Quick Overview of Numbers. – –1-4 – –The numbering of the
Israelites, the organizing of the Israelites into tribes and
companies, the offices of the Levites while serving in the
Tabernacle. – – 5-10 – – The establishing of various civil and
ceremonial laws. – – 11-21 – – The murmuring of the Israelites
in the wilderness on their way to Mount Sinai. – – 22-36 – –
The encampment of the Israelites on the plains of Moab.
The Book of Numbers (Greek: Αριθμοί arithmoi meaning
"numbers") or Bəmidbar (Hebrew: במדבר, literally "In the
desert [of]") is the fourth book of the Hebrew Bible, and
the fourth of five books of the Jewish Torah/Pentateuch.
This book may be divided into three parts:
The numbering of the people at Sinai, and preparations for
resuming their march (1–10:10).
An account of the journey from Sinai to Moab, the sending
out of the spies and the report they brought back, the
murmurings (eight times) of the people at the hardships by
the way, and the subsequent exile into the wilderness for 40
The transactions in the plain of Moab before crossing the
Jordan River (21:21–36).
In Numbers, the priests are instructed to bless the nation
of Israel as follows: "May Yahweh bless you, and keep you.
May Yahweh let his face shine on you and be gracious to you.
May Yahweh show you his face and bring you peace." This
priestly blessing is regularly performed during Jewish
services, on Jewish holidays, and sometimes by parents
over their own children before the Friday Shabbat meal...
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).
I. Title and Contents.
Styled in the Hebrew Bible bemidhbar, "in the wilderness,"
from the 5th word in Nu 1:1, probably because of recording
the fortunes of Israel in the Sinaitic desert. The 4th book
of the Pentateuch (or of the Hexateuch, according to
criticism) was designated Arithmoi in the Septuagint, and
Numeri in the Vulgate, and from this last received its name
"Numbers" in the King James Version, in all 3 evidently
because of its reporting the 2 censuses which were taken,
the one at Sinai at the beginning and the other on the
plains of Moab at the close of the wanderings.
Of the contents the following arrangement will be
(1) Before leaving Sinai, Nu 1:1 through 10:10 (a period of
19 days, from the 1st to the 20th of the 2nd month after the
(a) The numbering and ordering of the people, Numbers 1
(b) The cleansing and blessing of the congregation, Numbers
(c) The princes' offerings and the dedication of the altar,
Numbers 7; 8.
(d) The observance of a second Passover, Nu 9:1-14.
(e) The cloud and the trumpets for the march, Nu 9:15
(2) From Sinai to Kadesh, Nu 10:11 through 14:45 (a period
of 10 days, from the 20th to the 30th of the 2nd month),
(a) The departure from Sinai, Nu 10:11-35.
(b) The events at Taberah and Kibroth-hattaavah, Numbers 11.
(c) The rebellion of Miriam and Aaron, Numbers 12.
(d) The mission of the spies, Numbers 13; 14.
(3) The wanderings in the desert, Numbers 15 through 19 (a
period of 37 years, from the end of the 2nd to the beginning
of the 40th year), recording:
(a) Sundry laws and the punishment of a Sabbath breaker,
(b) The rebellion of Korah, Numbers 16.
(c) The budding of Aaron's rod, Numbers 17.
(d) The duties and revenues of the priests and Levites,
(e) The water of separation for the unclean, Numbers 19.
(4) From Kadesh to Moab, Numbers 20; 21 (a period of 10
months, from the beginning of the 40th year), reciting:
(a) The story of Balaam, Nu 22:2 through 24:25.
(b) The zeal of Phinehas, Numbers 25.
(c) The second census, Nu 26:1-51...
the fourth book of the law or Pentateuch. It takes its name
in the LXX. and Vulgate (whence our "Numbers") from the
double numbering or census of the people, the first of which
is given in chs. 1-4, and the second in ch. 28. Contents. --
The book may be said to contain generally the history of the
Israelites from the time of their leaving Sinai, in the
second year after the exodus till their arrival at the
borders of the Promised land in the fortieth year of their
journeyings It consists of the following principal
1, The Preparations for the departure from Sinai. Nu
1:1 ... 10:10
2. The journey from Sinai to the borders of Canaan.
ch. Nu 10:11 ... 14:45
3. A brief notice of laws and events which
transpired during the thirty-seven years wandering in the
wilderness. ch. Nu 15:1 ... 19:22
4. The history of the last year, from the second
arrival of the Israelites in Kadesh till they reached "the
plains of Moab by Jordan near Jericho." ch, Nu 20:1 ...
36:13 Integrity. --This, like the other books of the
Pentateuch, is supposed by many critics to consist of a
compilation from two or three or more earlier documents; but
the grounds on which this distinction of documents rests are
in every respect most unsatisfactory, and it may, in common
with the preceding books and Deuteronomy, be regarded as the
work of Moses. The book of Numbers is rich in fragments of
ancient poetry, some of them of great beauty and all
throwing an interesting light on the character of the times
in which they were composed. Such, for instance, is the
blessing of the high priest. ch. Nu 6:24-26 Such too are
chants which were the signal for the ark to move when the
people journeyed, and for it to rest when they were about to
encamp. In ch. 21 we have a passage cited from a book called
the "Book of the Wars of Jehovah." This was probably a
collection of ballads and songs composed on different
occasions by the watch-fires of the camp, and for the most
part, though not perhaps exclusively, in commemoration of
the victories of the Israelites over their enemies.
the fourth of the books of the Pentateuch, called in the
be-midbar, i.e., "in the wilderness." In the LXX.
version it is
called "Numbers," and this name is now the usual
title of the
book. It is so called because it contains a record
numbering of the people in the wilderness of Sinai
(1-4), and of
their numbering afterwards on the plain of Moab
This book is of special historical interest as
with details as to the route of the Israelites in
and their principal encampments. It may be divided
1. The numbering of the people at Sinai, and
their resuming their march (1-10:10). The sixth
chapter gives an
account of the vow of a Nazarite.
2. An account of the journey from Sinai to Moab, the
out of the spies and the report they brought back,
murmurings (eight times) of the people at the
hardships by the
3. The transactions in the plain of Moab before
Jordan (21:21-ch. 36).
The period comprehended in the history extends from
month of the second year after the Exodus to the
the eleventh month of the fortieth year, in all
thirty-eight years and ten months; a dreary period
wanderings, during which that disobedient generation
all died in
the wilderness. They were fewer in number at the end
wanderings than when they left the land of Egypt. We
see in this
history, on the one hand, the unceasing care of the
over his chosen people during their wanderings; and,
other hand, the murmurings and rebellions by which
their heavenly Protector, drew down repeated marks
displeasure, and provoked him to say that they
should "not enter
into his rest" because of their unbelief (Heb.
This, like the other books of the Pentateuch, bears
of having been written by Moses.
The expression "the book of the wars of the Lord,"
in 21:14, has given rise to much discussion. But,
"what this book was is uncertain, whether some
writing of Israel
not now extant, or some writing of the Amorites
songs and triumphs of their king Sihon's victories,
out of which
Moses may cite this testimony, as Paul sometimes
does out of
heathen poets (Acts 17:28; Titus 1:12)."
The book takes its name from the numberings (Numbers 1 and
Numbers 26). The Hebrew name it from its first word
waedaber, or its first distinctive word Bemidbar. It
narrates Israel's stay in the desert from the law giving at
Sinai (Leviticus 27:34) to their mustering in Moab's plains
before entering Canaan. The parts are four:
(1) Preparations for breaking up the camp at Sinai
to march to Canaan (Numbers 1 - 10:10).
(2) March from Sinai to Canaan's border; repulse by
the Amorites (Numbers 10:11-14:45).
(3) Selected incidents and enactments during the 38
years' penal wandering (Numbers 15:1-19:22).
(4) Last year in the desert, the 40th year after the
Exodus (Numbers 20:1-36;Numbers 20:13).
Israel's first encampment near Kadesh was at Rithmah
(from retem, the "broom") in midsummer, in the second year
after the Exodus; there for 40 days they awaited the spies'
report (Numbers 13:20; Numbers 13:25-26; Numbers 33:18-19,
from verses 20 to 36 are the stages of penal wandering). On
the first month of the 40th year they are at Kadesh once
more. The tabernacle and Moses remained at Kadesh on the
first occasion, while Israel attempted to occupy Canaan too
late (Numbers 14:44). For a long period ("many days") they
stayed still here, after failure, in hope God would yet
remit the sentence (Deuteronomy 1:45-46). Then they
"compassed Mount Seir (the wilderness of Paran) many days,"
until that whole generation died (Deuteronomy 2:1). The 17
stations belong to that dreary period (Numbers 33:19-36).
The people spread about the ridges of Paran, while the
tabernacle and camp moved among them from place to place. At
the second encampment at Kadesh they stayed three or four
months (Numbers 20:1 with Numbers 1:22-28; Numbers 33:38).
Miriam died, and was buried there...