This book covers thirty eight years in the history of Israel: the period of desert wandering in the Sinai peninsula. It begins two years after the Exodus and ends on the eve of entry into Canaan. The title comes from the census (numbering) as mentioned in the first chapter.


1. A census is to be taken. Its purpose is to list men over twenty years old for military service. Numbers 1:1-46.
2. Levites, by virtue of their other duties were not included. They had to look after the tabernacle. Numbers 1:47-54.
3. The order of the Tribes. When the tribes moved, the three eastern tribes led by Judah, led the way. Then the Gershonites and Merarites carrying the tabernacle, then Reuben, Simeon and Gad, followed by the Kohathites with the ‘Holy Things’. The northern tribes, Dan, Asher and Naphtali bring up the rear. Numbers 2:1-34.
4. God chooses the Levites to care for the Tabernacle instead of the firstborn of all Israel. Numbers 3:1-51.
5. The Levitical familes are assigned the duties. The Kohathites are responsible for carrying sacred objects. Numbers 4:1-20.
6. The Gershonites are in charge of transporting the curtains and covering of the tabernacle. Numbers 4:21-28.
7. The Merarites are to look after the framework, pillars, pegs, cords which are used for the covering of the tabernacle. Numbers 4:29-33.
8. The numbering of the Levite clans. Numbers 4:34-49.
9. Rules regarding the purity of the camp and a test for an unfaithful wife. Trials by ordeal for suspected infidelity were not uncommon in ancient times. It is not clear whether the water contained some herb which would induce miscarriage if the women were guilty and pregnant, or whether it worked simply by psychological suggestion. Numbers 5:1-31.
10. The Nazirites. They are men or women who make a special vow of separation to the Lord. They must abstain from wine; not cut their hair; and take special care not to have contact with a dead body. Numbers 6:1-21.
11. The Lord tells Moses how Aaron and his sons are to bless the Israelites. Numbers 6:22-27.
12. The twelve tribes bring their offerings to the tabernacle. Numbers 7:1-89.
13. Setting up the lamps. Numbers 8:1-4. B.C.
14. Setting Apart of the Levites. Numbers 8:5-26.
15. Rules about the Passover. No-one may opt out. But absentees and others ritually unclean may observe the feast a month later. Numbers 9:1-14.
16. The Cloud above the Tabernacle. Cloud by day and fire by night give a clear sign of the Lord’s presence. When the cloud lifts they move on. Numbers 9:15-23.
17. The silver trumpets. Used to call the presence of the leaders of the whole community and to signal when the whole community is to move off. Numbers 10:1-10.
18. About three weeks after the census they leave Mount Sinai. Moses’ brother-in-law goes with them as a guide. Numbers 10:11-36.
19. The people complain and the Lord’s anger is aroused. He sends quails to satisfy their hunger. But some of the people are struck with a severe plague and die. Numbers 11:1-35.
20. Miriam and Aaron Oppose Moses. They complain about his marriage to a Cushite woman but their real complaint is his position. Miriam must have been the instigator as she alone is punished by God by being made leprous. Aaron pleads with Moses and he, with God, to cure the leprosy. Miriam is confined outside the camp for seven days then she is cured. Numbers 12:1-15.
21. They move to the area of Haxoreth where they spend most of the next thirty eight years. Numbers 12:16.
22. Moses sends spies to explore the land. On their return the people listen to those bringing tales of doom rather than the one who suggest that the Israelites should go and take possession of the land. (From Deuteronomy 1:19-46 it seems that Moses intended to go straight on into the promised land. No doubt he afterwards wished he had.) Numbers 13:1-33; 14:1-45.
23. Various laws concerning offerings to be made after the conquest of Canaan. Numbers 15:1-31.
24. A Sabbath-breaker put to death. A man was found collecting wood on the Sabbath. The Lord commands that he should be stoned to death. Numbers 15:32-36.
25. Tassels on garments. (This is indicative of the extremely meticulous way the Israelites lived.) Numbers 15:37-41.
26. Another rebellion which God deals with by the death of all those involved. Numbers 16:1-50. B.C.
27. The Lord makes Aaron’s staff to bud and blossom in order to show that Aaron is his chosen priest and thereby stop further rebellions. Numbers 17:1-13.
28. Rules regarding the Duties of Priests and Levites and Offerings for Priests and Levites. Numbers 18:1-32.
29. Rules regarding the Purification Ritual. Numbers 19:1-22.
30. Water from the Rock. The Lord tells Moses to take Aaron’s staff and strike a rock. Water does not immediately flow so Moses strikes the rock a second time. This ‘doubt’ costs Moses’ entrance to the promised land. Numbers 20:1-13.
31. Edom Denies Israel Passage. Numbers 20:14-21.
32. Aaron dies. Numbers 20:22-29.
33. Arad Destroyed. The Canaanite king of Arad attacks the Israelites but is defeated. The place of the defeat is named Hormah which means ‘destruction’. Numbers 21:1-3.
34. The Bronze Snake. Once again the people grumble about the food and the lack of water. In his anger the Lord sends venomous snakes which bite them and many die. Moses prays for the people and the Lord tells him to fashion a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. When people are bitten they must look at the snake and they will not die. Numbers 21:4-9. (See Supplement Two – Page 167 – Paragraph 9.)
35. The journey to Moab and the defeat of Sihon and Og. Having defeated Sihon and Og the Israelites take over their lands. Numbers 21:10-35.
36. The Israelites are camped on the border of King Balak’s country. Due to their vast numbers and their recent conquests he fears them. King Balak sends messengers to a diviner, Balaam, asking for his help. Eventually Balaam goes to the King but only after intervention by an angel. Balaam speaks four oracles but each time blesses Israel as God has commanded him to do. Numbers 22:1-41; 23:1-30 & 24:1-25.
37. Moab seduces Israel. On Balaam’s advice the local Moabite women seduce the Israelite men and they are encouraged to make sacrifices to Moab gods. This idolatry angers the Lord. This sin cost the lives of twenty four thousand Israelites who are put to death. Numbers 25:1-18.
38. The second census. Once again the purpose of the census is to list men over twenty one years old for military service. Numbers 26:1-65.
39. Zelophehad’s daughters. The right of daughters to inherit. Numbers 27:1-11.
40. Joshua to succeed Moses. Numbers 27:12-23. B.C.
41. Rules for Daily, Sabbath and Monthly offerings, and Rules for the Passover, Feast of Weeks, Feast of Trumpets, Day of Atonement, Feast of Tabernacles and Vows. Numbers 28:1-31; 29:1-40 & 30:1-16.
42. Vengeance on the Midianites. The Lord tells Moses to go into battle against the Midianites for having induced Israelite men to worship false gods. They do so and slaughter them all including the diviner Balaam. (Hence his just reward for suggesting that the Moabite women seduce the Israelites.) Numbers 31:1-24.
43. Dividing the spoils of battle. Numbers 31:25-54.
44. The Transjordan Tribes. Reuben & Gad and half the tribe of Manasseh request that they may settle their tribes east of the Jordan. Moses agrees provided they keep their promise to help the Israelites gain the promised land. Numbers 32:1-42.
45. A detail of the Israelites journey from Egypt. Also a warning from the Lord as to how they should clear the land of any former inhabitants when they take over the promised land. Numbers 33:1-56.
46. The Lord gives Moses details of the boundaries of the promised land; towns to be given to the Levites and cities of refuge. Also details of how to deal with murderers. Numbers 34:1-29 & 35:1-34.
47. Inheritance of Zelophehad’s daughters. If the daughters marry then they must do so within their own tribe so that their inheritance will not be lost to the tribe. Numbers 36:1-13.