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The Book of Numbers begins the year after the Israelites left Egypt. Most of that year has been spent at Mt. Sinai:

Numbers 1:1

The LORD spoke to Moses in the wilderness of Sinai, in the tent of meeting, on the first day of the second month, in the second year after they had come out of the land of Egypt...

In Numbers 14:34, The Lord says to the Israelites that they will spend forty years in the wilderness, one year for each day the unfaithful spies were spying out the land.

Numbers 14:34 ESV

According to the number of the days in which you spied out the land, forty days, a year for each day, you shall bear your iniquity forty years, and you shall know my displeasure.

In Numbers 20:28 Aaron dies on Mount Hor. The date of his death is given in Numbers 33:38 as "the 40th year, first day, 5th Month."

Numbers 33:38 ESV

And Aaron the priest went up Mount Hor at the command of the LORD and died there, in the fortieth year after the people of Israel had come out of the land of Egypt, on the first day of the fifth month.

Thus the question: did the Israelites spend one year at Mount Sinai, and then an additional 40 years in the wilderness (thus 41 years in the wilderness), or is the first year at Mount Sinai included in the 40-year count?

Depending upon the answer to the above question, do Numbers 20 to 32 take place in a time span of six months or a year and six months?

2 Answers 2

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The scriptures tell us they spent 40 years in the wilderness.

"For the children of Israel walked forty years in the wilderness, till all the people that were men of war, which came out of Egypt, were consumed, because they obeyed not the voice of the Lord:..." (Josh. 5:6, KJV)

"For the children of Israel walked forty years in the wilderness, till all the people that were men of war, which came out of Egypt, were consumed, because they obeyed not the voice of the Lord:" (Acts 13:18, KJV)

"For the children of Israel walked forty years in the wilderness, till all the people that were men of war, which came out of Egypt, were consumed, because they obeyed not the voice of the Lord:..." (Ex. 16:35, KJV)

Num. 1:1 begins with instructions God gave Moses in "the tent of meeting" which had already been built from the instructions God gave Moses during the 40 days and 40 nights he spent on Mt. Sinai as detailed in Ex. 25ff. The count of the years spent in the wilderness began from the time they left Egypt, not from Num. 1:1.

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Israel was in the wilderness for a total of 42 years counting from the time they left Egypt. It took them two years to reach the edge of the promised land the first time. Then they sinned and were forced to wander for another 40 years. A total of 42 years had elapsed when they finally entered the promised land. This is proven by Numbers 33:38 (which you quoted). It shows that Aaron died after 40 years in the wilderness, but the verses that follow name many more camp stops before Israel finally reached the promised land. There we see the extra two years to make 42 years total. Few people can see this. Also, there were 42 camp stops.

There is a reason why the number 42 is used here and it is connected to the time that modern-day "Israel" will spend in the wilderness fleeing the wild beast (Revelation 11:2,3; 12:6; 13:5). At the end of those 42 months (the second half of the 7-year tribulation) God's modern-day anointed people will enter the "promised land" (heaven).

The entire journey is documented in Bible Doctrine's article "42 years, 42 stations, 42 months, 42 chapters"

For more information on the meaning of the number 42, see "The Meaning of Numbers: The Number 42"

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