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TESTAMENT
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Introduction to
NUMBERS (1)
Originally published in Speak as the Oracles, May 1987, Volume 1 Number 12

The fourth book of the OLD TESTAMENT is NUMBERS. The book derives its name from the
two times a census, or numbering, of the people takes place: first at Mt. Sinai (1:1-4:49),
and later at Kadesh (26:1-65). The Hebrew name for the book may be more appropriate,
however: BE-MIDHAR – “in the wilderness.”

GENESIS revealed the origin of Israel. EXODUS told of the selection of Israel as God’s
peculiar people, His select nation, as He called them out of Egyptian bondage. LEVITICUS
recorded how Israel would remain separate from all nations by observing the laws and the
worship of Jehovah. NUMBERS now chronicles the history of the nation of Israel in the time
span from the giving of the law through Moses at Mt. Sinai unto the nations stands upon the
banks of the Jordan River, ready at last after forty years of wandering in the wilderness, to
enter the Promised Land.

An Outline

The following is a brief outline of the book of NUMBERS:

I.        THE LAST DAYS AT MT. SINAI (1:1-10:10)
II.        THE TRIP FROM SINAI TO KADESH-BARNEA (10:11-14:45)
III.        THE WILDERNESS YEARS (15:1-22:1)
IV.        READY TO ENTER THE PROMISED LAND (22:2-36:13)

I. THE LAST DAYS AT MT. SINAI

THE SINAI CENSUS

Jehovah instructed Moses at Sinai: “Take ye the sum of all the congregation of the children
of Israel, after their families, by the house of their fathers, with the number of their names,
every male by their polls; from twenty years old and upward, all that are able to go forth to
war in Israel: thou and Aaron shall number them by their armies” (1:2, 3).

The census revealed: 74,600 in the tribe of Judah; 54,400 in the tribe of Issachar; 57,400 in
the tribe of Zebulun; 46,500 in the tribe of Reuben; 59,300 in the tribe of Simeon; 46,560 in
the tribe of Gad; 40,500 in the tribe of Ephraim; 32,200 in the tribe of Manasseh; 35,400 in
the tribe of Benjamin; 62,700 in the tribe of Dan; 41,500 in the tribe of Asher; and 53,400 in
the tribe of Naphtali; for a total  in Israel of 603,550 men of war. The number of Kohathites,
Gershonites and Merarites of the tribe of Levi, from the age of thirty to fifty – fit for service
in the tabernacle, was 8,580. This means the entire nation, including women and children,
may have numbered as many as 2.5 million people.

THE PREPARATION TO DEPART

After numbering the people, there were matters to be taken care of before Israel was ready
to leave Mt. Sinai. The unclean are removed from the camp (5:1-4). Trespasses must be
rectified (5:5-10). How to deal with a jealous husband and determine whether his jealousy is
founded or unfounded are revealed (5:11-31). The laws of the Nazarite are set forth (6:1-21).
It is at this time that the priestly blessing for Israel is given by Jehovah: “The LORD bless
thee and keep thee: the LORD make his face to sine upon thee, and be gracious unto thee:
the LORD lift up his countenance upon thee, and give thee peace” (6:24-26).

As the tabernacle is completed, the princes of Israel bring their sacrifices to God (7:1-88).
Then Moses, having entered into the most holy place before the mercy seat (7:89), receives
of Jehovah instructions concerning the lighting of the lamps (8:1-4), the consecration of the
Levites (8:5-22), and the age requirements of those who are “to wait upon the service of the
tabernacle of the congregation” (8:23-26).

This is followed by a command from Jehovah to keep the Passover, which the people did (9:
1-5). God then allows for the celebration of a second Passover for those who were unclean
during the first Passover (9:6-14).

THE BEGINNING OF THE MARCH

“And on the day that the tabernacle was reared up the cloud covering the tabernacle,
namely, the tent of the testimony: and at even there was upon the tabernacle as it were the
appearance of fire, until the morning” (9:15).

It was means of this cloud by day and fire by night that God was to direct the nation through
the wilderness. “And when the cloud was taken up from the tabernacle, then after that the
children of Israel journeyed: and in the place where the cloud abode, there the children of
Israel pitched their tents” (9:17).

Jehovah revealed unto Moses that two silver trumpets were to be made, and by means of
these trumpets the various tribes would be signaled when to fall in line and march and
communications would be made possible (10:1-10).

II. THE TRIP FROM SINAI TO KADESH

“And it came to pass on the twentieth day of the second month, in the second year, that the
cloud was taken up from off the tabernacle of the testimony. And the children of Israel took
their journeys out of the wilderness of Sinai …” (10:11, 12).

MURMURINGS AND REBELLION

As Israel went forth in their journey through the wilderness, the murmurings and rebellion
which were manifest at Sinai again reared their head. First, the complaints of the people
caused Jehovah to send “the fire of the LORD” among the people at Taberah (11:1-3).
Next, at Kibrothhattaavah, the people lusted afte the food which they had in the land of
Egypt (11:4-35). God had provided the people with manna all their time in the wilderness,
and had given them quail in the wilderness of Sin; yet, the people complained about their
care. Their complaints caused Moses to complain to God about his job in delivering the
nation of Israel (11:10-15). Jehovah thus makes provision for a month’s worth of meat to be
given the nation (11:16-23). “And there went forth a wind from the LORD, and brought quails
from the sea, and let them fall by the camp, as it were a day’s journey on the other side,
roud about the camp, and as it were two cubits high upon the face of the earth. …  And
while the flesh was yet between their teeth, ere it was chewed, the wrath of the LORD was
kindled against the people, and the LORD smote the people with a very great plague” (11:
31, 33).

Even Miriam and Aaron rebelled against Moses and God in the wilderness (12:1-6). They
spoke against Moses because he married an Ethiopian. “And they said, Hath the LORD
indeed spoken only by Moses? Hath he not spoken also by us? And the LORD heard it” (12:
2). Jehovah showed them that Moses was special in his relationship with God because
“with him will I speak mouth to mouth, even apparently, and not in dark speeches; …” (12:
8). Miriam was then struck with leprosy, which subsequently was healed.

THE SPIES AND THEIR REPORT

When the nation of Israel first came to the land of Canaan, twelve men (one ruler from each
tribe) were sent in to spy out the land (13:1-25). After spending forty days in the land, they
returned. Ten of the men reported the land was good, “Nevertheless the people be strong
that dwell in the land, and the cities are walled, and very great: … We be not able to go up
against the people; for they are stronger than we” (13:28, 31). Caleb and Joshua tried to
convince the people to take the land and not to listen to the other ten. “Only rebel not ye
against the LORD, neither fear ye the people of the land; for they are bread for us; their
defence is departed from them, and the LORD is with us: fear them not … But all the
congregation bade stone them with stones” (14:9, 10).

THE CONDEMNATION OF THE NATION

Jehovah thus decides to “smite them with a pestilence, and disinherit them” (14:12).
Moses, however, intervenes for the nation, praying for God to deliver them (14:13-19). The
LORD’s reply is “I have pardoned them according to thy word” (14:20); but, those who have
refused to take the land shall never possess it and shall die in the wilderness (14:22-25).
Those twenty years of age and older would fall in the forty years wandering in the
wilderness they were condemned to (14:26-39).

The people then decided to take the land, but it was too late (14:40-45). Moses warned them
not to try, but, as usual, the people would not listen. “But they presumed to go up unto the
hill top: … Then the Amalekites came down, and the Canaanites which dwelt in that hill, and
smote them, and discomforted them, even unto Hormah” (14:44, 45).