Overview of Numbers
and Study of Numbers 1-2

February 7th

Produced by The Listening for God Ministry
Copyright 2016


The book of Numbers is the fourth of the five books of the Pentateuch, all of which are assumed to have been written by Moses. In the previous books of Genesis and Exodus, we read about the creation of the universe, the growth of the descendants of Abraham who become the millions of Israelites enslaved in Egypt who eventually escaped.

We then read in Leviticus about the Israelites first few years in the desert following that escape and learned how God had instructed them regarding rules for living together and worshipping him, including the establishment of a mobile tabernacle. All of these instructions were designed to help Israel become a nation that would be a shining light to the world, which is part of the greater narrative of the Bible.

The book of Numbers describes the next phase of the experience of the Israelites in the desert. It records their prolonged journey from the foot of Mount Sinai to the plains of Moab on the east side of the Jordan, which may have been about 300 miles if they walked directly there, but it took them 40 years to travel an indirect route because of their lack of faith. The events in the book are estimated to have taken place between 1450 B.C. and 1410 B.C.

We will see many mini-narratives in the book of Numbers that support the bigger story. The main themes in Numbers include God's covenant loyalty to Israel, through whom he will fulfill his promise to Abraham that his descendants would inherit the Promised Land of Canaan. God had provided the victory over Egypt, but this time he expects the Israelites to participate in the conquest. Therefore, he has them conduct a census of able-bodied men and instructs them regarding preparation of a military force to conquer the Promised Land. However, the people lost faith in Godís protection, got impatient and rebelled on a number of occasions, which was a contributing factor to their prolonged existence in the desert. By the end of Numbers they will have arrived near to the Promised Land, ready to conquer as the LORD promised specific areas of land to the next generation from each of the tribes.

The original title of the book in Hebrew was Bendibar, which means "in the desert." This is an applicable title given that it describes the final years of the wandering Israelites' time in the desert. However, in the first Greek rendition, which was part of the Septuagint written in the second century B.C., the title was Arithmoi, which translated to Numbers in English. Presumably, the Greek translators used this title because it begins with a census (1). It could be nicknamed Grumblers, because the people spent more time counting their problems and fears as opposed to counting their blessings.

While reading this book we will observe many numbers that tell this story:

Our study will be divided into five major sections of Numbers(2), each of which will be further divided into daily studies, as shown below:

References used for the analysis of this book includes the following

Numbers 1-2 (The First Census)

Please refer to one or more Bible versions of your choice to read this section. We recommend that you read at least two versions for added understanding. For your convenience, we have provided six links below, each of which takes you directly to today's chapters in a specific version:

Key Verses

Moses and Aaron took these men whose names had been specified, and they called the whole community together on the first day of the second month. The people registered their ancestry by their clans and families, and the men twenty years old or more were listed by name, one by one.

- Numbers 1:17-18 (NIV)

Summary of Chapters

In these first two chapters, God tells Moses to take a census and instructs him on where each tribe should camp. Chapter 1 begins with the instructions from God on how to conduct the first census:

There are twelve tribes in the census. The tribe of Joseph had been split into two: Ephraim and Manasseh (the two sons of Joseph). This split would have resulted in thirteen tribes, but the tribe of Levi was not part of the census because they were designated as priests and were exempt from military service. Chapter 2 describes the way the LORD wanted each tribe to camp around the Tent of the Meeting:

This arrangement provided a protective zone around this Holy space and made it the center of their encampment.

Reflection and Application

The census was conducted for the benefit of Moses and the people to help them prepare for their next stage of existence. The men of military age were counted so that Moses and the other leaders could prepare for battles to acquire the Promised Land. God did not need the census for his own purposes because he knows every person - even every hair on every head. The assignment of specific parts of the camp for each tribe was a foreshadowing of the assignment of permanent areas of land for each tribe that we shall read about later in Numbers.

When we are at a crossroads it's important for us to take a census of our assets, relationships, etc., so that we can plan and prepare. But at the same time, we should trust that God knows our resources and true needs and will provide for us accordingly. When we organize our lives it's important that we place God at the center, just like the Israelites had the mobile Tabernacle as the center of their camp.

Questions and Prayers for Further Reflection

    Related Questions
    1. What was your response to the latest census in your country?
    2. What would an accounting of your resources look like today?
    3. How does God want you to use those resources?
    Recommended Prayer
    Father, please help us to center our lives around you and use our resources to serve you.

    Suggested Prayer Concerns
    Those who work in government offices


    (1) Abegg, Martin Jr., Flint Peter, and Ulrich, Eugene; The Dead Sea Scrolls Bible, HarperCollins Publishers, NY, NY, 1999, p.108
    (2) Life Application Study Bible, New International Version, Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, M; 1991, p.213

    Looking Ahead

    Tomorrow's reading:Numbers 3-4 (Instructions for Levites)

    Comments and Questions
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