About this book
The book of Numbers continues the history of the people of Israel after they escaped from Egypt, and it tells what happened during the forty years when the Israelites lived in the desert on their journey from Mount Sinai to Canaan. This book is named “Numbers” because it begins with Moses counting the Israelites to find out the number of people in each of Israel's twelve tribes.
Numbers can be divided into three parts. In the first part (1.1—10.10) the Lord tells Moses to count the people, and then he gives Moses instructions for setting up Israel's camp and for assigning the Levites their duties. This part ends with everyone celebrating Passover and offering sacrifices to the Lord.
The second part (10.11—21.20) includes events that happened while the Israelites were on their way to Moab, a nation living east of the River Jordan. This was a very difficult journey through the desert, and the people often complained and even rebelled against Moses and against God. The Israelites refused to enter Canaan after hearing about the nations that lived there, and so the Lord punished the Israelites by making them remain in the desert for forty years. This part of Numbers ends with the people camped in Moab near Mount Pisgah.
The third part of the book (21.21—36.13) begins with the Israelites conquering the land just east of the River Jordan, from the border with Moab in the south to Lake Galilee in the north. Then the king of Moab hired the foreign prophet Balaam to curse the people of Israel. But the Lord told Balaam to bless the Israelites, and Balaam obeyed.
The Israelites prepared to cross the River Jordan and conquer the land of Canaan, although some of the people decided to settle east of the Jordan. The Israelites were counted a second time, then the Lord appointed Joshua to be Israel's next leader and chose other leaders to help Joshua divide the land among the tribes. The book concludes with the Lord giving the Israelites more laws.
Numbers is about people who were rebellious and discouraged and who refused to believe that the Lord would take care of them. But the book also shows how the Lord protected them in war and gave them food and water in the barren desert. The Lord wanted the Israelites to realize that he did not want them to be destroyed; he wanted to bless them, just as Aaron prayed:
“I pray that the LORD
will bless and protect you,
and that he will show you mercy
and kindness.
May the LORD be good to you
and give you peace.”
A quick look at this book
1. The people of Israel are counted (1.1—4.49)
2. Various laws and the dedication of the Levites (5.1—8.26)
3. Passover is celebrated and a cloud covers the sacred tent (9.1–23)
4. The people begin their journey (10.1–36)
5. The people complain (11.1–35)
6. Miriam and Aaron are jealous of Moses (12.1–16)
7. Twelve men are sent into Canaan (13.1–33)
8. The people rebel and are punished (14.1–45)
9. Laws and punishments (15.1–41)
10. The people rebel (16.1—17.13)
11. Priests and Levites (18.1–32)
12. Becoming clean (19.1–22)
13. On the way to Moab (20.1—21.35)
14. The messages of Balaam (22.1—24.25)
15. The people are unfaithful (25.1–18)
16. The people of Israel are counted a second time (26.1–65)
17. The daughters of Zelophehad are given land (27.1–11)
18. Joshua is appointed Israel's leader (27.12–23)
19. Various laws and sacrifices for Israel's festivals (28.1—30.16)
20. Israel defeats Midian and prepares to cross the River Jordan (31.1—36.13)