In Hebrew the Book of Numbers was titled "In the Desert." It does contain a lot of lists and numbers, so some titled it "Numbers." The book of Exodus described Israel's departure from Egypt and the begining of the journey to the Promised Land. The book of Numbers describes that journey. Normally that journey wouldn't have taken very long (a few months). But Israel initially refused to enter the Promise Land. For this, God commanded Israel to wander in the desert for another 38 years until all those who had rebelled died off. The book alternates between travel narratives and lists of numbers and regulations.
God is present with His people, but many are obstinate and not prepared to enter the land of promise. They are killed off or die. The next generation is made ready to enter. Numbers summarizes the 40 years in the wilderness.
The Numbers Of Numbers
One of the key numbers is 603,550. This was the number of warriors (men between 20-60) recorded in first census (Exodus 38.26), second census (Numbers 1.46), and similarly (601,730) the third census (Numbers 26:51) taken 40 years after the first census. The total estimated population would have been 2 million. This is a very large number of people to move together and to survive in the wilderness. Bible scholars have tried to understand these numbers in different ways. Some have wondered whether the Hebrew word “eleph,” usually translated “1,000,” might mean something else here. But all of these different interpretations run into various problems. It is best to take the numbers at face value and to believe that the success of the Exodus was due to God’s miraculous support.
01 - The First Census
The LORD commanded Moses to take a census of every male twenty years and older. The total was 603,550. The sons of Levi were not numbered. They were to take care of the tabernacle.
02 - The Arrangement of Tribes
On the east side the tribes of Judah, Issachar and Zebulum camped. They were the first to break camp. On the south side was Rueben, Simeon and Gad. They were the second to break camp. The Levites and the tabernacle moved next in the middle. One the west side was Ehraim, Manasseh, and Benjamin. They were the third to break camp. On the north side was Dan, Asher, and Naphtali. They broke camp last.
03 - The Sons of Levi
Sons of Aaron were Eliazar and Ithamar (Nadam and Abihu died). The Levites were dedicated to God instead of the first born of the children of Israel. (When God struck the firstborn of Egypt, He also dedicated of the firstborn of Israel, man and beast, to Himself.) Sons of Levi were Gershon, Kohath, and Merari. The Gersonites camped on the west side of the tabernacle. The Kohathites camped on the south side. The Merarites camped on the north side. Moses, Aaron & sons camped on the east side. The total number of Levite males was 22,000. The total number of firstborn males of all of Israel was 22,273. The extra 273 were redeemed for their service with a special offering of 5 shekels per male. Some object that the number of 22,273 firstborn males is too low. However, these firstborn males of Israel may be those who were born only after the Levites had been chosen for their tabernacle duties.
04 - Census of the Sons of Levi
Census of the sons of Kohath. The Kohathites were responsible for the packing of the holy things. Census of the sons of Gershon. The Gershonites packed the curtains and the tabernacle. Census of the sons of Merari. They packed the boards, pillars, etc.
05 - The Defiled and the Test for Adultery
Lepers and those defiled by a corpse had to go outside the camp. Israelites who sin must confess and make a 1/5 restitution to the one he wronged. If a woman is suspected of being unfaithful, she must make a sacrifice and drink “the water that brings the curse.”
Note: When an adulterous man and woman were caught in the act of adultery, they both faced the death penalty in Israel (Deut. 22:22)
06 - The Nazarite Vow; Aaronic Blessing
The Nazarite Vow was a temporary vow in which a man used no wine, grape juice, grapes, or raisins. He could not shave head his head. He could not go near a dead body. When vow was fulfilled, he offered sacrifices. He shaved his head at the tabernacle and burned the hair. The threefold blessing of Aaron: Bless, Shine & Be Gracious, Look Upon & Give Peace.
07 - Dedication of the Tabernacle
Moses consecrates the tabernacle. The people bring offerings for the tabernacle from each tribe. Carts were used for the tabernacle, but the holy things were carried on the shoulders of the Levites. Moses heard the voice of the LORD speaking from the mercy seat.
08) - Dedication of the Levites
Aaron arranged the lamps on the lamp stand. The Levites are dedicated to the LORD in place of all the first born (which the LORD claimed since the death of the firstborn during the first Passover). The Levites served from age 25 to 50.
09) - The Second Passover
They celebrated the second Passover on the fourteenth day of the first month. The LORD makes an exception that allowed those made unclean by contact with a corpse could celebrate the Passover (Lev 7.21). Also those on a journey could celebrate it. But those who did not celebrate the Passover were cut off. Strangers could also celebrate the Passover. The cloud and fire were over the Tabernacle. When it rose, they journeyed. When it stayed, they camped.
10) Two Silver Trumpets
Moses makes two trumpets to call the people (both sounding) or just the leaders (one sounding) to the Tabernacle. They were also used to direct the movements of the tribes and to celebrate sacrifices. The children of Israel set out for the first time traveling from Sinai to Paran. The order was Judah, Issachar, Zebulun, Tabernacle; Reuben, Simeon, Gad, Holy Things; Ephraim, Manasseh, Benjamin; Dan, Asher, Naphthali. Moses encouraged his father-in-law to go with them. Moses spoke a blessing each time the departed and when they stopped.
11) Complaints and Quail
The people complained. God punished with fire. Moses prayed , and God relented. The people wanted meat to eat. Moses is frustrated. God tells Moses to appoint 70 elders who receive the Spirit. Two were absent, Eldad and Medad, but they still receive the Spirit. God sent the quail, and the people are. God punishes the rebellion at Kibroth-hattaavah.
12) Aaron and Miriam Complain.
Miriam and Aaron complained, and said that the LORD spoke through them also. Miriam was punished with leprosy. Moses prayed for her healing. She stayed outside the camp seven days. She came back, and Israel set out for Paran.
13) Twelve Spies
Twelve men from each tribe are chosen to spy out Canaan. They brought a large cluster of grapes and reported that the people and the cities were very strong.
14) The Rebellion
All the people wept. Joshua and Caleb urged them to obey the LORD. The glory of the LORD appeared, and He promised to disinherit them and destroy them. Moses prayed for pardon. All who came out of Egypt and rebelled ten times would die in the wilderness for forty years except for Joshua and Caleb. The ten unfaithful spies died. The Israelites changed their minds and decide to take the land. Moses warned them that the LORD is not with them. They were driven back.
15) What To Do When They Enter the Promised Land
Moses reviewed the sacrifices. Aliens and Israelites have one law. Moses instructs on how to handle unintentional and intentional sins. Penalties for violating the Sabbath. A man gathering sticks was stoned. Tassels on garments were used to remember the commandments.
16) Korah’s Rebellion
Korah wanted more leadership. Moses gathered the rebels together to see who the LORD would choose. The earth opened and swallowed the rebels. Fire consumed some of them. The next day some continued to rebel. The LORD began to destroy them with a plague. Aaron made atonement for them to stop the plague. 14,700 more died.
17) Aaron’s Rod Blossoms
Moses called all the tribes to bring a rod to the Tabernacle. The next day Aaron’s rod (for the tribe of Levi) had budded, flowered, and produced ripe almonds. This showed that the LORD had chosen him and the Levites to serve in the Tabernacle.
18) Service and Compensation of the Levites
Only the Levites served the Tabernacle. Heave offerings and tithes were used to support the Levites. The Levites had no inheritance in the land. The Israelites otherwise could not serve in the Tabernacle.
19) The Ashes of the Red Heifer and Water of Purification
Israelites became unclean when they came into contact with the dead. They could be purified by the ashes of a sacrificed red heifer mixed with water. The ashes were kept outside the camp. Hebrew 9.13-14 mentions that the blood of Jesus purifies us now so that we can serve God.
20) Moses and Aaron Disobey at Kadesh
Miriam died at Kadesh. The people complained about lack of water. Moses struck the rock twice instead of speaking to bring forth water. Edom refused to let them pass through. Aaron transferred priestly garments to son Eleazar and died on Mt. Hor because he apparently disobeyed the LORD when Moses struck the rock at Meribah (v. 12). Israel mourned thirty days.
21) Israel’s Battles and the Bronze Serpent
Israel defeated Arad, the Canaanite at Hormah. Heading north around Edom, the people became discouraged and complained. The LORD sent fiery serpents, but He also directed Moses to erect a bronze serpent to look to for salvation. Israel skirted around Moab and tried to avoid conflict with the Amorites. But Sihon attacked, and Israel defeated them. Israel then goes further north and is attacked by Og, also an Amorite king. Israel defeated him.
22) Balak Hires Balaam
Israel turned back south to Moab. Balak, king of the Moabites, hired Balaam, a Midianite, to curse Israel. Balaam and Balak somehow both know the LORD and attempted to manipulate Him for their own purposes. But actually the LORD manipulated them. Balaam’s donkey sees the Angel of the LORD and lays down. Balaam beats it until it speaks. Balaam promised to speak what the LORD tells him.
23) Balaam’s First Two Prophecies
Balak builds seven altars and offers sacrifices. Twice Balaam blesses Israel!
24) Balaam’s Second and Third Prophecies
Again he blesses Israel two times!
25) Israel’s Spiritual and Sexual Harlotry in Moab
Some of the Israelites join in the worship and sex with the people of Moab. The LORD tells Moses to put them to death. This included a prominent Midianite woman named Cozbi. The LORD commands Israel to attack the Midianites (the Moabites and Midianites had conspired together in Num 22.4). 24,000 Israelites died from the plague which the Lord brought as a consequence of their sin.
26) Second Census
The LORD commands Moses and Aaron to number the people who were twenty and older. No one who was twenty and older at the time of the Exodus was alive at this point. They died in the wilderness because they had rebelled. Only Joshua and Caleb were allowed to enter Canaan. The total was 601,730 (v. 51). The first census, 38 years earlier, was 603,550. So they basically doubled in size since the original adults all died.
The daughters of Zelophehad appeal for an inheritance since they had no brothers to inherit. The LORD commanded that inheritances pass to daughters as well as sons. Joshua wass chosen to take over for Moses, who would also die in the wilderness for his sin.
28) Daily Offerings
Two lambs, along with grain and oil, were offered daily, morning and evening. Two young bulls, one ram, seven lambs and grain and oil were offered at the beginning of the month (also for Passover, Feast of Weeks). Also a goat for a sin offering was offered monthly. Two young bulls, one ram, seven lambs and gran and oil were offered for each Passover.
29) Feast of Trumpets
In the seventh month for Trumpets one young bull, one ram, and seven lambs along with grain and oil were offered. Also a kid goat was offered for a sin offering. The same was done on the tenth day for the Day of Atonement. On the fifteenth day a large number of sacrifices were offered for the Feast of Tabernacles which continued for eight days.
30) Concerning Vows
Men must keep their vows. Women must keep their vows unless overruled by their fathers or husbands on the day of the vow.
31) Vengeance on the Midianites
1,000 from each tribe go to war with the Midianites. They killed the kings of Midian and Balaam. They took the women and children as spoils. Moses commands that all the male boys be killed and every woman who had been sexually intimate. Half of the spoils were given to the soldiers and half to the people who stayed behind. The soldiers gave 1/500 to the priests. The people who stayed behind gave 1/50 to the Levites. The principle of dividing spoils among all is also found in 1 Samuel 30.24.
The slaughter of the boys may seem unjust to us. But Moses was following God’s command to wipe out the Midianites as a people. This was not a continuing principle of war, but a specific application of justice for the particular sin which they caused. Remember that 24,000 Israelites also died of plague because of this.
32) Reuben, Gad and Manasseh in the Transjordan
The tribes of Reuben and Gad wanted to settle in the land that was east of the Jordan and that had been conquered. Moses allowed this as long as they also helped in the conquest of the land west of the Jordan for the other tribes.
33) Summary of the Exodus
Moses summarizes the Exodus. Aaron’s death at Mt. Hor is marked. The LORD commanded that all the inhabitants of Canaan be driven out. If any are left, they will be irritants, and the LORD will do to Israel what He was going to do to them (drive them from the land).
34) Boundaries of the Promised Land
Roughly - South: Wilderness of Zin; West: Great Sea; North: Mt. Hor; East: Jordan. The two and half tribes inherited land east of the Jordan. Leaders from each tribe divided the land.
35) Cities for the Levites
Forty eight cities and common land were assigned for the Levites scattered among all the tribes. Six were cities of refuge to which people could flee for justice. Murderers were put to death. Those who committed manslaughter must stay in the city of refuge until the death of the high priest. There had to be more than one witness for the death penalty.
36) Marriage of Female Heirs
Females who inherit land (because there were no male heirs - chapter 27) must marry within their tribe so that the inheritance of land does not shift to another tribe.
Israel Being Led by the Cloud
Hebrew Tabernacle at Night
Levites Carrying Ark
Test for Adultery
Israel Gathering Quail
Spies of Canaan
Moses & the Bronze Serpent
Balaam Beats His Donkey and Encounters the Angel
Amorites: They are represented on Egyptian monuments as a fair skinned people with light hair, blue eyes, and aquiline noses and pointed beards. The Babylonians recognized them as the inhabitants of Canaan as does the Bible. At this time they controlled the land north of Moab.
Moabites: They inhabited the land east of the Dead Sea and south of the Arnon. Moab was the eldest son of Lot by incestuous birth (Gen 19.37). Ruth was a Moabitess (Ruth 1.2).
Edom: Idumea “field of Edom” (also Mountains of Seir) are the rough hills of the east side of the Arabah from the Gulf of Aquaba on the south to the foot of the Dead Sea on the north. The Edomites were north of the Midianites. “Edom” is another name for Esau, son of Abraham by Hagar.
Midianites: They inhabited the desert north of the peninsula of Arabia east of the Gulf of Aquaba. Midian was the fourth son of Abraham by Keturah (Gen 25.2).
Baal & Child Sacrifice