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The forty years of wilderness wandering were about over. The Israelites had spent all this time coming out of Egypt, wandering from camp to camp, sometimes staying quite long in one place and perhaps just a night in another, moving again, sometimes coming back to stay at a place where they had been then moving onward again. Nevertheless, they were always marching inexorably toward the Promised Land—Canaan.
At this time, they camped across from Jericho, just steps away from going into the Promised Land. They were ready to cross the Jordan, and begin the conquest.
As recorded in Numbers 21, they had just defeated the Amorites under King Sihon, and they had smashed them—crushed them! Sihon and the Amorites were the big power on the East Bank of the Jordan, but their defeat was like swatting a fly to Israel.
Then they went next to Bashan and defeated King Og and his armies. They decimated them. In this way, the whole East Bank of the Jordan River became Israelite territory. Also on the East Bank, farther south on the east side of the Dead Sea where the Jordan enters it, was the country of Moab. The Israelites had marched right along their northern border, opposite Jericho.
Israel was nothing like we see on the movie The Ten Commandments (or some other Bible movie about the Exodus), where the depict the entire children of Israel as about 15 people with maybe four or five sheep. Realistic estimates conclude that Israel consisted of perhaps 2 to 3 million people, plus all the livestock and all the gear that they had brought with them. This was a train of people that stretched for miles! It took them a day or two to pass any one point from the first to the last person. Isreal was a huge, mobile nation! Moab was perhaps about the same size as the children of Israel, and they watched all these people pass through northern reaches of their territory. They had heard what Israel had done to Sihon, Og, and all their people. They were frightened witless!
As Isreal approached this region, God had told them not to mess with the Moabites and the Edomites because they were distant relatives of the Israelites (Deuteronomy 2:8-9). Evidently, the Moabites and the Edomites were not aware of God's edict because they figured that these 3 million people were a threat to them.
While they were camped across from Jericho, Moses wrote the book of Deuteronomy. He would also go up Mount Nebo and view the land Israel was to inherit (Deuteronomy 32:48-52). After that, he would die, and God would bury his body in a valley opposite Beth Peor (Deuteronomy 34:6).
Many events were to happen in these final months while the Israelites were camped next to Moab. Much had to be done before they went in. This is the time setting of the events concerning Balaam.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Balaam and the End-Time Church (Part 1)