SHITTIM shĭt’ ĭm (שִּׁטִּ֞ים, acacia trees). The designation of a region in the plains of Moab just NE of the Dead Sea. It is prob. the same as Abel-shittim (Num 33:49) although some take exception to this. Abel-shittim, however, is cited as the last encampment site in the record of the journey from Egypt to the Jordan River (ibid.). It is clear that Shittim was the scene of the final events before the passage of the Jordan, thus making quite certain the identification of Abel-shittim with Shittim (Num 25:1ff.). If the two designations refer to the same place, Shittim would then be a commonly used abbreviation of the longer Abelshittim (stream of the Acacia trees). While the modern Tell-el Kefrein has generally been regarded as the location of the site of ancient Shittim, Glueck has taken exception to this and rather identifies Tell el-Hammam with the site of the Biblical Shittim. This site gives evidence of settlement in Iron Age I, II and prob. Early Bronze Age I.
Shittim figures prominently in the history of the Hebrews. It was the site of the last encampment of Israel before crossing the Jordan River into Canaan. Here the people fell into grave error, for many Israelites took wives from among the Moabites (25:1). This was apparently done at the instigation of Balaam who otherwise failed in his attempts to aid the Moabites in driving out the Hebrews (31:16). A plague, in which twenty-four thousand died, was the punishment for their intermarriage and idolatry (25:9).
It was here that a census was taken of those twenty years of age and over. Apparently it was a military conscription, but it was done also with a view toward the eventual settlement of the people in Canaan (26:2; cf. v. 53).
Moses learned here that he would not see the Promised Land and that Joshua was to succeed him as the leader of the people (27:13-23). A successful military campaign against the Midianites was conducted by the Israelites during the encampment, which resulted in the gain of much booty. The tribes of Reuben and Gad and half of the tribe of Manasseh determined to remain on the E side of the Jordan River, but only after Moses exacted a promise from them that they would aid the rest of the Israelites in their conquest of Canaan. Moses delivered his farewell address here, then viewed the Promised Land from Mt. Nebo just before his death.
It was from Shittim that Joshua sent two spies to scout the city of Jericho (Josh 2:1) and from here the Israelites departed for the passage of the Jordan (3:1).
Micah refers to “what happened from Shittim to Gilgal” (Mic 6:5), evidently reminding the Israelites of the grace of God revealed in the Jordan crossing. Joel speaks of a fountain which shall “water the valley of Shittim” (Joel 3:18). It may be representative of the arid wilderness which Joel envisions as being transformed.
N. Glueck, “Some Ancient Towns in the Plains of Moab,” BASOR, No. 91 (1943), 13-18; N. Glueck, “Explorations in Eastern Palestine,” AASOR, XXV-XXVIII (1945-1948), 371-382; J. Simons, The Geographical and Topographical Texts of the Old Testament (1959).
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)
(ha-shiTTim, "the acacias"; Sattein):
(1) This marked the last camping-ground of Israel before they crossed the Jordan to begin the conquest of Western Palestine. Here it was that the people fell into the snare set for them by the satanic counsel of Balaam, who thus brought upon them greater evil than all his prohibited curses could have done (Nu 25:1 ff; 31:16). In Nu 33:49 it is called Abel-shittim. It was from Shittim that Joshua sent the spies to view out the land and Jericho (Jos 2:1); and from this point the host moved forward to the river (Jos 3:1). The place is mentioned by Micah in a passage of some difficulty (Jos 6:5): after "what Balaam the son of Beor answered," perhaps some such phrase as "remember what I did" has fallen out. This would then be a reference to the display of divine power in arresting the flow of Jordan until the host had safely crossed. Josephus places the camp "near Jordan where the city Abila now stands, a place full of palm trees" (Ant., IV, viii, 1). Eusebius, Onomasticon says Shittim was near to Mt. Peor (Fogor). It may possibly be identical with Khirbet el-Kefrain, about 6 miles South of the Jordan, on the lip of Wady Seiseban, where there are many acacias.
(2) In Joe 3:18 we read of the valley of Shittim which is to be watered by a fountain coming forth of the house of the Lord. It must therefore be sought on the West of the Jordan. The waters from the Jerusalem district are carried to the Dead Sea down the Wady which continues the Brook Kidron: Wady en-Nar. The acacia is found plentifully in the lower reaches of this valley, which may possibly be intended by the prophet.