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What's in The Book of Numbers?

Updated on December 17, 2013

The Journey to the Promised Land

The Book of Numbers is perfectly legal. It's not a bookie's notations of gambling bets. It's one of the first books of the Bible. It explains a lot about why Jews aren't so much a religion or nation as they are a family with roots going back three thousand years.

After Moses led his enslaved people out of Egypt, they had a more than 40-year adventure looking for the promised land, which was the home that their Lord God had promised them. But why would anyone name the part of the Bible concerning this journey the Book of Numbers?

It's because at several points in this book, including its very beginning, God spoke to Moses, commanding him to take a census of his people. The book starts with the overall census of the Hebrews within the second year after their exodus from Egypt. All in all, they tallied over 600,000 of them who were able to go to war. There was safety in numbers.

Moses, as directed by God, ordered his people to camp along the way in 12 separate groupings according to the original forefathers of their tribes. These forefathers were the 12 sons of Jacob, who lived 400 years earlier and had one son, Joseph, who became prominent in Egypt and brought Jacob and his other 11 sons to live there too. Often these 12 tribes were called the children of Israel because God gave Jacob the name Israel. But in modern English we would call them the descendants of Israel or Jacob, or just Israelis.

One of Jacob's 12 sons was named Levi. The Levites, including Moses and his brother Aaron, took care of the tabernacle, which housed the Ten Commandments, written on tablets by the Lord God Himself on Mount Sinai.

God commanded Moses to have a special census of the Levites. Always, the Lord spoke to Moses. The Lord God gave many directions, some grand and of monumental importance, and others dealing with fine legal issues, exact quantities of grain offerings for each specific occasion, investigations into allegedly unfaithful wives, quarantining of lepers outside the camp, or the rules governing vows of Nazirites who separated themselves to the Lord by fasting.

When the tabernacle tent was set up, there were dedication offerings of bulls, lambs, goats, silver, flour, oil, oxen, and rams. The Lord's Passover was established and had to be kept strictly according to the rules made by God Himself. (The Passover celebrated the time when God passed over the Hebrew homes, allowing them to escape Egypt while the first born of everyone else was being killed.)

There were many special rules governing each issue that would arise. For example, if there was a cloud over the tabernacle, the Israel people would remain encamped. If no cloud was present, they would continue to travel onward.

When the Israelis complained and lost faith, the Lord would punish them. Moses would pray to the Lord to help his people in times of discouragement. Once when they were hungry, the Lord sent meat for them.

At many points in the long journey to the promised land, people would question Moses' authority, but the Lord God made it clear to everyone that He spoke to Moses personally, and not to just anyone. Many chapters start with the words, "And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying..."

God, for example, told Moses to send men to spy out the land of Canaan, which the Lord was giving to the people of Israel. This was their promised land.

When the spies saw that others were living on that land, they told the Israelis, who became afraid that they would be killed. Moses told his people to wait until the Lord was with them, and then to attack and take the land.

But the Lord was angry that the Israelis had lost faith in their ability to take the land the Lord had given them. A ray of hope was imparted when the Lord God told Moses exactly what offerings, in precisely which quantities of meat, grain, and wine, they should give to thank the Lord after they finally came into their promised land.

The Lord God constantly imparted wisdom to Moses to guide his people intelligently. For example, God had told Moses to instruct his people in many common laws, such as the different punishments for intentional and unintentional wrongdoing which, to this day, are still part of our legal system.

But God was not tolerant of people who defied Moses. Once, 250 men rose up against Moses and his brother Aaron, contending God was with everyone and therefore, Moses and Aaron shouldn't consider themselves better than anyone else. The angry Lord God destroyed those men.

After Aaron died, his son Eleavar took over the job of keeping the tabernacle, with the assistance of the other descendants of Jacob's (Israel's) son Levi.

Toward the end of the Book of Numbers there was a lot of fighting between the Isralis and the inhabitants of the promised land. The Israelis utterly destroyed the Canaanites after the Lord delivered them up to Israel. They totally defeated all the people living in the promised land, invading cities and killing everyone, after the Lord delivered these people into the hands of the Israelis.

Today the Israelis want to live in peace but are on guard constantly due to threats from nearby countries. But times were different three thousand years ago during the events of the Book of Numbers.

Back then, if ever the Hebrew people mixed with promised land inhabitants, the Lord God would be displeased because those people had different gods. No intermarrying was permitted. It was punishable by death.

The big war in the Book of Numbers came when the Lord told Moses to attack the cities of a king who despised the Israelis. The Israeli soldiers killed him and all the men inhabiting the part of the promised land where that king ruled. When soldiers returned to Moses with women and children they'd taken captive, he told them to kill them too, all except female virgins.

The soldiers brought back all the livestock and gold from the conquered cities. The Lord God had told the Israelis to dispossess the inhabitants of the land and drive them all out because the Lord had given this land to the Israelis.

The promised land was divided among the 12 tribes of Israel (Jacob). But the descendants of Jacob's son Levi, the Levites, possessed special areas of land in all the cities. Always, these Levites, including Moses himself, were the special people of the Israelis at this time in history.

Now the Jewish people live all over the world. They often like to think of themselves as an enormous family of many individuals trying to live honorable lives. But the world is dominated by Christians and Muslims who have reacted violently to Jews. We keep hoping for world peace and mutual respect among all different people. If it is true that a thousand years is only a day to God, then we still have time.


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