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Series Theme: Why Read the Bible: Numbers




The Context of Numbers: Without question, the nation of Israel is unique in the world and in history and we need to see Numbers in the context of the rest of the Pentateuch (Genesis to Deuteronomy) to see where it fits in Israel's story.

In Exodus we find them growing into a nation in Egypt and then being delivered from slavery in Egypt, and then in Ex 13-19 we follow them in their travels to Mount Sinai where they encounter God and are constituted a nation in covenant relationship with God. The main basic laws for the community also appear in Exodus, together with the design and basic use of the Tabernacle, their meeting place with God.

In Leviticus we find instruction for the Offerings to be brought to the Tabernacle, together with the setting up of the Priesthood who would administer them. But also there we find fifteen chapters of laws that one might say are laws about purity and being a holy people. Leviticus has nothing about their travels.

Numbers brings Israel as a holy nation into focus both by who they were,

•  numerically, structurally [ch.1-4,17,18,26,27,32-36],and

•  ritually [ch.5-9,15,19,28-30]

but also in terms of,

•  their travels from Sinai [ch.10-14,16,20,] and

•  specifically battles they had [ch.21,31] not to mention the specific moral and spiritual attack that came about via Balaam [ch.22-25]


Why Read Numbers? Several questions arise here. First, we are talking of laws that were made and things that happened a little over three thousand years ago! Second, many of the practices changed over the years after they entered the land, when the temple was built to replace the Tabernacle, and after division of the nation and conquests meant that the tribal land divisions disappeared. Third, virtually none of these things have any relevance to the believer today. So why read Numbers? It is worth the Bible student's time in that,

•  it reveals the detail that went into establishing the nation, numbering them and structuring them, and giving them laws at the very beginning of their existence,

•  it fits the gap between Exodus & Deuteronomy showing travels and trials of Israel from Egypt to the Promised Land, particularly helping us see the failures of the nation in their lack of faith, lack of trust, rebelliousness against authority, and being so quick to turn away from the Lord, even from the very beginning,

•  it shows the greatness as well as some of the weaknesses of some of the key players,

•  it shows the lengths the Lord went to in order to try to create a holy nation with clear goals,

•  it shows the details and logic of many of the laws given to guide them,

•  many of the laws show us wisdom in applying justice and fairness and care for other human beings, i.e. it shows how God gave them a good and fair chance to make their society work.

There are no doubt other reasons that the reader might find as they read through this book. Because it varies between record keeping, laying down laws and recording the travels and mishaps of the nation, in the Contents List below we have sought to bring clarification of the nature of what is found in each chapter. To go directly to any chapter without returning to the front page, simply click on the chapter number below.




PART 1: Preparing a Holy Nation

The first part is establishing the nation numerically and establishing the Priesthood and the Levites within it. It entirely comprises instructions.

Part 1.1: Ch.1 & 2: Israel, the Nation in Camp at Sinai

Ch.1[Records] The First Census of Israel at Sinai

Ch.2 [Law] The Arrangement of the Tribal Camps

How the tribes were laid out in camp

Part 1.2: Ch.3 & 4: The Levites & their Roles

Ch.3 [Law] Introducing the Levites

-   The Numbers & Role of the clans of Levi

Ch.4 [Law] The Levite Clans

- The Role of the clans of Levi & numbers available to serve

Part 1.3: A Holy Camp

Ch.5 [Law] Working for a Pure Camp

- Purity of the Camp, Restitution for Wrongs & Unfaithful Wives

Ch.6 [Law] Nazarites

-   The Nazirite Vow

Ch.7 [Law] Offerings at the Dedication of the Tabernacle

-   The Twelve Tribal offerings

Ch.8 [Law] Setting Apart the Levites

-   The Levites are set apart for service

Ch.9 [Law] Passover & Presence

-   carrying out the second Passover


PART 2: To Canaan

The second part covers the travel from Sinai to Kadesh and the events along the way.

Ch.10 [Action] Leaving Sinai

-   Breaking camp

Ch.11 [Action] Complaints, Fire, Quail, Plague

- First grumblings, discipline, meat provided and plague follows

Ch.12 [Action] Internal Opposition

-   Aaron & Miriam complain & are disciplined

PART 3: To Refusal & Judgment

The third part finds Israel at the border of the Promised Land, sending in spies, and then refusing to go in. Chapter 15 reiterates rules and looks to the future when they do go in.

Ch.13 [Action] Exploring the Land & Report of the Spies

-   sending spies in to assess the land

Ch.14 [Action] Refusing Entry & Judgment

-   a negative report and a rebellious people

Ch.15 [Law] Offerings in the Land & [Action] a Disobedience

-   nevertheless hope for the future


PART 4: Rebellion & Corrections

In the fourth part it is difficult to know quite where the jump of forty years takes place but in it we find a rebellion and judgment but then a re-establishing of Aaron and the Priesthood, a clarification of the role of the Levites, and an additional set of rules that can be applied outside the priesthood.

Ch.16 [Action] Rebellion

-   the rebellion and judgment of Korah etc.

Ch.17 [Action] The Lord Elevates Aaron

-   the budding of Aaron's staff

Ch.18 [Law] Priests versus Levites

-   roles of both

Ch.19 [Law] Water for Cleansing ‘Uncleanness'

-   cleansing with ashes of a red heifer


PART 5: Travelling North

Part five sees them travelling north up the east side of the Dead Sea and three battles.

Ch.20 [Action] Water from the Rock & encounter with Edom

-   Miriam's death, Moses' failure & Aaron's death

Ch.21 [Action] Battles physical & spiritual & travel

-   battle with Arad, snakes and defeating Sihon & Og

PART 6: An Attempt to Undermine Israel [Balaam]

In part six we have an extreme attempt to curse Israel – which the Lord foils – but then the nation succumbing to temptations that follow the advice of the Seer.

Ch.22 [Action] Balaam called & Permission Given

-   God deals with a greedy seer

Ch.23 [Action] Balaam's First & Second Messages

Ch.24 [Action] Balaam's Third to Seventh Messages

Ch.25 [Action] The Seduction of Israel

- the outworking of Balaam's advice


PART 7: Clarifications on the Plains before Entering the Land

Part seven covers laws & activities on the Plains of Moab before entering the Land. It is about numbers & locations [26,32-35] as well as a variety of laws in respect of keeping the calendar [28,29] and misc. laws about succession [27,36] and vows [30]. It also includes the major incident of dealing with the Midianites [31]. Apart from this last item, it is all about Moses establishing the nation – it's number, it future locations and ongoing laws that seek to create an orderly and peaceful community.]


PART 7A: Records & Laws

Ch.26 [Records] The Second Census

-   on the Plains of Moab before entering the Land

Ch.27 [Law] All about Succession - Zelophehad's Daughters

-   deprived daughters, new laws and Moses' successor

Ch.28 [Law] The Calendar of Remembrance Established

-   the daily, monthly and special annual offerings

Ch.29 [Law] Three Special Times

-   Trumpets, Atonement, Tabernacles

Ch.30 [Law] Vows

-   dealing with different sorts of vows


PART 7B: An Aside: Justice & Retribution

Ch.31 [Action] Dealing with the Midianites

-   Vengeance


PART 7A: Records & Laws (Continued)

Ch.32 [Records] The Transjordan Tribes

two and a half tribes settle land to the east

Ch.33 [Records] Israel's Journey: Egypt to Promised Land

-   record of their travels

Ch.34 [Records] Boundaries and Locations

-   boundaries of the land and land to the east

Ch.35 [Law] Towns for the Levites & Cities of Refuge

- distinguishing between murder & manslaughter & provisions for refuge

Ch.36 [Law] More about Succession - Zelophehad's Daughters

-   keeping land within the tribes