How to Study Numbers

General Instructions

The book of Numbers can be divided into three segments according to the journeys and encampments of the children of Israel. In Numbers 1 through 10:10 they are encamped at Sinai. In Numbers 10:11 the cloud lifts and their journeying begins and does not end for about 39 years. In Numbers 22 Israel camps on the plains of Moab, opposite Jericho, as they prepare to enter the land of promise.

Chapters 1-10:10

    1. The first five books of the Bible, Genesis through Deuteronomy, are closely related. They follow each other chronologically. To put Numbers into context:

        1. Read Exodus 40:1-2,17,33-38, which gives an account of the building of the tabernacle at Mount Sinai.

        2. Read Leviticus 1:1 and then 27:34. All of the book of Leviticus takes place at Mount Sinai.

        3. Compare where Leviticus ends and Numbers begins. Read Numbers 1:1-2

        4. Look at Exodus 40:17 again and Numbers 1:1, and you will see month elapsed between the close of Exodus and the beginning of Numbers. Leviticus covers a period of only one month.

    2. Read through this first segment chapter by chapter. As you do, do not become discouraged and quit; Numbers becomes delightfully interesting and practical after this segment. As you read:

        1. Mark the key words: (NASB) the Lord spoke to, service, cloud, wilderness, tent (tabernacle), offering, atonement, Passover, sin (iniquity), curse, covenant, holy. Also mark number or census and of the sons of (then underline whose sons they were). Write all the key words on an index card and use it as a bookmark as you study Numbers.

        2. Mark every reference to time with a clock, and double-underline all geographical locations in green.

        3. In the margin of each chapter make list of key truth you want to be able to find with ease. For instance, next to 9:15 you might write: "Instruction re: Cloud" or simply "The Cloud."

        4. Note the theme of each chapter and record it on the Structure of Numbers chart.

Chapters 10:11-21:35

    1. This segment covers about 39 years. As you study you will discover why it takes so long to cover such a relatively short distance. Do the followings as you study chapter by chapter:

        1. Since much of what you will read in this segment is historical, you can learn a lot simply by asking the "5 W's and an H." Ask: Who are the main characters in this chapter? What is happening? Why is it happening? When and where is it happening? Why are they told to do something? What were the consequences of their actions? How and why did this occur?

            1. You might want to note in the margin when and where events occur.

            2. Follow the movements of the Israelites on a map.

        2. Mark key repeated words. Add grumbled (complain) and anger to your list. Watch for key words that are not on the list but will be significant in a particular chapter.

        3. Write on a piece of paper what you learn about the land the Israelites are to possess and what you learn about Korah and Balaam. (Balaam appears in Number 22.) These two men will be mentioned again, even in the New Testament, so it will be helpful to mark them in a distinctive color and then to summarize all you learn about them on thee chart "Insights from Numbers."

        4. There are lessons to learned from Moses' life about leadership an about our relationship to God. You will also find it profitable to summarize what you learn by making a chart in your notebook called Lessons from the life of Moses. When you record your insights, make sure you note the book, chapter, and verse from which you took your insight.

    2. As you did before, record each chapter theme on Structure of Numbers.

Chapters 22-36

    1. This final segment of Number is a mixture of historical events, instructions, and numberings. As you read each chapter, remember to ask the "5 W's and an H" and to record any pertinent insights in the margin.

    2. To your list of key words add the following: Moab (Moab is first mentioned in Numbers 21, so go back and mark Moab in that chapter also), Midian (Midianites). burnt offering, and sin offering.

    3. Balaam plays a mayor role in this last segment. Note all you learn about him on "Insights from Numbers". As you near the end of Numbers you will read more about Balaam, so note in the margin where these final verses on Balaam can be found.

    4. Record the main points or events of these chapters in the margin. In Numbers 35 mark every reference to murderer and blood avenger. See what you learn.

    5. Record what you learn about Moses. Give special attention to Numbers 27:12-23 in the light of Number 20. Next to Numbers 20:1-13 you might want to write Numbers 27:12-23 as a cross-reference.

    6. Record you chapter themes as you did before.

    7. Record the predominant theme or event in each of the three segments of Numbers on Structure of Numbers. See if any of the chapters can be grouped according to the types of commands, ordinances, and/or events. In other words, do several chapters cover similar topics or events? For example, chapter 1 and 2 cover the census. Note these in the first column under "Segment Divisions" and complete the Structure of Numbers chart.

Key Words in the NIV and KJV

Key doctrines in Numbers

  1. Rebellion against God -- resulted from Israel' coupling with heathen nations (14:26-38; Ex 34:6, 7; Josh 24:19; Ps 32:1-7; Hos 10:9, 10; 2 Thess 2:3; Jude 1:14, 15)

  2. Inheritance of the land - God secured the Promised Land for His people (16:14; 26:52; Lev 14:34; 1Chr 28:8; Ezra 9:10-12; Ps 16:5, 6; Joel 3:2; Col 1:11, 12; 1Pet 1:4)

  3. Divine authority given to Moses - Moses spoke the words of God and led Israel (1:1; 7:89; 12:6-8). God also gave authority to others of His prophets (Jer 5:12, 13; 1Cor 1:10) and to Jesus (Matt 2:9; 9:6; Mark 6:12; Luke 10:22)

  4. Israel's sin and judgment from the Lord - God does not have favorites; Israel's sin demanded punishment (11:1, 10, 33; 12:9; 14:18; 25:3, 4; 32:10, 13, 14; Lev 10:2; Deut 9:22; 2 King 1:12; Ps 78:21; 106:15; Jon 4:2; John 3:18, 19; Rom 5:9; 1 John 4:17, 18; Rev 20:22-15)

  5. Faithfulness of God to His covenant - when God's people are unfaithful, God remains faithful (15:2; 26:52-56; 27:12; 33:50-56; 34:1-29; Josh 11:23; 14:1)


Studies on Numbers