They moved from Marah and came to Elim. At Elim were twelve springs of water and seventy palm trees; so they camped there. (Numbers 33:9)
The second stop made by Israel after they had passed through the sea was a place known as Elim which means “palms.” Obviously, this refers to the seventy palm trees (meaning someone took the time to count them) which were fed by the twelve springs of water. Anytime the Bible mentions specific numbers, it is my habit to pause and contemplate why those details are mentioned. Long before me, Jewish scholars wondered the same thing and arrived at the conclusion that the twelve springs correspond to the twelve tribes while the seventy palms correspond to the seventy elders appointed to help lead the people.
Considering that the wilderness experience was laden with concerns about food and water, the camp at Elim stands out in sharp contrast to the desert setting as what would be considered an oasis. We tend to think that their environment was primarily sand, rock and barrenness — a thought not too far fetched. In fact, Jeremiah described it as “a land of drought, and of the shadow of death; a land that no man passed through, and where no man dwelt” (Jeremiah 2:6).
Yet at the same time, He brought them to a place where they were provided relative comfort from the desert’s heat and unforgiving nature. It echoes the sentiment that David wrote of when he said, “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,” God will lead His people to green pastures and still waters (Psalm 23).
Obviously, the camp at Elim reminds us of His provision in the midst of seeming lack but I believe it also speaks to far more important things than just food and drink. In a manner of speaking Elim speaks to the purpose God’s people serve in this world. By that I mean, in Him, we are to be a source of blessing to the nations of the world just as the springs of water provides rejuvenation to the tired and thirsty. The palms speak of fruit that offers sustenance to those who hunger. Also, let us not forget that it is He who plants us in the midst of a harsh and cruel environment so that we can be an oasis to those who are searching for hope. Considering this theme, it seems appropriate to close today’s thoughts with this passage from the Psalms:
Blessed is the man… whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and in His law he meditates day and night. He shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that brings forth its fruit in its season, whose leaf also shall not wither; and whatever he does shall prosper.” (Psalm 1:1-3)
Blessings and Shalom,