Numbers 33:44–49—Why is the list of places Israel stopped different here from the ones stated earlier (in Numbers 21)?

Problem: Numbers 21 speaks of the Israelites stopping off at Oboth, Ije Abarim, Zered, Arnon, Beer, Mattanah, Nahaliel, Bamoth, and Mt. Pisgah in Moab. But the Numbers 33 list of stopoffs includes Oboth, Ije Abarim, Dibon Gad, Almon Diblathaim, mountains of Abarim near Mt. Nebo, and the Plains of Moab.

Solution: Understanding several factors helps to reconcile the apparent discrepancy. First, both lists begin with the exact same names and end in the exact same place (east of Jordan near Jericho). Second, since both lists are in the same book the author saw no contradiction between them. Third, some places may have had more than one name. Ije Abarim, for example, is also called Ijim (Num. 33:44–45). Fourth, neither list may be complete, listing only the names that the author wished to stress at that time. Numbers 21 lists six places in between Ije Abarim and Moab, whereas Numbers 33 lists only three. The more complete list may be a statistic account and the smaller one a historical perspective. Fifth, the list in Numbers 33 may be the head quarters of Moses and the tabernacle. Sixth, since there were millions of people who covered a broad stretch of land, more than one city may have been occupied at the same time. Seventh, in their wandering Israel may have covered the same ground twice, first the more circuitous one and then a more direct route (cf. Num. 33:30–33).

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This excerpt is from When Critics Ask: A Popular Handbook on Bible Difficulties (Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books, 1992). © 2014 Norman Geisler and Thomas Howe. All rights reserved. Used by permission. Click here to purchase this book.