Is Rephidim and Kadesh Barnea the same place?


Dear Sir,
Please find enclosed a short attachment concerning a crucial aspect of the exodus that seems to have been overlooked. Please read it and any constructive criticism would be greatly appreciated.

[I won't bother copying the extensive article here, but the primary thrust is to argue that Kadesh Barnea and Rephidim were the same place and, thus, that Moses led Israel to the southern border of Canaan before the events at Mount Sinai and then instead of entering Canaan, turned around and went to Sinai. -- jwh]

It is my assertion that, after entering the wilderness of Sinai at Elim, the Israelites gradually make their way north, towards Canaan, and not south, towards Mt Sinai. The following three verses describe the next stages of the Israelites journey from Elim, they state that the Israelites must leave the wilderness of Sinai before they reach Rephidim(Kadesh), something they would not have to do if they traveled directly to Mount Sinai:

  1. “The whole of the Israelite community, setting out from Elim, arrived at the wilderness of Sin(ai), which lies between Elim and Sinai. This was on the fifteenth day of the second month after they left Egypt” (Exodus 16:1).
  2. “The whole community of Israel set out from the wilderness of Sin(ai) and traveled by stages …They encamped at Rephidim …”(Exodus 17:1).
  3. “In the third month after Israel had left Egypt, they came to the wilderness of Sinai. They set out from Rephidim and, entering the wilderness of Sinai, they encamped there, pitching their tents in front of the mountain (Mt Sinai)” (Exodus 19:1).

If, as can be reasonably assumed, that the wilderness of Sin and the wilderness of Sinai are one and the same, then we have the following sequence of events; ...


Your own document shows the flaws in your reasoning. You assume the Wilderness of Sin and the Wilderness of Sinai are the same, but the Bible uses different words. If you accept that the record is accurate (and it has always proven to be so), then ...

"And they journeyed from Elim, and all the congregation of the children of Israel came to the Wilderness of Sin, which is between Elim and Sinai, on the fifteenth day of the second month after they departed from the land of Egypt" (Exodus 16:1). Thus the children of Israel arrived at an area known as the Wilderness of Sin. This region lies between Elim and Sinai, implying that neither Elim or Sinai is within its borders. Your assumption contradicts this by placing Sinai within something that is between it and Elim.

"Then all the congregation of the children of Israel set out on their journey from the Wilderness of Sin, according to the commandment of the LORD, and camped in Rephidim; but there was no water for the people to drink" (Exodus 17:1). They left the region called the Wilderness of Sin and arrived at Rephidim.

In the third month after the children of Israel had gone out of the land of Egypt, on the same day, they came to the Wilderness of Sinai. For they had departed from Rephidim, had come to the Wilderness of Sinai, and camped in the wilderness. So Israel camped there before the mountain" (Exodus 19:1). Leaving Rephidim, they came to another region called the Wilderness of Sinai in which lies Mount Sinai and they camped at the base of the mountain.

Yes, the area near Rephidim is also known as Kadesh. "Because you trespassed against Me among the children of Israel at the waters of Meribah Kadesh, in the Wilderness of Zin, because you did not hallow Me in the midst of the children of Israel" (Deuteronomy 32:51). Moses specifically states that it is in the Wilderness of Zin. Unlike Sinai, Zin is a slight variation on the word Sin in Hebrew. However, just as it is common for the same name to be used for multiple places in the United States, the same happened in biblical lands. This is why qualifiers are often used to make sure a person knows which location is being referenced. Meribah Kadesh and Kadesh Barnea are not necessarily the same place even though both contain the name Kadesh. In fact, in Hebrew, Meribah Kadesh are two words, while Kadesh Barnea is a single compound word. By the way "Kadesh" means "Holy."

"It is eleven days' journey from Horeb by way of Mount Seir to Kadesh Barnea" (Deuteronomy 1:2). Horeb is another name for Mount Sinai (Exodus 33:6). The events in Exodus 16-19 occurred before arriving at Mt. Sinai. The events recounted in Deuteronomy 1 (the sending of the spies and their repulsion from Canaan) take place after leaving Sinai. There is no reason to assume that Israel swung by the southern edge of Canaan before heading to Mount Sinai.

And yes, there is a reason God had them stop at Sinai for two years prior to heading to Canaan. They were a numerous people, but they were not yet a nation. They had the people, but they were not organized and able to take on the armies of another nation. At Mount Sinai, they were given a body of laws which organized them into a true nation and not simply a group of people.


Many thanks, not only for your time but also for emphasizing the "constructive" in constructive criticism. Indeed, I have incorrectly assumed that the wilderness of Sin and the wilderness of Sinai are one and the same. Typically, it was something I discovered shortly after sending out my paper and is a source of some frustration. I hope you can help me straighten out this point.

My model for the route of the exodus places Elim on the eastern coast of the Gulf of Suez (the western edge of the Sinai peninsula), and about a third of the way between modern-day Suez and the southerly tip of the peninsula. The biblical maps of the area I have seen are vague, to say the least, concerning the boundaries of the various wilderness areas. In your opinion, is it possible for the Israelites to enter the wilderness of Sin from this point?

I would also like to know your views on the main thrust of the paper - it is the express intent of the Israelites to travel directly to Canaan from northern Egypt and that their two-year sojourn at Mount Sinai is, to some degree, enforced. As you say, it is here that they become a nation and not just a group, it is here they come together as a single unit, as it were, a cohesion that was lacking when they first found themselves at Rephidim/Kadesh.

I have made one other assumption in my paper, a purely personal one, which is the use of the word "retreat" in describing their movement from Rephidim to Mount Sinai. I used this word to emphasize the intent of Israel to get to Canaan, a goal that was frustrated by their lack of 'togetherness'. I now feel 'regroup' might be closer to the mark.


Wilderness boundaries are hard to mark for the very reason that they are wilderness -- few people lived there. It would be equivalent of asking where precisely does the Great Plains in the United States begin? You know you are there when you get there, but the transitional area is a bit fuzzy.

I believe the stop at Mount Sinai was intentional and not the result of a retreat. Before entering Canaan, the Israelites needed to meet the God who arranged their escape. The covenant established between Israel and God was absolutely essential for future events. You must remember that God wasn't just moving a nation into Canaan, there was a long term plan to bring world salvation through the Christ. Innumerable pieces needed to be placed in advance to bring the world to the perfect time for the Christ to enter the world.

One of the things to be aware of is the subtle use of foreshadowing in the Bible. It is one of the aspects of biblical history that I find fascinating as it points to the single author behind the Bible, God Himself. Sinai is where Moses was when he saw the burning bush and was commissioned to lead Israel out of Egypt. There is symmetry in the fact that Moses leads the people back to the same starting point to meet God and receive their covenant and commission to enter Canaan, living as God's people.

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