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Students will be able to

1. state why the book is entitled Numbers, who the traditional author was, and what his purpose was for writing.

2. discuss five prominent subjects found in Numbers.



Numbers was written to tell how God led his people from Sinai to Canaan, the rest land He promised. It is a story that includes the preparation for the journey, the journey to Kadesh including God's promise and the people's lack of faith and disobedience, the journey to Moab in judgment for their sin, and the final preparation for entering the promised land.


According to tradition Moses wrote Numbers.


When the Septuagint translators affixed a tide to the book, they chose a Greek word Arithmoi, meaning numbers. This title was suggested by the two numberings of the people in chapters one and twenty-six.


I. Preparation for Departure from Sinai

A. The census of the first generation (1:1-49)

Each census is a count of the fighting forces of Israel, not the total population. The total population has been estimated to be approximately two million. (TN#1)

B. Placement of the tribes (2:1-34)

C. The service and census of the Levites (3:1-4:49)

D. Final instructions before the journey (5:1-10:10)

1. Put out the unclean (5:1-4)

2. Judge the guilty (5:5-31)

3. Separate yourselves (Nazarite Vow) (6:1-27) --The three primary requirements of the vow were

a. abstinence from the fruit of the vine (perhaps symbolizing the separation of Israel from its culture),

b. restriction from cutting one's hair (Note the story of Samson),

c. avoiding contact with a corpse (there was an awareness that death was often associated with disease or impurity).

4. Offer gifts (7:1-88)

These were for the service of the tabernacle and consecration of the altar.

5. Cleanse the Levites (7:89-8:26)

Shaving of the head and washing garments were symbolic rites of purification. The laying on of hands (8:10) signified the identification of the people with the Levites. (DQ#2)

6. Keep the Passover (9:1-14) (DQ#3)

7. Follow your leaders (9:15-10:10) (DQ#4)

II. From Sinai to Kadesh

A. Arrangement of the tribes marching (10:11-36)

B. Grumbling and unrest (11:1-15)

The people were not satisfied with manna and craved the seasoned foods which they had enjoyed in Egypt. (DQ#5)

C. God's provision for good (11:16-35)

The quail are a natural phenomenon of the region. They fly in large numbers in the area and are easily caught when exhausted.

D. Insubordination of Aaron and Miriam (12)

Miriam questioned the marriage of Moses to Zipporah, a Midianite or Cushite, and was plagued with leprosy.

E. The twelve spies (13-14)

1. The majority report to return to Egypt (13:25-33) (DQ#6)

2. Judgment by God---With the exception of Caleb and Joshua, none of that generation was allowed to go into the promised land. (TN#7)

F. Supplemental laws (15)

The sin of verse 30 is contrasted to inadvertent or unintentional mistakes. The N.I.V. translation "sins defiantly" is translated "does anything with the high hand" in the R.S.V.

G. Rebellion of Korah and Others (16-17)

Korah presented a challenge to the subordination of some Levites to the Aaronic priests. The budding of Aaron's rod demonstrated the special status of his tribe (17:1-2).

H. Duties of priests and Levites (18)

The priests were given the privilege of "drawing near to God" and the responsibility of offering sacrifice for others. They were assisted by Levites who could never assume the role of priest. (DQ#8)

I. Purification ritual for the unclean (19)

A red heifer (her color probably symbolized the color of blood) was burned to create ashes to be used in water of cleansing. Combined with water, the ashes of the heifer were used in a ritual signifying purification from sin, particularly in cases of persons contaminated by contact with dead bodies. (TN#9)

J. Miriam's death and Moses' sin (20:1-21) (TN#10)

This section contains three sad events: (1) Miriam's death, (2) Moses' sin of striking the rock which was to produce water, and (3) the refusal of Edom to allow the Israelites passage through their land.

III. From Kadesh to the plains of Moab

A. Aaron's death (20:22-29)

The sacred garments worn by the priest were given to Aaron's son, Eleazar.

B. Defeat of Arad, Sihon and Og (21:1-35)

Arad was a Canaanite base in the Negeb near Edom; Sihon was King of the Amorites (21:21); and Og was king of Bashan (21:33). Numbers 21:4-9 contains the account of the Israelite rebellion which resulted in the plague of the fiery serpents. (DQ#11)

C. Balak and Balaam (22-24)

Fearful of the powerful Israelites, the King of Moab (Balak) invited a Mesopotamian diviner (Balaam) to curse the invaders. (TN#12) In the four oracles of Balaam recorded in this section, not only did Balaam fail to curse the Israelites, he was eventually convinced that if he was to speak the truth they must be blessed. (TN#13)

D. Israel's idolatry and immorality at Baal-Peor (25)

Baal of Peor was a Canaanite deity of fertility. The people of Peor looked to their god for fertility of land and livestock. In this location opposite Jericho, Moabite women seduced the Israelites into immorality and idolatry. (DQ#14)

E. Second numbering of the people (26)

F. Inheritance of property by women (27:1-11)

Five daughters of Zelophehad questioned Moses about their rights of inheritance since their father had died without a son. Provision was made for them to receive an inheritance. (Apparently, women had not previously inherited land.)

G. Selection of Joshua as Moses' successor (27:12-23)

Moses affirmed the new leader by laying his hands on him. Moses only delegated part of his authority (27:20) since he alone would be perceived as the agent by which God delivered the law. "The sacred lot (Urim) was one of the priestly methods of securing an answer from God. To obtain a divine decision, a question would be phrased in a very precise manner so that the reaction could be ascertained negatively or positively" (Owens, "Numbers," The Broadman Bible Commentary, Vol. 2, 155).

H. Additional legislation on offerings and vows (28-30)

I. War against Midian (31)

This chapter is related to Numbers 25 where the Midianite women had violated the solidarity of the covenant community. For their sin, God ordered the Israelites to "take vengeance on" them. (TN#15)

J. The Transjordan tribes (32)

The request of Reuben and Gad that they be allotted land on the east side of the Jordan was granted on the condition that those tribes continue to fight with other tribes in taking the land west of the Jordan. Part of the tribe of Manasseh was also allotted land in Transjordan (32:33).

K. Itinerary of Israel's journey from Egypt to Canaan (33:1-49).

L. Allotment of Transjordan lands (33:50-34:29)

M. Levitical cities and cities of refuge (35)

Of the 48 cities allotted to the Levites, six were to serve as cities of refuge (35:6) where a person who had committed an accidental crime could temporarily avoid the person responsible for avenging the crime (the kinsman). (TN#16)

N. Inheritance case of Zelophehad's daughters, part 2 (36)

The section is a continuation of 27:1-11 and stipulates that a woman who inherits property must marry within her tribe, keeping property in the Family.


From the assigned text, read the material on Deuteronomy.


Discussion Questions:

#2 How is the laying on of hands in this setting similar to the practice of laying hands on the animal to be sacrificed? How is it different?

#3 Why did the Israelites need to keep the Passover Celebration in mind?

#4 What circumstances might make it hard for people to follow a person in authority? What are the reasons the Israelites had trouble following Moses?

#5 Does it surprise you that people are sometimes eager to go back to their miserable pasts? Why would this happen?

#6 How do you account for the fact that Caleb and Joshua saw the same things as the other spies but held a totally different view about what should be done (14:6-10)? If you had been there, with which group would you have been more likely to identify?

#8 Are there any unique temptations for those who regularly are involved in religious activities, such as preachers or priests?

#11 Are you surprised that many Israelites began to worship a bronze serpent? Why might that happen? Do you think it is unusual for people to begin to worship or idolize an experience or object which was used by God in a dramatic way?

#14 Why would the Israelites be susceptible to idolatry and the worship of Baal? As they made the transition from a nomadic to an agrarian people, would they be tempted to look to a deity which had been associated with fertility?

 1. In your opinion, what are the most important events and lessons in the Book of Numbers? What three locations are important to the message of this book? (Answer. The book begins in Sinai with preparation for going to the promised land. The next important series of events surround Kadesh. At the end of Numbers, the Israelites prepare for the conquest of Canaan in the area of Transjordan.)

2. (Taken from Jensen) How does Numbers illustrate the following characteristics of God's character: faithfulness, omnipotence, holiness, justice, mercy, sovereignty?

3. Why did God perform such extreme miracles in the days of Numbers? Are such miracles generally observed today? Why or why not?

4. What is the message of the "wilderness wanderings?"


Teacher's Notes:

A map could be used to present the area covered in Numbers.

#1 This number is derived from adding the men of war and coming to over 600,000.

"Such numbers are exceedingly large for the times, for the locale, for the desert wanderings, and in comparison to the numbers of the inhabitants of the land of Canaan who the Israelites set out to conquer." (Ronald Allen, "Numbers," The Expositor's Bible Commentary, Vol. 2, 681). In the article cited above, pages 680-691, Allen suggests several possibilities

(a) The numbers may have been corrupted in transmission;

(b) The expression translated "thousand" may have other meanings;

(c) The numbers are symbolic figures rather than strictly mathematical items.

Allen concludes his discussion by saying," ...I suggest for consideration the possibility that the large numbers in the census lists in Numbers are deliberately and purposefully exaggerated as a rhetorical device to bring glory to God, derision to enemies, and point forward to the fulfillment of God's promise to the fathers that their descendants will be innumerable, as the stars" (pg. 688). If the writer of Joshua multiplied the soldiers by a 'factor of ten, the army would actually number about 60,000.

#7 The Hebrew title for Numbers is "In the wilderness," being derived from the most significant event in this book.

#9 Roland Allen's comments give perspective to this unusual ritual, "This is not magic but ritual. The water is still water, the ashes are still ashes. There is no magic in the baptismal waters, no magic in bread and wine. Ordinary things, however, may be used in extraordinary rites." (Allen, "Numbers," The Expositor's Bible Commentary, 864.)

#10 A variety of suggestions have been made concerning the nature of Moses' sin:

(a) Rebellion (Note verse 24),

(b) Disbelief (verse 12),

(c) Presumption (Moses may have been taking partial credit for the miracle by saying, "Must we bring you water out of the rock?").

For further discussion see Allen, 868-869.

#11 The bronze serpent seems to be the object of faith or God's provision for those who would seek His deliverance. This serpent (Nehushtan) may have later become an object of worship during the Hebrew Kingdom (2 Kings 18:4), a practice which perverted its use. Changing the bronze serpent from an object used by God into a subject of worship reflects the practice of serpent magic which can be observed in ancient Egypt. Later God's provision of the serpent on the pole became a type for the crucifixion of Jesus (Note John 3:14-15).

#12 Ancient Mesopotamia was famous for divination, the practice of speaking to the future. This episode reflects the belief that the spoken word has objective reality and power, an idea which is common to the Bible.

#13 In a later account in Numbers, Balaam is described in a very negative manner. In blaming Midianite women for seducing the Israelites into idolatry, Moses said, "They are the ones who followed Balaam's advice and were the means of turning the Israelites away from the Lord in what happened at Peor..." (31:16). This helps explain why Balaam had become a standard example of a false prophet by New Testarnent time (Note 2 Peter 2:15; Judges 11; Rev. 2:14).

#15 Vengeance must be seen in the light of the health, integrity, and soundness of the community. The aspect of personal anger is not involved. Vengeance is an act of restoring wholeness to the community. The avengers were not acting in their own behalf but in behalf of the family or community as an instrument of God." (Ibid. 161).

#16 In ancient times, the law of an eye for an eye (lex talionis, Lev. 24:20) "did not distinguish between an accidental killing and a premeditated one. This segment of the priestly regulations seeks to modify that rigidity." (Ibid. 172)



Credits and Copyright This online text book is provided by the Division of Student Ministry of the Baptist General Convention of Texas, 333 N. Washington Dallas, Texas 75246-1798 214.828.5100 Use the text to meet your academic needs. If you copy any part of this online text, please give credit to the Division of Student Ministry of the Baptist General Convention of Texas. Any donations which you give will be used in the Division of Student Ministry Summer Missions Programs.

Credits and Copyright This online text book is provided by the Division of Student Ministry of the Baptist General Convention of Texas, 333 N. Washington Dallas, Texas 75246-1798 214.828.5100 Use the text to meet your academic needs. If you copy any part of this online text, please give credit to the Division of Student Ministry of the Baptist General Convention of Texas. Any donations which you give will be used in the Division of Student Ministry Summer Missions Programs.