Summary of The Book of Numbers
This book takes its name from the fact that it contains the account of the two census enumerations of the congregation of Israel in chs. 1-4 and ch. 26. The title, however, is interesting since there is really no connection with these "numberings." The original Hebrew title, "in the wilderness," is greatly to be preferred, as the book is certainly more a vital history of the events of the period of wanderings than a catalogue of lifeless statistics. Numbers follows naturally after Leviticus in the sequence of the books of the Pentateuch. After receiving the laws at Sinai, the journey to which was described in Exodus, the Israelites were ready to continue their march to Canaan. This book tells of their preparations, their sin in failing to trust in God and the resultant thirty-seven years of wanderings through the rough wilderness. At the end of the book, they are once again at the edge of Canaan, where they receive instructions for the conquest and division of the land.
The principle divisions of the book are as follows:
1) The preparation for the departure from Sinai (1:1-10:10). The events described here took place in nineteen days. In this time a census was taken of all men who were over twenty and who could serve in military efforts (1-4). The total obtained was 603,550 (1:46). This would indicate that the total population of the group was probably near three million. The census was followed by the cleansing and blessing of the congregation (5-6), the offering of gifts from the various tribes (7), the consecration of the Levites (8) and the observance of the Passover at Sinai (9:1-14).
2 ) The journey from Sinai to Kadesh-barnea (10:11-14:45). This section includes the account of the coming of the quail (11), the rebellion against Moses by Miriam and Aaron (12), and the fateful mission of the spies (13, 14).
3) The wanderings of the desert wilderness (15-19). As noted above, this covered a period of thirty-seven years, from the end of the second to the beginning of the fortieth year in the wilderness. Ch. 15 includes various laws and a record of capital punishment for Sabbath breaking. The rebellion of Korah (ch. 16) and the budding of Aaron's rod (ch. 17) are also mentioned here.
4) The history of the last year, from the second arrival of the Israelites at Kadesh till they reach "the plains of Moab by Jordan near Jericho" (20-36: 13) . Notable sections of this are the story of Balaam (22:2-24:25), the zeal of Phinehas (ch. 25) , the second census (26:1-51), instructions for dividing the land (26:52-27: 11), the appointment of Joshua as Moses' successor (27: 12-23), various laws concerning offerings and vows ( 28-30 ), the war with Midian ( ch. 31), the settlement of the tribes east of the Jordan (ch. 32) , a review of the locations at which Israel had camped during their wanderings (33: 1-49), more instructions concerning the conquest and division of Canaan (33:50-34:29 ), the appointment of the cities of refuge (ch. 35) and instructions concerning the marriage of land-owning Israelite women (ch. 36).