tHE BOOK OF NUMBERS

 

Preparing to leave sinai (1:1-10:10)

the first census — 1

told Moses to count every Israelite and every young man of military age. The count of young men adds to 603,000. The population of all Israelites would be approximately 250 million. That’s about the population of Chicago.

organizing the camp — 2

1. From this time on in Numbers, God speaks to Moses and Aaron, as if they both heard the same exact words.

2. The tribes were arranged in a box-like square. The tabernacle stood in the center, with the tents of three tribes each set to the north, south, east, and west. The Levite clans were arranged in the same box-like fashion, with a different clan camped to the north, south, east, and west in between the other tribes and the tabernacle.

firstborn offering — 3

1. Only Aaron and his descendants qualify for the priesthood. Any outsider who comes near shall be put to death (3:10).

1.1 Mention of Aaron’s first two sons, and Abihu who were killed for making an illicit fire (3:4). See Lev. 10:-20.

2. God accepts the Levites as substitutes for firstborn Israelites. When he killed firstborn Egyptians he mortgaged all firstborn Israelites. Both human and animal belong to him (3:12-13).

2.1 Means all firstborn Levites except Aaron’s descendants qualify for sacrifice.

2.2 To consecrate, linking both human and animal means reserve for sacrifice.

2.3 Redemption means to redeem firstborn for firstborn.

2.4Whatever belongs to God must be destroyed by burning.

3.0 Eye for eye; tooth for tooth; firstborn for firstborn, Levite for Israelite, Levite animal for Israelite animal (3:45).

3.1 Whatever amount he population of Israelites exceeds Levites, exchange money instead (3:45-49).

housekeeping duties of Levites — 4

1. Housekeeping duties described for Aaron and his sons (4:1-16)

1.1 Aaron and sons are the only ones who qualify as priests allowed to perform holy rituals

2. The Levite Kohathites are exempted from destruction (4:18-20).

2.1 Kohath was the grandfather of Aaron and Moses (Ex. 6:16).

2.2 Kohathites would die if they looked at holy things.

2.2 They were to assist in housekeeping.

purifying the camp — 5

Quarantine (5:1-4)

1. Anyone who is leprous, has a discharge or is unclean through contact with a corpse must leave the camp (5:2-3).

1.1 Quarantine biblical style is equivalent to a death sentence.

1.1.1 Outsiders have no means of support.

Marital restitution (5:5-10)

2. Some acts of wrongdoing between men and women are penalized by restitution (5:6-10).

2.1 Payment is made to the priest. It is his.

2.2.1 Note the difference between payment to God and payment to the priest.

Trial by ordeal for suspected unfaithful wives (5:11-31)

3. If a man thinks his wife has been cheating on him to the point where he is overtaken by jealously, he should take his wife to the priest (5:12-14).

3.1 The woman must go through an ordeal to test her innocence.

3.2 The priest mixes a concoction consisting of holy water and dirt from the floor of the tabernacle.

3.2.1 The dirt could consist of blood, urine, feces and decayed animal fragments.

3.3 The woman must swear to her innocence and drink the concoction.

3.3.1 If she is guilty, the water that brings the curse will bring bitter pain and her womb shall discharge her uterus drop and the woman will be cursed (5:27).

3.3.2 If the woman is innocent and is clean, she will be immune and be able to conceive children (5:28)

4. During the witch hunt days of medieval times, a woman’s innocence was determined by dunking her in water. If she survived, she was a witch, if she drowns, she was not a witch. Older women had a better chance of surviving because their bones were more porous.

law for nazarites — 6

1. Nazirites take a vow to separate themselves to God (6:2).

1.1.1 They may be men or women.

1.1.2 All their days, they are holy to God (v 8)

1.1.3 Separation refers to days alive (v 6)

1.2 They separate themselves from wine and strong drink by not indulging (6:3).

1.2.1 They eat nothing containing grapes, not even seeds or skins.

1.3 They never cut their hair until the time comes to separate themselves to God.

1.3.1 To separate for implies priesthood. To separate to implies destruction.

1.4 They are to never go near a corpse, even if it is mother or father or brother or sister.

1.5 If someone suddenly dies near them they lose their holiness permanently.

1.5.1 Their hair is defiled (v 9)

1.5.2 On the seventh day afterward, they must shave their head, burn their hair and make described offerings.

1.6 After the cleansing ceremony, they may drink wine.

1.6.1 They are no longer bound to the Nazirite oath.

dedicating the tabernacle — 7

The dedication involved a twelve day ceremony in which a son from the leader from each tribe makes an offering. Afterward, the altar was anointed.

dedicating the levites — 8

The ceremony evolved from sacrificing firstborn Israelite babies and animals (v 17) towards consecrating Levites. The Levites were to work under the direction of Aaron and his sons.

celebrating passover — 9

Anyone who has touched a corpse is unclean and may not participate in Passover on the appointed date. They may participate a month later.

Anyone who is clean and does not participate will be cut off (v 13); in other words, killed.

final instructions — 10:1-10

The phrase “When you go to war in your land against the adversary who oppresses you…” doesn’t fit if they are in the wilderness. They are not in their land and there is no one oppresses them.

 

from sinai to kadesh — 10:11-21:35

leaving sinai — 10:11-21

The sign to leave was a cloud that lifted over the tabernacle (v 11).

complainers get punished — 11

Whenever the people complained, God became angry. In a place called Taberah, they remembered the variety of fine foods they ate in Egypt and the flavor of meat. They remembered the fish, free for the taking. They remembered the taste of cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic. But alas, all they had to eat in the desert was manna (Ex. 16).

When Moses heard their weeping, he was displeased; and his alter ego, God, became angry. Where can I get meat, he asked? I took care of these people and they come weeping to me for meat. If this is the way you are going to treat me, put me to death at once. But if I have found favor in your sight, end my misery.

Gather 70 elders, said God to Moses, and I will shift the burden onto them. Tell them they will have meat. They will have so much meat for the next month that it will come out of their nostrils and they will find it loathsome. Because they complained I will make them wish they never left Egypt. But there are 600,000 people to feed. Where are the meat and the fish going to come from?

So Moses brought the 70 elders to the tent and God put some Moses’ spirit on them. When the spirit came, they prophesied only once in the tent. Two of the elders did not go into the tent. When the spirit came over them, they prophesied in the camp. This was illegal.

A wind brought quails from the sea and dumped them beside the camp. They piled about three feet on the ground. The people worked all day gathering quails. But as soon as they began to eat the meat, when it was still between their teeth, God struck them down with a very great plague. How many were killed, it does not say. They were buried at Kibroth-hattaavah.

Comment:

1. Was not Moses complaining to God also?

2. Moses’ count of 600,000 (11:21) only counts men. See Num. 1, Ex 12:37).

3. It is not known how many were healed.

4. The location of Taberah is unknown and probably fictional. In Hebrew, it means “burning” in honor of God’s burning anger.

miriam gets leprosy — 12

Aaron and Miriam, Moses sister, complained when Moses married a Cushite woman — Cushite do not belong to any of the tribes. Aaron and Miriam (Gen. 15:20) were both prophets who did not hear God give permission to Moses to marry an alien.

When God heard he came down in a pillar of cloud in front of all three of them. Most prophets he speaks to in dreams, God told them. But with Moses, he speaks to face to face. God was angry.

When the pillar went away, Miriam developed a case of leprosy that made her skin white as snow. Aaron feared punishment for his sin, but was untouched. Moses pleaded for her to heal, but God was not persuaded. Miriam was shut out of the camp for seven days before she could return. It is not known if Miriam healed.

Comment:

God told Aaron and Miriam in a dream that Moses should not marry a Cushite while he told Moses face to face that he can marry a Cushite.

spies in the land of canaan — 13

Moses sent spies to Canaan, one from each tribe. Go into the Negeb (south Canaan) and see what the land was like, he said. See whether the people are strong or weak, whether they are few or many, and whether they land is good or bad, and whether their towns are unwalled or fortified. See whether the land is rich or poor and whether there are trees. Bring back some fruit and ripe grapes.

When they returned after forty days, they reported good news and bad news. Yes, the land flows with mild and honey; they brought back grapes, pomegranates and figs to prove it. Yet the people are strong and the towns are fortified and large. We saw descendants of Anak (giants) there. There are Amalekites in the Negeb Hittites, Jebusites and Amorites in the hills and Canaanites by the sea and along the Jordan.

One of the spies, Caleb, wanted to attack at once but the others thought they were not strong enough. They people they saw were of such great size that they seemed like grasshoppers.

rebellion at kadesh and the 40 year penalty — 14

It was in the wilderness of Paran, at Kadesh (13:26), where the spies brought back their bad news. The people raised a loud cry and wept that night. They feared certain death if they went on. “Let us choose a captain and go back to Egypt,” they said. Moses, Aaron and Joshua pleaded with the people. “If God is pleased with us, he will give us the land of milk and honey without danger if you do not rebel.” But the congregation threatened to stone them.

Once again God appeared to Moses. “How long will this people despise me despite all I have done for them? I will strike them with pestilence and disinherit them, and I will make you a greater and mightier nation.” “Then the Egyptians will hear of it and will think you slaughtered the people because you could not bring them to the Promised Land. Show your love by forgiving them?” asked Moses. “Then,” said God, “I do forgive, just as you have asked. But because they have disobeyed me ten times, none of these people will see the Promised Land. Anyone older then 20 who complained will not leave this wilderness alive. They will remain here for forty years until they have all died. The spies who reported unfavorably will die by plague. Only Caleb [a Judite] and Joshua, who followed me wholeheartedly, will settle in the Promised Land.”

When Moses told the people what God said, they changed their minds about rebelling and promised to go anyway to where God had promised. Though the ark remained in camp and Moses warned that God would not be with them, they went anyway. When they met the Amalekites and the Canaanites, they were badly defeated.

Comment:

1. An all wise God cannot be reasoned with by a mere mortal, even of Moses’ stature. Moses appears wiser than God.

2. The people are given too little credit for opposing war. Forty years in the wilderness wasn’t as bad of an option as a short life in battle.

3. It makes no sense that they refused to fight when God was with them, then changed their mind and went to fight when God was not with them.

the sabbath penalty — 15

tells Moses to tell the people “When you come into the land you are to inhabit, which I am giving you,”—15:2. “After you come into the land to which I am bringing you,”—15:18. This follows after he told the people they would not see the Promised Land (14:30).

Anyone who defies God faces certain death (“cut off”), warns God. On the Sabbath day, the Israelites found a man gathering sticks in the wilderness. They arrested him and brought him to Moses. He was stoned to death at Moses command.

Comment:

1. We are again reminded that God can smell. The smell of wine and barbecuing meat is “a pleasing odor to the lord.”

2. A litany of offerings with no mention of the tabernacle suggests that this chapter was written after the Babylonian exile when the tabernacle was destroyed.

korah’s rebellion — 16

Korah, a descendant of Levi, and Dathan and Abiram, descendants of Reuben with an assembly of 250 men confronted Moses. “You have gone too far! You brought us out of a land that was already flowing with milk and honey just to kill us in the wilderness. God made the congregation holy (11:16-17), so why do you exalt yourself above them?” “Let God will choose the holy one,” said Moses. It seems too little for you that God allows you Levites to approach him that you seek the priesthood as well. Dathan and Abiram, come to my side.” But they would not come either.

The next day the met in front of the tent of meeting where Moses warned the congregation to stand away from these men and anything that belongs to them. They all moved away. Then the earth opened up, swallowing the three along with everything and everybody related to them; they all went alive down into hell. Thereafter, fire came out and consumed the remaining 250. This experience reminded the people that no one outside Aaron’s descendants could be a priest.

On the next day, the congregation rebelled too, complaining that Moses killed the lord’s people. For their insolence, God inflicted a plague on the congregation; 14,700 more died.

Comment:

For the ground to open up without an earthquake is absurdly impossible. It is the Bible’s way of representing a certain descent into hell for doubters.

aaron’s budding staff — 17

At Moses’ instructions, each of the 12 tribal leaders, including Aaron, submitted a staff with their name on it. The next day, only Aaron’s sprouted and produced almonds.

Comment:

1. A seedling would take years to produce almonds. This is said to happen in one day. There is no mention if the staffs were set in a water vase.

2. This story is supposed to reaffirm Aaron’s position as high priest.

the priest tax — 18

Taxes paid are considered holy. A tax on firstborn humans and unclean animals is paid for with money. Firstborn clean animals may be eaten. The priests must be paid with the best wines, oils and grains.

Anyone who approaches the tent of meeting will incur guilt and die (v 22). Anyone who profanes the taxes will die in pain (v 32).

the red heifer — 19

A heifer is a young cow that has not had calves. The heifer is killed, its blood spread around the tent, and then is it burned. The priest who burns the heifer is unclean for the day. Someone who is clean must gather the ashes and deposit them outside the camp. It is used for purification. The gatherer must wash afterward.

Whoever touches a dead human is unclean for seven days as long as they purify themselves with the water by the third day. Whoever does not will be cut off from the tribe.

Comment:

1. The ashes of the red heifer are used to purify anyone who comes in contact with the dead. It was not a sacrificial burning.

2. This ritual was probably devised to handle the masses of rebellious Israelites.

miriam and aaron die, Moses punished — 20:1-13, 22-29

In the wilderness of Zin at Kadesh, Miriam died and was buried there. Burial suggests a respectable ending. When she died their water supply dried up.

The congregation went to Moses again to complain of their fear that they might die. So God told Moses and Aaron to go to the water rock with his staff and the congregation and command the rock to yield water. Instead, Moses raised his hand and struck the rock twice with his staff. Water came out abundantly anyway. For not trusting him, God told Moses and Aaron that they too would not live long enough to see the Promised Land.

Moses, Aaran and his son Eleazar went to the top of Mount Hor where Aaron took off his priestly garb and passed them onto Eleazar. Only Moses and Eleazar returned.

Comment:

1. A similar story takes place at in Ex. 17:1-7, where Moses struck the rock as he was told. Strike the rock, talk to the rock; is God playing the game, Simon Says?

2. The modern terminology for finding water with a stick is called “dowsing” or “water-witching.” The practitioner walks about holding a forked tree branch with both hands. The single end is supposed to point down where there is water.

3. There is no hint that Moses and Aaron purposively disobeyed.

4. Apparently, as long as Miriam was alive, water always accompanied the tribes.

5. Mt. Hor is symbolized as another holy mountain like Mt. Horeb. Its location is speculative.

 

transjordon conquest

For the remainder of the book, the Israelites go north from the Red Sea along the east side of the Dead Sea towards the Jordan River.

edom — 20:14-21

From Kadesh, Moses sent messengers to the king of Edom to ask if they could pass through his territory. The king refused, threatening to send his army against them if they tried. The Israelites moved to Mount Hor, on the border of Edom.

Comment:

Kadesh is where the spies brought back their unfavorable report of a strong enemy. Those who wanted to push into Canaan were rewarded; those who wanted to turn away were penalized. The Israelites were on the southern edge of Canaan when they decided to head west towards Edom.

the canaanites at hormah — 21:1-4

When the Canaanites, heard that the Israelites was coming their way, they came to fight and took some captives. Israel vowed to God to destroy their towns if God secures their victory. Thus, when they fought back they “utterly destroyed them and their towns.” The battleground was called Hormah where Mt. Hor is believed to be located. From there they headed south towards the Red Sea to go around Edom.

Comment:

1. Hormah, is in Canaan where Moses and the Israelites supposedly never set foot while Moses was alive?

2. Israel—formally called Jacob—was long dead in the book of Genesis. The phrase “Israel” is constantly used in this chapter.

SERPENT OF BRONZE — 21:5-9

On the southward trek around Edom, the people became impatient. When they complained again about the monotonous manna and lack of water, God sent poisonous snakes that bit and killed many people. The people naturally pleaded to Moses to take away the serpents. So at God’s instructions, Moses made a serpent of bronze and set it on a pole. It would cure whoever looked at it.

Comment:

1. The bronze serpent violates the Second Commandment — make or worship no idol.

2. In 2 Kings 18:4, King Hoshea of Israel destroyed the serpent because the people were making offerings to it.

AMORITE territory (21:10-32)

The Israelites traveled north along the boundary between Moab and the Amorites to Pisgah. The Israelites sought passage through the kingdom of the Amorites, promising not to damage anything or take any water. Instead, the Amorites went out to fight them off but the israelites prevailed. They killed, pillaged and burned the kingdom until there was nothing left. They settled in the land of the Amorites.

BASHAN (21:33-35)

Traveling north again they came to Bashon and the kingdom of Og. “So they killed him, his sons, and all his people, until there was no survivor left; and they took possession of his land.”

 

the plains of moab — 22-36

balaam’s blessing — 22-24

When the Israelites have settled in Moab across from Jericho, the Moabites were certain they would be invaded by an army stronger than theirs. King Balak sent elders to hird the prophet Balaam to put a curse on the Israelites. The Midianites also feared the Israelites, so they too wished to contribute for Balaam’s services. Balaam was not an Israelite prophet, but when the elders approached him, he asked for God’s permission before he would accept their fee. When God told him no, he refused to go with the elders and perform the curse. Balak sent a second group of elders to offer even more money but Balaam still refused to go. Later that night, God told Balaam to go with them but to follow his instructions (22:20).

In the morning when Balaam went with the elders, God was angry because he was going (22:22). When an angel with drawn sword stood in their way, the donkey went off the road; Balaam kicked it back onto the road. Then another angel stood in its path and again the donkey turned away and again Balaam kicked it back. The third time an angel stood where the donkey could not move so it lay down instead. Balaam, in anger, yelled at the donkey, saying he would kill it if he had a sword. The donkey talked back to him. “Am I not your donkey, which you have ridden all your life to this day? Have I been in the habit of treating you this way?” (22:30). Then God opened Balaam’s eyes and when he saw the angel with its sword he bowed down, falling on his face. “I would have killed you if the donkey did not turn away,” said the angel. “I have sinned for I did not know you were blocking my path. If it pleases you, I will return home,” said Balaam. “Go with the men; but speak only what I tell you to speak,” said the angel. So Balaam went.

When he met Balak he asked him to prepare seven altars, seven bulls and seven rams for sacrifice. When the two made the sacrifice, Balaam said, ”How can I curse whom God has not cursed? How can I denounce those whom the lord has not denounced…” (23:8). Balaam was blessing the Israelites, not cursing them; Balak was furious. He took Balaam to a second place to try again but he would not revoke his blessing. The third time Balak brought Balaam the top of Peor to try again; but again he blessed the Israelites (23:28). Balak gave up in disgust and refused to pay him (24:10-11). Afterwards Balaam prophesied the demise of the Moabites and they parted company.

Comment:

1. Balaam had an undeserved bad reputation among the Israelites. As it turned out he showed the utmost respect for God. In the story context, it could be argued that his three blessings gave the Israelites their victory over the Midianites at the time he was killed. Balaam had no other encounters with the Moabites.

2. Moses falsely accused him of treachery at Peor (31:16) and had him killed (31:8). When according to 23:8-24:8, Balaam only blessed the Israelites at Peor.

3. Deut. 23:4 correctly accuses the Moabites of hiring Balaam to curse the Israelites. But then Deut 23:5 incorrectly says that God refused to heed Balaam when in actuality, Balaam said exactly what God told him to say (23:5-10).

4. 2 Peter 2:15 says Balaam of “loved gain from wrongdoing.” When Balaam was asked if he performed the curse, he asked God’s permission first. When God denied him permission, he told Balak up front that he would do whatever God asked of him. Balaam never agreed to Balak’s terms and could not have expected payment.

THE women of MOAB — 25

The Moabite deity was Baal of Peor in which prostitution was considered an act of worship. When the men of Israel began having sexual relations with the Moabite prostitutes they were guilty by association of pagan worship. This angered God who inflicted a plague and told Moses to have every sinner impaled. —25:1-5

An Israelite walked in front of Moses and the congregation with his Midianite woman. Phinehas, grandson of Aaron, followed the two of them with spear in hand. When they entered the tent of meeting, Phinehas speared them through their bellies. The plague, which had thus far killed 24,000, stopped. For his devotion, God made Phinehas and his descendants entitled to perpetual priesthood. —25:6-13

“Harass the Midianites and defeat them,” urged God. Because they harassed you by trickery in the affairs of Peor and Cozbi (the Midianite woman) I inflicted a plague upon the people. —25:17-18

Comment:

1. The Bible often has its geography confused. The Israelites were camped in Moab that was located in the north by the Dead Sea. Midian was to the south of Edom by the Gulf of Aqaba and the Red Seak, nowhere near Moab. Midian was never under threat by the invading hoard of Israelites because it was not in their path.

2. God does not discriminate when he punishes. For the sins of some men, he inflicts a plague on everybody, including women and children.

3. God teaches that marrying outside the tribe is punishable by death, unless one is a priest — Moses also had a Midianite wife.

4. God accuses the Midianites (or Moabites) of harassment and trickery, but it does not seem that the women misrepresented themselves. It was just that the Israelite men could not restrain their sexual urges.

THE census — 26

After the plague, God tells Moses to prepare for war. Take a census of all people, 20 and up. The count came to 601,730 fighting men.

Comment:

According to 26:3 the Israelites are located “in the plains of Moab by the Jordan opposite Jericho.” They are about 250 miles from Midian.

inheritance laws for daughters — 27:1-11

joshua appointed Moses’ successor — 27:12-23

worship regulations repeated — 28-29

vows of women — 30

the midianite holocaust — 31

commanded Moses to avenge the Midianites. So he sent 12,000 soldiers to attack the Midianites. They killed every male. They killed every king. And they killed Balaam with a sword. They took the women and children and their livestock as booty. They burned down their towns and encampments. They took spoil and booty. When they returned, Moses was angry at what they brought back.

15Moses said to them, “Have you let all the women live?
16Behold, these caused the people of Israel, by the counsel of Balaam, to act treacherously against the LORD in the matter of Peor, and so the plague came among the congregation of the LORD.
17Now therefore, kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman who has known man by lying with him.
18But all the young girls who have not known man by lying with him, keep alive for yourselves.

When the soldiers finished their dirty work they ceremoniously cleaned themselves. When they divided their plunder, they counted 808,000 livestock animals and 32,000 virgins. The soldiers reported no one missing.

Comment:

1. Despite the claim of mass genocide, the Midianites appear again in the story of Gideon (Judges 6-8).

2. Due to geographical distances, this story likely confuses Moabites for Midianites. All the conquered cities are in Moab (32:3), yet there is no mention of Moabites.

3. If it took only 12,000 unharmed soldiers to massacre a population large enough to contain 32,000 virgins, there must have been no resistance; that is, assuming the virgins reached puberty.

east of jordan apportioned — 32

The Reubenite and the Gadite tribes ask to stay in the land of Gilead instead of going on into Canaan. Moses’ anger quickly changed their minds; they will join in the battles but they want to return to east of the Jordan River when the fighting is over. Moses agreed to give them “inheritance.” The land of Ammon, Bashan and Gilead was divided among the Reubenites, the Gadites and the half-tribe of Manasseh.

itinerary from egypt to moab — 33

“The Lord executed judgments even against their gods” (33:4).

“You shall take possession of the land and settle in it, for I have given you the land to possess” (33:53).

“When you cross over the Jordan into the land of Canaan, you shall drive out all the inhabitants of the land before you, destroy all their figured stones, destroy all their cast images, and demolish all their high places” (33:51-52)

Comment:

1. Often the Bible acknowledges the existence of other gods.

2. How could it be that the Creator was beaten to Canaan by cultures with other gods?

3. God declared a holy war against the religions of Canaan because they were smaller and defenseless. The self-proclaimed strongest God in the universe did not send his people against the Hittites, the Babylonians or the Egyptians because they were bigger and stronger.

bounderies of the promised land — 34

We should note how remarkable it is that Moses wandered about lost in the wilderness for forty years, yet he knew the layout of Canaan with accuracy. This is easy when the writer already lives in Canaan.

more statutes — 35

When in Canaan, the Israelites are to establish six refuge cities. If a slayer kills someone, he can not be avenged until he has a trial before the congregation.

Anyone who kills someone with an iron object, a stone, or wood, the avenger of blood shall execute the sentence when they meet.

inheritance of women — 36

Women have right of inheritance unless they are married. In that case, their inheritance goes to the tribe of her husband.