Part one of an overview of Numbers with commentary. This first part features the first 8 chapters.
Numbers Chapter 1:
A whole year has passed since Israel left Egypt. On the first day of the second month of the year (a few weeks after Passover), God spoke to Moses and told him to take a census of the Israelite males over age 20 (old enough for military service). God gives Moses a list of tribal leaders from each tribe (excluding Levi) to help them count the men. These are their names: Elizur son of Shedeur (Reuben), Shelumiel son of Zurishaddai (Simeon), Nahshon son of Amminadab (Judah), Nethanel son of Zuar (Issachar), Eliab son of Helon (Zebulun), Elishama son of Ammihud (Ephraim son of Joseph), Gamaliel son of Pedahzur (Manasseh son of Joseph), Abidan son of Gideoni (Benjamin), Ahiezer son of Ammishaddai (Dan), Pagiel son of Ocran (Asher), Eliasaph son of Deuel (Gad), and Ahira son of Enan (Naphtali).
This is the data from the census that day for each tribe:
Reuben – 46,500, Simeon – 59,300, Gad – 45,650, Judah – 74,600, Issachar – 54,400, Zebulun – 57,400, Ephraim son of Joseph – 40,500, Manasseh son of Joseph – 32,200, Benjamin – 35,400, Dan – 62,700, Asher – 41,500, and Naphtali – 53,400. The total number of men over age 20 was 603,550.
Levites are excluded because their job is to take care of the Tabernacle and all of the associated equipment, rather than go to war. When the Israelites move, only the Levites can take the Tabernacle down and put it back up. Anyone else who touches it must die. The rest of the Israelites will march in squads, each with their own tribal banner. The Levites will camp all around the Tabernacle in close proximity to it, while everyone else will surround the Levites.
Numbers Chapter 2:
Each non-Levite clan is to set up camp in squads. Four squads, each with three tribes, with each squad being in one of the four cardinal directions relative to the Tabernacle. Each tribe will have its own family banner and each squad will have a lead tribe. They will all keep their distance from the Tabernacle.
These are their leader’s names and the census of the men aged 20 and up from each tribe. When marching, the east group will go first, then south, north, and west. The Levites will be in the middle between the south and north. The total number of men aged 20 and up of non-Levites is 603,550.
To the east:
Judah – Nahshon son of Amminadab – 74,600
Issachar – Nethanel son of Zuar – 54,400
Zebulun – Eliab son of Helon – 57,400
To the south:
Reuben – Elizur son of Shedeur – 46,500
Simeon – Shelumiel son of Zurishaddai – 59,300
Gad – Eliasaph son of Deuel – 45,650
The Levites will be in the middle.
To the west:
Ephraim – Elishama son of Ammihud – 40,500
Manasseh – Gamaliel son of Pedahzur – 32,200
Benjamin – Abidan son of Gideoni – 35,400
To the north:
Dan – Ahiezer son of Ammishaddai – 62,700
Asher – Pagiel son of Ocran – 41,500
Naphtali – Ahira son of Enan – 53,400
Number Chapter 3:
Aaron and his remaining sons Eleazar and Ithamar (Nadab and Abihu died) were the priests, and Moses assigned the Levites as their assistants to help with serving in the Tabernacle and handling its furnishings. This is the Levites’ main duty as a tribe. Only Aaron and his sons were to operate as the priest, anyone else would be put to death.
God said that since the Levites are set apart to serve with the priest, they will now take the place of the rest of Israel when it comes to the dedication of the firstborn males. God had Moses take a census of the Levites (ages one month and older) and they were divided into 3 clans from each of the 3 sons of Levi: Gershon, Kohath, and Merari.
The clans under Gershom were Libni and Shimei, and they had 7,500 males aged one month and older. They were stationed westward in the back of the Tabernacle. The leader of the Gershonite clans was Eliasaph son of Lael. The Gershonites were responsible for managing the curtains and equipment used to support them.
The clans under Kohath were Amram, Izhar, Hebron, and Uzziel, and they had 8,600 males aged one month and older. They were stationed south of the Tabernacle. The leader of the Kohathite clans was Elizaphan son of Uzziel. The Kohathites were responsible for managing the sacred objects like the Ark, the table, the lampstand, the altars, and the various articles and equipment used in the Tabernacle and their utensils.
The clans under Merari were Mahli and Mushi, and they had 6,200 males aged one month and older. They were stationed north of the Tabernacle. The leader of the Merarite clans was Zuriel son of Abihail. The Merarites were responsible for managing the support frames, crossbars, pillars, bases, and all the equipment related to their use. As well as the posts of the courtyard and all their bases, pegs, and ropes.
Moses, Aaron, and his sons were to camp east of the Tabernacle towards sun rise. They alone had the anointing and responsibility of communicating with God through ceremonies in the Tabernacle, anyone else getting involved resulted in death. The total number of Levites males aged one month and up was 22,000.
At this point, the firstborn sons one month and older of the Levites were to be dedicated to God before the Israelite males. The total number of non-Levite firstborn males a month and older was 22,273. Since there are 273 more non-Levites than Levites, those extra non-Levites are to be redeemed at the rate of five shekels each. Moses collected 1,365 shekels of silver (273 x 5) for the redemption of the 273 firstborn sons and gave it to Aaron and his sons.
Comment: The Masoretic Hebrew text says there are 8600 males in Kohath’s clan, however, 8,600+7,500+6,200=22,300 and not 22,000 like Numbers 3:39 says. The Greek Septuagint says 8,300 and this adds up mathematically to 22,000, so this number is likely a scribal error in the Masoretic Text.
Numbers Chapter 4:
Kohathites between ages 30 and 50 will operate as helpers of the priest in handling the objects of the Tabernacle. When it is time for the camp to move, Aaron and his sons will go into the Tabernacle first and cover all of the sacred objects. They will take down the inner curtain and cover the Ark with it. Then they must layer that with a cloth of fine goatskin leather, and a piece of blue cloth over that. Lastly, they will put the carrying poles of the Ark in place. Then they will cover the gold table (for the Presence Bread) with a blue cloth. They will place the bowls, ladles, jars, pitchers, and the special bread on top of the table and wrap all of that in a separate scarlet cloth covered in goatskin leather. Lastly, they will insert the carrying poles into the table. For the lampstand (menorah), they will cover it and its accessories like the lamps, lamp snuffers, trays, and special jars of olive oil, with a blue cloth and then goatskin leather, this bundle will be placed on a carrying frame. Then they will cover the golden altar with a blue cloth and goatskin leather, then insert the carrying poles. Then cover its furnishings in a separate blue cloth and goatskin leather, and place the bundle on a carrying frame. Next Aaron and his sons will remove the ashes from the bronze altar and cover it in purple cloth. All the utensils like the firepans, meat forks, shovels, basins, and all the containers will be placed on top, and goatskin leather will be spread on top of them and then the carrying poles will be inserted into the altar.
Eleazar son of Aaron will be responsible for the lampstand oil, fragrant incense, daily grain offering, and the anointing oil. He will be in charge of everything in the Tabernacle. Aaron and his sons must escort the Kohathites when they go in to remove the sacred objects so that the Kohathites won’t die from looking upon or mishandling the holy objects. Aaron and his sons will manage and delegate from amongst the Kohathites for this work.
Gershonites between ages 30 and 50 will help transport the soft components for the Tabernacle. They will carry the entrance curtains (for both the Tabernacle and Courtyard), the Tabernacle coverings, the embroidered tapestry, courtyard curtains, the ropes, and all the equipment related to them. Aaron and his sons will manage and delegate from amongst the Gershonites for this work.
Merarites between ages 30 and 50 will help transport the hard components for the Tabernacle. They will carry the frames, crossbars, posts, and sockets for both the Tabernacle and Courtyard, as well as pegs, ropes, and accessories. Aaron and his sons will manage and delegate from amongst the Merarites for this work.
God had Moses and Aaron take a census of qualified Levites (between ages 30 and 50) and there were 2,750 Kohathites, 2,630 Gershonites, and 3,200 Merarites. The total was 8,580 Levites.
Numbers Chapter 5:
God said that all of the unclean Israelites with skin disease, unnatural discharges, and those that have touched a dead body must leave the camp and be quarantined.
If someone betrays, deceives, or scams another person in some way, they are guilty. The guilty must confess what they have done and pay restitution, plus 20% interest to the victim. If the victim is dead and has no relative to receive it, then the restitution goes to God along with a ram sacrifice for atonement (guilt offering). All the sacred offerings that the Israelites bring to a priest will belong to him. Each priest may keep all the sacred donations that he receives.
If a woman has committed adultery but wasn’t caught in the act or if a man suspects his wife has been unfaithful in secret, then she cannot be put to death because there were no witnesses. However, there is a way for him to test her faithfulness. His wife must be brought to the priest along with two quarts of barley flour with no oil or frankincense. This is a grain offering for jealousy which will prove if she is guilty or not. The priest will stand her before the God (in front of the Tabernacle) and pour holy water into a clay pot. The priest takes some of the dust from the floor of the Tabernacle and put it in the water. They will unbind the woman’s hair and place the grain offering in her hands, meanwhile, the priest will hold the bitter holy water which will be used to curse the guilty. The priest will have her swear that she is innocent of adultery, and if she is nothing will happen. However, if she lies and is guilty, then the priest will curse her womb so that it will shrivel up and she will be barren. The woman will say, “Amen! Amen!” to the conditions of the test. The priest will write these curses on a piece of leather and wash them off into the bitter water. The priest will take the grain offering and wave it, then burn a portion of it on the altar. Afterward, he will make the woman drink the water and it will cause bitter suffering and make her barren if she is guilty, but if innocent nothing will happen.
Comment: Why does the bible mainly focus on women committing adultery? Numbers chapter 5 describes a purity ceremony that determines if the wife cheated but there is no equivalent for men. It may be that the classification of adultery differs under a polygamous system. It was adultery for a man to sleep with another man’s wife, but if a married man sleeps with an unmarried woman, it could count as fornication and he most likely will end up marrying her. Essentially a man could just marry a mistress as a second wife if he can afford it. A man (no distinction between married or unmarried is made in the text) who fornicates with an unmarried woman would pay the bride price, and if the father permits he would marry her (Ex 22:16-17), and he can’t divorce her (Deut 22:28-29).
This means if a polygamous man has sex with an unmarried woman it was fornication, not adultery. So while Abraham sleeping with Hagar in Genesis 16 was sinful because of his lack of faith and his sexual abuse of a slave, and there is no indication he married her, it was not technically adultery the way we think of it today. Meanwhile, King David had at least 8 wives (2 Sam 3:3-5, 2 Sam 5:13-16, 2 Sam 11:26-27) and at least 10 concubines (2 Sam 15:16, 2 Sam 5:13). However, he committed adultery with Bathsheba because she was another man’s wife, and then he had the man killed and married her (2 Sam ch.11). Concubines are not wives yet they are allowed in a polygamous setting.
While polygamy was allowed in the Bible in the Old Testament, it has some restrictions. In the New Covenant, however, men are told to have one wife (1 Tim 3:2), mimicking Christ’s relationship with the one church (body of Christ). Polygamy was allowed in the Old Testament because there was only one group of covenant people (the Israelites) and their goal was to preserve until the Messiah came. In the old covenant, more covenant people are made by making more physical humans through reproduction because this covenant is built on blood relation to Abraham, and one way to ensure that your line carried on was to have more than one wife. However, there were grievous consequences and familial strife caused in these kinds of relationships since they are the original model set up in Genesis 2:24. This is why in the new covenant making more covenant people is done by sharing the gospel so that people are born-again in the spirit. Therefore marriage is not necessary or valid in fulfilling the great commission. For a Christian who was already in a polygamous marriage before getting saved, he can either add a woman he fornicated with to his harem or never have sex with her again. Otherwise, he is committing adultery if he is breaking his contract with his current wives.
Numbers Chapter 6:
God gives instructions on Nazarite vows. When a man or woman takes a special kind of vow, they must abstain from alcohol, vinegar, and fruits of the vine-like grapes or anything made from them. The Nazirite (vowed person) must not shave or trim the hair on their head until the vow is finished. They are to be set apart from the uncleanness of a corpse. They must not be near anyone, not even close relatives when they die. If someone dies next to them, then they will become unclean and their vow will be broken, so they must start over. First, they will wait seven days after the sudden death. On the eighth day, they must bring two doves (or pigeons) to the entrance of the Tabernacle. The priest is to sacrifice one as a sin offering and the other as a burnt offering. Then he will be purified. That same day they must re-consecrate themselves and start over in the time period of their vow with a one-year olf male lamb as a guilt offering. The previous days won’t be counted because the vow was broken.
When the consecration period is over the Nazirite will bring an offering. A one-year-old male lamb for a burnt offering, a one-year-old female lamb for a sin offering, and one ram as a peace offering. As well as a basket of unleavened loaves (matzah) made of fine flour mixed with olive oil, unleavened wafers spread with olive oil, their grain offering, and their drink offerings. The priest will sacrifice the sin, burnt, and peace offering and present the basket of bread, as well as grain and drink offerings before God. Then the Nazirites will shave their heads right there at the entrance of the Tabernacle, then take the shaved hair and place it on the altar to be burned under the peace offering. When the ram is boiled the priest will take its shoulder and one loaf of matzah, put them into the Nazirite’s hands, and they will wave them before God. These portions are set aside for that priest along with the breast and the right thigh. After this, the Nazirites may drink wine again. The Nazirites can bring additional offerings if they want, but they must make to complete whatever they have vowed to do.
God gave Moses a special blessing for Aaron and the priest to use over the Israelites. ‘May the Lord bless you and protect you. May the Lord smile on you and be gracious to you. May the Lord show you his favor and give you his peace.’
Numbers Chapter 7:
After the completion and dedication of the Tabernacle, the 12 tribal leaders of Israel brought gifts of dedication. They brought six wagons (one wagon for two leaders) and there were 12 oxen (two for each wagon). These wagons are to be used to carry the equipment and accessories for the Tabernacle. God told Moses to give them to the Levites. Two wagons and four oxen went to the Gershonites, and the other four wagons (eight oxen) went to the Merarites who were under Ithamar’s direction. The Kohathites didn’t need them since they will simply carry the sacred objects.
The leader also brought dedication gifts over the course of 12 days, each on their own day.
On the first day Nahshon son of Amminadab (Judah). Following him in order was Nethanel son of Zuar (Issachar), Eliab son of Helon (Zebulun), Elizur son of Shedeur (Reuben), Shelumiel son of Zurishaddai (Simeon), Shelumiel son of Zurishaddai (Gad), Elishama son of Ammihud (Ephraim), Gamaliel son of Pedahzur (Manasseh), Abidan son of Gideoni (Benjamin), Ahiezer son of Ammishaddai (Dan), Pagiel son of Ocran (Asher), and Ahira son of Enan (Naphtali).
They each brought a silver platter (1.5 kg), and a silver basin (800 g), and both were filled with flour moistened with olive oil. They each also brought gold containers filled with incense. In addition, they each brought a young bull, a ram, and a one-year-old male lamb for burnt offerings and a male goat for sin offerings. For peace offerings, they brought two bulls, five rams, five male goats, and five one-year-old male lambs. All together they gave twelve silver platters, twelve silver basins, and twelve gold incense containers. The total weight of the silver was 27.6 kg and the total weight of the gold was 1.4 kg. For animals, there were twelve young bulls, twelve rams, and twelve one-year-old male lambs donated for the burnt offerings, along with their prescribed grain offerings. Twelve male goats for the sin offerings. Twenty-four bulls, sixty rams, sixty male goats, and sixty one-year-old male lambs were donated for the peace offerings. This was the dedication offering for the altar after it was anointed.
When Moses spoke with God in the Tabernacle, God’s voice would speak from above the Ark between the cherubs on the lid.
Numbers Chapter 8:
God told Aaron to set up the lampstand so that the light would shine in front of it. Then God gave instructions on purifying the Levites. Aaron is to sprinkle purification water on them and then have them shave their whole bodies, bathe and wash their clothes. They will bring a young bull as a burnt offering along with a grain offering of olive oil mixed with wine and the priest will get another bull for a sin offering. The priest will present each Levite in front of the Tabernacle and the community will gather in front as well and lay their hands on the Levites. Aaron will raise their hands presenting them as a wave offering to God. Next, the Levites will lay their hands on the bull’s heads, the bulls will be sacrificed as a burnt and sin offering each. This will consecrate the Levites for God’s service, setting them apart from the rest of Israel. Now they can work in the Tabernacle.
The Levites are set apart as holy and they have replaced the rest of Israel in the dedication of the firstborn sons. This will allow the priest to have more help managing the Tabernacle since anyone who is not dedicated to this task and concentrated can’t even go near the sacred space. Since the Levites will help in making atonement for the people, this will help keep the people pure so that no plague will when they came close to the Tabernacle. Levites will start work at age 25 and must retire at 50. At 50 and up they may assist others but they won’t officiate anymore.