Lesson 2 of 6
In Progress

Outline of Numbers

1. The Camp at Sinai (Numbers 1:1-10:10)

In the second year after the Exodus, Israel remains encamped in the Sinai wilderness, where they have been since the third month after their departure from Egypt (Exodus 19:1). A census is taken and the arrangement of the camp is described, along with the duties of the priests and legislation to ensure holiness. The tabernacle is dedicated, and Passover is celebrated.

A. The First Census and the Ordering of the Camp (Numbers 1:1-2:34)

God orders the Israelites to take a census, numbering “everyone in Israel able to go to war.” The people camp by “regiments,” each group facing the tabernacle in the center of the encampment.

B. The Duties of the Levites (Numbers 3:1-4:49)

The Levites, not included in the first census because of their priestly responsibilities, are now numbered and assigned their duties. The Levites are accepted by God as “substitutes” for all firstborn males, who belong to the Lord because God spared them in the Exodus.

C. Measures to Prevent Defilement (Numbers 5:1-6:27)

Measures are taken to prevent the defilement of the camp by unclean individuals and those who wrong others or commit infidelity. Vows are instituted for those who choose to be especially dedicated or consecrated to God for a temporary period (“Nazirites”). This section closes with the familiar Aaronic benediction.

D. Consecration of the Tabernacle and the Levites (Numbers 7:1-8:26)

The leaders of the tribes bring lavish offerings for the dedication of the tabernacle. The Levites are cleansed and consecrated for service at the tent of meeting.

E. Celebration of Passover and Final Preparations (Numbers 9:1-10:10)

Israel celebrates the first Passover in the wilderness (the second overall, following the first Passover in Exodus 12-13) and makes final preparations to resume the Exodus journey that had been interrupted by the two-year stop at Sinai.

2. The March to Moab (Numbers 10:11-22:1)

A. The Departure (Numbers 10:11-36)

The people set out in stages, journeying first from the wilderness of Sinai to the wilderness of Paran.

B. A Wilderness of Death (Numbers 11:1-19:22)

The journey is marked by conflict among the people and murmuring against God, which results in God’s announcement that none of the generation that experienced the Exodus will survive to enter the promised land.

  • Murmuring and Jealousy (Numbers 11:1-12:16)
    • The people complain against God, and God appoints 70 elders to assist Moses in “bearing the burden” of the people. God gives the people quail to eat, but they continue to complain. Miriam and Aaron are jealous of Moses’ leadership.
  • Spies and Rebellion (Numbers 13:1-14:45)
    • Moses sends men to “spy out” the land of Canaan. They find a wealth of produce but bring an unfavorable report because of their fear of the inhabitants. The people rebel at this news, and God announces that none of them will survive to reach the new land. They will wander in the wilderness for 40 years (one generation).
  • Offerings Prescribed (Numbers 15:1-41)
    • An interlude in which various offerings and rituals are described.
  • Rebellion against the Leaders (Numbers 16:1-18:7)
    • The people rebel against Moses and Aaron, and thousands die. Aaron’s priesthood is confirmed.
  • Priests and Purification (Numbers 18:8-19:22)
    • God prescribes compensation for the priests and provides a complex process of purification, involving the ashes of a red heifer, for those who come in contact with a dead body.

C. Leaving the Wilderness (Numbers 20:1-22:1)

According to one tradition, the 40 years in the wilderness are now past, and the survivors resume the journey. In frustration, Moses and Aaron doubt God and, as punishment, will be denied access to the Promised Land. After Aaron’s death, the final murmuring story involves death from poisonous snakes. The journey continues, and the people arrive at Moab.

3. The Camp on the Plains of Moab (Numbers 22:2-36:13)

Along with a shift in geographical setting (from the wilderness to the plains of Moab) comes a shift in outlook: with the passing of the earlier generation, a new census is called for. Though new threats present themselves (especially the Midianites), the long-awaited objective is now in view.

A. Balaam Blesses Israel (Numbers 22:2-24:25)

King Balak of Moab, wary of Israel’s size and strength, summons Balaam, a diviner known for his ability to bless and curse, to curse Israel. God, however, intervenes, using even a talking donkey to make Balaam see things in a different way. The curse desired by Balak becomes a blessing instead.

B. The Consequences of Foreign Entanglements (Numbers 25:1-18)

At Shittim, Israel succumbs to the temptation to engage in sexual relations with the women of Moab and to worship the local deity, the Baal of Peor. Phinehas slays an Israelite man along with his Midianite partner, which is seen to turn away God’s wrath.

C. A New Census (Numbers 26:1-65)

The plagues and deaths of the wilderness have done their work. The old generation is gone, and it is time for a new census in preparation for entry into the land.

D. Land, Offerings, and Vows (Numbers 27:1-30:16)

Laws are made to allow women’s inheritance, Joshua is appointed to succeed Moses, and various offerings and vows are described.

E. War against Midian and the Settlement of Transjordan (Numbers 31:1-32:42)

Israel defeats Midian in a battle described in the language of holy war. This opens the eastern side of the Jordan for settlement.

F. The Stages of Israel’s Journey from Egypt (Numbers 33:1-49)

These verses present a recapitulation of the several stages of Israel’s wilderness journeying.

G. Occupying the Land (Numbers 33:50-36:13)

In preparation for entering the land of Canaan, Israel receives instructions about the conquest, information about the boundaries, and various laws that will apply.