Outline Of Numbers

I. Last Days at Sinai (1—10:10).

        A. Census and arrangement of tribes (1, 2).

        B. Service of the Levites (3, 4).

        C. Miscellaneous laws (5—10:10).

II. Journey from Sinai to Plains of Moab (10:11—22:1).

        A. From Sinai to Kadesh Barnea (10:11—12:18).

        B. The expedition of the spies (13:1—14:45).

        C. The wilderness wandering (15—19).

          1. Miscellaneous legislation (15).

          2. Rebellion of Korafa (16, 17).

          3. Instructions to Levites (18, 19).

        D. Events from Kadesh to Plains of Moab (20:1—22:1).

          1. Sin of Moses (20:1-13).

          2. The death of Aaron (20:14-29).

          3. Brazen serpent (21:1—22:1).

III. Events at the Plains of Moab (22:2—38:13).

        A. Balaam the prophet (22:2—25:18).

        B. Second census (26:1—27:11).

        C. Joshua succeeds Moses (27:12-23).

        D. Offerings and vows (28—30).

        E. Destruction of the Midianites (31),

        F. The inheritance of Reuben, Gad, and one-half Manasseh (32).

        G. Review of journeys of Israelites (33).

        H. Borders of Land of Promise (34).

        I. Cities of Levites and cities of refuge (35:1-8).

        J. Miscellaneous legislation (35:9—36:13).

Chapter 1

As the book of Numbers opens, it is one year and one month after the children of Israel left Egypt (v. 1), and one month after the tabernacle was erected (Exod. 40:17). The book received its name because the people are numbered twice (chs. 1 and 26). The census mentioned here is not the same as the one recorded in Exodus 30:11-16. They were taken at different times and for different purposes. The second census (Num. 1) was probably based on the earlier census; hence the similar totals.

The people of Israel were soon to begin their journey from Mount Sinai to the Promised Land. It was essential that they be arranged as an orderly marching army, and for this purpose God commanded that a census should be taken (v. 2). The census would include all men 20 years of age and above who were able to go to war (vv. 2, 3).

“The tabernacle of the congregation” in verse 1 (KJV) should be “the tent of meeting.” One man was appointed from each tribe to assist Moses with the census. Their names are given in verses 5-16. Verse 17 reads, “Moses and Aaron took these men who have been named” (RSV). The results of the census were as follows:





vv. 20, 21



vv. 22, 23



vv. 24, 25



vv. 26, 27



vv. 28, 29



vv. 30, 31



vv. 32, 33



vv. 34, 35



vv. 36, 37



vv. 38, 39



vv. 40, 41



vv. 42, 43




Notice that Ephraim is larger than Manasseh. This is in accordance with the blessing of Jacob in Genesis 48:19, 20. The tribes are listed beginning with Reuben, the firstborn, and his camp (south), then Judah and his camp (east), then Dan and his camp (north), and finally Ephraim and his camp (west). The Levites were not counted among the men of Israel who were to be warriors (v. 47). They were charged with the erection and taking down of the tabernacle and with the ministry connected with it (vv. 47-54). By positioning themselves around the tabernacle, they protected it from desecration and thus protected the people from punishment (v. 53).

Chapter 2

The tribes of Israel were commanded to pitch their tents in the area around the tabernacle (see diagram), three tribes on each side. “Far off about” in verse 2 means “facing” or “over against.”

On the east side, under the flag of Judah, were Judah, Issachar, and Zebulun (vv. 3-9). Each tribe had its own military commander. These tribes totaled 186,400. On the south side, under the flag of Reuben, were Reuben, Simeon, and Gad (vv. 10-16). The camp of Reuben totaled 151,450.

On the west side, under the flag of Ephraim, were Ephraim, Manasseh, and Benjamin (vv. 17-24). This camp numbered 108,100. On the north side, under the flag of Dan, were Dan, Asher, and Naphtali (vv. 25-31). These

totaled 157,600. The tribes were to inarch in the order given—the camp of Judah first, etc. The Levites inarched after Clad and before Ephraim (v. 17). The total number of men of war was 603,550 (v. 32). The total manpower, including the Levites (3:39), was 625,550. Assuming the men to be a third of the nation, then the total population must have been at least 1,876,650. The number of warriors is a better index of the strength of a church than the number of pew-sitters!

Chapter 3

Chapters 3 and 4 have to do with the service of the Levites, who were not included in the census of chapters 1 and 2. The tribe of Levi was set aside by God for the service of the sanctuary. Originally, He had selected the firstborn sons to belong to Himself, but later He selected the tribe of Levi in their place for divine service (vv. 12, 13). Levi had three sons—Gershon. Kohath, and Merari. Their descendants were charged with the care of the tabernacle and its fixtures.

The family of Aaron (descended from Kohath) was the priestly family (v. 9). All other Levites served in connection with the tabernacle but were not priests. (The expression “the priests the Levites,” found later in the Pentateuch, means the Levitical priests. It does not mean that all Levites were priests but that all priests were descended from Levi.) The priestly family is described in

verses 1-4. After Nadab and Abihu had been slain for their sacrilege, Aaron was left with two sons—Eleazar and Ithamar. The Levites were servants of the priests (vv. 5-9). No one but Aaron and his descendants were to serve as priests (v. 10).

The mediation of the Old Testament priests could not bring the individual sinner into close communion with God. He had to stay away from the holy things under pain of death (v. 10). But now the mediation of the Lord Jesus Christ, our Great High Priest, gives us not only access to God also but boldness to enter into His very presence (Heb. 4:16). This drastic change stems from that great event which lies between Numbers and Hebrews—the miracle of Calvary.

The Levites were numbered, not as warriors but as wor- shipers (v. 15). Each son of Levi was charged with responsibility for certain parts of the tabernacle:





All the curtains, coverings, and hangings of the tabernacle and outer court, except the “veil” which was wrapped around the ark.

vv. 18-26, 7500


The most holy things—the ark, the table of showbread, the golden altar, the golden lampstand, etc.

vv. 27-32, 8600


The boards, bars, pillars, and sockets, etc.

vv. 33-37, 6200

The Levites were to pitch their tents immediately outside the tabernacle enclosure, with the

Gershonites on the west (v. 23), the Kohathites on the south (v. 29), and the Merarites on the north (v. 35). Moses and Aaron and sons were to encamp on the east, at the entrance to the tabernacle (vv. 38, 39). (See diagram.)

Levi was the smallest tribe in Israel. The total number of Levites a month old and upward was 22,000 (v. 39). However, the figures recorded in verses 22, 28, and 34 total 22,300. Various explanations of this discrepancy have been given. Williams suggests that the additional 300 were firstborn sons, born since the Exodus, who would naturally be omitted when the Levites were chosen to replace the firstborn of the other tribes.54

The meaning of verses 40-51 is as follows: the Levites were chosen by God to be His own, instead of the firstborn sons. There were 22,000 Levites and 22,273 firstborn sons (vv. 39, 43). The Lord commanded that the additional 273 firstborn sons could be redeemed (bought back) by the payment of five shekels each. This redemption money (273 x 5 = 1365 shekels) was paid to Aaron and his sons (v. 51). It should be noted that the firstborn mentioned in verse 43 might include only those born since the Exodus from Egypt.

Chapter 4

The numbering in this chapter was to determine the number of Levites who were available for active service in connection with the tabernacle. These were the men from 30 to 50 years of age (v. 3).

Exodus 25:15 says, “The poles shall remain in the rings of the ark; they shall not be removed from it” (NASB), But verse 6 says that the priests “should put in the staves thereof.” A possible solution is that verse 6 might be translated, “adjust its bearing poles.”55

The duties of the Kohathites are taken up first (vv. 4-20). Aaron and his sons were designated to pack the tabernacle and the sacred vessels (vv. 5-13). The ark (vv. 5, 6), the table of showbread (vv. 8, 9), the golden lampstand (vv. 9, 10), the golden altar (v. 11), the vessels (v. 12), and the brazen altar (vv. 13, 14) were to be covered with drapes. The other sons of Kohath were then appointed to carry these covered articles. (The laver isn’t mentioned here but they must have carried it also.) They were not allowed to touch or even took on them uncovered, lest they die (vv. 15, 17-20). Ithamar, the son of Aaron, was placed in charge of the tabernacle and its sacred appointments (v. 16).

The veil between the Holiest and the holy place always hid the ark from view (v. 5). Even when Israel was on the move, the ark was covered by this same veil, which pictured the body of our Lord Jesus Christ. No one except the high priest could look upon the throne of God above the ark until Calvary, when the veil was forever torn in two.

The duties of the Gershonites are given in verses 21-28. They carried the curtains of the tabernacle, the tent of meeting, the hangings, and the curtains. Ithamar, the son of Aaron, was in charge of the Gershonites (v. 28).

The Merarites were appointed to carry the boards, bars, pillars, and sockets (vv. 29-33).

The results of the census were as follows (vv. 34-40):




        Total number of Levites from ages 30-50—8580

Chapter 5

This chapter deals with precautions the Israelites were to take to keep the camp free from defilement. The reason for the command in verse 3 can be found in Deuteronomy 23:14; God was walking in the midst of the camp.

Lepers, people with running sores, and those who had touched a dead body were to be put outside the camp. The camp was composed of the tabernacle area plus that space around it occupied by the tents of Israel (vv. 1-4).

When a man committed a trespass against another, he was required to confess his sin, to offer a trespass offering, to make restitution, and to arid a fifth part (vv. 5-7). If the man who was wronged had died or could not be located, and if no near relative was available, then payment was to be made to the priest (vv. 8-10).

Verses 11-31 describe a lie-detecting ritual known as the trial of jealousy. The purpose of this ceremony was to determine the guilt or innocence of a woman who was suspected of being unfaithful to her husband. The woman was required to drink water mixed with dust from the floor of the tabernacle. If she was guilty, it would prove a curse to her, causing swelling of the stomach and rotting of the thigh. If she was innocent, no ill effects would follow. It. is obvious from verses 12-14 that the husband did not know whether his wife had been unfaithful. He first was required to bring his wife to the priest, together with a meal offering (v. 15). The priest prepared the mixture of water and dust in an earthen vessel (v. 17). He brought her to the altar, unbound the hair of her head, and placed the meal offering in her hands (v. 18). Then he made her agree to an oath whereby she would be cursed if guilty (vv. 19-22). After writing the curses on a scroll and washing them off into the water of bitterness (v. 23), he waved the meal offering before the Lord, burned a handful of it on the altar, and then made the woman drink the water {vv. 25, 26). The statement in verse 24 that he caused the woman to drink the water anticipates verse 28. She drank only once. If she was guilty, the threatened judgments came upon her (v. 27). If innocent, then she was pronounced clean, was free from punishment, and was able to live a normal married life, bearing children (v. 28). Verses 29-31 summarize the trial of jealousy.

Jealousy can destroy a marriage, whether it has justifiable grounds or not. This ritual provided a way to settle the issue once for all. The judgment of God would be upon the guilty, and the innocent would be freed from the suspicion of her partner.

Some Bible students believe that this section will have a special application in a coming day, when the nation of Israel will be tried for its unfaithfulness to Jehovah.

Chapter 6

The word “Nazarite” comes from a root meaning “to separate.” The vow of the Nazarite was a voluntary vow which a man or woman could make for a specified period of time. The Mishna states that a Nazarite vow could last as long as 100 days, but the usual length was 30 days. In some rare cases, people were Nazarites for life—e.g., Samuel, Samson, John the Baptist. The vow contained three provisions: 1) He would neither eat nor drink of the fruit of the vine (vv. 2-4); 2) he would not cut his hair (v. 5); 3) he would not touch a dead body (vv. 6-8).

Wine speaks of human joy. Long hair, being a shame for a man, is a sign of humiliation. A dead body causes defilement. “Thus the Nazarite was, and is, an enigma to the children of this world. To be joyful, he withdrew from joy; to be strong, he became weak; and in order to love his relatives, he ‘hated’ them (Luke 14:26).”56

Verses 9-12 describe the procedure to be used when a man broke a vow through unintentional contact with a dead body. First he had to go through the seven-clay cleansing process described in Numbers 19. On the seventh day he shaved his head, and on the following day he offered two turtledoves or two young pigeons, one for a sin offering and the other for a burnt offering. He also brought a yearling lamb for a trespass offering. In spite of all the offerings, the days of his original consecration were lost, and he had to begin all over again.

In verses 13-21, we have the ceremony required when a man came to the close of the time of his vow. Four offerings were brought—burnt, sin, peace, and meal (vv. 14, 15). The Nazarite shaved his head and burned the hair in the fire under the peace offering (v. 18). The priest’s part in the ritual is given in verses 16, 17, 19, and 20. Verse 21 refers to a freewill offering which the Nazarite could offer upon completion of his vow.

The closing verses of the chapter (vv. 22-27) give the lovely and familiar benediction with which Aaron and his sons were to bless the people.

Chapter 7

This chapter takes us back to Exodus 40:17, when the tabernacle had been set up. The princes of Israel were the heads of the various tribes. Their names were already given in Numbers 1:5-16 and in Numbers 2. They first of all brought an offering of six wagons and 12 oxen (v. 3). Moses distributed two wagons and four oxen to the Gershonites, and four wagons and eight oxen to the Merarites to be used in carrying their share of the tabernacle fixtures. No wagons or oxen were given to the Kohathiles because they bore the precious burden of the sacred vessels on their shoulders.

The princes brought offerings on the 12 days following the dedication of the altar. These offerings are described in minute detail, as follows:


Name of Prince






vv. 12-17




vv. 18-23




vv. 24-29




vv. 30-35




vv. 36-41




vv. 42-47




vv. 48-53




vv. 54-59




vv. 60-65




vv. 66-71




vv. 72-77




vv. 78-83

The total of all the gifts is given in verses 84-88. God doesn’t forget any service that is done for Him. He keeps a careful record. At the close of the offering, Moses went into the Most Holy Place and heard the voice of God speaking to him from the mercy seat, perhaps expressing satisfaction with the gifts of the princes (v. 89). Although Moses was of the tribe of Levi, he was not a priest. Yet God made an exception in his case, not only authorizing him to enter the Most Holy Place but commanding him to do so (Exod. 25:21, 22).

Chapter 8

Aaron was instructed to light the lamps on the golden lampstand in such a way that the light would be cast in front, of the lampstand. If the light speaks of the testimony of the Holy Spirit and the lampstand speaks of Christ, then it is a reminder that the Spirit’s ministry is to glorify Christ.

The consecration of the Levites is described in verses 5-22. They were first cleansed by sprinkling them with the water of expiation (explained in Num. 19), by their shaving their bodies with a razor, and by their washing their clothes and themselves (v. 7). Representatives of the people laid their hands on the heads of the Levites at the door of the tabernacle, and Aaron offered the Levites to the Lord as a wave offering. Moses then offered a burnt offering, a sin offering, and a meal offering for the Levites. Verses 14-18 repeat that God had chosen the Levites to belong to Himself in lieu of the firstborn whom He had claimed as His own after the Exodus. The Levites were appointed to serve the priests (v. 19). The consecration of the Levites took place as commanded, and they took up their service in connection with the tabernacle (vv. 20-22).

The Levites were to serve from 25 years of age to 50 (v. 24). In Numbers 4:3, the beginning age was said to be 30. Some take the reference in chapter 4 to apply to those who carried the tabernacle through the wilderness. They understand the lower age in chapter 8 to refer to service at the tabernacle after it had been set up in the Promised Land. Others understand the additional five years to be a sort of apprenticeship. Those retiring at 50 years of age no longer did heavy work but were allowed to continue in a kind of supervisory capacity (vv. 25, 26). These verses distinguish between “work” and “keep the charge.” The former is heavy work; the latter is overseeing.

Someone has pointed out that the Levites are pictures of Christians, who are redeemed, cleansed, and set apart to serve the Lord, having no inheritance on earth.

Chapter 9

God’s instructions to keep the Passover (v. 1) preceded the events in chapter 1. Not all the events in Numbers are chronological. The Passover was kept on the fourteenth day of the first month. Special provision was made for those who were ceremonially defiled (perhaps involuntarily), through contact with a dead body, to keep the Passover one month later—on the fourteenth day of the second month (vv. 6-12). But anyone else who failed to keep the Passover was cut off from among his people (v. 13). Strangers (Gentiles) were permitted to keep the Passover if they desired, but on the same terms as the Jews (v. 14).

Verses 15-23 anticipate the next chapters. They describe the glory cloud which covered the tabernacle—a cloud by day and fire by night. When the cloud lifted off the tabernacle, the people of Israel were to break camp and march forward. When the cloud rested, the people were to stop and pitch camp. The cloud was of course a symbol of God guiding His people. Although the Lord does not lead in such a visible way today (for we walk by faith, not by sight), the principle is still valid. Move when the Lord moves, and not before, for “darkness about going is light about staying.”

Chapter 10

Moses was instructed to make two silver trumpets. These were to be used to: a) assemble the congregation at the door of the tent of meeting (vv. 3, 7); b) give the signal for marching forward; c) assemble the princes (only one trumpet was used for this) (v. 4); d) sound an alarm in time of war (v. 9); e) announce certain special clays, such as feast days (v. 10).

Different trumpet calls were used for these different purposes. The so-called alarm in verse 5 was the signal to march. The tribes on the east of the tabernacle set out first (v. 5). The second alarm was the signal for those on the south side to start (v. 6). Presumably those on the west and north followed in that order. The trumpets were not only for the wilderness march, but were to be used in the land as well (v. 9). Note the words “in your land.” God would fulfill His promise made to Abraham. His descendants would be given a land, but their disobedience and faithlessness would delay their entrance for 40 years.

Verse 11 marks a definite division in the book. Up to this point, the people had camped at Mount Sinai. From verse 11 to 22:1 is the record of the journey from Mount Sinai to the Plains of Moab, just outside the Promised Land. This journey covered a period of almost 40 years. They didn’t start until the twentieth clay because of the celebration of the second Passover (see Num. 9:10, 11).

The first section of the journey was from Mount Sinai to the Wilderness of Paran (v. 12). However, there were three stops before they reached this wilderness—Taberah, Kibroth-hattaavah, and Hazeroth. They actually reached the Wilderness of Paran in Numbers 12:16.

The order in which the tribes marched is given in verses 14-28. The prince of each tribe was at its head. The order is the same as that given in chapter 2, with one exception: in 2:17, it seems that the Levites marched after Gad and before Ephraim. In 10:17, the Gershonites and Merarites are listed after Zebulun, and the Kohathites after Gad. Apparently the Gershonites and Merarites moved on ahead with their equipment so they could have it all set up at the camping site when the Kohathites arrived with the sacred vessels.

Hobab (v. 29) was Moses’ brother-in-law, Raguel (same: as Reuel and Jethro) was Hobab’s father and therefore Moses’ father-in-law. Being a Midianite, Hobab was probably very familiar with the wilderness. Perhaps that is why Moses invited him to accompany the Israelites—“Thou mayest be to us instead of eyes” (v. 31). Many Bible interpreters believe that this invitation showed a lack of faith on Moses’ part, since God had already promised to guide.

Another view is held by Kurtz, who suggests. “The pillar of cloud determined the general route to be taken, the place of encampment, and the length of tarry in each location: yet human prudence was by no means precluded with respect to arranging the encampment so as to combine most advantageously the circumstances of water, pasture, shelter, supply of fuel. In alt these particulars, Hobab’s experience, and knowledge of the desert, would be exceedingly useful as supplementary to the guidance of the cloud.”57

Verse 33 says that the ark went before them. In the previous chapter, the ark was supposed to be carried by the Kohathites, in the midst of the 12 tribes. How can this be reconciled? Perhaps the thought is that the ark went ahead as a rebuke to Moses for his desire to depend on human eyes rather than on the eyes of God. The ark went before the people at other times as well—e.g., Joshua 3. So it seems that at certain times the ark was in the vanguard, although generally it was carried in the midst of the camp.

We are not told whether Hobab actually did accompany the Israelites. However, it appears from Judges 1:16 and 4:11 that he did, since his descendants are found among the Israelites.

Chapter 11

The reader is startled by the readiness of the people to complain against God, after all He had done for them. A clue to the discontent is found in verse 1—“them that were in the uttermost parts of the camp.” The malcontents were at a distance from the ark. Fire from God “consumed” in the extremity of the camp, giving the name Taberah (“a burning”) to the place. It sounds from the King James Version that the fire actually consumed the complainers, but the ASV states only that the fire devoured in the uttermost part of the camp. It was a merciful warning to the people of a judgment that would be severe. The second complaining took place right in the midst of the camp, but this time the reason can be found in the expression “the rabble.” Some unbelievers had come out of Egypt with the Israelites, and this mixed multitude was a source of continual grief to the Israelites. Their disaffection spread to the Israelites, causing them to long for the food of Egypt (vv. 4, 5) and to despise the manna (vv. 6-9). See Psalm 78:27-32 for God’s commentary on this.

      How strange that souls whom Jesus feeds

      With manna from above

      Should grieve Him by their evil deeds,

      And sin against his love.

      But ‘tis a greater marvel still

      That He from whom they stray

      Should bear with their rebellious will,

      And wash their sins away.

Moses first cried to the Lord concerning his own inability to take care of such a people (vv. 11, 12); then he described the utter impossibility of providing meat for such a multitude (v. 13). Finally, he asked for death as an escape from such problems (v. 15). The Lord’s first reply was to provide for the appointment of 70 elders to share the burdens of the people with Moses (vv. 16, 17). Many Bible students question whether this was God’s best for Moses. They reason that because God gives strength to do whatever He orders, Moses suffered a decrease of divine enablement when his responsibilities decreased (v. 17). Earlier, Moses had appointed men to act as civil authorities according to his father-in-law’s advice (Exod. 18:25; Deut. 1:9-15). Possibly the 70 chosen here were to help bear the spiritual burden. These two distinct appointments should not be confused.

As for the people, God said that they would have plenty of meat to eat. He would send them enough meat to make them sick of it. They would have it for a whole month (vv. 18-20). Moses questioned the possibility of such an event, but the Lord promised to bring it to pass (vv. 21-23). On the way to Mount Sinai, God had miraculously provided meat for the children of Israel (Exod. 16:13). Moses should have remembered this and not questioned the ability of the Lord. How quickly we forget the Lord’s past mercies when circumstances close in around us!

When the 70 elders were officially installed, the Spirit of the Lord came upon them and they prophesied; that is, they spoke direct revelations from God. Even two of the men who had remained in the camp prophesied. Joshua apparently thought that this miracle posed a threat to Moses’ leadership and sought to restrain them. But Moses showed his largeness of spirit by his noble answer in verse 20.

The promised flesh came in the form of a swarm of quail. Verse 31 may mean that the quail flew two cubits off the ground or were piled two cubits deep on the ground. The latter is not impossible; quail that were exhausted by migration have been known to land on a ship in sufficient quantity to sink it. The people went forth to feast on the meat, but many were soon smitten by a terrible plague. The place was called Kibroth-hattaavah (“the graves of lust”) because the lust of the people brought them to the grave. Hazaroth is listed as the next place of encampment (v. 35).

Chapter 12

The next sad chapter in the history of Israel concerns two of the leaders of the people, Miriam and Aaron. Though they were Moses’ sister and brother, they spoke against hint for marrying an Ethiopian woman. At least that was their pretext. But the real reason seems to be given in verse 2: they resented Moses’ leadership and wanted to share it—they were jealous. At this time there was no law against marrying an Ethiopian, though when they came to the land, the Israelites were forbidden to marry a non-Jew.

Moses did not try to vindicate himself, but trusted God, who had placed him in the position of leadership. His family (ch. 12), the leaders (ch. 16), and ultimately the whole congregation (16:41, 42) disputed his authority. Yet when the judgment of God fell upon his adversaries, Moses didn’t gloat but interceded for them. He was indeed “very humble, more than any man who was on the face of the earth” (v. 3 NASB).

God summoned Moses, Miriam, and Aaron to the door of the tent, rebuked Miriam and Aaron, and reminded them that Moses held a position of nearness to God that no other prophet ever held. He might speak to others indirectly, by visions and dreams, but He spoke to Moses directly (vv. 6-8). (The word “apparently” in verse 8 means “manifestly” or “clearly.”) Although Miriam herself was a prophetess (Exod. 15:20), the Lord made clear the difference between His relationship with Moses and other prophets. The only other thing recorded about Miriam after this is her death (Num. 20:1).

As punishment for her rebellion, Miriam was smitten with leprosy (v. 10). Since Aaron was not so punished, some suggest that Miriam was the ringleader. They point out that the verb in verse 1 is feminine singular. Others believe that Aaron’s punishment was to see his sister become a leper, Aaron was the high priest, and he would have been unable to function on behalf of the people if he had been made leprous. His position might have saved him from the humiliation that Miriam had to go through.

Aaron confessed his sin to Moses and asked that Miriam should not be “like a stillborn child, which comes into the world half decomposed”58 (vv. 11, 12). In response to Moses’ intercession, God healed Miriam of the leprosy but insisted that she should go through the usual seven-day period for the cleansing of a leper. The Lord reminded Moses that she would have been barred from the camp as unclean if her father had but spit in her face (v. 14a).

From Hazeroth, they marched to the Wilderness of Paran, a stop which was anticipated in Numbers 10:12.

Chapter 13

In this chapter, the sending of the spies was ordered by God. In Deuteronomy 1:19-22 it was suggested by the people. Doubtless God’s instructions were in response to the people’s request, even if their altitude was one of unbelief. The names of the 12 spies are given in

verses 4-15. Notice particularly Caleb (v. 6) and Hoshea (v. 8). Moses called Hoshea by the name Joshua (v. 16). Moses asked the 12 spies to bring back a complete report concerning the land and its inhabitants (v. 17-20). First they were to go to the Negev in the south, then to the hill country in the central part of the land.

The spies searched the land from the Wilderness of Zin in the south to Rehob in the north (v. 21). Verses 22-24 describe the spying operation in the south. At Hebron they saw three sons of Anak, who were giants, according to Deuteronomy 2:10, 11. Near Hebron they came to a valley of vineyards. They cut down a large cluster of grapes and, suspending it on a pole between two men, carried it back to the camp of Israel, together with figs and pomegranates. The valley was called Eshcol, meaning “a cluster.” (“Brook” in verses 23 and 24 should be “valley.”) The majority report of the spies pictured a beautiful land with dangerous inhabitants. The spies doubted the ability of Israel to conquer the inhabitants in spite of God’s promise to drive them out) (vv. 31-33). Refer- ence to Nephilim (v. 33 NASB) does not mean that these giants survived the flood. The Israelites had heard about the Nephilim that lived before the flood, and they identified these giants with them. Caleb (speaking for Joshua and himself) expressed confidence that Israel would be victorious (v. 30). But the others flatly denied this. In verse 32, the expression “a land that eateth up the inhabitants thereof” means that the present inhabitants would destroy any others who tried to settle there.

Ten of the spies had the wrong perspective. They saw themselves as the inhabitants of Canaan saw them (v. 33). Joshua and Caleb saw Israel from God’s point of view, well able to conquer the land. To the 10 unbelieving spies the problem of giants was insurmountable. To the two believing spies the presence of giants was insignificant.

Chapter 14

The people broke out into bitter complaint against Moses and Aaron, accused the Lord of delivering them from Egypt so they would be slain in the Promised Land, and proposed a new leader who would take them back to Egypt (vv. 1-3). When Joshua and Caleb sought to assure the people that they would be victorious against the enemy, the Israelites conspired to stone them (vv. 8-10). Verses 3 and 4 demonstrate graphically the stupidity of unbelief. Return to Egypt! Return to a land devastated by their God! Return to a land still mourning for its firstborn sons! Return to the land they had plundered on the eve of their exodus! Return by the Red Sea where the Egyptian host had been drowned, pursuing them! And what kind of welcome would Pharaoh give them? Yet this seemed safer than to believe that God would lead them to victory in Canaan. Jehovah had smitten Egypt, parted the sea, fed them with bread from heaven, and led them through the wilderness, yet they still could not trust His power to prevail over a few giants! Their actions revealed clearly what they thought about God. They doubted His love; wasn’t God going to kill their wives and children (v. 3)? They doubted His power; was the Lord really a match for the giants? They had failed to grasp what had been so manifestly revealed to them the past year—namely, the nature and ways of Jehovah. A low concept of God can ruin a person or an entire nation, as is here so painfully illustrated.

The Lord threatened to abandon the Jews and raise up a new nation from Moses’ descendants (vv. 11, 12). But Moses interceded for them by reminding the Lord that the Gentile nations would then say that God was not able to bring His people into the Promised Land (vv. 13-19). The honor of God was at stake, and Moses pled that argument with tremendous forcefulness. In Exodus 34:6, 7 the Lord had revealed Himself to Moses. In verse 18 Moses repeals almost verbatim God’s description of Himself as the basis of his prayer. How different is the theology of Moses from the theology of the people! His is based on divine revelation; theirs is based on human imagination.

Although God replied that He would not destroy the people. He decreed that of all the men 20 years of age or older who came out of Egypt and who were able to go to war (Num. 26:26; Deut. 2:14), only Joshua and Caleb would enter the Promised Land. The people would wander in the wilderness for 40 years, until the unbelieving generation died. Forty years were specified because the spies had spent 40 days in the land on their expedition (v. 34). Forty years here is a round number: it was actually about 38 years. It was 40 years from the time Israel left Egypt till they reached Canaan. The people refused the good the Lord wanted to give them, so they must suffer the evil they chose instead. However, the fact that they were excluded from the land does not mean that they were eternally lost. Many of them were saved through faith in the Lord, even though they suffered His governmental punishment in this life because of their disobedience.

There is a great deal of obscurity concerning the exact route followed by the Israelites during their wilderness wanderings. There is also uncertainty concerning how long they stayed in each place. Some believe, for example, that over 37 years were spent at Kadesh and that one year was spent on a journey south to the shore of the Red Sea, now known as the Gulf of Aqaba. Many of the place names on the route between Sinai and the Plains of Moab are no longer identifiable.

The glory of the Lord in verse 21 refers to His glory as righteous judge, punishing the disobedient people of Israel. The Israelites had tempted God ten times (v. 22). These temptings were as follows: at the Red Sea (Exod. 14:11, 12), at Marah (Exod. 15:23), in the Wilderness of Sin (Exod. 18:2), two rebellions concerning the manna (Exod. 16:20, 27), at Rephidim (Exod. 17:1), at Horeb (Exod. 32:7), at Taberah (Num. 11:1), at Kibroth-hattaavah (Num. 11:4ff.), and at Kadesh (the murmuring at the spies’ report—Num. 14).

Of the 603,550 men of war who came out of Egypt, only Joshua and Caleb entered the land (vv. 29, 30; Deut. 2:14). But the tribe of Levi did not come under the stroke of judgment. They numbered 22,000 from a month old and upward (Num. 3:39) and 8580 from 30 years old and upward (Num. 4:38, 40, 44).

The 10 unbelieving spies who brought the evil report were killed by a plague (vv. 36, 37), but Joshua and Caleb escaped it.

Hearing the doom pronounced upon them, the people told Moses that they would obey God and go into the land (v. 40). But Moses told them that it was too late, that the Lord had departed from them, and that they would be cut down in the attempt. Disregarding Moses’ advice, they advanced to the top of a mountain and were defeated and pursued by some of the heathen inhabitants of the land (v. 45).

Chapter 15

We don’t know how much time elapsed between chapters 14 and 15, but the contrast is striking. “Surely they shall not see the land” (14:23). “When ye be come into the land” (15:2). God’s purposes, though sometimes hindered by sin, are never thwarted. He promised the land of Canaan to Abraham, and if one generation of his descendants was too faithless to receive it, He would give it to the next.

The first 29 verses of this chapter describe offerings which were to be brought by the children of Israel when they were settled in the land. Most of these offerings have already been described in minute detail. Special emphasis is given here to sins of omission (or ignorance) committed by the congrega- tion (vv. 22-28) or by an individual (vv. 27-29). Verse 24 mentions two offerings for the congregation, a bull and a goat. However, Leviticus 4 states the congregation was only to bring a bullock. But Leviticus 4 also says that, a leader, when he sinned, was to bring a goat. Possibly the account here in Numbers mentions these offerings together, whereas in Leviticus they are mentioned separately. In verses 20 and 21 we find an oft-repeated command in Scripture: “Of the first … to the Lord.” Whether the firstborn or the first-fruits, the Lord was to have the best of everything. This also served as a reminder to the people that everything they possessed came from, and ultimately belonged to, Jehovah.

There was no offering for the sin of presumption—that is, for willful, defiant rebellion against the word of the Lord. All who committed such a sin were to be killed (vv. 30, 31). An example of presumptuous sin is given in verses 32-36. A man was found gathering sticks on the sabbath in clear violation of the Law. It was known that he should be put to death (Exod. 31:15), but the mode of execution had never been stated. The Lord now declared that he should be stoned to death.

The Jews were commanded to wear a ribbon of blue along the lower border of their garments (KJV) or tassels on the corners of the garments and a cord of blue on each tassel (NASB) (vv. 37-41). Blue is the heavenly color, and it was intended to speak to them of the holiness and obedience which suited them as children of God.

Chapter 16

Korah, a cousin of Aaron (Exod. 6:18-21), was a Levite but not a priest. He apparently resented the fact that the family of Aaron should have exclusive right to the priesthood. Dathan, Abiram, and On were of the tribe of Reuben, and they resented Moses’ leadership over them. On is not mentioned after verse 1, and it is impossible to know if he shared the doom of the others. Two hundred and fifty of the princes of Israel joined in the rebellion against the priesthood and the civil authority (v. 2). They argued that all the people were holy and should not be excluded from offering sacrifices (v. 3). To settle the matter, Moses ordered Korah and his rebels to appear the following day with incense burners (vv. 6,7), The burning of incense was a priestly function; if God did not recognize them as priests, He would show His displeasure. Dathan and Abiram refused to leave their tents when called by Moses (v. 12) but scolded him for his leadership. Note that they called Egypt “a land that floweth with milk and honey” (v. 13). Verse 13 reads in the Revised Standard Version, “Is it a small thing that you have brought us up out of a land flowing with milk and honey, to kill us in the wilderness, that you must also make yourself a prince over us?”

The thought of verse 14 may be that, having failed to fulfill his promise, Moses was now trying to blind the people to his failure. Moses reminded the Lord that he had not demanded tribute from the people, as rulers usually do (v. 15).

The following day, Koran, Aaron, and the 250 rebels appeared before the tabernacle with censers. The congregation of Israel also assembled, perhaps in sympathy with Korah. The Lord then appeared and told Moses and Aaron to separate themselves from the congregation before He destroyed them. Because Moses and Aaron interceded, the judgment was not executed.

The scene now changes to the tents where Korah, Dathan, and Abiram lived (v. 24). Moses warned the rest of the people to move away from the vicinity of those tents. Then Moses announced that if these men died a natural death, or were visited by the fate of all men, then Moses himself would be discredited. But if the Lord miraculously caused the earth to swallow them up, then the people would know that these men had been guilty of rebellion (v. 30). No sooner had he uttered the words than the earth opened up and swallowed Dathan and Abiram and their families (vv. 32, 33). There is considerable question as to when Korah died. Some believe that he was swallowed by the earth with Dathan and Abiram (vv. 32, 33). Others suggest that he was destroyed by the same fire that killed the 250 rebels (v. 35). It seems clear from Numbers 26:10 that he was swallowed up along with Dathan and Abiram. Verse 11 of the same chapter shows that his sons were spared. Israel’s next great prophet, Samuel, was a descendant of Korah. … In verse 30 Sheol means the grave, but it can also mean the disembodied state.

At certain times in history, God has shown His extreme displeasure at certain sins by judging them instantly. He judged Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen. 19:24, 25); Nadab and Abihu (Lev. 10:1, 2); Miriam (Num. 12:10); Korah, Dathan, and Abiram (this chapter); Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:5, 10). Clearly He does not do this every time these sins are committed, but He does break in on history on selected occasions as a warning to future generations.

“Houses” in verse 32 means “households,” not “tents.” “The men who belonged to Korah (v. 12) might mean his servants or his followers.

The censers used by the sinners were converted into brass plates to cover the altar of burnt offering (vv. 38, 39). These were a reminder that only the family of Aaron had priestly privileges (v. 40). The fire in the censers was scattered abroad (v. 37).

On the day following these solemn events, the people accused Moses and Aaron of killing God’s people (v. 41). The Lord, in wrath, threatened to destroy them, but Moses and Aaron interceded for them. The Lord then smote the people with a dreadful plague. Only when Aaron rushed into the midst of the congregation with incense and made atonement for the people was the plague stopped. But even by then, 14,700 had perished. The leaders, along with the congregation, had challenged the priesthood of Aaron. Now it was the priestly intercession of Aaron which stopped the plague. Moses and Aaron weren’t the ones who killed the Lord’s people, but the ones who saved them!

Chapter 17

In order to emphasize to the people that the priesthood was committed only to the family of Aaron, God commanded that a rod for each tribe of Israel be placed in the tabernacle overnight. The rod of Levi had Aaron’s name on it. The right to the priesthood belonged to the rod that budded. In the morning, when the rods were examined, it was found that Aaron’s rod had buckled, blossomed, and born almonds (v. 8). Aaron’s rod pictures the resurrected Christ as the Priest of God’s choosing, just as the almond tree is the first to blossom in the spring, so Christ is the firstfruits of resurrection (1 Cor. 15:20, 23). The golden lampstand in the holy place was “made like unto almonds with their knops and their flowers” (Exod. 25:33, 34). It was a priestly function to take care of the lampstand daily. Aaron’s rod corresponded in design and fruit to the lampstand, thus signifying that the household of Aaron had been divinely chosen to minister as priests.

From now on, Aaron’s rod was to be kept in the ark of the covenant, as a token against the rebels (v. 10). After this, the people were seized with terror and feared to go into the general vicinity of the tabernacle (vv. 12, 13).

Chapter 18

This chapter is closely linked to the last two verses of the preceding chapter. In order to allay the fears of the people, the Lord repeated the instructions about service at the tabernacle. If these instructions were obeyed, there need be no fear of His wrath. Verse 1 is in two parts. “Thou and thy sons and thy lather’s house with thee” refers to all the Levites, including the priests. “Thou and thy sons” refers to the priests alone. The former bore the iniquity of the sanctuary; the latter bore the iniquity of the priesthood. “To bear the iniquity” means to be responsible for any neglect or failure to comply with sacred duties. The Levites were assistants to the priests but were not to enter the tabernacle on priestly service lest they die (vv. 2-7).

The priests were permitted a certain portion of various offerings as compensation (vv. 8-11). They were also entitled to the firstfruits of oil, wine, grain, and fruit (vv. 12, 13), to things devoted to the Lord (v. 14), and to the firstborn. In the case of firstborn sons and unclean animals, the priests received the redemption money in place of the sons or animals. In the case of sacrificial animals, the firstborn was sacrificed to the Lord, and the priests received their portion (vv. 17-19). A covenant of salt (v. 19) means one that is inviolable and permanent. The priests did not receive any land because the Lord was to be their special portion (v. 20). The Levites received tithes from the people, but they in turn were responsible to give a tenth to the priests (vv. 21-32). This tenth was offered as a heave offering to the Lord.

Chapter 19

This chapter deals with one of the strongest symbols of cleansing in the Old Testament, the use of the ashes of a red heifer. This offering had to do particularly with removing defilement caused by coming in contact with a dead person. The children of Israel had just rebelled against the Lord at Kadesh. They were now being sent out into the wilderness to die because of their unbelief. Over 600,000 people would die in a 38-year period, or over 40 a day. One can see the need for the ashes of the red heifer, for who could avoid contact with death on such a journey?

The heifer was to be taken outside the camp and killed (v. 3). Eleazar, the priest, sprinkled its blood seven times before the tabernacle, and then the heifer was burned, skin and all, together with cedar wood, hyssop and scarlet. These same materials were used in the cleansing of lepers (Lev. 14:40). The priest and the man who burned the heifer were unclean until evening. A man who was clean carefully gathered up the ashes and placed them outside the camp for future use (v. 9); then he was unclean until evening.

Verses 11-19 tell how the ashes were to be used. If a person had become ceremonially unclean through touching a dead body or through being in a tent where someone had died, a clean person took some of the ashes and mixed them with running water. The clean person sprinkled the water with hyssop on the unclean person or thing on the third day and the seventh day. On the seventh day the unclean man washed his clothes, bathed himself, and was clean that evening (v. 19).

Williams suggests that the red heifer symbolized Christ: spotless externally and without blemish internally; free from any bondage to sin; and robed with the red earth of manhood.59 But we must be careful not to press the type too far.

The one historical record of the use of the ashes of a heifer is in Numbers 31. Mantle says that “the ashes were regarded as a concentration of the essential properties of the sin offering, and could be resorted to at all times with comparatively little trouble and no loss of time. One red heifer availed for centuries. Only six are said to have been required during the whole of Jewish history: for the smallest quantity of the ashes availed to impart the cleansing virtue of the pure spring-water.”60

The writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews argues that whereas the ashes of a red heifer could do no more than set a person apart from outward, ceremonial defilement, the blood of Christ has infinite power to produce an inward cleansing of the conscience from dead works (Heb. 9:13).

“The red heifer is God’s provision for inevitable, unavoidable contact with the spiritual death that is around us. It probably has special reference to Israel’s bloodguiltiness in connection with the Messiah. It resembles the trespass offering but does not displace it” (Selected).

Punishment was inevitable for an unclean person who did not use the water of separation (v. 20). Also, God decreed that anyone who touched or sprinkled the water was unclean until evening, and anyone he touched was also unclean for the remainder of the day.

Chapter 20

As this chapter opens, it is 40 years since the Israelites left Egypt and 38 years since they sent the spies into the land. The people had wandered for 38 years and had now come back to Kadesh, in the wilderness of Zin—the very place from which they had sent the spies. They were no closer to the Promised Land than they had been 38 years earlier! Here Miriam died and was buried (v. 1). Over 600,000 people had died during the wasted years between chapters 19 and 20. The bitter fruit of unbelief was harvested in silence for an entire generation.

The people who complained to Moses and Aaron about the lack of water were a new generation, but they acted like their fathers (vv. 2-5). The Lord told Moses to speak to the rock, and it would give forth water. He was to take the rod of Aaron, which had been deposited in the tabernacle (v. 9; cf. 17:10), though it is called “his rod” in verse 11. Aaron’s rod was the rod of the priesthood: Moses’ rod was the rod of judgment and power.

Once before, at a place called Massah (and Meribah), the people had murmured for water. At that time, the Lord told Moses to smite the rock (Exod. 17:1-7). But now Moses’ patience was exhausted. First, he spoke unadvisedly with his lips, calling the people rebels (v. 10). Secondly, he smote the rock twice instead of speaking to it (v. 11). The rock smitten in Exodus 17 was a type of Christ, smitten at Calvary. But Christ was only to be smitten once. After His death, the Holy Spirit would he given, of which the water in verse 11 is a type.

Because of the sin of Moses and Aaron in this matter, God decreed that they would not enter the Promised Land. He called the place Meribah, but it is not the same Meribah as in Exodus 17. This is sometimes known as Meribah-kadesh.

“By this manifestation of anger, which as we have said was so very natural, the servant of God misrepresented God to the people. His failure was due to the fact that for the moment his faith failed to reach the highest level of activity. He still believed in God, and in His power: but he did not believe in Him to sanctity Him in the eyes of His people. The lesson is indeed a very searching one. Right things may be done in so wrong a way as to produce evil results. There is a hymn in which we may miss the deep meaning, if we are not thoughtful—

      Lord, speak to me that I may speak

      In living echoes of Thy tone.

That is far more than a prayer that we may be able to deliver the Lord’s message. It is rather that we may do so in His tone, with His temper. That is where Moses failed, and for this failure he was excluded from the Land.”61

The plan for entering the land was not to go directly north from the wilderness but to travel east through the territory of the Edomites, and then north along the east coast of the Dead Sea. The people would then cross the Jordan. But the king of Edom refused safe passage to the people of Israel— and this in spite of assurances that the Jews would not eat, drink, or damage any of Edom’s supplies. Later in history, Israel under Saul fought against and defeated the Edomites, descendants of Jacob’s brother, Esau.

When the people had journeyed from Kadesh to Mount Hor, near the border of Edom, Aaron died and was replaced by his son Eleazar (vv. 22-29). “Aaron, though he dies for his transgression, is not put to death as a malefactor, by a plague, or fire from heaven, but dies with ease and in honour. He is not cut off from his people, as the expression usually is concerning those that die by the hand of divine justice, but he is gathered to his people, as one that died in the arms of divine grace… . Moses, whose hands had first clothed Aaron with his priestly garments, now strips him of them; for, in reverence to the priesthood, it was not fit that he should die in them.”62

Chapter 21

The king of Arad (NASB) lived in the southern portion of the land of promise. When he heard that, the Israelites were encamped in the wilderness and were planning to invade the land, he attacked but was defeated at a place called Hormah (vv. 1-3). Once again the people complained about their living conditions, with the result that God sent fiery serpents among them. Many of the people died, and many more were endangered. In answer to the intercession of Moses, God commanded that a serpent of brass be lifted upon a pole and promised that whoever looked at the serpent would be healed of the snakebite. This incident was used by the Lord Jesus to teach Nicodemus that Christ must be lifted up on a pole (the cross), so that sinners looking to Him by faith might have everlasting life (John 3:1-16).

The serpent later became a stumbling block to the nation and was finally destroyed in the days of Hezekiah (2 Kgs. 18:4).

The Red Sea (v. 4) does not mean the gulf that the Israelites crossed in their escape from Egypt but the portion of the Red Sea which we know as the Gulf of Aqaba. The journeys of the children of Israel from Mount Hor to the Plains of Moab can no longer be traced exactly. However, the stops are listed in Numbers 21:10 to 22:1. The book of the wars of the Lord (v. 14) was probably a historical record of the early wars of Israel. It is no longer available. At Beer (vv. 16-18) the Lord miraculously provided water when the princes dug with their staves in the arid desert. When Israel came near the country of the Amorites, they sought permission to pass through but were refused. In fact, Sihon, king of the Amorites, declared war on Israel but was thoroughly defeated. This Amorite king, like Pharaoh before him, was hardened by the Lord in order that he and his people might be defeated in battle by Israel (Deut. 2:30). “The iniquity of the Amorite” (Gen. 15:16) was complete, and Israel was the instrument of the judgment by Jehovah.

The proverbial song of verses 27-30 seems to say this: Hesbon had only recently been captured from the Moabites by the Amorites. Now Hesbon has fallen to the people of Israel, if those who conquered this city of Moab have themselves been conquered, then Moab must be a third-class power. Also, this proverb is probably quoted as evidence that the land was fully in the possession of the Amorite king, Sihon, and no longer a Moabite territory. This fact was important to establish because Israel was forbidden to take any land from Moab (Deut. 2:9).

The exact route of the Israelites is difficult to reconstruct. It is suggested that they moved east from Mount Hor, then north outside the western boundary of Edom to the River Zered. They followed the Zered eastward between Edom and Moab, then north along Moab’s eastern boundary to the Arnon, then west to the King’s Highway. They conquered Sihon, King of the Amorites, then pushed north to conquer Bashan, the Kingdom of Og. Kashan was rich pastureland east of the Jordan and north of the place where Israel would cross the Jordan into the land.

Chapter 22

Having conquered Kashan, the Israelites returned to the Plains of Moab and camped there opposite Jericho (v. 1). These plains had been taken from Moab by the Amorites (Num. 21:26), but the name of Moab lingered on. When the Moabites, to the south, heard how the Amorites had been conquered, they became terrified. Therefore Balak, the king, sought to hire the prophet Balaam to curse Israel. Though a heathen prophet, Balaam seems to have had some knowledge of the true God. The Lord used him to reveal His mind concerning Israel’s separation, justification, beauty, and glory. The first attempt to get Balaam to curse is recorded in verses 7-14. The messengers of Balak came to Balaam with the rewards of divination—that is, with rewards for him if he would successfully pronounce a curse on Israel. But God told him that he must not curse the people because the Lord had blessed them. Balak means “waster.” Balaam means “swallower of the people” or “confuser of the people.”

The second try is recorded in verses 15-21. Balaam knew what God’s will was (v. 18); yet he dared to go before the Lord, perhaps in hopes that there would be a change of mind (v. 19). The Lord told Balaam to go with Balak’s men but to do only what the Lord told him (v. 20). Balaam’s reason for going is clearly pointed out in 2 Peter 2:15, 16. He was motivated by his love of “the wages of unrighteousness.” He is a type of the “hireling prophet” who prostitutes his God-given ability for money.

The “angel of the Lord” (v. 22) was Christ in a preincarnate appearance. Three times He stood before Balaam and his ass (a slightly different animal from a donkey). The first time the ass saw the angel and detoured into a field. For this, the poor animal was beaten by Balaam (v. 23). The second time the angel stood in a narrow passageway in the vineyards. The terrified ass crushed Balaam’s foot against a wall and again was abused (vv. 24, 25). The third time the angel confronted them in a narrow pass. The frustrated ass threw herself down on the ground (vv. 26, 27) and received a third thrashing from Balaam. Even an ass, the symbol of stubbornness, knew when to quit, but not the stubborn, willful prophet!

The ass was given the power to speak to Balaam, rebuking him for his inhumane treatment (vv. 28-30). Then Balaam saw the angel of the Lord with drawn sword and heard Him explain His mission to hinder Balaam in his disobedience (vv. 31-35). The angel then permitted the prophet to go to Balak but to speak only the words that God gave him (v. 35). After meeting Balaam, Balak offered sacrifices to his god and then took the prophet into a high mountain (Pisgah) where he would look down over the tents of Israel. Later, from this same mountain, Moses would take his only look at the Promised Land, and then die (Deut. 34:1, 5).

Chapter 23

This chapter and the next chapter contain four memorable utterances by Balaam concerning Israel. The first three were preceded in the offering of seven bullocks and seven rams as burnt offerings. The first statement expressed Balaam’s inability to curse a people whom God had not cursed. It predicted for Israel a life of separation from the Gentile nations and a numberless posterity. It pictured Israel as a righteous nation whose eventual destiny was something to be coveted (vv. 7-10). Balak’s protest against this blessing availed nothing. The prophet had to speak the word of God.

Kulak then took Balaam to a different

vantage point in hopes that the prophet would see them in a less favorable light (vv. 13, 14).

The second statement assured Balak that God’s original blessing on Israel was unchanged (vv. 18-20). The first part of verse 21 describes the nation’s position, not its practice. The people were reckoned righteous through faith. So believers today stand before God in all the perfections of His beloved Son. The Lord was with Israel, and the people could shout because He reigned as King in their midst (v. 21b). He had delivered them from Egypt and given them strength. No evil pronouncement against them would come to pass. Instead, the victories Israel would soon win would cause the nations to saw “What has God done!” (vv. 22-24). Since Balaam refused to curse the people, Balak ordered him not to bless them either (v. 25), but the prophet protested that he could only do what the Lord said.

A third time Balak tried to wring a curse out of Balaam, this time from the top of Mount Peor (vv. 27-30).

Chapter 24

Realizing that God was determined to bless Israel, Balaam did not seek to get a message of cursing. He simply looked down over the camp of Israel, and the Spirit of God came upon him, causing him to say things beyond his own wisdom and will.

The third message spoke of the beauty of the tents of Israel and predicted tremendous fruitfulness, widespread prosperity, a glorious kingdom (vv. 5-7), and crushing power over all foes. None would dare to rise up against this crouching lion (v. 9). Those who blessed Israel would be blessed, and a curse would only bring cursing. Balaam’s prophecy here echoes the covenant given to Abraham: “I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee” (Gen. 12:3).

Thoroughly frustrated by now, Balak denounced Balaam for his failure to cooperate. But the prophet reminded him that from the beginning he had said that he could only speak the words of God. Before leaving Balak to return to his own home, Balaam offered to tell the king what Israel would do to the Moabites in days to come and also to neighboring nations.

The fourth message is in verses 17-19. A king (“star” or “scepter”) would arise in Israel to conquer Moab and all the children of tumult (v. 17). Edom also would be subjugated by this ruler (vv. 18, 19). This prophecy was partially fulfilled by King David, but will enjoy its complete fulfillment at the second coming of Christ.

Similar promises of doom were uttered by Balaam concerning the Amalekites, the Kenites, Assyria (Asshur), and the people of Eber (vv. 20-24). The Amalekites would be utterly destroyed (v. 20). The Kenites would be wasted until the Assyrians would finally take them captive (vv. 21, 22). Even the Assyrians would be captured by armed forces from Chittim. (Chittim means Cyprus, but probably represents Greece here and the forces of Alexander the Great.) Eber probably means the non-Jewish descendants of this postdiluvian patriarch.

Before Balaam left Balak, he set the wheels in motion for the tragic events of chapter 25.

Chapter 25

Although Balaam’s name is not mentioned in this chapter, we learn in Numbers 31:16 that he was responsible for the terrible corruption of the children of Israel that is described here. All of Balak’s rewards could not induce Balaam to curse Israel, but they finally did persuade him to corrupt Israel by causing some of the people to commit immorality and idolatry with the daughters of Moab. Often when Satan cannot succeed in a direct attack, he will succeed in an indirect one.

Balaam’s true character emerges here. Up to this point we might think of him as a godly prophet who was loyal to the word of God and an admirer of the people of God. But from Numbers 31:16 and 2 Peter 2:15, 16 we learn that he was a wicked apostate who loved the wages of unrighteousness. The counsel Balaam gave to Balak is recorded in Revelation 2:14: “to eat things sacrificed unto idols, and to commit fornication.” His counsel was heeded. This led to gross idolatry at the shrine of Baal-peor.

God commanded that the guilty ones should be hung in the suit. Before the sentence was carried out, a leader of the tribe of Simeon brought a woman of Midian into the camp of Israel, to take her into his tent. Phinehas, the son of the high priest, killed both man and woman with his javelin (vv. 6-8). “Phinehas, ‘a mouth of brass’ is singularly appropriate to him who was so unyieldingly faithful to God, and by his relentless judgment of sin secured an abiding priesthood for himself and family.”63

God sent a plague into the camp of Israel, killing a total of 24,000 of the offenders during the course of the plague (23,000 in one day—1 Cor. 10:8). It was Phinehas’ heroic action that stopped the plague. For his zeal, God decreed that the priesthood would continue in the family of Phinehas (vv. 12. 13).

Zimri’s position of prominence in his tribe and the fact that the woman was a daughter of a Midianite chief (vv. 14, 15) might have stopped the judges from executing judgment upon him, but it did not stop Phinehas. He was jealous for Jehovah’s sake (v. 13).

In verses l6-18, God ordered Moses to war against the Midianites (who were mingled with the Moabites at this time). This command was carried out in chapter 31.

Chapter 26

Again Moses was commanded to take a census of the children of Israel, since they were about to enter the land to war against its inhabitants and to receive their share of the inheritance. There was a decrease of 1,820 people from the first census, as seen in the following numbers:


Census In

Census In


Chapter 1

Chapter 26

Reuben (vv. 5-11)



Simeon (vv. 12-14)



Gael (vv. 15-18)



Judah (vv. 19-22)



Issachar (vv. 23-25)



Zebulun (vv. 26, 27)



Joseph (vv. 28-37):


Manasseh (v. 34)



Epliraim (v. 37)



Benjamin (vv. 38-41)



Dan {vv. 42.43)



Asher (vv. 44-47)



Naphtali (vv. 48-51)






The most striking decrease is seen in the Simeonites, who diminished by almost 37,000. Some suggest that Simeon was chiefly involved in the incident at Peor in the previous chapter (Zimri was a leader in that tribe), and that, most of the slain were Simeonites. Verse 11 tells us that the sons of Korah did not die with their father.

The land was to be divided according to the number of people in each tribe, and yet according to lot (vv. 52-56). This can only mean that the size of the tribal territory was determined by the number in the tribe, but the locution of the land was determined by lot. The Levites were numbered separately at 23,000. Only Joshua and Caleb were included in each census. All the other men of war listed in the first census had by now perished in the wilderness (vv. 64, 65). Verses 64 and 65 refer to the men who were able to go to war. Levites and women are excluded, though some of these did die during the 38-year journey.

Chapter 27

The five daughters of Zelophehad, of the tribe of Manasseh, came to Moses to request property in the distribution of the land even though they had no male in the numbered of Israel, among whom Canaan was to be divided (26:53). Their father had died, but not as one of the guilty companions of Korah. The Lord answered that they should inherit their father’s portion. In general, it was God’s will that the land be inherited by sons, then daughters, brothers, uncles, or dearest relatives. In this way it would be permanently kept in a family (vv. 1-11).

God forewarned Moses that he would die soon, and He instructed Moses to go to Mount Abarim (actually a chain of mountains east of the Dead Sea). Mount Nebo, where Moses died, was a part of this chain. Moses unselfishly thought of a successor to lead the people, and Joshua was named in his place (vv. 13-21). The priesthood and later the kingship in Israel was usually passed on from one generation to the next within the same family. However, Moses’ successor was not his son but his servant (Exod. 24:13).

Chapter 28, 29

In Chapters 28 and 29 the people are reminded of the offerings and feasts which were to be observed in the land.

Daily offerings:

        Continual burnt offering, morning and evening, with a meal offering and drink offering included (28:3-8).

        Every day in life, so long as the temple stood, the following sacrifices had to be carried out both morning and evening (Num. 28:3-8).

        Every morning and every evening a one-year-old male lamb without spot or blemish was offered as a burnt offering. Along with it there was offered a meal offering, which consisted of one-tenth of an ephah of fine flour mixed with a quarter of a hin of pine oil. Also there was a drink offering, which consisted of a quarter of a hin of wine.

        There was an offering of incense before these offerings in the morning, and after them in the evening. Ever since there was a Jewish temple, and so long as the temple continued to exist, this routine of sacrifice went on. There was a kind of priestly treadmill of sacrifice. Moffatt speaks of “the Levitical drudges” who, day in and day out, kept offering these sacrifices. There was no end to this process, and when all was said and done, it still left men conscious of their sin and alienation from God.

Weekly offerings:

        Weekly burnt offering, on each sabbath, with meal offering and drink offering (28:9, 10).

Monthly offerings:

        Burnt offering on the first day of each month, with meal offering and drink offering (28:11-14).

        Sin offering (v. 15).

Feasts of Jehovah:

        Passover—14th day of first month (28:16).

        Feast of Unleavened Bread— 15th day to 21st day of first month (28:17-25).

        Feast of weeks (28:26-31).

        Note: The clay of the first fruits (v. 26) should not be confused with the Feast of Firstfruits (Lev. 23:9-14).

        Feast of Trumpets—1st day of seventh month (29:1-6).

        Day of Atonement—10th day of seventh month (29:7-11).

        Feast of Tabernacles—15th day through 21st day of seventh month (29:12-34). There was a special sabbath observance on the eighth day (29:35-39).

Chapter 30

This chapter contains special instructions about vows. A man making a vow to the Lord must carry it out without fail (v. 2). If a young woman, still under her father’s care, made a vow, and her father heard her, he could speak out against the vow—i.e., forbid it—on the first day, and it would be canceled. If he waited until after the first day or if he did not say anything, the vow was effective and had to be carried out (vv. 3-5). Verses 6-8 seem to describe a vow made by a woman be ft) re her marriage. Although her husband would not, of course, have heard it on the day it was made, he could cancel it on the day when he first heard about it. Vows made by widows or divorced women were binding (v. 9). Vows made by a married woman could be canceled by the husband on the first day (vv. 10-15). This maintained the headship of the husband. If a husband canceled her vow after the first day, he had to bear her iniquity—that is, bring the required sacrifice or be punished by the Lord (v. 15).

Chapter 31

God commanded Moses to destroy the Midianites for corrupting His people through fornication and idolatry at Baal-peor. Twelve thousand Israelites marched against the enemy and killed all the males. (Either Balaam never made it all the way back to his home or else he had returned to Midian for some reason, for he too was killed.) But the children of Israel spared the women and children and proudly brought them back to the camp with a great quantity of spoil {vv. 7-12). Moses was enraged that they would have spared the very ones who caused Israel to sin and commanded that the male children and every woman who had lain with a man should be slain. The female children were spared, probably for domestic service. This punishment was righteous and necessary to prevent Israel front further corruption. Possibly Phinehas went to war (v. 6) rather than his father the high priest, because Phinehas had been the one to turn away the wrath of Jehovah by killing Zimri and the Midianite woman (ch. 25). Now he was to lead the armies of the living God to complete the judgment of the Lord on Midian. “All the males” (v. 7) refers to all the Midianites in this particular area, and not to all the Midianites in existence, because in the days of Gideon they again become a menace to Israel (Judges 6). Zur (v. 8) was probably the father of Cozbi, the Midianite woman slain in the camp of Israel (25:15).

The warriors and captives were required to undergo the customary seven days of purification (v. 19). Also, the spoil hail to be cleansed, either by fire or by washing (vv. 21-24). The spoil was divided among the warriors and the whole congregation (vv. 25-47). The men of war were so thankful that not one of their number had perished that they brought a large gift to the Lord (vv. 48-54).

Chapter 32

When Reuben and Gad saw the rich pasture- land east of the Jordan River, they petitioned that they might settle there permanently (vv. 1-5). Moses thought this meant that they would not cross the Jordan and fight against the heathen inhabitants of Canaan with their brethren (vv. 6-15).

But when Reuben and Gad assured him three times that they intended to fight for the land west of the Jordan, Moses granted permission (vv. 16-33). Many feel that this was not a wise choice for Reuben and Gad because, although the land was fertile, the area was exposed to enemy attack. They did not have the protection of the Jordan River. The tribes of Reuben and Gad (and the half-tribe of Manasseh which joined them) were the first to be conquered in later years and carried off into captivity. On the other hand, what was to be done with the land east of the Jordan River if none of the children of Israel were to settle in it? God had given this land to them and told them to possess it (Deut. 2:24, 31; 3:2).

Chapter 33

The journeys of the children of Israel from Egypt to the Plains of Moab are summarized in this chapter. As mentioned previously, it is impossible to locate all the cities with accuracy today. The chapter may be divided as follows: from Egypt to Mount Sinai (vv. 5-15); from Mount Sinai to Kadesh-barnea (vv. 16-36); from Kadesh-barnea to Mount Hor (vv. 37-40); from Mount Hor to the Plains of Moab (vv. 41-49). This list is not complete, as can be seen by comparing it with other lists of camping spots, as in chapter 21.

God’s order to the invading army was to completely exterminate the inhabitants of Canaan. This may seem cruel to people today, but actually these people were among the most corrupt, immoral, depraved creatures whom the world has ever known. God’s patience dealt with them for over 400 years without any change on their part. He knew that if His people did not kill them. Israel would become infected by their immorality and idolatry. Not only were the Israelites to kill the people, but they were to destroy every trace of idolatry (v. 52).

Chapter 34

The boundaries of the land which God promised to Israel are given in verses 1-15. In general, the southern boundary extended from the southern tip to the Dead Sea to the Brook (not River) of Egypt and to the Mediterranean Sea (vv. 3-5). The western boundary was the Mediterranean Sea (v. 6). The northern boundary stretched from the Mediterranean Sea to Mount Hor (not the one mentioned in the journeys of Israel) to the entrance of Hamath and Hazar-enan (vv. 7-9). The eastern boundary extended from Hazar-enan south to the Sea of Galilee (Chinnereth), down the Jordan River to the Dead Sea (vv. 10-12). The 9 ½ tribes were to inherit the above land, since the 2 ½ tribes had already been promised the land east of the Jordan (vv. 13-15). The names of the men who were appointed to divide the land are given in verses 16-29.

Chapter 35

Since the tribe of Levi did not inherit with the other tribes, God decreed that 48 cities should be set apart for the Levites (vv. 1-8). It is difficult to understand the measurements given in verses 4 and 5, but it is at least clear that the cities were surrounded by pasturelands for grazing the livestock. (Perhaps the 2000 cubits mentioned in verse 5 were inclusive of the 1000 already mentioned in verse 4.) Six of the Levite cities were to be designated as cities of refuge. A person who had accidentally killed another could flee to one of these cities and be safe (v. 6). Those tribes which had much territory would donate cities for the Levites accordingly. Those which had little were not expected to give as many cities (v. 8). Of the cities of refuge, three were to be on each side of the Jordan River. A manslayer would ordinarily be pursued by a near relative of the victim, known as the avenger (v. 12). If the manslayer reached a city of refuge, he was safe there until his case came up for trial (v. 12). The cities of refuge did not provide sanctuary for a murderer (vv. 16-19). Crimes committed through hatred or enmity were punishable by death (vv. 20, 21). (“But” in verse 20 KJV should be “and.”)

If the homicide appeared to be a case of manslaughter, the man would be tried by the congregation (vv. 22-24). If acquitted, the manslayer had to stay in the city of refuge until the death of the high priest, and was then allowed to return to his home (v. 25). If he ventured outside the city before the death of the high priest, the avenger of blood could slay him without incurring guilt (vv. 26-28).

The death of the high priest brought freedom to those who had escaped to the cities of refuge. They could no longer be harmed by the avenger of blood. The death of our Great High Priest frees us from the condemning demands of the Law. How foolish this stipulation would be if one failed to see in it a symbol of the work of our Lord at the Cross!

“According to the rabbis, in order to aid the fugitive it was the business of the Sanhedrin to keep the roads leading to the cities of refuge in the best possible repair. No hills were left, every river was bridged, and the road itself was to be at least thirty-two cubits broad. At every turn were guideposts bearing the word Refuge; and two students of the law were appointed to accompany the fleeing man, to pacify, if possible, the avenger, should he overtake the fugitive.”64

As for the symbolic teaching, the people of Israel are the manslayer, having put the Messiah to death. Yet they did it ignorantly (Acts 3:17). The Lord Jesus prayed, “…they know not, what they do” (Luke 23:34). Just as the manslayer was displaced front his own home and had to live in the city of refuge, so Israel has been living in exile ever since. The nation’s complete restoration to its possession will take place, not at the death of the Great, High Priest (for He can never die), but when He comes to reign.

Capital punishment was decreed for murderers; there was no escape or satisfaction (vv. 30, 31). Blood that was shed in murder defiled the land, and such blood demanded the death of the murderer (vv. 33, 34). Think of this in connection with the death of Christ!

Chapter 36

Representatives of the half-tribe of Manasseh who settled in Gilead, east of the Jordan, came to Moses with a problem (see Num. 27:1-11). If the daughters of Zelophehad married men belonging to another tribe, their property would pass to the other tribe. The Year of Jubilee would finalize the transfer to the other tribe (v. 4). The solution was that those women who inherited land should marry in their own tribe, and thus there would be no transfers of land from one tribe to another (vv. 5-11). The daughters of Zelophehad obeyed by marrying in the tribe of Manasseh (vv. 10-12). Verse 13 summarizes the section from chapter 26.

Three things stand out in this book: first, the consistent wickedness and unbelief of the human-heart: second, the holiness of Jehovah, tempered with His mercy; third, the man of God (Moses) who stands as a mediator and intercessor between the sinful people and a holy God.

The human heart has not changed since Numbers was written. Neither has the holiness or mercy of God. But Moses has been replaced by his antitype, the Lord Jesus Christ. In Him we have strength to avoid the sins that characterized Israel, and thus avoid the displeasure of God which they incurred. In order to profit from what we have studied we must realize that “these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction” (I Cor. 10:11 NASB).

54 George Williams, The Student’s Commentary on the Holy Scriptures, p. 80.

55 C. F. Keil and F. Delitzsch, Bible Commentary on the Old Testament, Vol. III, The Pentateuch, p. 25.

56 George Williams, op. cit., p. 82.

57 Quoted by John W. Haley, Alleged Discrepancies of the Bible, p. 431.

58 C. F. Keil and F. Delitzsch, op. cit., p. 81.

59 George Williams, op. cit., p. 88.

60 J. G. Mantle, Better Things, pagination unavailable.

61 G. Campbell Morgan, Searchlights from the Word, pp. 47-48.

62 Matthew Henry, The Matthew Henry Commentary, p. 163.

63 Samuel Ridout, further documentation unavailable.

64 Merrill F. Unger, Unger’s Bible Dictionary, p. 208.