Book Summaries

The 4th book of the Pentateuch, called in Hebrew Bemidbar, "In the wilderness," the opening word of the book in the Hebrew text. "Numbers" comes from the Latin Numeri, its title in the Vulgate, which translated the Septuagint title Arithmoi. As one of the 5 books of the Pentateuch, Numbers is traditionally attributed to Moses. Numbers takes up the narrative of Hebrew history at the wilderness of Sinai on the 1st day of the 2nd month of the 2nd year of the Exodus (Num 1:1), a month after the account in Exodus closed with the erection of the tabernacle (Ex 40:2, 16). The intervening month was apparently devoted to the inauguration of the sanctuary service as outlined in the book of Leviticus. Numbers traces the experiences of the children of Israel throughout the remaining 38 years of their wilderness wanderings to their last encampment in the plains of Moab, across the river Jordan from Jericho (Num 33:49, 50).

The book opens with a census of the people taken at Sinai and a description of the camp arrangement and the order of march (Num 1; 2). The Levitical organisation is next described in detail, and the duties of the Levites while on the march are given (chs 3; 4). Chapters 5 and 6 pertain to the exclusion of unclean persons from the camp, to certain offerings, and set forth regulations for the Nazirite vow. The sanctuary service is inaugurated (chs 7; 8), and the Passover celebrated (ch 9:1 ­14). The departure from Mount Sinai and the 1st journey are described in chs 9:15 to 10:36. Chapter 11 recounts the murmuring and rebellion of the people at Taberah and Kibroth-hattaavah. Miriam and Aaron revolt against Moses, but God signally justifies him as the leader of Israel (ch 12). Arriving at Kadesh-barnea, 12 spies are sent to spy out the land of Canaan preparatory to invasion (ch 13), but an unfavourable report leads to rebellion and the decision to return to Egypt (ch 14). This was the 10th occasion on which the people had rebelled, and the Lord ordained that this generation should die in the wilderness, to which He restricted them for the next 38 years. Miscellaneous offerings and regulations are discussed in ch 15. In chs 16 and 17 the revolt led by Korah and his co-conspirators against the Aaronic priesthood is described in detail, and also the miracle of the budding of Aaron's rod as an attestation of Aaron's priestly leadership. Chapters 18 and 19 contain further religious regulations. Toward the close of the 40 years in the wilderness the people set out from Kadesh-barnea, one of their chief places of encampment during the 38 years. They make a circuit of the land of Edom preparatory to entering Canaan from the east. Chapter 20 records Edom's insolence in refusing Israel permission to cross its territory and relates the death of Aaron. Deliverance from a plague of fiery serpents and conquest of territory to the east of Jordan are recorded in Num 21. Israel is now encamped on the steppes of Moab east of the Jordan, and in chs 22 to 24 Balak, king of Moab, seeks vainly through Balaam to curse Israel, but through immorality and idolatry is successful in subverting several thousand Israelites (ch 25). A 2nd census is taken, showing a slight decrease in population (ch 26). The law of inheritance is modified (ch 27:1 ­11), and Joshua is appointed as successor of Moses (vs. 12 ­23). Chapters 28 to 31 contain certain additions to the religious laws and report the defeat of Midian. The settlement of the 21/2 tribes east of the Jordan is recorded in ch 32. Chapter 33:1 ­49 lists the camp sites from Egypt to the Jordan. Final arrangements are made for the occupation of Canaan (chs 33; 34), and for Levitical cities and cities of refuge (ch 35). The last chapter (36) deals with the marriage of heiresses who wish to inherit their father's property.

Horn, Siegfried H., Seventh-day Adventist Bible Dictionary, (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association) 1979.