4th book of the Pentateuch, the Law of Moses – two census' & life
in the wilderness
written : somewhere about
1400 BC (latter part of Moses' life)
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.
1: Preparing for the Journey (Ch.1-10)
Commands for the first census
for Purity of the People
2: First Approach to the Promised Land (Ch.11-14)
First problems – fire and quail
Opposition from Miriam and Aaron
Spies, sent in, report, rebellion and rejection
3: Wanderings in the Wilderness (Ch.15-21)
& 17 Rebellion of Korah and friends
& 19 Further regulations
Moses' sin travelling to Moab , resistance of Moab , death of Aaron
The Destruction of Arad , The Bronze Snake, the Journey to Moab ,
The Defeat of Sihon and Og
4: Second Approach to the Promised Land
Return to Moab , Balak of Moab Hires Balaam to Curse Israel
& 24 Balaam Blesses Israel in Seven Oracles
The Baal of Peor and Israel 's Apostasy
The Second Census
Instructions for the New Generation
The War against Midian
The Settlement of the Transjordan Tribes
Appendixes Dealing with Various Matters
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)
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.
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
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
and travelled from place to place until the cloud came to rest in 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
in the Desert of Paran.
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."
the first month the whole Israelite community arrived at the Desert
stayed at Kadesh.
died and was buried
travelled from Mount
the route to the Red Sea, to go around
Israelites moved on and camped at Oboth
Then they set out from Oboth and camped in Iye
in the desert that faces Moab toward the sunrise. From there they moved
on and camped in the Zered
They set out from there and camped alongside
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
the Israelites travelled to the plains
of Moab and
camped along the Jordan
across from Jericho
Israel was staying in Shittim,
the men began to indulge in sexual immorality with Moabitewomen,
also detail in Num 33
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
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.
the neighbouring lands
they answered: "You may not pass through." Then Edom came
out against them with a large and powerful army. Since Edom
to let them go through their territory, Israel turned away from them.
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.
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
they turned and went up along the road toward Bashan
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.
Israelites travelled to the
plains of Moab
along the Jordan across from Jericho. Now Balak son of
Zippor saw all that Israel had done to the Amorites, and Moab
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
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.
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.
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.
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;
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!
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.
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.
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
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.
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?
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."
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.
Big Rebellion & its results
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.
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
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
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
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.
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.
Studies on this site: