Wandering in the desert for 40 years

Exodus (chapters 15-40)
The Lord provides food (manna) in chapter 16, water and victory in chapter 17.  Moses’ father-in-law gives advice in delegating duties in chapter 18 (1000, 100, 50, 10).  The 10 commandments are given in chapter 20 and other laws in chapters 21-24 (these laws were to help people live in harmony and to promote health & well-being--somewhat like the civil laws we have in today’s society).  In chapters 25-31 God outlines plans, in duplicate, for the Tabernacle!  In chapter 32 the people build a golden calf idol while Moses is absent—talking to the Lord on Mount Sinai.  Moses is so angry he breaks the stone tablets.  God engraves new stone tablets in chapter 34.  The tabernacle is built in chapters 35-40. 

Contains the Hebrew Nation’s system of laws administered by the Levites.  Gives more detailed instructions somewhat similar to that in Exodus chapters 20-40.  Some of the symbolism appears in the New Testament and may also apply to a future time in the human journey.

  Also see: One Page Overview of the Bible


The number of men 20 years old and older coming out of Egypt is 603,550 according to verse 1:46; these are the decedents of the 70 that went to Egypt in Genesis 47:27 about 400 years earlier.  In the first few chapters of Numbers the Israelites organize their camp and prepare for their journey to Canaan (the promised land).  In chapter 13, 12 men were sent out to explore the land, one from each tribe.  Caleb, said: “We should go up and take possession of the land, for we can certainly do it” (13:30) Joshua also pleaded with the people to go.  But the rest said: “We can’t attack those people; they are stronger than we are…the land we explored devours those living in it.  All the people we saw are of great size…we seemed like grasshoppers…” (13:31-33) 

The original intention was to go directly from Egypt to Canaan, but chapter 14 is a turning point: All the people grumbled against the Lord.  As a consequence the Lord said that all the people counted in the census will die in the desert except Caleb and Joshua—they will enter the land.  So the people wound up wandering in the desert for 40 years.

A second census was taken in chapter 26.  The total number of men 20 years of age and older was 601,730; only 2 survived who were counted in the first census.  Life in the wilderness must have been hard.

Deuteronomy: Second Law or Repetition of the Law
Deuteronomy has a good overview of events during the 40 years in the desert.  Bible scholars say the more important themes in the Bible are repeated more often.  Throughout Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy a number of themes are repeated over and over again.  Don’t overlook this portion of the Bible, but don’t dwell on each topic the first time you read through the Bible.  Later you may wish to spend a considerable amount of time in this area, because many of the same themes reappear throughout the Bible and may also apply to a future time in the human journey.  

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NOTE: Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy cover the wandering in the desert--each from a different perspective, perhaps with a different objective and audience in mind.  During the 40 years in the wilderness a system of jurisprudence was established, laying the groundwork for much of the world's civilization. 

NOTE: Moses lived in the palace of Pharaoh for 40 years, 40 years as a refugee in Midian, and 40 years as a leader of the Israelites in the wilderness.  Moses seemed to run into trouble at every turn.  The people grumbled against Moses and the Lord constantly.  It seemed like Moses was continually interceding with the Lord on behalf of the rebellious people he was leading.  Some of this rebelliousness may have rubbed off on Moses, because he and Aaron didn’t give the Lord credit for the miracle of producing water from rock in chapter 20; as a consequence neither was allowed to enter Canaan!