Numbers Observation


A. In the Hebrew (MT) the title is "In the Wilderness." This is not the first word but it is in the first sentence, the fifth word.

B. In the LXX it is entitled "Numbers" because the census was taken twice in chapters 1-4 & 26.


A. It is part of the first section of the Hebrew Canon called "The Torah" or "teachings" or "Law."

B. The section is known as the Pentateuch (five scrolls) in the LXX.

C. It is sometimes called "The Five Books of Moses" in English.

D. It includes a continuous account by Moses from the time of creation through Moses' life, Genesis - Deuteronomy.

III.GENRE – This book is very similar to the Exodus. It is a combination of historical narrative and legislation as well as the ancient poetic oracles of Balaam (cf. Numers 23-24).


A. This is the first book of the Torah to name a written source, "The Book of the Wars of YHWH," 21:14-15. This clearly shows that Moses did use other written documents.

B. This book states that Moses could and did record the events of the Wilderness Wandering Period.

C. Numbers also provides several examples of obvious editorial additions (possibly Joshua or Samuel):

1. 12:1,3

2. 13:22

3. 15:22-23

4. 21:14-15

5. 32:33ff

6. 32:33ff

D. In most cases Moses is referred to in the third person except in direct quotes. This implies Moses used scribal help in compiling these materials.

E. It is interesting to notice that Numbers includes two non-Israelite literary productions:

1. the Amorite taunt poem in 21:27-30 (possibly v. 30 was an Israelite addition)

2. Balaam's conversations with Balak, King of Moab in 23-24

They do show the use of written or oral material included in the compilation of the book (cf. The Book of the Wars of the Lord.).


A. The book itself gives us the date:

1. 1:1; 10:10 says it was the 2nd month of the 2nd year after the Exodus. After this there was a 38 year wandering period.

2. 9:1 says it was the 1st month of the 2nd year after the Exodus.

B. The time of the Exodus is uncertain. It is either 1445 b.c. or 1290 b.c.


A. There are four items from the book of Numbers that uniquely reflect an Egyptian culture:

1. The layout of the Hebrew camp by tribes (Num. 2:1-31; 10:11-33) and the marching arrangement of the tribes (Numbers 1-7). This fits exactly the order used by Rameses II in his Syrian campaign known from the Armarna Texts. These Canaanite documents, from the 1300 b.c. period, describe the social, political and religious interactions between Canaan and Egypt. It is also significant that this Egyptian layout and arrangement changed as we learn from the Assyrian bas-reliefs of the first millennium b.c. The Assyrians camped in a circle.

2. The silver trumpets of Numbers 10 reflect an Egyptian source. Archaeology has specifically found them mentioned in the reign of Tutankhamen, dated around 1350 b.c. Also these silver trumpets, used for religious and civil purposes are common in the Armarna Texts.

3. Horse drawn chariots were introduced to Egypt by the Hyksos, Semitic rulers of the 15th and 16th Dynasties. The ox drawn carts were also unique to Egypt. They are seen in the Syrian campaign of Thutmose III 1470 b.c. The people of Canaan were unfamiliar with these wagons, probably because Canaan was so rugged and hilly. These carts were sent to get Jacob (Gen. 45:19, 21, 27). They were also used by the Hebrews in the Exodus (Num. 7:3, 6, 7).

4. One last uniquely Egyptian element that was copied by the Hebrews was totally shaved priests (8:7).

B. The two censuses found in chapters 1-4 and 26 are paralleled in:

1. the Mari Tablets from the 1700's B.C.

2. a document from the old kingdom period of Egypt, 2900 - 2300 b.c.


A. Brief Outline Based on Geographical Setting:

1. preparations at Mt. Sinai for the journey to the Promised Land, 1:1-10:10.

2. the journey to the Promised Land, 10:11 - 21:35

a. to Kadesh, 10:11-12:16

b. at Kadesh, 13:1-20:13

c. from Kadesh, 20:14-21:35

3. the events on the Plains of Moab, 22:1-36:13

B. Detailed Outline

1. R. K. Harrison, Introduction to the Old Testament, pp. 614-615.

2. E. J. Young, An Introduction to the Old Testament, pp. 84-90.

3. NIV Study Bible, pp. 187-188.

C. One of the difficulties of analyzing Numbers is its rather unusual organization of material; i.e., the mixture of law and narrative and its inclusion of miscellaneous material. Some theories about its structure are:

1. This was obviously used by the proponents of the "documentary hypothesis," J.E.D.P. to divide the book into many non-historical, non-Mosaic sources.

2. J. S. Wright proposes a compilation of Mosaic materials at the end of his life in consultation with scribes. The piece-meal character of Numbers is noted but relegated to Moses' lifetime.

3. Gordon J. Wenham (Tyndale Commentary on Numbers, p. 14-18) proposes a triadic parallel using the biblical material from Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers, and relating them to the three journeys:

a. Red Sea to Sinai

b. Sinai to Kadesh

c. Kadesh to Moab

By doing this both for material related to "journeyings" and "stoppings" a remarkable parallel becomes evident. He further relates this triadic parallelism to Genesis 1-11, Genesis 12-50, and Deuteronomy. This seems very promising. It does show us that Ancient Near Eastern authors had literary structures or patterns which controlled their literary forms but are unfamiliar to us as Westerners.


A. It is a continuation of the historical narrative started in Genesis. But it must be remembered that this is not a "western history" but a Near Eastern theological history. Events are not exhaustively recorded in chronological order but are selected to reveal God and Israel's character.

B. It shows God's character:

1. His presence seen in the cloud:

a. The Cloud rested unto the "Holy of Holies" of the Tabernacle, 9:15. God accepted it and its procedures as the way and place for God and humanity to meet!

b. The Cloud led the people, 9:17-23. God was with them, and led them by His very presence.

c. The Cloud embodied God's presence revealing Himself to Moses, 11:17, 25; 16:42-43.

d. The Cloud became a symbol of God's presence in judgement as well as revelation, 12:1-8; 14:10.

e. the Cloud was the visible symbol of God's presence not only to Israel but to the surrounding nations, 14:14; 23:21.

f. God's presence symbolized in the cloud during the Exodus and Wilderness Wandering Period was suspended as the Israelites entered the Promised Land but still God was symbolically with them by means of the Ark, 35:34.

2. His grace and mercy in:

a. His continuing presence with them amidst their grumbling and rejection of His leaders, 11:1; 14:2,27,29,36; 16:11,42; 17:5; 20:2; 21:5.

b. His provisions for them in the desert:

(1) water

(2) food

(a) manna (daily, except on the Sabbath)

(b) quail (twice)

(3) clothing that did not wear out (cf. Deut. 8:4; 29:5)

(4) the Cloud:

(a) shade

(b) light

(c) guidance

(d) revelation

c. His harkening to Moses' intercession:

(1) 11:2

(2) 12:13

(3) 14:13-20

(4) 16:20-24

(5) 21:7

3. His justice (Holiness) in:

a. Israel's punishment of a 38 year Wilderness Wandering Period (14).

b. Moses' punishment of not being able to enter the Promised Land (20:1-13; 27:14; Deut. 3:23-29).

c. The death of Korah and the leaders of Reuben, (16:1-40).

d. The plague for the people rejecting Moses' and Aaron's leadership, (16:41-50).

e. the idolatry at Shittim was judged by God by the death of the offenders at the hand of the Levites, (25).

C. As Israel settled into the Covenant agreement at Mt. Sinai, trust in YHWH and strict obedience to His Word became the central issues.


A. Terms and Phrases (NASB):

1. Tent of meetings, 1:1 (NASB & NIV)

2. ransom, 3:46 (NIV, redeem)

3. Nazarite, 6:2 (NASB & NIV)

4. alien sojourns, 9:14 (NIV, alien)

5. the Cloud, 9:15 (NASB & NIV)

6. "the rabble who were among them," 11:4 (NASB & NIV)

7. "tore their clothes," 14:6 (NASB & NIV)

8. tassels, 15:38 (NASB & NIV)

9. Sheol, 16:30 (NIV, grave)

10. red heifer, 19:2 (NASB & NIV)

11. fiery serpents, 21:6 (NIV, venomous snakes)

12. city of refuge, 35:6 (NASB & NIV)

13. blood avenger, 35:19,21 (NASB & NIV)

B. Persons to Briefly Identify:

1. the Cushite woman, 12:1 (NIV, "his Cushite wife")

2. Anak, 13:28,33

3. Jebusites, 13:29

4. Korah, 16:1 (NIV, "Korath")

5. Balaam, 22:5

6. Ba'al, 22:41

X. Map Locations (by number)

1. valley of Eshcol, 13:23 (north of Hebron)

2. Kings Highway, 20:17

3. Mt. Pisgah, 21:20

4. Arnon River, 21:24

5. Jabbok River, 21:24

6. Asshur, 24:22

7. Shittim, 25:1

8. Sea of Chinnereth, 34:11 (NIV, "Sea of Kinnereth")


1. Why was Levi not numbered along with the other tribes, 1:49?

2. How are the Levites related to the first-born, 3:12-13?

3. Describe the test of adultery, 5:16ff.

4. List the requirements of a Nazirite vow, 6:1ff.

5. How do you explain chapter 4:3 with 8:24?

6. Did Moses write 12:3?

7. Why did God appoint a 40 year wandering period?

8. What does the term "unintentionally" mean in relation to sin and sacrifice as found in chapter 15?

9. What was Moses' sin in chapter 20? What was its consequence?

10. Did Balaam's donkey really speak? 22:28. How did Balaam suggest that Balak defeat Israel?