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Introduction to the Books of the Bible

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BOOK : Numbers

Description : 4th book of the Pentateuch, the Law of Moses – two census' & life in the wilderness

Author: Moses

Date written : somewhere about 1400 BC (latter part of Moses' life)

Chapters : 36


Brief Synopsis:

•  Gets its name from the two main census results (Ch.1 & Ch.26) and of the Levites (Ch.3 & 4)
•  Takes place in the wilderness
•  Starts from Sinai, travels to border of Promised Land, refusal to enter
•  God's condemnation of the older generation means they remain in wilderness for forty years
•  At end of that time they prepare a second time to enter the land
•  We see various problems – opposition from Aaron and Miriqm, rebellion of Korah, Moses' anger that results in him being barred from entering the Land.
•  Dealing with the various neighbours on the way to the land.

Outline :


Part 1: Preparing for the Journey (Ch.1-10)
Ch.1-4 Commands for the first census
Ch.5-10 The Commands for Purity of the People
Part 2: First Approach to the Promised Land (Ch.11-14)
Ch.11 First problems – fire and quail
Ch.12 Opposition from Miriam and Aaron
Ch.13,14 Spies, sent in, report, rebellion and rejection
Part 3: Wanderings in the Wilderness (Ch.15-21)
Ch.15 Additional regulations
Ch.16 & 17 Rebellion of Korah and friends
Ch.18 & 19 Further regulations
Ch.20 Moses' sin travelling to Moab , resistance of Moab , death of Aaron
Ch.21 The Destruction of Arad , The Bronze Snake, the Journey to Moab , The Defeat of Sihon and Og
Part 4: Second Approach to the Promised Land
Ch.22 Return to Moab , Balak of Moab Hires Balaam to Curse Israel
Ch.23 & 24 Balaam Blesses Israel in Seven Oracles
Ch.25 The Baal of Peor and Israel 's Apostasy
Ch.26 The Second Census
Ch.27-30 Instructions for the New Generation
Ch.31 The War against Midian
Ch.32. The Settlement of the Transjordan Tribes
Ch.33-36 Appendixes Dealing with Various Matters


Key Verses :

Because of the complexity of what took place in this part of Israel 's early history we include an extensive number of verses to convey what went on. It is an important part of their history (see the final notes below)


Places & Times

1:1 The LORD spoke to Moses in the Tent of Meeting in the Desert of Sinai on the first day of the second month of the second year after the Israelites came out of Egypt.
9:1-5   The LORD spoke to Moses in the Desert of Sinai in the first month   of the second year after they came out of Egypt . He said, "Have the Israelites celebrate the Passover …..and they did so in the Desert of Sinai at twilight on the fourteenth day of the first month
10:11,12 On the twentieth day of the second month of the second year, the cloud lifted from above the tabernacle of the Testimony. Then the Israelites set out from the Desert of Sinai and travelled from place to place until the cloud came to rest in the Desert of Paran.
13:1-3,26  The LORD said to Moses, "Send some men to explore  the land of Canaan , which I am giving to the Israelites.  From each ancestral tribe send one of its leaders." So at the LORD's command Moses sent them out from the Desert of Paran …… They came back to Moses and Aaron and the whole Israelite community at Kadesh   in the Desert of Paran.
14:25 Since the Amalekites and Canaanites are living in the valleys, turn back tomorrow and set out toward the desert along the route to the Red Sea."
20:1 In the first month the whole Israelite community arrived at the Desert of Zin, and they stayed at Kadesh. There Miriam died and was buried
21:4 They travelled from Mount Hor along the route to the Red Sea, to go around Edom
21:10-20 The Israelites moved on and camped at Oboth . Then they set out from Oboth and camped in Iye Abarim , in the desert that faces Moab toward the sunrise. From there they moved on and camped in the Zered Valley. They set out from there and camped alongside the Arno, which is in the desert extending into Amorite territory….. From there they continued on to Beer,   the well where the LORD said to Moses, "Gather the people together and I will give them water."   …… Then they went from the desert to Mattanah, from Mattanah to Nahaliel, from Nahaliel to Bamoth, and from Bamoth to the valley in Moab where the top of Pisgah overlooks the wasteland.
22:1  Then the Israelites travelled to the plains of Moab and camped along the Jordan   across from Jericho
25:1-3 While Israel was staying in Shittim, the men began to indulge in sexual immorality   with Moabitewomen,   
See also detail in Num 33



9:15,17 On the day the tabernacle, the Tent of the Testimony, was set up, the cloud covered it. From evening till morning the cloud above the tabernacle looked like fire….Whenever the cloud lifted from above the Tent, the Israelites set out; wherever the cloud settled, the Israelites encamped .
10:1,2   The LORD said to Moses: "Make two trumpets of hammered silver, and use them for calling the community   together and for having the camps set out.


Through the neighbouring lands

20:20,21 Again they answered: "You may not pass through." Then Edom came out against them with a large and powerful army.  Since Edom refused to let them go through their territory, Israel turned away from them.
21:1-3   When the Canaanite king of Arad, who lived in the Negev,  heard that Israel was coming along the road to Atharim, he attacked the Israelites and captured some of them. Then Israel made this vow to the LORD: "If you will deliver these people into our hands, we will totally destroy their cities." The LORD listened to Israel 's plea and gave the Canaanites over to them. They completely destroyed them and their towns; so the place was named Hormah.
21:21-23,25   Israel sent messengers to say to Sihon king of the Amorites:  "Let us pass through your country. We will not turn aside into any field or vineyard, or drink water from any well. We will travel along the king's highway until we have passed through your territory."  But Sihon would not let Israel pass through his territory…… Israel captured all the cities of the Amorites  
21:33-35 Then they turned and went up along the road toward Bashan and Og king of Bashan and his whole army marched out to meet them in battle at Edrei. The LORD said to Moses, "Do not be afraid of him, for I have handed him over to you, with his whole army and his land. Do to him what you did to Sihon king of the Amorites, who reigned in Heshbon."  So they struck him down, together with his sons and his whole army, leaving them no survivors. And they took possession of his land.
22:1-6   Then the Israelites travelled to the plains of Moab   and camped along the Jordan   across from Jericho.   Now Balak son of Zippor saw all that Israel had done to the Amorites,  and Moab was terrified because there were so many people. Indeed, Moab was filled with dread   because of the Israelites.  The Moabites said to the elders of Midian, "This horde is going to lick up everything around us, as an ox licks up the grass of the field." So Balak son of Zippor, who was king of Moab at that time,  sent messengers to summon Balaam son of Beor, who was at Pethor, near the River, in his native land. Balak said: "A people has come out of Egypt; they cover the face of the land and have settled next to me.  Now come and put a curse on these people, because they are too powerful for me. Perhaps then I will be able to defeat them and drive them out of the country.
31:7,8 They fought against Midian, as the LORD commanded Moses, and killed every man.  Among their victims were Evi, Rekem, Zur, Hur and Reba--the five kings of Midian.  They also killed Balaam son of Beor with the sword.


Their Failures

11:1,2 Now the people complained   about their hardships in the hearing of the LORD,   and when he heard them his anger was aroused.   Then fire from the LORD burned among them and consumed some of the outskirts of the camp.   When the people cried out to Moses, he prayed to the LORD and the fire died down.
11:4,31-33 The rabble with them began to crave other food, and again the Israelites started wailing and said, "If only we had meat to eat! …… Now a wind went out from the LORD and drove quail in from the sea. It brought them down all around the camp to about three feet above the ground, as far as a day's walk in any direction.   All that day and night and all the next day the people went out and gathered quail. No one gathered less than ten homers. Then they spread them out all around the camp.   But while the meat was still between their teeth and before it could be consumed, the anger of the LORD burned against the people, and he struck them with a severe plague.
12:1,9,10   Miriam and Aaron began to talk against Moses because of his Cushite wife,   for he had married a Cushite…… The anger of the LORD burned against them, and he left them. When the cloud lifted from above the Tent, there stood Miriam--leprous, like snow.   Aaron turned toward her and saw that she had leprosy;
14:1,2 That night all the people of the community raised their voices and wept aloud.   All the Israelites grumbled   against Moses and Aaron, and the whole assembly said to them, "If only we had died in Egypt!  Or in this desert!
16:1,2 Korah son of Izhar, the son of Kohath, the son of Levi, and certain Reubenites--Dathan and Abiram, sons of Eliab, and On son of Peleth--became insolent  and rose up against Moses. With them were 250 Israelite men, well-known community leaders who had been appointed members of the council.  
16:41-42 The next day the whole Israelite community grumbled against Moses and Aaron. "You have killed the LORD's people," they said.  But when the assembly gathered in opposition  to Moses and Aaron and turned toward the Tent of Meeting, suddenly the cloud covered it and the glory of the LORD appeared.  
21:4-6   They travelled from Mount Hor along the route to the Red Sea,  to go around Edom. But the people grew impatient on the way; they spoke against God and against Moses, and said, "Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the desert? There is no bread! There is no water!  And we detest this miserable food!"    Then the LORD sent venomous snakes among them; they bit the people and many Israelites died.
25:1-3 While Israel was staying in Shittim,   the men began to indulge in sexual immorality   with Moabitewomen,  who invited them to the sacrifices   to their gods.   The people ate and bowed down before these gods.  So Israel joined in worshiping the Baal of Peor. And the LORD's anger burned against them.
32:1-7   The Reubenites and Gadites, who had very large herds and flocks,   saw that the lands of Jazer and Gilead   were suitable for livestock.  So they came to Moses and Eleazar the priest and to the leaders of the community,  and said, …..  If we have found favour in your eyes," they said, "let this land be given to your servants as our possession. Do not make us cross the Jordan. Moses said to the Gadites and Reubenites, "Shall your countrymen go to war while you sit here? Why do you discourage the Israelites from going over into the land the LORD has given them?


Moses & Joshua

20:2,3,7-12 Now there was no water for the community, and the people gathered in opposition   to Moses and Aaron. They quarrelled   with Moses and said, "If only we had died when our brothers fell dead before the LORD! …..   The LORD said to Moses, "Take the staff, and you and your brother Aaron gather the assembly together. Speak to that rock before their eyes and it will pour out its water. You will bring water out of the rock for the community so they and their livestock can drink." So Moses took the staff   from the LORD's presence,   just as he commanded him. He and Aaron gathered the assembly together in front of the rock and Moses said to them, "Listen, you rebels, must we bring you water out of this rock?" Then Moses raised his arm and struck the rock twice with his staff. Water gushed out, and the community and their livestock drank. But the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, "Because you did not trust in me enough to honour me as holy  in the sight of the Israelites, you will not bring this community into the land I give them."
27:12-22   Then the LORD said to Moses, "Go up this mountain   in the Abarim range   and see the land I have given the Israelites.  After you have seen it, you too will be gathered to your people, as your brother Aaron was, for when the community rebelled at the waters in the Desert of Zin, both of you disobeyed my command to honour me as holy   before their eyes." (These were the waters of Meribah Kadesh, in the Desert of Zin .) Moses said to the LORD, "May the LORD, the God of the spirits of all mankind,   appoint a man over this community to go out and come in before them, one who will lead them out and bring them in, so the LORD's people will not be like sheep without a shepherd." So the LORD said to Moses, "Take Joshua son of Nun, a man in whom is the spirit, and lay your hand on him . Have him stand before Eleazar the priest and the entire assembly and commission him   in their presence. Give him some of your authority so the whole Israelite community will obey him. He is to stand before Eleazar the priest, who will obtain decisions for him by inquiring   of the Urim before the LORD. At his command he and the entire community of the Israelites will go out, and at his command they will come in." Moses did as the LORD commanded him.  


The Big Rebellion & its results

14:11-23   The LORD said to Moses, "How long will these people treat me with contempt?   How long will they refuse to believe in me, in spite of all the miraculous signs   I have performed among them?   12 I will strike them down with a plague and destroy them, but I will make you into a nation   greater and stronger than they."  13 Moses said to the LORD, "Then the Egyptians will hear about it! By your power you brought these people up from among them. 14   And they will tell the inhabitants of this land about it. They have already heard that you, O LORD, are with these people and that you, O LORD, have been seen face to face, that your cloud stays over them, and that you go before them in a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. 15   If you put these people to death all at one time, the nations who have heard this report about you will say,  16   'The LORD was not able to bring these people into the land he promised them on oath; so he slaughtered them in the desert.' 17  "Now may the Lord's strength be displayed, just as you have declared:   18 'The LORD is slow to anger, abounding in love and forgiving sin and rebellion. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation.' 19  In accordance with your great love, forgive the sin of these people, just as you have pardoned them from the time they left Egypt until now." 20  The LORD replied, "I have forgiven them, as you asked.  21 Nevertheless, as surely as I live and as surely as the glory of the LORD fills the whole earth, 22   not one of the men who saw my glory and the miraculous signs I performed in Egypt and in the desert but who disobeyed me and tested me ten times--   23   not one of them will ever see the land I promised on oath to their forefathers. No one who has treated me with contempt will ever see it.



Concluding Comments

•  Numbers is a mixture of census figures, history and regulations.
•  The history is the crucial part.
•  Before Sinai the Lord was tolerant about Israel 's grumblings – they were an embryonic people after all.
•  However after Sinai, their experiences of Him there should have been sufficient to see them through the difficulties they experienced in their travels from Sinai to the borders of the Promised Land.
•  But they were slow to learn and indeed throughout their entire history they simply reveal again and again the presence of Sin in mankind – that tendency to be self-centred and godless.
•  However, God is seeking to train them to reveal Him to the rest of the earth and that means they need to be seen as a people who, positively,
•  Trust in God
•  Obey the laws and regulations He gave them
•  Receive all of His blessings
•  But who hopefully do NOT display, negatively
•  Inability to trust God and rely on themselves and turn to idol worship,
•  Disobey His laws and regulations and so
•  Fail to display peace, order and blessing as a community of God's people.
•  We cannot emphasise enough the importance of this people conforming to these characteristics if God is to be faithfully revealed to the rest of the world.
•  Thus we see the corrective hand of God upon them again and again and in a variety of ways, but every time there is way of avoidance for the righteous among them; they will not be destroyed.
•  Even Moses, whose daily experience of the Lord should have resulted in a perfect display of a man of God, failed at a crucial point and (probably more for Israel's sake and ours) was refused entry ino the land and was ‘taken home' at the ripe old age of 120, after an otherwise remarkably distinguished testimony. It was never an easy experience to be the leader of this people and, apart from this one occasion, he excelled.
•  Israel 's history in this book may be summarised as follows:
•  Leaving Mount Sinai
•  Travelling through the desert to the border of Canaan , the Promised Land,
•  Refusing to enter the land
•  Wandering in the wilderness for another forty years while everyone over the age of twenty, at the beginning, died off so it was only the next generation who went in,
•  Making their way through various neighbouring lands to arrive at what will be their entry point into Canaan across the river Jordon near Jericho .
•  During this history there are numerous episodes to provide us with plenty of teaching, as we watch how people and God act in each case.


Bible Studies on this site:


Desert Grumblings” - various from Numbers