Numbers 1-3

The book of Numbers begins on the first day of the second month of the second year after the exodus from Egypyt, and the LORD told Moses to take a census of the Israelites. Chapter one lists the numbers of "men twenty years old or more who were able to serve in the army" for each of the twelve tribes of Israel, with the exception of the Levites, who are set aside to serve as priests. There were twelve "tribes" enumerated, however, as the descendants of Joseph's sons Ephraim and Manasseh were listed seperately. The Levites were given instructions to maintain the Tabernacle, to take it down and set it up and carry and care for it. And "the Israelites did all this just as the LORD commanded Moses."

Chapter two discusses the arrangement of the tribal camps, with each tribe having a specified spot to occupy. To the east, Judah, Issachar and Zebulum; to the south, Reuben, Simeon and Gad; to the west, Ephraim and Manasseh, and Benjamin; and to the north, Dan, Asher and Naphtali. The Levites were to set up in the middle with the Tent of Meeting.

In chapter three, the census is taken of the Levites, including Aaron and Moses and their families. Aaron had four sons, two of whom, Nadab and Abihu, died in the Tabernacle as we saw in Leviticus chapter 10, without sons. The rest of the Levites were given to Aaron to assist him in the priestly duties, "doing the workd of the tabernacle." The LORD said that he was taking the Levites "in place of the first male offspring of every Israelite woman...for all the firstborn are mine." The rest of the chapter contains the Levite census, 22,000 men at least one month old, as well as the specific duties of the various sub-tribes out of the Levites. But there were 22,273 first-born in the people of Israel, and the LORD instructed Moses to collect five shekels for each of the 273 by which the number of first-born exceeded the number of Levites. "Moses gave the redemption money to Aaron and his sons, as he was commanded by the word of the LORD."

Thoughts, questions, issues

Numbers 4-7

Numbers chapter four describes the duties and responsibilities of the various sub-tribes of the Levites. The Kohathites were responsible for "the care of the most holy things." First, Aaron and his sons are to take down the curtains and cover the holy things, then the Kohathites are to do all of the carrying, though "they must not touch the holy things or they will die" and they "must not go in to look at the holy things, even for a moment, or they will die." The Gershonites wre responsible for carrying the curtains, the Tent of Meeting, and the curtains, cloths, etc. The Merarites were responsible for carrying basically all of the structural elements of the tabernacle, the frames and tent pegs and bases. From age 30 to 50, the Kohathites numbered 2750, the Gershonites 2630 and the Merarites 3200, totalling 8580.

Chapter five addresses the issue of the purity of the camp. Any who are diseased or discharging, as described in Leviticus, are sent outside of the camp. The LORD instructs them in giving restitution to those who are wronged, generally adding one fifth to the value in recompense, and atonement sacrifices. There is a test to be performed by the priest if a man suspects his wife of unfaithfulness, involving

Chapter six describes "a vow of separation to the LORD as a Nazirite." A Nazirite would dedicate him or herself to living separately from the rest of the tribe, and refraining from the fruit of the grapevine, shaving or going near dead bodies (to the extent of avoiding becoming unclean if a close relative dies). "Throughout the period of his separation he is consecrated to the LORD. At the end of the year, he must make a sacrifice and shave off his hair, among other things. The chapter finishes with the high priestly blessing.

Chapter seven details the offerings made by the various tribes at the dedication of the tabernacle. Each of the twelve offered the same offering. And then Moses entered the Tent of Meeting and spoke to the LORD.

Thoughts, questions, issues

Numbers 8-10

The first verses in Numbers 8 tell how Aaron set up the lamps to light the area in front of the lampstand as the LORD commanded. The rest of the chapter describes the purification of the Levites. They were taken from among the other Israelites and made ceremonially clean by washing, shaving "their whole bodies" and washing their clothes. They performed a grain offering and a sin offering, and gathered the whole Israelite community to lay hands upon the Levites. After the burnt offerings, the Levites were presented as a wave offering to the LORD, set apart from the other Israelites. The LORD said that the Levites were to perform their duties in the Tent of Meeting from age 26 to age 50.

In chapter nine, the LORD tells Moses to have the Israelites celebrate the passover. Moses told the Israelites this, but some were unable to celebrate due to ceremonial uncleanness because of a dead body. They asked what they should do, and Moses told them to wait until he could find out the LORD's command. The LORD instructs them that one who his traveling or unclean may still partake of the passover meal but one is who is not traveling and is clean who does not partake must be cut off.

The LORD's presence rested in the cloud above the tabernacle. When it stayed, the Israelites stayed. When the cloud lifted from the tent of meeting, the Israelites traveled. "Whether the cloud stayed over the tabernacle for two days or a month or a year, the Israelites would remain in camp and not set out; but when it lifted, they would set out."

In chapter ten, the LORD tells Moses to make two silver trumpets, which are to be used for signalling to the camp when it is time for the leaders to meet and when it is time for the camp to move out. And he tells them to blow the horns when they are in battle in their own land, and "you will be remembered by the LORD your God and rescued from your enemies."

Finally, the LORD deemed that they were ready to move on from Sinai, and on the 20th day of the 2nd month of the 2nd year, "the cloud lifted from above the tabernacle of the Testimony." They left the camp, Judah leading the way, followed by Issachar and Zebulun. The tabernacle was carried by the Gershonite and Merarites next. These were followed by Reuben, Simeon and Gad, before the Kohathites came, carrying the holy things. ("The tabernacle was to be set up before they arrived.") Ephraim, Manasseh and Benjamin were next, with Dan, Asher and Naphtali as the rearguard.

Moses told Hobab, son of Reuel the Midianite (who was Moses' father-in-law) that they were leaving and encouraged him to come with them. When he said that he was going to return to his own land and his own people, Moses pleaded with him to come, because he knew the desert and could "be our eyes," and told him that they would share with him "whatever good things the LORD gives us." They set out from Sinai ("the mountain of the LORD") with the ark of the covenant going before them and the cloud of the LORD over them. And the chapter closes the ritualistic prayers that Moses would give whenever the ark set out or came to rest.

Thoughts, questions, issues

Numbers 10-14

Chapter 11 relates how the Israelites, almost immediately upon leaving Mount Sinai, demonstrated ingratitude towards the LORD again. They "complained about their hardships" and the LORD was angered and sent fire among the outskirts of the camp which consumed some of them. They cried out to Moses, who prayed and the fire stopped.

"And again the Israelites started wailing," complaining that they had no meat and were tired of the manna. The LORD got "exceedingly angry" but Moses was troubled, asking the LORD why he had to deal with all of the burdens of the Israelites. The LORD had him gather seventy elders "who are known to you as leaders" and he put the spirit on them to help carry the burdens. Two of the elders, Eldad and Medad, did not join them, but the spirit "also rested on them." When Joshua heard them prophesy, he encouraged Moses to stop them, but Moses was pleased to have more of the people with the spirit. Then the LORD sent a wind which drove quail in from the sea, three feet deep around the camp in all directions. The people gathered and ate, but the LORD was angry with them and "struck them with a severe plague." From there, which they named Kibroth Hattaavah, they traveled to Hazeroth.

In chapter 12, Miriam and Aaron began to speak against Moses because he had married a Cushite. The LORD spoke to all three to come to the Tent of Meeting, then he "came down in a pillar of cloud." He told them that he normally communicated with prophets through dreams and visions but with Moses he speaks face to face, and wonders why they aren't afraid to speak against him. When the cloud lifted, Miriam was leprous, like snow, but Moses cried out to the LORD to heal her. She was confined outside the camp for seven days, and the people did not move on until she came back. They then left Hazeroth and encamped in the Desert of Paran.

In Numbers 13, the Israelites near the promised land, and Moses, at the LORD's command, sent one man from each tribe into Canaan on a scouting mission, to find out about the land and its inhabitants. They went and explored, and brought back grapes and pomegranates and figs, returning after forty days. They reported that the land was flowing with milk and honey but that the people living their were giants, and too strong to attack.

Again, in chapter 14, the people of Israel rebelled against the leadership of Moses, fearing destruction if they tried to enter the promised land, and telling one another that they should choose a leader and go back to Egypt. Joshua and Caleb, from among those who had explored Canaan said that the land was good and the LORD would give it to them, but the people talked about stoning them. The LORD came down and threatened to destroy the people and make a new nation out of Moses, but Moses, arguing in part that the Egyptions would scoff, talked him out of it. The LORD forgave the people, but decreed that none of those who had come out of Egypt and then disobeyed in the desert would enter the promised land, except for Caleb and Joshua. The rest would stay in the desert, their children being shepherds, for forty years, and "in this desert your bodies will fall." The men who had explored Canaan and returned a bad report were struck down by a plague and died - of the men that explored, only Caleb and Joshua survived. When Moses told the LORD's decree to the people, they "mourned bitterly" and acknowledged their sin. Then they determined that they would go up to the promised land, but Moses told them that they were disobeying again and couldn't succeed. They started towards the hill country, "then the Amalekites and Canaanites...came down and attacked them and beat them down all the way to Hormah.

Thoughts, questions, issues

Numbers 15-17

In the first part of Numbers 15, the LORD conveys to the Israelites, through Moses, information about some further detail on some offerings, including the kind of grain and drink offerings to give with various animal sacrifices. He tells them that the rules apply both to native born and aliens, "a lasting ordinance for the generations to come." And he told them again that the offerings to the LORD should come "from the first of your ground meal." These rules are followed with more rules for offerings for unintentional sins. "But anyone who sins defiantly...must be cut off from his people. Because he has despised the LORD's word and broken his commands...his guilt remains on him." The chapter ends with instructions from the LORD that they are to wear tassels on the corners of their garments, to remind them of the commands of the LORD.

Between the offering commands and the instructions to wear tassels, however, there's a story of a man "found gathering wood on the Sabbath day." They put him in to custody, unsure of what to do with him. The LORD said to Moses that the whole camp should stone him, so they put him to death.

Chapter 16 relates the story of a revolt against the leadership of Moses and Aaron, led by three Israelites named Korah, who was himself a Levite, and Dathan and Abiram of the tribe of Reuben. They denounced the way in which Moses and Aaron appeared to claim more holiness than the rest of the community. Dathan and Abiram also denounced Moses for having brought them out of a land of mil and honey "to kill us in the desert." Moses "fell facedown," and told them to put fire and incense in their censers the next morning, and that the man the LORD chooses "will be the one that is holy."

They gathered at the Tent of Meeting, and the LORD wanted to separate Moses and Aaron and then kill the whole assembly, but Moses and Aaron prayed that he not. So he told them to tell the assembly to move away from the tents of Korah, Dathan and Abiram. Moses told everyone that they would know that the LORD had not sent him "if these men die a natural death and experience only what usually happens to men" but if the ground swallowed them, "then you will know that these men have treated the LORD with contempt." The ground split open and Korah, Dathan and Abiram, with their tents and households and possessions, were "swallowed up" and the the ground closed over them. Then the people fled, fearing that they would also be swallowed up, and the fire of the LORD consumed the 250 men who had joined the leaders and were offering incense. The LORD told Moses to have Aaron's son Eleazar take the censers out of the remains and hammer them into sheets to overlay the altar. "This was to remind the Israelites that no one except a descendant of Aaron should come to burn incense before the LORD." The next day, the grumbling continued, now against Moses and Aaron for having "killed the LORD's people." So the LORD sent a plague among them. Aaron offered incense and made atonement for them, and stopped the plague, but 14,700 people had died.

In chapter 17, the LORD told Moses to gather twelve staffs from the Israelites, one from each of the tribes, including Aaron's, and to put them in the Tent of Meeting, where he would make one of them bud. So they did this, and the next day, entering the Tent of Meeting, saw that Aaron's staff, representing the house of Levi, "had not only sprouted but had budded, blossomed and produced almonds." So they kept Aaron's staff in the Tent of Meeting, but the people said to Moses, "We will die! We are lost, we are all lost! Anyone who even comes near the tabernacle of the LORD will die. Are we all going to die?"

Thoughts, questions, issues

Numbers 18-21

In chapter 18, the LORD spoke to Aaron, and told him that he and his sons "and your father's family" will bear the responsibility for any offenses against the sanctuary, and that he and his sons will bear responsibility for any offenses against the priesthood. The other Levites have been given to do the work of the Tent of Meeting, but only he and his sons may serve as priests at the altar and inside the curtain - anyone else would be put to death. With their burdens and responsibilities, they will also be supported by the offerings of the people. He and his sons are to have "\the part of the most holy offerings that is kept from the fire." The LORD gives them that as their portion. That also means that they "will have no inheritance in their land...I am your share and your inheritance among the Israelites." They are to have "all the tithes in Israel as their inheritance."

Numbers 19 describes the water of cleansing. A red heifer "without defect or blemish" is to be sacrificed and burned, with cedar, hyssop and scarlet wool tossed on while its burning. The ashes are to be gathered by someone clean and put in a ceremonially clean place outside camp. The ashes, placed in a clean jar with clean water forms the water of cleansing, which can be used to clean unclean people and things.

In chapter 20, Miriam dies and is buried at Kadesh. Then the company grumbles against Moses and Aaron again, because there is no water. Moses and Aaron "fell facedown" in the Tent of Meeting, and "the glory of the LORD appeard to them." He told Moses to gather the assembly and to speak to a rock, and "it will pour out its water." So Moses speaks to the assembly, calls them rebels, and strikes the rock with his staff, and water gushes out. But the LORD was angered with Moses "because you did not trust in me enought to honor me as holy in the sight of the Israelites," and he told him that he would not lead the people in to the promised land.

Moses sent messages to the kinf of Edom, telling him about the promises the LORD had made and how he had brought them out of Egypt, and asked permission to pass through Edom. But the Edomites refused and threatened to attack them if they tried. The Israelites sent back word that they would stay on the main road, and take nothing, not even grass or water, but again the Edom said no, and "came out against them with a large and powerful army." So Israel turned away.

After that they left Kadesh and came to Mount Hor, where the LORD told Moses and Aaron that "Aaron will be gathered to his people." At the LORD's command, they went up Mount Hor with Eleazar and transferred the priestly garments on to him, and then Aaron died on top of the mountain. The whole of Israel mourned for 30 days.

Numbers 21 starts with a story of the Canaanite king of Arad capturing some Israelites as they traveled the road to Atharim. Israel pledged to GOD that if he would "deliver these people into our hands, we will totally destroy their cities." The LORD heard, and gave the Canaanites over to them and they destroyed the cities.

But, as they traveled the Red Sea route around Edom, they again grew miserable and grumbled against Moses and against the LORD. The LORD sent venomous snakes among them and many died, but Moses prayed, and the LORD told him to "make a snake and put it on a pole." Moses made a bronze snake and put it on a pole, and anyone who was bitten could look at the bronze snake and live. They continued on towards Moab, and the book describes places along the way. It also references another book, apparently now lost, called the "Book of the Wars of the LORD."

As they had done with Edom, the Israelites sent a message to Sihon, king of the Amorites, that they would take nothing if allowed to pass through, but, also like the Edomites, Sihon refused. He mustered his army and marched out to attack. The Israelites won, and "took over his land from the Arnon to the Jabbok, but only as far as the Ammonites." They captured all of the cities of the Amorites and occupied them. Moses then sent spies to Jazer and captured its settlements and "drove out the Amorites who were there." They then turned towards Bashan, and Og, kind of Bashan, marched to meet them with his entire army. The LORD told Moses that "I have handed him over to you," and they struck him down and his whole army, "leaving them no survivors," and "took possession of his land."

Thoughts, questions, issues

Numbers 22-24

In Numbers 22, the Israelites have camped along the Jordan river, across the river from Jericho. Balak, the king of Moab, was fearful because of what Israel had done to the Amorites, so he send a delegation of the elders of Midian to summon Balaam to curse the Israelites. But GOD told Balaam not to go, so they returned his answer to Balak. He sent another delegation, and this time, GOD told him to go with them, but only to do what he said. The next morning, Balaam mounted his donkey and went with the delegation of Moabites, but "GOD was very angry when he went." An Angel of the Lord blocked his path so that his donkey would not continue, and he beat her. This happened three times, and the "LORD opened the donkey's mouth" so that she could ask what she had done to be beaten. Then "the LORD opened Balaam's eyes" and he saw the angel and "bowed low and fell facedown." The Angel told him to go on, "but speak only what I tell you." When he arrived, Balak greeted him and berated him for not coming sooner, but Balaam told him that "I must speak only what God puts in my mouth." After a sacrifice, Balak took him to Bamoth Baal, where he could see part of the Israelite camp.

Over the next two chapters, Numbers 23-24, Balak and Balaam build seven altars on three different sites at three different times, sacrificed a bull and a ram on each, and Balaam provided an oracle. In each of the three cases, Balaam offered an oracle ("the LORD put a message in Balaam's mouth") which refused to curse Israel. "How can I curse those whom GOD has not cursed? ... No misfortune is seen in Jacob, no misery observed in Israel. The LORD their God is with them; the shout of the King is among them...Like a lion they crouch and lie down, like a lioness—who dares to rouse them? 'May those who bless you be blessed and those who curse you be cursed!'" Each time, Balak berates Balaam, and Balaam responds that he had told Balak the he must say what the LORD puts in his mouth. "Then Balak's anger burned against Balaam" and he told him that there would be none of the promised reward. But Balaam delivered another oracle to Balak, telling him that "a star will come out of Jacob; a scepter will rise out of Israel. He will crush the foreheads of Moab...A ruler will come out of Jacob and destroy the survivors of the city." He also foretold doom for the Amalekite and Kenites and Asshurites, before returning to his home.

Thoughts, questions, issues

Numbers 25-27

Numbers 25 relates the seduction of Israel by Moab. As they were waiting in Shittim, the men "began to indulge in sexual immorality with Moabite women." This led them into making sacrifices to Baal, to eating and bowing down before and worshiping Baal, "and the LORD's anger burned against them." The LORD said to Moses to take the leaders and kill them, so Moses told Israel's judges to "put to death those of your men" who were worshipping Baal. One of the Israelites (zimri, son of Salu, a Simeonite) brought a Moab woman "right before the eyes of Moses and the whole assembly of Israel." Phinehas, son of Eleazar (high priest since the death of his father Aaron) took a spear, entered the tent and killed both Zimri and the Moabite woman with one thrust. This stopped the plague spreading through the camp, but 24,000 had already died. The LORD expressed pleasure with Phinehas "for he was as zealous as I am for my honor" and made a covenant of a lasting priesthood with him and his descendants. The LORD told Moses to "treat the Midianites as enemies and kill them" because they had seduced the people of Israel.

In chapter 26, they take another census of the people, finding that the count is essentially unchanged since the exodus, though some tribes have had significant changes. The total count, including the Levites, was 624,730 at the time of the second census. The LORD told Moses that the land was to be allotted to them "based on the number of names," with larger groups getting larger portions and smaller groups smaller portions. The number for the division was 601,730, because the Levites had no inheritance of the land. And there were no men in this census who were also in the first census other than Caleb, Joshua and Moses.

In chapter 27, the daughters of Zelophehad (Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah and Tirzah) of the tribe of Manasseh approached the entrance of the Tent of Meeting and told Moses, Eleazar and the whole assembly that it was not right that their "father's name [should] disappear from his clan because he had no son," and that they should have property among their father's relatives. Moses brought this to the LORD, who agreed and said that they should have property as an inheritance among their father's relatives. And he gave the Israelites the law of inheritance. Then the LORD told Moses to "go up this mountain...and see the land I have given the Israelites." Because of the failure of Moses and Aaron to honor GOD at Meribah Kadesh, Moses was to be "gathered to your people" just as Aaron had been. Moses asked the LORD to appoint a successor "so the LORD's people will not be like sheep without a shepherd." The LORD told him to lay his hands upon Joshua, and Moses did as the LORD had instructed him.

Thoughts, questions, issues

Numbers 28-30

In Numbers 28-29, the LORD reiterates and systematically describes the offering schedule. He lists first the offerings that are to be made daily, then the offerings made on the Sabbath and the monthly offerings ("on the first of every month"). This is followed by the offering instructions for the Passover ("on the fourteenth day of the first month"), the Feast of Weeks, the Feast of Trumpets ("first day of the seventh month"), the Day of Atonement ("tenth day of this seventh month") and the Feast of Tabernacles (eight days, from the "fifteenth day of the seventh month").

Chapter 30 contains instructions from the LORD on the keeping of oaths and vows. A man who makes a vow to the LORD must keep it. A woman still living in her father's house was not obligated to keep the vow unless her father hears it and says nothing. If he forbids, however, "the LORD will release her." Likewise, a married woman makes vows only subject to the approval of her husband. A widow or divorced woman can make binding vows.

Thoughts, questions, issues

Numbers 31-33

In Numbers 31, the Israelites attack the Midianites. The LORD told Moses to have the Israelites "take vengeance on the Midianites," after which he would "be gathered to your people." So Moses told the people to arm some of their men to go to war. So twelve thousand men, one thousand from each tribe, were supplied and went out to fight, along with Phinehas (son of Eleazar) who took articles from the Sanctuary and the trumpets. They killed every man, including the five kings of Midian, and also killed Balaam. They captured the women and children and gathered all of the Midianite herds, flocks and goods as plunder. When they returned, Moses was angry for them having allowed the women to live, as they were the ones "who followed Balaam's advice" and "were the means of turning the Israelites away from the LORD." He told them to kill all of the boys and women "who have lain with a man" but to save the virgins for themselves. And then they all had to be purified who had killed or touched a dead body. They gave half of the spoils to the men who had fought, and the other half to the rest of the Israelites. Of the soldiers plunder, one five-hundredth went to the priests, and of the rest, one-fiftieth went to the Levites.

In chapter 32, the Reubenites and Gadites, with large flocks, "saw that the lands of Jazer and Gilead were suitable for livestock." So the told Moses and Eleazar that they would prefer to stay there, but Moses was angry with them, as they were expected to fight with the rest of the tribes to take the land that the LORD had promised them. They said that they would carry arms and participate in the conquest, and Moses agreed that they could, after the conquest, "return and be free from your obligation to the LORD and to Israel. And this land will be your possession before the LORD."

Numbers 33 contains the "travelogue," a list of the places that the Israelites traveled and camped during their forty years in the desert. And the LORD said to Moses to tell the Israelites to "drive out all the inhabitants of the land before you. Destroy all their carved images and their cast idols, and demolish all their high places. Take possession of the land and settle in it, for I have given you the land to possess... if you do not drive out the inhabitants of the land, those you allow to remain will become barbs in your eyes and thorns in your sides. They will give you trouble in the land where you will live."

Thoughts, questions, issues

Numbers 34-36

In chapter 34, the LORD outlines the boundaries of the land that he is giving the Israelites, by noteworthy cities and towns, and geographical barriers. The western boundary is the Mediterranean, "the coast of the Great Sea." To the south, it reaches to the Wadi of Egypt, on the east it extends to the Jordan and the "Salt Sea," and to the north it coes to Mount Hor. It was to be divided among 9 1/2 tribes, with Reuben, Gad and Manasseh already having received theirs on the east side of the Jordan "toward the sunrise." One man from each of the remaining ten tribes were set to assist Eleazar and Joshua in assigning the land.

The Levites were given towns in chapter 35, and the pastureland around them extending out for 3000 feet for their cattle and livestock. Six of the forty-eight towns assigned to the Levites were to be Sanctuary Cities, three on each side of the Jordan. The Sanctuary cities were to be a refuge for anyone, Israelite or alien, to flee to in case they accidentally killed another. Anyone striking someone with "an iron object" or "a stone in his hand" or "a wooden object in his hand" such that that person dies is a murderer. "The avenger of blood shall put the murderer to death when he meets him." But someone killing another "without hostility," unintentionally, shall be protected from "the avenger of blood" in the sanctuary cities until the high priest dies, and then he can return to his home. The penalty for murder is death, but there must be witnesses and "no one is to be put to death on the testimony of only one witness."

In chapter 36, some of the heads of Israelite clans discussed, again, the issue of Zelophehad's daughters and their inheritance. The issue was that if they married men from other tribes, the inheritance would end up leaving their tribe. Moses said that the LORD said they could marry anyone they wanted as long as it was "within the tribal clan of their father" and that no inheritance in Israel was to pass from tribe to tribe. And the book of Numbers ends with "these are the commands and regulations the LORD gave through Moses to the Israelites on the plains of Moab by the Jordan across from Jericho."

Thoughts, questions, issues