What is the significance of Kadesh-barnea in the Bible?
Kadesh-barnea, also sometimes called simply Kadesh, was an oasis in Northern Sinai where the Israelites set up camp after their exodus from Egypt. Moses explained, "And the time from our leaving Kadesh-barnea until we crossed the brook Zered was thirty-eight years, until the entire generation, that is, the men of war, had perished from the camp, as the LORD had sworn to them" (Deuteronomy 2:14). So while the Israelites were wandering around the wilderness, their temporary home was the oasis, Kadesh-barnea.
Because the Israelites spent thirty-eight years encamped at Kadesh-barnea, a number of important events took place there. It was from this encampment that Moses sent out the twelve spies to scope out the Promised Land of Canaan (Numbers 13:1–26; Joshua 14:7). The Israelites' response of wanting to stay in Kadesh-barnea, rather than take posession of the Promised Land, shows that they must have felt relatively safe and well-provided for at this oasis. It was also here that Moses infamously struck the rock to bring forth water after God had instructed him to only speak to the rock (Numbers 20:11; 27:14). Both Miriam and Aaron, Moses' sister and brother, died and were buried in the area of Kadesh-barnea (Numbers 20:1, 27–28). Finally, when God gave permission for the Israelites to enter the Promised Land with the younger, more faithful generation, Moses sent envoys from Kadesh-barnea to the king of Edom to request safe passage through his land to the land of Canaan (Numbers 20:14–17). That request was denied, so the Israelites took a different route from Kadesh-barnea to Canaan (Numbers 20:21–22; Judges 11:16–18).
Today, this site is known as Ain-el-Qudeirat in Northern Sinai and archeologists believe it was the most fertile oasis in the area. To have supported the millions of Israelites and all their livestock for nearly forty years, Kadesh-barnea must have been productive indeed. God commanded the Israelites to commemorate His provision for them during their time in the wilderness by instituting the Festival of Booths, or Sukkot (Leviticus 23:43; Deuteronomy 16:13–15). Sukkot is celebrated for one week every year in autumn by constructing and living in temporary shelters and offering portions of the fall harvest to God. Although their living in Kadesh-barnea for an extended time was a result of the people's lack of faith, this experience at the oasis is now remembered for God's continued faithfulness despite His people's unworthiness.
When God told Moses where the boundaries of the Israelites' Promised Land would be, Kadesh-barnea was to be part of the southern border (Numbers 34:3–4). After Joshua led the Israeliltes to victory, Kadesh-barnea was in fact part of the southern border for the Israelite tribe of Judah (Joshua 15:2–3). Since that time, Israel's borders have changed, but in Ezekiel 47:19 and 48:28, God shared with the prophet Ezekiel that the southern border will again be restored to Kadesh-barnea.
Kadesh-barnea is a site remembered for God's faithful provision during the Israelites' time in the wilderness and as a southern border for an expanded and restored Promised Land. Because of God's faithfulness (even in the face of people's lack of faith), we know His promises can be trusted. So we can look with confidence to a time when the whole earth will be restored (Revelation 21:1) because we know God is trustworthy and faithful.
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