1. Title. Numbers forms the fourth book of the Pentateuch, as the five books of Moses are called. The title “Numbers” comes by derivation from the LXX title Arithmoi, through the Latin Numeri, of which “Numbers” is a translation. The Hebrews called the book Bemidbar, “in the wilderness.”
2. Authorship. The classic belief of the majority of believers in all ages is that the books of the Pentateuch are the handiwork of Moses. In Exodus we have the account of Moses’ early life, followed by his call, with the divine commission given to him, and his acceptance by the people as their leader. In Numbers he is portrayed as a mature leader. The stress and strain of the difficulties through which he passed with his people made him an instrument peculiarly fitted to record the history of those events. No other author has ever been disclosed who could have written the Pentateuch. The name of Moses as its author must stand.
3. Historical setting. The value of the book of Numbers is not least in that it records in much detail the nomadic period of the history of Israel, a story that stirs the faith of every true believer today. Through this unbiased record we become acquainted with the life and fortunes of the Hebrew people under Moses. This gifted author selected his material and arranged it under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Moses was a worthy narrator of the history and character of the Hebrew people, as well as a capable leader, who under God brought them into a coherent religious unity that time and distress could not dissolve. Thus in the book of Numbers we have an inspired narrative, the historic credibility of which cannot be lightly cast aside.
The text of the book has been standardized. It is written in what are really the old Hebrew characters, and represents the text much as it existed around 330 b.c. It appears to have suffered comparatively little from simple errors of transcription. The variations in certain manuscripts are few, and of no particular importance. Such dates as scholars may assign to any sources that Moses may have used under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit could at best be only tentative and approximate.
4. Theme. The preceding books of the Pentateuch carry on the narrative of the history of Israel’s ancestors from the creation, and continue through the captivity in Egypt and the Exodus to the sojourn at Sinai, where the book of Exodus leaves the Israelites. Numbers opens at Sinai with the census of the adult males, adds further regulations beyond those enumerated in Leviticus, traces the march from Sinai, the wanderings in the wilderness, to the arrival on the steppes of Moab, and ends with a group of regulations.
It is a living book that has ministered to the spiritual life of men throughout history. Its principal objective is to exalt Jehovah as supreme God, in all His holiness, majesty, and care for His chosen people. With the wonderful progress of the chosen people there is the rebellion of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram, with their selfish motives and aims. In the background are the people murmuring, manifesting a lack of patience. Prominently set forth are Moses, Miriam and Aaron, Balaam, the sons of Aaron, religious leaders with their strong and weak points. The record closes with the supremacy of Moses as God’s chosen leader of His people.
The dwelling of Jehovah in the midst of His people, His careful planning for them in detail, the poignant events in connection with outstanding individuals, priests and Levites as a divinely appointed cordon formed “that there be no wrath upon the congregation,” all contribute to a splendid portrayal in vivid narrative of the deepest religious value to the church today, a narrative that rests upon the historical fact of the dwelling of God among His people.
I. Preparation for the March, 1:1 to 4:49
A. Camp organization, 1:1 to 2:34.
1. The numbering of Israel, 1:1–46.
2. Orders about the Levites, 1:47–54.
3. Camping order of the tribes, 2:1–34.
B. Levitical organization, 3:1 to 4:49.
1. The priestly family, 3:1–4.
2. Dedication of the Levites for the first-born, 3:5–51.
3. Duties of the Levites on the march, 4:1–49.
II. Statement of the Levitical Legislation, 5:1 to 6:27.
A. Miscellaneous religious regulations, 5:1 to 6:21.
1. The exclusion of the unclean, 5:1–4.
2. Laws of recompense and of offerings, 5:5–10.
3. The trial of jealousy, 5:11–31.
4. The Nazirite vow, 6:1–21.
B. The priestly benediction, 6:22–27.
III. The Setting Up of the Tabernacle. The Incident at Kadesh, 7:1 to 14:45.
A. Inaugurating the sanctuary service, 7:1 to 9:14.
1. Offerings of the princes at the dedication, 7:1–88.
2. The voice in the sanctuary, 7:89.
3. The lamps in the tabernacle, 8:1–4.
4. Consecration of the Levites, 8:5–26.
5. The second Passover, 9:1–14.
B. The departure from Sinai, 9:15 to 10:36.
1. The cloud over the tabernacle, 9:15–23.
2. The silver trumpets, 10:1–10.
3. The order of march, 10:11–28.
4. The invitation to Hobab, 10:29–32.
5. The first journey, 10:33–36.
C. Murmuring and rebellion, 11:1 to 14:45.
1. Sin at Taberah, 11:1–3.
2. Sin at Kibroth-hattaavah, 11:4–35.
3. Sin of Miriam and Aaron, 12:1–16.
4. Mission of the spies, 13:1–33.
5. Rebellion of the people, 14:1–45.
IV. Sections of Levitical Legislation, 15:1–41.
A. Offerings, 15:1–31.
1. Law of burnt offerings, and freewill offerings, first fruits, 15:1–21.
2. Law of trespass offerings, and presumptuous sins, 15:22–31.
B. Miscellaneous regulations, 15:32–41.
1. The Sabbathbreaker, 15:32–36.
2. Law of fringes, 15:37–41.
V. The Revolt Against the Aaronic Priesthood, 16:1 to 17:13.
A. Rebellion of Korah and its suppression, 16:1–50.
B. The rod of Aaron, which budded, 17:1–13.
VI. Additions to the Law, 18:1 to 19:22.
A. The charge and rewards of priests and Levites, 18:1–32.
B. Law of the red heifer, and the pollution of death, 19:1–22.
VII. Events of the Final Journey, 20:1 to 22:1.
A. From Kadesh to Transjordan, 20:1 to 21:9.
1. The water of strife, 20:1–13.
2. The insolence of Edom, 20:14–21.
3. The death of Aaron, 20:22–29.
4. King Arad, 21:1–3.
5. The brazen serpent, 21:4–9.
B. Approaching Canaan, 21:10 to 22:1.
1. Final marches and first victories, 21:10–32.
2. Conquest of Og, 21:33 to 22:1.
VIII. Events in the Steppes of Moab, 22:2 to 27:23.
A. The Story of Balaam, 22:2 to 24:25.
1. The coming of Balaam, 22:2–38.
2. The prophecies of Balaam, 22:39 to 24:25.
B. Closing events of Moses’ life, 25:1 to 27:23.
1. Sin and atonement at Shittim, 25:1–18.
2. Second census of Israel, 26:1–65.
3. Request of Zelophehad’s daughters, 27:1–11.
4. Joshua succeeds Moses, 27:12–23.
IX. Additions to the Law, 28:1 to 30:16.
A. The yearly routine of sacrifice, 28:1 to 29:40.
B. Law of vows made by women, 30:1–16.
X. Victories East of Jordan, 31:1 to 32:42.
A. Defeat of Midian, 31:1–54.
B. Settlement of the two and a half tribes, 32:1–42.
XI. The Itinerary From Ramses to Jordan, 33:1–49.
XII. Final Instructions, 33:50 to 36:13.
A. Arrangements relating to the land of Canaan, 33:50 to 34:29.
1. The law of possession of the Holy Land, 33:50–56.
2. Boundaries of the Holy Land, 34:1–15.
3. Allotment of inheritances, 34:16–29.
B. Arrangements relating to cities, 35:1–34.
1. Cities for the Levites, 35:1–8.
2. Cities of refuge, 35:9–34.
C. The marriage of heiresses, 36:1–13.