of the first month of the fourty-first year (Joshua 5:10).

The wilderness record preserved in Scripture covers approximately the first year and eight months of this protracted period (Exodus 12:31-40:38, All of the book of Leviticus, Numbers 1:1-19:22, 33:1-36, Deuteronomy 1:6-46), as well as the final year (Numbers 20:1-32:42, 33:37-36:13, Deuteronomy 2-34, Joshua 1:1-5:0, Judges 11:14-22) of their sojourn. The intervening 37 years and four months constitutes a period of silence (between Numbers 19 and 20, 33:36 and 37, and Deuteronomy 1 and 2). Dates are included for key events, so a fairly complete timeline for the beginning and the end of the wilderness wandering period has been calculated.

During the first month the Israelites travelled from Rameses to the desert of Sin (Exodus 12:31-16:1).They spent one additional month trekking to Mount Sinai, where they stayed put for eleven months (Exodus 16:2-Numbers 10:11). From there they journeyed for a little more than a month until they reached Kadesh Barnea, where they spent about six months (Numbers 10:12-19:22). After their departure from Kadesh Barnea (Deuteronomy 2:14), the Israelites’ precise whereabouts during the next 37 years and four months is unknown. After this period of silence they returned to Kadesh Barnea and during the following year forged ahead to Canaan by the way of the Transjordan.

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