Introduction to Numbers

How to Prepare as a Teacher

Here are some steps to help you to prepare for your teachings each week:

STEP #1: Copy and paste your Scripture into a Word document

As you prepare for your teaching, copy and paste all of your chapters into a Word document. You will eventually send this out to the group, so that we can all read from the same document. We suggest using the NIV or NLT for the Old Testament. The NASB is a little too choppy and literal for narrative.

STEP #2: Cut, cut, cut!

We are going to fly through the Old Testament quickly. Therefore, each teacher will be covering massive amounts of Scripture each week. This means that they will need to massively cut down on the verses listed in their section. Ask yourself: Which verses are absolutely necessary to read in order to get the main point of these ten chapters? This is the teacher’s prerogative. Hopefully, you can cut down the verse count, so that the guys aren’t reading ten chapters in a sitting. This would take over an hour, and we wouldn’t have time to discuss anything! Your job as the teacher is to determine what is important to read and what can be cut. Of course, encourage the guys to read the entire passage of Scripture on their own. Utilize the chapter summaries below. These will prove useful in skipping over certain chapters that aren’t necessary to cover in your teaching.

Feel free to add pictures, charts, etc. into this handout that will help guide the study.

STEP #3: Study up on your problem passages and theology.

I am going to address any major problem passages in our section on my website. I suggest reading up on these there, or read a good text on Bible difficulties somewhere else (e.g. Norman Geisler, Walter Kaiser, Gleason Archer). The point is that we should have already read on these difficult passages in advance—just in case the guys raise a question.

STEP #4: Listen to a teaching on your passage (OPTIONAL).

You can also listen to Chuck Smith’s teaching on your passage, if you want to hear his take on things, which is generally very good. His teachings are free to download on Calvary Chapel’s website. We think this is optional, because we don’t want this to turn into a topical study. We want exegesis of the passage, first and foremost.

Teaching Format

We feel that this teaching format helps the guys to engage with the text for themselves the best. By the time this study is over, we hope to have taught them the Old Testament, but more importantly, we hope to have taught them how to read the Bible for themselves. This format helps the guys to interpret properly, work through difficult passages, and most importantly apply the Bible to their lives.

1. Recap the Past (2 minutes)

Where are we in the story of the Bible? Where are we in salvation history? Help the guys connect to the previous several weeks.

2. Tell the Story (3 minutes)

Open up the teaching by telling the story of your entire passage. Explain the story from beginning to end. Feel free to ruin the ending. Try and be as entertaining and engaging as possible in narrating the story.

3. Read the passage (20-30 minutes)

Break down the passage into short sections. This could be broken up by chapters or even smaller sections if necessary. As you read the passage as a group, ask the guys to look for two things:

God: What can we learn about God in this passage of Scripture? Which passages support this?

The main characters: What can we learn about the main characters from this story? Who are the people of faith? Who are the unbelieving? What can we learn about them?

As we noted above, make sure to skip certain verses that are repetitive if necessary. You can summarize these verses with a statement like, “In this section, Moses goes back home and speaks to Aaron about ________. Okay, let’s jump down to the next chapter.”

4. Theology

Now that we’ve read our passage, was there anything that you wanted more explanation of?

Were there any problem passages that you needed to harmonize?

5. Application

Now that we have interpreted this passage, how does it affect you in your walk with Christ? (Teachers: refrain from giving the application… Instead, ask the group to give the answer)

[This will be our basic format for each week…]

Week 1: Numbers 1-10

Numbers 1: Census Taken

The Jews had been out of Egypt for over a year at this point (1:1). God commands that they take a census (1:2), and they come up with a 600,000 person group (1:46). Levi’s tribe wasn’t counted (1:47), because they were in charge of the Tabernacle (1:50).

Numbers 2: The Tabernacle and More Census

Why was the Tabernacle in the direct middle of the camp? (2:2) The text says explicitly that the people followed God’s commands precisely (2:34).

Numbers 3: The Levites were a Substitute for the People

Aaron’s two sons—Nadab and Abihu—were killed by God because they offered strange fire to God (3:4). As we mentioned in Leviticus 10 (Lev. 10:1), this anecdote shows us that we need to approach God in his prescribed way—not ours. Later in the chapter, we read that anyone else who approached the Tabernacle in the wrong way would be put to death (3:38). Eleazar and Ithamar were Aaron’s surviving sons. The Levites are set apart here to be the priests of God, and they were in charge of the Tabernacle (3:7). While God demanded the firstborn of all the children and animals of Israel (3:13), he accepted the Levites as a substitute for all of the people (3:41, 45). Since Christ is our ultimate high priest, who substitutes for us (Heb. 9-10), perhaps this is already prefiguring what God would do through Christ.

Each tribe had different roles in carrying the materials of the Tabernacle.

Numbers 4: How to carry the Tabernacle & Ark

In this chapter, God delegates to the Levites how to carry the Taberacle and the Ark of the Covenant. There were three clans within in the Levites who were responsible for this: (1) the Kohathites, (2) the Gershonites, and (3) the Merarites. Each were given different responsibility.

The Kohathites were a subdivision of the Levites. Moses had to pick men who were 30 to 50 years old (4:3). They must have wanted fully grown and mature men to be responsible for the Ark of the Covenant. They also had to carry the Ark with poles (4:6). This description for carrying the Ark is very precise and detailed, going on for a dozen verses. God is very clear that if they touch or look into the Ark directly that they will die (4:15, 20). Aaron’s son—Eleazar—was to be in charge of this whole process (4:16). When the Philistines stole the Ark of the Covenant, and it caused boils in their people (1 Sam. 5:5). Also, later, the Israelites were transporting the Ark, when the oxen upset it. Instead of letting it fall over, Uzzah reached for the Ark to keep it from falling, and “God struck him down there for his irreverence” (2 Sam. 6:7).

The Gershonites were to carry the Tabernacle (4:25). Aaron and his two sons were supposed to supervise them (4:27).

The Merarites were to carry the frames of the Tabernacle (4:31). They were also under the supervision of Aaron and his sons (4:31).

The chapter ends by Moses and Aaron counting all of these clans.

The Tabernacle was designed to be portable—not stationary like a Temple. When the cloud of God’s presence moved, they moved (see Num. 9:15-17).

Numbers 5: Laws for Leprosy, wrongdoing, and Adultery

Those with infectious skin diseases were sent outside of the camp of Israel (5:1-4). As we argued earlier (see under “leprosy”), this probably was due to the fact that God wanted to quarantine their disease from the rest of the people.

God gives a law that the wrongdoer needs to give back a full amount—plus a fifth of the value on top of this (5/4 total). If there is no person to inherit this money, then it should be given to the priest—along with a sacrificial ram (5:5-10).

Consider reading our treatment of 5:11-31. This entire section offers a test for finding out an adulterer.

Numbers 6: The Nazarite Vow

This chapter explains the rules for the Nazarite vow. This was a vow taken by Samson (Judg. 13).

Numbers 7: Offerings from the People

Moses begins to accept offerings from the people of Israel to help out with the Tabernacle and the Ark of the Testimony. God had formerly commanded the people to steal from the Egyptians as they left slavery (Ex. 3:22). These were probably some of the spoils that they brought to serve in the Tabernacle. This is interesting to note, because the people also used this spoil to build the Golden Calf (Ex. 32)! This shows that our worldly money can be used for further God’s purposes or the world’s.

Another important observation here is the fact that God spoke to Moses from the mercy seat. Of course, Christ fulfills the symbolism of the Ark of the Testimony, pouring out his blood over the sins of the people, as the angels (cherubim) watch. This is why the text says that God spoke from the mercy seat (Num. 7:89).

Numbers 8: Lampstands and Levites

Aaron was supposed to set up the seven lampstands (8:1-4). Aaron was also supposed to perform a “wave offering” for the Levites, where he dedicated the Levites over to God (8:11-14). God repeats the fact that the Levites replace the firstborn of the Israelites that was taken (8:15-19). Levites needed to retire at the age of 50 (8:25).

Numbers 9: The Passover and Tabernacle

The beginning of this chapter is about the importance of celebrating the Passover supper (9:1-14; c.f. Ex. 12:1-22). It gives stipulations for people who are travelling and even the foreign, Gentile who was in Israel. If they didn’t practice the Passover, they were cut off from the people. This could foreshadow the work of Christ (i.e. if a person doesn’t come to Christ, they are eternally cut off from God).

God directed the people by leading the portable Tabernacle with a fiery cloud above it (9:15-23). If it moved, then the people moved.

Numbers 10: The Trumpet

The trumpets were used for calling the community together to move (10:1-6). The Jews left Sinai to travel (10:11). All of the instructions for moving the Tabernacle and Ark are put into place. Hobab—one of Moses’ leaders—is already about to punk out (10:30). He decides to move along anyhow. Moses persuades him by relying on the promises of God.

Week 2: Numbers 11-14

Numbers 11: The People Complain and are Destroyed

The people are burned for complaining (11:1-3). They start to think back fondly on Egypt and all of the great food that they had (11:4-6), and they complain about the manna. It must have not tasted bland (11:7-9). Moses complains about how burdensome it is to lead the people of God (11:11). He feels like the burden of leadership is too much (11:14). God helps Moses by diversifying the leadership of Israel to 70 men (11:16-17). God also decides to give them what they asked for; it might be a case of “careful what you wish for” (11:18-20).

Moses mentions a “mixed multitude” (KJV 11:4). These are people that have one foot in the world and one foot out of the world. They aren’t in the world enough to enjoy the world, but they aren’t in with Christ enough to enjoy Christ. These people were lusting after the things in Egypt, and it spreads throughout the spiritual community.

One of the central problems with complaining is having a low view of God (11:23). Moses could foresee how awesome it would be if all believers had the Spirit and could prophesy (11:29).

The people grumble against God. Was this incited from Hobab in the previous chapter? Moses begins to really complain to God at the end of the chapter, telling him to kill him (11:15)! Why doesn’t God burn up Moses? What is different between him and the people complaining? Did he realize that Moses was genuinely overworked (11:17). This reminds me of the feeding of the 5,000 (Num. 11:19-20). God kills those that were craving their old life in Egypt (11:34).

Numbers 12: Attack against Moses

The people had formerly rebelled against Moses for his leadership direction. Now, Aaron and Miriam begin to attack Moses directly. Moses is called the most humble man on Earth (12:3). Because God had chosen Moses, they were judged for this with leprosy. God was giving a tangible, visible judgment to these two, demonstrating that they were not who he was choosing. Miriam might have been attacking Moses’ wife for being a Cushite. Allen writes, “Cush was the first son of Ham, the father of the southernmost peoples known to the Hebrews (Gen 10:6–7), living in the southern Nile valley (Ethiopia). It is possible that Moses’ wife, Zipporah, is intended by this phrase (see Exod 2:15–22). If so, then her foreign ancestry is attacked rhetorically by exaggeration. Perhaps her skin was more swarthy than the average person in Israel. Is it possible that the term “Cushite” was a slanderous term stemming from racism? We really do not know, as this text is not sufficiently clear, and we have no other analogies to assist us coming to a conclusion. So it is possible that the term “Cushite” is used by Miriam in contempt of Zipporah’s Midianite ancestry.”[1]

Numbers 13: The Spies and the Land

Moses sent one man from each tribe to perform reconnaissance on the land of Canaan (13:1-2). They checked out the land for 40 days (13:25). They came back and reported at Kadesh (13:26). The spies are intimidated at the people, because they are the descendents of Anak (v.28). Caleb was the only one to push for invading (13:30). The unbelieving spies spread stories (or exaggerations?) throughout the land, regarding the Nephilim (13:32-33). It’s possible that these faithless spies were exaggerating how bad the enemies really were, or they were not counting how powerful God is to rescue them from giants. Remember that the people were just recently saved from Pharaoh’s army. Note that a few unbelieving people can affect the entire group in a negative way. Many Christians, likewise, fail to enter into the blessings God has for them. They’re constantly in Romans 7, but never enter into Romans 8. Their walk becomes endurance—not enjoyment. The key here was faith (14:11).

Numbers 14: The People Listen to the Spies

The people rebel against Moses and Aaron’s leadership, yearning for Egypt (14:1-4). This must have spooked Moses, because he falls down before the people (v.5). These guys get an advocate in Joshua and Caleb (v.6). This might be a good principle on how we need advocates in leadership, rather than trying to do it all on our own. God intervenes before these leaders are stoned to death (v.10). This is a good principle of seeing God step in after we make a hard call—not before. Moses petitions so that the people are not destroyed instantly, and God listens. But the people are forbidden to go into the land (v.22)—specifically because of their faith (v.33). Joshua and Caleb are spared from this judgment because of their faith (v.30). God sets the time of their wandering because of the spies wandering of 40 days (v.34). The men who incited rebellion were instantly killed (v.36-37). The people try to take the land without God’s power behind them, and the Amalekites take them down. This shows the instability of the person who doesn’t have faith. They end up doing what God wants, but not for the right reasons. Thus God doesn’t empower them.

Week 3: Numbers 15-19

Numbers 15: Offerings for when the kids come in

God gives various prescriptions for animal and wine offerings (15:1-21). He also gives prescriptions for unintentional sins, which will be forgiven (15:22-29). Immediately afterward, God explains that some people are unable to be forgiven for intentional, defiant sins (15:30-31). As an object lesson, there is a short narrative afterward about a man being put to death for breaking the Sabbath, which shows that the man was immediately violating God’s command here (15:32-36). Finally, God tells them to have blue tassels on their clothes to remind them about God’s commands.

Numbers 16: Importance of Leadership (Korah’s Rebellion)

Korah—along with 250 others—lead a rebellion against Moses and Aaron. Korah was a Levite, and perhaps he felt that he should be the one in charge. He claims that the people were all holy, and there shouldn’t be leadership in the community of God (16:3). Moses sets up a test to determine who should be in charge (vv.4-7). Moses says that rebelling against him was really rebelling against God himself (v.11). As a result, God moves to destroy all of the Levites (vv.19-21). Moses intercedes and asks God to spare the followers of the cabal, and only kill Korah (v.22). God opens up the Earth to swallow Korah and his associates (v.32). God has the priest Eleazar pound out the censers of the rebels into a metal sheet that would cover the altar. It served as a visual symbol that God would only allow the sons of Aaron to run the Tabernacle (v.38). In other words, if you try to usurp God’s authority, you will end up like Korah! The very next day (v.41), the rest of the people came to accuse Moses of killing God’s people. God appears to defend Moses, and he moves to kill the people for this accusation (v.45). Aaron makes atonement for the people to stop the plague that God brings on them.

1. God defends and vindicates his leaders. As leaders, it often feels scary to be on your own. But God will vindicate us publicly.

2. God does delegate authority to human leaders. Rebelling against godly human authority is very sinful.

Numbers 17: Aaron’s Budding Staff

God gives another test to see who he is picking as a leader. Each tribe brought a staff to lie in the Tabernacle. Whichever staff budded would be the leader, and Aaron’s staff budded. God commanded that they put this in the Ark of the Covenant as a permanent reminder of God’s leadership. This might be that we don’t get to decide which leader we want to follow. If God anoints someone, then we have to follow him. The Jews in the first century were rebellious against God’s anointed, and the author of Hebrews was reminding them of this old biblical principle (Heb. 9:4). Interestingly, God uses this as a sign so that the people wouldn’t be judged (v.10), but they draw the complete opposite conclusion (vv.12-13).

Number 18: Strict Rules for Tabernacle Worship

God places the responsibility of the Tabernacle worship on Aaron’s descendents and the Levites (18:1-7). Breaking the rules is a capital offense (v.3, 7). God goes on to explain how the Levites will get a portion of the offerings for themselves. They were fed from the offerings, because they didn’t have land of their own (v.20). Moreover, he points out that the firstborn of human or animals belongs to the Levites. But they are redeemed for a certain amount of money (vv. 15-16).

Why is God so strict on the Tabernacle worship? Why just the Levites and no others? How does this prefigure Christ as high priest? The priests were fed by taking a portion of the sacrifices, but they were not allowed to own property. Why were they not allowed to own property? Was this so that they had to constantly live by faith in God’s provision? Was it so they couldn’t be biased in financial matters—only spiritual? Maybe God was trying to separate church and state here.

Numbers 19: The Red Heifer

They must slaughter and burn a red heifer (cow). Why does it need to be a RED heifer? Is this to show that it was a very rare and unique sacrifice? This was representative of the sins of the people. Anyone who touched any part of it needed to be ceremonially washed. They used the burnt ashes and mixed them with water to cleanse the people. Why does the death of this red heifer pay for the human sin of the people? This must show that sinfulness needs to be cleansed from the death of the animal. It also needs to be applied. Those who didn’t go through the purification were cut off from the community (v.20).

Week 4: Numbers 20-24

Numbers 20: Moses Strikes the Rock

Miriam dies here (v.1). How could the people rebel over this same exact issue (vv.2-3)? Why was Moses not allowed to go into the Promised Land? Moses was commanded to speak to the rock—not strike it as he had before (v.8). Why did Moses have to strike the rock twice (v.11)? The first time God didn’t honor it. It must have made Moses look pretty stupid. He may have known right then that he had messed up, as all the people were looking on. Because Moses didn’t trust God here, he wasn’t allowed to take the people into the Promised Land (v.12). This seems harsh. It may have been that God didn’t allow him to enter, because he was falling back on old methods (striking the rock), rather than trusting in God’s directions (speaking to the rock). God wanted someone who was going to trust him in the new generation—not depend on old practices that are obsolete (v.12). Moses had also failed to represent God correctly. Later, God tells Moses: “When you [Moses] have seen it, you too will be gathered to your people, as Aaron your brother was; 14 for in the wilderness of Zin, during the strife of the congregation, you rebelled against My command to treat Me as holy before their eyes at the water” (Num. 27:13-14). The event in Zin is recorded here (Num 20:12; Deut 32:51; Ps 106:32).

The king of Edom unreasonably does not allow the Jews to pass through his land (vv.14-21). He even raises an army to oppose them (v.20). This could be why God is so harsh with these kings under Joshua. They had already shown their true colors.

Finally, Aaron dies (vv.22-29).

Numbers 21: Brazen Serpent

For the account of the brazen serpent, see comments on John 3:14-15. In addition, another Canaanite king attacked the Israelites and took some as slaves (v.1). King Sihon (an Amorite king) refused them to cut across his land and attacked them in battle (v.23), and the King of Og (at Bashan) attacked them as well (v.33). We will cover the destruction of the Canaanites when we study Joshua. It is wise of us to explain that this battle was prompted by the Canaanites at this point, but tell the group that we will study this more later.

Numbers 22: Balaam the Rotten Prophet

The Israelites camp right across from Jericho, which they will later capture under Joshua’s reign (Josh. 6). Balak—the Moabite king—watches how much the Israelites had been having victory across the land (v.2). So, he tries to hire Balaam to prophesy against Israel (vv.5-6). Balaam was confronted by God not to take money to curse the people. However, God eventually tells Balaam to follow the emissaries to visit Balak, but God also told Balaam to listen to what he had to say (v.20). Immediately afterward, God gets angry that Balaam went to visit Balak (v.21). Balaam’s donkey tries to stop Balaam three times, because it can see the angel of the Lord in their path. After a brief interaction between the donkey and Balaam, the angel of the Lord tells Balaam that he would’ve killed him, if the donkey hadn’t stopped him. There is a certain irony that the donkey has more spiritual insight than the prophet Balaam. The angel repeats that Balaam is only supposed to speak what he is commanded (v.35), and Balaam concurs with this (v.38). But will he follow through?

1. It’s interesting that people get pride when God speaks through them (1 Pet. 4:11). We shouldn’t feel this, because God can speak through a donkey if he wants to!

Numbers 23: Balak Continues with Balaam

Balaam offers his prophetic message to Balak (v.6). He refuses to curse Israel, because God didn’t curse them (v.8). He also states that he can only speak what God tells him (v.11), because God cannot change his mind (v.19). Balak keeps taking Balaam to different places to curse Israel. He thinks that if Balaam goes to a specific area, then he will be in a better position to curse Israel. He builds him seven altars in two different places, but the message is still the same: Balaam can’t curse Israel. What do you think God is trying to teach us through this passage?

Numbers 24: Balaam Blesses Israel

Balaam continues to bless Israel for the third time, affirming the Abrahamic covenant (v.9; c.f. Gen. 12:3) and predicting the future Messiah (v.17). This really angers King Balak (v.10). This chapter has an anti-climatic ending. Why is this in the Bible? It might show how a prophet is not like an ancient Near Eastern magician. Yahweh doesn’t work that way. You can’t twist his arm like the other deities. Balaam is killed with these Pagan kings later in the chapter: “They killed the kings of Midian along with the rest of their slain: Evi and Rekem and Zur and Hur and Reba, the five kings of Midian; they also killed Balaam the son of Beor with the sword” (Num. 31:8). Why does Balaam die in this way, if he blessed Israel?

Peter considers Balaam a type of false prophets, who desire to get rich off of false teaching (2 Pet. 2:15; c.f. Jude 11; Rev. 2:14).

Week 5: Numbers 25-36

Numbers 25: Moses Declares War Against Midian

The Moabites seduce the Israelite men, and they try to get the men to worship Baal (vv.1-3). The sex acts were part of Baal worship. Moses ordered these people to be killed. Peor was a name of the mountain where the Jews had been attacked before by the Midianites.

Numbers 26: More Census

In this chapter, Moses takes a census of the people. This was probably due to the fact that many had just died. The tribes were given land according to their size (v.52-56).

Numbers 27: Women’s Rights

The daughters of Zelophehad come to claim their inheritance from their father, who died in the wilderness (v.1). He wasn’t rebellious, but died for his own sin (v.3). Since he didn’t have any sons, where should his inheritance go? The women want to claim the inheritance (v.4). God concurs with this (vv.5-11). God reemphasizes that Moses will not be going to the Promised Land. So Moses passes his authority to Joshua.

Number 28 & 29 The Different Feasts

These two chapters cover the different feasts that the Jews were to perform including (1) the daily offerings, (2) the Sabbath offerings, (3) monthly offerings, (4) the Passover, (5) the feast of weeks, (6) the feast of trumpets, (7) the day of atonement, and (8) the feast of Tabernacles.

Numbers 30: Rules for Vows

Moses explains what characterizes a vow and how to fulfill them.

Numbers 31: Destruction of the Midianites

The Israelites go to war with Midian and kill their kings and Balaam. Moses orders the execution of the women of Midian, but the virgins are spared (v.18). Many women were spared (v.32). Moses doesn’t keep the booty from the war, but instead, he gives it to God (vv.51-54).

Numbers 32: Reuben and Gad came to Mannaseh

The Reubenites and Gadites try to discourage the people from taking the land that was promised to them, saying that they would rather settle right where they are instead (vv.1-5). Moses argues that they are really just being cowardly, letting others go to fight instead of fighting themselves (v.6). He says that this is history repeating itself (v.9). He reminds them that God cursed the people for 40 years for this exact reason (v.14). Moses persuades them to go through with the invasion of Canaan (v.25). This is interesting because believers are hesitant to take over by faith what God has already claimed for them.

Numbers 33: Summary of their Exodus from Egypt

This chapter recaps the entire story, and it describes their directions in the land. He warns them to completely wipe out the Canaanites; otherwise, they will have to suffer from them in the future. This comes true. Many names we don’t know or recognize.

Numbers 34: Boundaries of the Land

This chapter describes the boundaries and leaders of each tribe.

Numbers 35: Cities of Refuge

The Levites are given towns to live in from the other tribes (vv.1-6). Six of these cities are called “cities of refuge” (v.7). A person who has accidentally killed someone can flee there. This stopped blood feuds and revenge killing (v.12). It goes on to distinguish murder from accidental killing.

Numbers 36: Zelophehad’s Daughters and Inheritance

This final chapter explains the rights of women in holding land. It is an addendum to chapter 27, regarding Zelophehad’s daughters.

 


[1] Allen, R. B. (1990). Numbers. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Volume 2: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers (F. E. Gaebelein, Ed.) (797). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.