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Highlights of the Bible in Numbers - texts explained and practical lessons
Highlights From Bible Reading ‒ Numbers
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Numbers ‒ Historical context
NUMBERS, BOOK OFThe fourth book of the Pentateuch. It derives its English name from the two numberings of the sons of Israel mentioned therein. It relates events that took place in the region of Mount Sinai, in the wilderness during the course of Israel’s wandering, and on the Plains of Moab. The narrative primarily covers a period of 38 years and 9 months, from 1512 to 1473 B.C.E. (Nu 1:1; De 1:3, 4) Although occurring earlier than the events in the surrounding material, the happenings narrated at Numbers 7:1-88 and 9:1-15 provide background information that forms an essential part of the book.
Writership. The writership of the book of Numbers has from ancient times been attributed to Moses. Ample evidence in the book itself confirms this. There is no hint of any other life than that experienced by Israel in Egypt and then in the wilderness. In commenting about the time Hebron was built, the writer used the Egyptian city of Zoan as a reference point. (Nu 13:22) The age of Zoan would reasonably be common knowledge to a man like Moses, who “was instructed in all the wisdom of the Egyptians.”—Ac 7:22.
Certain commands recorded in the book of Numbers are unique to the circumstances of a nation on the move. These include the prescribed tribal encampments (Nu 1:52, 53), the order of march (2:9, 16, 17, 24, 31), and the trumpet signals for convening the assembly and for breaking camp (10:2-6). Also, the law concerning quarantine is worded to fit camp life. (5:2-4) Various other commands are stated in such a way as to call for a future application when the Israelites would be residing in the Promised Land. Among these are: the use of trumpets for sounding war calls (10:9), the setting aside of 48 cities for the Levites (35:2-8), the action to be taken against idolatry and the inhabitants of Canaan (33:50-56), the selection of six cities of refuge, instructions for handling cases of persons claiming to be accidental manslayers (35:9-33), and laws involving inheritance and marriage of heiresses (27:8-11; 36:5-9).
Additionally, the recording of the Israelite encampments is definitely ascribed to Moses (Nu 33:2), and the concluding words of the book of Numbers also point to him as the writer of the account.—36:13.
Authenticity. The authenticity of the book is established beyond any doubt. Outstanding is its candor. Wrong conduct and defeat are not concealed. (Nu 11:1-5, 10, 32-35; 14:2, 11, 45) Even the transgressions of Moses himself, his brother Aaron, his sister Miriam, and his nephews Nadab and Abihu are exposed. (3:3, 4; 12:1-15; 20:2-13) Repeatedly, happenings recorded in the book are recounted in the Psalms (78:14-41; 95:7-11; 105:40, 41; 106:13-33; 135:10, 11; 136:16-20). By their allusions to major events and other details in Numbers, Joshua (4:12; 14:2), Jeremiah (2Ki 18:4), Nehemiah (9:19-22), David (Ps 95:7-11), Isaiah (48:21), Ezekiel (20:13-24), Hosea (9:10), Amos (5:25), Micah (6:5), the Christian martyr Stephen (Ac 7:36), the apostles Paul (1Co 10:1-11) and Peter (2Pe 2:15, 16), the disciple Jude (vs 11), and the Son of God (Joh 3:14; Re 2:14) showed that they accepted this record as part of God’s inspired Word. There is also Balaam’s prophecy regarding the star that would step forth out of Jacob, which had its initial fulfillment when David became king and thereafter subdued the Moabites and Edomites.—Nu 24:15-19; 2Sa 8:2, 13, 14.
Value. The book of Numbers forcefully illustrates the importance of obedience to Jehovah, respect for him and his servants, the need for faith and guarding against ungodly men (Nu 13:25–14:38; 22:7, 8, 22; 26:9, 10; Heb 3:7–4:11; 2Pe 2:12-16; Jude 11; Re 2:14), not faithlessly putting Jehovah to the test (Nu 21:5, 6; 1Co 10:9), as well as refraining from murmuring (Nu 14:2, 36, 37; 16:1-3, 41; 17:5, 10; 1Co 10:10, 11) and sexual immorality (Nu 25:1-9; 31:16; 1Co 10:6, 8). Jehovah’s dealings with Israel give evidence of his great power, mercy, and loving-kindness, as well as his being slow to anger, though not withholding punishment when deserving. (Nu 14:17-20) Further, the position and ministry of Moses (Nu 12:7; Heb 3:2-6), the miraculous provision of water from the rock-mass (Nu 20:7-11; 1Co 10:4), the lifting up of the copper serpent (Nu 21:8, 9; Joh 3:14, 15), and the water of cleansing (Nu 19:2-22; Heb 9:13, 14) provided prophetic pictures that were fulfilled in Christ Jesus.
The account provides background material that illuminates other scriptures. It shows on what basis Judean King Hezekiah was able to arrange the Passover on Ziv (Iyyar) 14, instead of Nisan (Abib) 14. (Nu 9:10, 11; 2Ch 30:15) The full discussion of Naziriteship (Nu 6:2-21) explains why Samson and Samuel were not to have their hair cut (Jg 13:4, 5; 1Sa 1:11) and why John the Baptizer was not to drink intoxicating beverages. (Lu 1:15) For additional examples, compare Numbers 2:18-23 and Psalm 80:2; Numbers 15:38 and Matthew 23:5; Numbers 17:8-10 and Hebrews 9:4; Numbers 18:26 and Hebrews 7:5-9; Numbers 18:31 and 1 Corinthians 9:13, 14; Numbers 28:9, 10 and Matthew 12:5.
Bible Book Number 4—NumbersWriter: Moses
Place Written: Wilderness and Plains of Moab
Writing Completed: 1473 B.C.E.
Time Covered: 1512-1473 B.C.E.
THE events of the Israelites’ wilderness trek have been recorded in the Bible for our benefit today. As the apostle Paul said: “Now these things became our examples, for us not to be persons desiring injurious things.” (1 Cor. 10:6) The vivid record in Numbers impresses upon us that survival depends on sanctifying Jehovah’s name, obeying him under all circumstances, and showing respect for his representatives. His favor does not come because of any goodness or merit in his people but out of his great mercy and undeserved kindness.
2 The name Numbers has reference to the numbering of the people that took place first at Mount Sinai and later on the Plains of Moab, as recorded in chapters 1-4 and 26. This name has been carried over from the title Numeri in the Latin Vulgate and is derived from A•rith•moi′ in the Greek Septuagint. However, the Jews more fittingly call the book Bemidh•bar′, which means “In the Wilderness.” The Hebrew word midh•bar′ indicates an open place, empty of cities and towns. It was in the wilderness to the south and to the east of Canaan that the events of Numbers took place.
3 Numbers was evidently part of the original fivefold volume that included the books from Genesis to Deuteronomy. Its first verse opens with the conjunction “and,” tying it in with what went before. Thus, it must have been written by Moses, the writer of the preceding records. This is also clear from the statement in the book that “Moses kept recording,” and by the colophon, “These are the commandments and the judicial decisions that Jehovah commanded by means of Moses.”—Num. 33:2; 36:13.
4 The Israelites had departed from Egypt a little more than a year previously. Taking up the account in the second month of the second year after the Exodus, Numbers covers the next 38 years and nine months, from 1512 to 1473 B.C.E. (Num. 1:1; Deut. 1:3) Though not fitting into this time period, the events related at Numbers 7:1-88 and 9:1-15 are included as background information. The earlier portions of the book were no doubt written as the events occurred, but it is evident that Moses could not have completed Numbers until toward the end of the 40th year in the wilderness, early in the calendar year 1473 B.C.E.
5 There can be no doubt as to the authenticity of the account. Of the generally arid land in which they journeyed, Moses said that it was a “great and fear-inspiring wilderness,” and it is true even today that the scattered inhabitants are constantly on the move in search of pastures and water. (Deut. 1:19) Furthermore, the detailed instructions concerning encampment of the nation, the order of march, and the trumpet signals to govern camp affairs testify that the account was indeed written “in the wilderness.”—Num. 1:1.
6 Even the fearful report of the spies when they returned from their expedition into Canaan, to the effect that “the fortified cities are very great,” is borne out by archaeology. (13:28) Modern-day discoveries have shown that the inhabitants of Canaan at that time had consolidated their hold by a series of forts stretching across the country in several places, from the Low Plain of Jezreel in the north to Gerar in the south. Not only were the cities fortified but they were usually built on the tops of hills, with towers rising above their walls, making them most impressive to people like the Israelites, who had lived for generations in the flat land of Egypt.
7 Nations of the world are prone to whitewash their failures and magnify their conquests, but with an honesty that bespeaks historical truth, the Numbers account tells that Israel was completely routed by the Amalekites and by the Canaanites. (14:45) It straightforwardly confesses that the people proved faithless and treated God without respect. (14:11) With remarkable candor, God’s prophet Moses exposes the sins of the nation, of his nephews, and of his own brother and sister. Nor does he spare himself, for he tells of the time that he failed to sanctify Jehovah when water was provided at Meribah, so that he forfeited the privilege of entering the Promised Land.—3:4; 12:1-15; 20:7-13.
8 That the account is a genuine part of the Scriptures that are inspired by God and beneficial is borne out by the fact that nearly all its major events, as well as many other details, are directly referred to by other Bible writers, many of whom highlight their significance. For example, Joshua (Josh. 4:12; 14:2), Jeremiah (2 Ki. 18:4), Nehemiah (Neh. 9:19-22), Asaph (Ps. 78:14-41), David (Ps. 95:7-11), Isaiah (Isa. 48:21), Ezekiel (Ezek. 20:13-24), Hosea (Hos. 9:10), Amos (Amos 5:25), Micah (Mic. 6:5), Luke in his record of Stephen’s discourse (Acts 7:36), Paul (1 Cor. 10:1-11), Peter (2 Pet. 2:15, 16), Jude (Jude 11), and John in recording Jesus’ words to the Pergamum congregation (Rev. 2:14), all draw on the record in Numbers, as did Jesus Christ himself.—John 3:14.
9 What purpose, then, does Numbers serve? Truly its account is of more than historical value. Numbers emphasizes that Jehovah is the God of order, requiring exclusive devotion of his creatures. This is vividly impressed on the reader’s mind as he observes the numbering, testing, and sifting of Israel and sees how the nation’s disobedient and rebellious course is used to emphasize the vital need to obey Jehovah.
10 The record was preserved for the benefit of the generations to come, just as Asaph explained, “that they might set their confidence in God himself and not forget the practices of God but observe his own commandments” and that “they should not become like their forefathers, a generation stubborn and rebellious, a generation who had not prepared their heart and whose spirit was not trustworthy with God.” (Ps. 78:7, 8) Over and over again, the events of Numbers were recounted in the psalms, which were sacred songs among the Jews and so were often repeated as being beneficial to the nation.—Psalms 78, 95, 105, 106, 135, 136.
Numbers ‒ Overview and structure
NUMBERS: OUTLINE OF CONTENTS1
Registration of men for the army (1-46)
The Levites exempted from the army (47-51)
Orderly arrangement of the camp (52-54)
Camp organized into three-tribe divisions (1-34)
Judah’s division toward the east (3-9)
Reuben’s division toward the south (10-16)
Levi’s camp in the middle (17)
Ephraim’s division toward the west (18-24)
Dan’s division toward the north (25-31)
Total number of registered males (32-34)
Aaron’s sons (1-4)
The Levites chosen to minister (5-39)
Redemption of the firstborn (40-51)
Service of the Kohathites (1-20)
Service of the Gershonites (21-28)
Service of the Merarites (29-33)
Summary of the census (34-49)
Quarantine of the unclean (1-4)
Confession and compensation (5-10)
Water test for suspected adultery (11-31)
Vow of Naziriteship (1-21)
Priestly blessing (22-27)
Tabernacle inauguration offerings (1-89)
Aaron lights the seven lamps (1-4)
Levites cleansed, begin to serve (5-22)
Age restrictions for Levitical service (23-26)
Provision for late Passover (1-14)
Cloud and fire above the tabernacle (15-23)
The silver trumpets (1-10)
Departure from Sinai (11-13)
Order of marching (14-28)
Hobab asked to guide Israel (29-34)
Moses’ prayer when breaking camp (35, 36)
Complaining brings fire from God (1-3)
People cry for meat (4-9)
Moses’ feelings of inadequacy (10-15)
Jehovah gives spirit to 70 elders (16-25)
Eldad and Medad; Joshua jealous for Moses (26-30)
Quail sent; people punished for greed (31-35)
Miriam and Aaron oppose Moses (1-3)
Moses the meekest of all (3)
Jehovah defends Moses (4-8)
Miriam struck with leprosy (9-16)
The 12 spies sent into Canaan (1-24)
Bad report from ten spies (25-33)
People want to return to Egypt (1-10)
Joshua and Caleb’s good report (6-9)
Jehovah angry; Moses intercedes (11-19)
Punishment: 40 years in the wilderness (20-38)
Israel defeated by the Amalekites (39-45)
Laws about offerings (1-21)
Same law for natives and foreign residents (15, 16)
Offerings for unintentional sins (22-29)
Punishment for deliberate sins (30, 31)
A Sabbathbreaker put to death (32-36)
Garments to have fringed edges (37-41)
Rebellion of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram (1-19)
Judgment on the rebels (20-50)
Aaron’s budded rod a sign (1-13)
Duties of priests and Levites (1-7)
Priestly allowances (8-19)
Covenant of salt (19)
Levites to receive and to give a tenth (20-32)
The red cow and the cleansing water (1-22)
Miriam dies at Kadesh (1)
Moses strikes the rock and sins (2-13)
Edom denies Israel passage (14-21)
The death of Aaron (22-29)
King of Arad defeated (1-3)
Copper serpent (4-9)
Israel’s march around Moab (10-20)
Amorite King Sihon defeated (21-30)
Amorite King Og defeated (31-35)
Balak hires Balaam (1-21)
Balaam’s donkey speaks (22-41)
Balaam’s 1st proverbial saying (1-12)
Balaam’s 2nd proverbial saying (13-30)
Balaam’s 3rd proverbial saying (1-11)
Balaam’s 4th proverbial saying (12-25)
Israel’s sin with Moabite women (1-5)
Phinehas takes action (6-18)
Second census of Israel’s tribes (1-65)
Daughters of Zelophehad (1-11)
Joshua commissioned to succeed Moses (12-23)
Procedures for various offerings (1-31)
Daily offerings (1-8)
For the Sabbath (9, 10)
Monthly offerings (11-15)
For the Passover (16-25)
For the Festival of Weeks (26-31)
Procedures for various offerings (1-40)
Day of trumpet blast (1-6)
Day of Atonement (7-11)
Festival of Booths (12-38)
Vows of men (1, 2)
Vows of women and daughters (3-16)
Vengeance on Midian (1-12)
Balaam killed (8)
Instruction for spoils of war (13-54)
Settlements east of the Jordan (1-42)
Stages of Israel’s wilderness journey (1-49)
Instructions for conquering Canaan (50-56)
Boundaries of Canaan (1-15)
Men assigned to divide the land (16-29)
Cities for the Levites (1-8)
Cities of refuge (9-34)
Law on marriage of female heirs (1-13)
HIGHLIGHTS OF NUMBERSA historical narrative that demonstrates how vital it is to obey Jehovah under all circumstances and to respect his representatives
Covers events during most of the time Israel was in the wilderness en route to the Promised Land
The tribes of Israel are registered and organized
About a year after the Exodus from Egypt, all Israelite males 20 years old and over are registered, with the exception of the Levites (1:1-49)
Each three-tribe division is assigned a place to camp and a position in the order of march (2:1-34)
The Levites are set apart to assist the priests; all Levites over a month old are registered; they are taken by Jehovah in exchange for the firstborn of the other tribes (3:1-51)
The male offspring of Kohath, Gershon, and Merari, the three sons of Levi, from 30 to 50 years of age are numbered and given service assignments (4:1-49)
Another census is taken of the Israelites shortly before they enter the Promised Land (26:1-65)
Israelites receive divine commands regarding their worship and their dealings with one another
Requirements are set out for Nazirites (6:1-21)
The Passover is observed; provision is made so that anyone unclean or on a distant journey can observe it a month after Nisan 14 (9:1-14)
Various regulations are given involving the duties and the privileges of priests and Levites, including the preparation of the water for cleansing and its uses (18:1–19:22)
The offerings are listed that must be presented each day, each Sabbath, at the start of each month, during festivals, and during the seventh month (28:1–29:40)
Jehovah’s commands governing vows are recorded (30:1-16)
Guilty ones must confess and compensate the wronged party (5:5-8)
A procedure is established for handling cases when a wife is suspected of secret adultery (5:11-31)
Arrangements are made for six cities of refuge (35:9-34)
Israelites manifest a lack of appreciation for Jehovah’s provisions, and they disobey his commands
The people complain about eating manna and long for meat; when Jehovah provides quail, many act with extreme greed and are punished with death (11:4-34)
They believe the bad report of the ten fearful spies and want to return to Egypt; Moses has to intercede for them (13:1–14:19)
When that rebellious generation is sentenced to wander and die in the wilderness, the people attempt to enter the Promised Land without Jehovah’s blessing, and they suffer a military defeat (14:26-45)
There is a failure to respect Jehovah’s visible representatives
Miriam and Aaron speak out against Moses; Jehovah strikes Miriam with leprosy (12:1-15)
Korah, Dathan, Abiram, On, and 250 chieftains range themselves against Moses and Aaron; Jehovah executes the rebels, and this gives rise to further murmuring; 14,700 more die (16:1-50)
At Kadesh, the Israelites complain bitterly against Moses and Aaron because of a water shortage; when Jehovah miraculously supplies water, Moses and Aaron fail to sanctify Jehovah’s name and thus lose the privilege of entering the Promised Land (20:1-13)
The Israelites tire out and speak against Jehovah and Moses; they are plagued by serpents, and many die; Moses intercedes for the people, and anyone bitten can be saved by gazing at a copper serpent (21:4-9)
Jehovah blesses Israel but insists on exclusive devotion as the nation prepares to enter Canaan
Jehovah gives Israel victory over the king of Arad (21:1-3)
Israel defeats Sihon and Og, taking possession of their land (21:21-35)
Balak hires Balaam to curse the Israelites; Jehovah forces him to bless Israel instead (22:2–24:25)
Moabite women lure Israelite men into idolatry and fornication; 24,000 are killed for thus falling into apostasy; Jehovah relents when Phinehas tolerates no rivalry toward Him (25:1-18)
CONTENTS OF NUMBERS11 Numbers logically falls into three parts. The first of these, concluding at chapter 10, verse 10, covers events taking place while the Israelites were still encamped at Mount Sinai. The next part, concluding with chapter 21, tells what happened during the next 38 years and a month or two more, while they were in the wilderness and until they arrived at the Plains of Moab. The final part, through chapter 36, is concerned with events on the Plains of Moab as the Israelites prepared for their entry into the Promised Land.
12 Events at Mount Sinai (1:1–10:10). The Israelites have already been in the mountainous region of Sinai for about a year. Here they have been molded into a closely knit organization. At Jehovah’s command a census is now taken of all the men 20 years old and upward. The tribes are found to range in size from 32,200 able-bodied men in Manasseh up to 74,600 in Judah, making a total of 603,550 men qualified to serve in the army of Israel, besides the Levites and the women and children—a camp perhaps numbering three million or more. The tent of meeting is situated, along with the Levites, in the center of the camp. In assigned places on each side are camped the other Israelites, in three-tribe divisions, each tribe having instructions as to the order of march when the camp is to move. Jehovah issues the instructions, and the record says: “The sons of Israel proceeded to do according to all that Jehovah had commanded Moses.” (2:34) They obey Jehovah and show respect for Moses, God’s visible representative.
13 The Levites are then set apart for Jehovah’s service, as a ransom for the firstborn of Israel. They are divided into three groups, according to their descent from the three sons of Levi: Gershon, Kohath, and Merari. Locations in the camp and service responsibilities are determined on the basis of this division. From 30 years of age on, they are to do the heavy work of transporting the tabernacle. To get the lighter work done, provision is made for others to serve, starting at 25 years of age. (This was reduced in David’s time to 20 years of age.)—1 Chron. 23:24-32; Ezra 3:8.
14 That the camp may be kept pure, instructions are given for quarantining those who become diseased, for making atonement for acts of unfaithfulness, for resolving cases in which a man might become suspicious of the conduct of his wife, and for assuring right conduct on the part of those set apart by vow to live as Nazirites to Jehovah. Since the people are to have the name of their God upon them, they must deport themselves in accord with his commandments.
15 Filling in some details from the previous month (Num. 7:1, 10; Ex. 40:17), Moses next tells of the contributions of materials made by the 12 chieftains of the people over a period of 12 days from the time of the inauguration of the altar. There was no competition or seeking of self-glory in it; each one contributed exactly what the others did. All must now keep in mind that over these chieftains, and over Moses himself, there is Jehovah God, who speaks instructions to Moses. They must never forget their relationship to Jehovah. The Passover is to remind them of Jehovah’s wondrous deliverance from Egypt, and they celebrate it here in the wilderness at the appointed time, one year after leaving Egypt.
16 In the same way that he had directed Israel’s movement out of Egypt, Jehovah continues to lead the nation in its travels by a cloud that covers the tabernacle of the tent of the Testimony by day and by the appearance of fire there by night. When the cloud moves, the nation moves. When the cloud remains over the tabernacle, the nation remains encamped, whether for a few days or a month or longer, for the account tells us: “At the order of Jehovah they would encamp, and at the order of Jehovah they would pull away. They kept their obligation to Jehovah at the order of Jehovah by means of Moses.” (Num. 9:23) As the time for departure from Sinai draws near, trumpet signals are arranged both to assemble the people and to direct the various divisions of the encampment on their wilderness trek.
17 Events in the wilderness (10:11–21:35). At last, on the 20th day of the second month, Jehovah lifts the cloud from over the tabernacle, thus signaling Israel’s departure from the region of Sinai. With the ark of Jehovah’s covenant in their midst, they set out for Kadesh-barnea, some 150 miles [240 km] to the north. As they march by day, Jehovah’s cloud is over them. Each time the Ark goes out, Moses prays to Jehovah to arise and scatter his enemies, and each time it comes to rest, he prays for Jehovah to return “to the myriads of thousands of Israel.”—10:36.
18 However, trouble arises in the camp. On the trip north to Kadesh-barnea, there are at least three occasions of complaining. To quell the first outbreak, Jehovah sends a fire to consume some of the people. Then “the mixed crowd” set Israel to bemoaning that they no longer have as food the fish, cucumbers, watermelons, leeks, onions, and garlic of Egypt, but only manna. (11:4) Moses becomes so distressed that he asks Jehovah to kill him off rather than let him continue as male nurse to all this people. Considerately, Jehovah takes away some of the spirit from Moses and puts it upon 70 of the older men, who proceed to assist Moses as prophets in the camp. Then meat comes in abundance. As had happened once before, a wind from Jehovah drives in quail from the sea, and the people greedily seize great supplies, selfishly hoarding them. Jehovah’s anger blazes against the people, striking down many because of their selfish craving.—Ex. 16:2, 3, 13.
19 The troubles continue. Failing properly to view their younger brother, Moses, as Jehovah’s representative, Miriam and Aaron find fault with him over his wife, who has recently come into the camp. They demand more authority, comparable to that of Moses, though “the man Moses was by far the meekest of all the men who were upon the surface of the ground.” (Num. 12:3) Jehovah himself sets the matter straight and lets it be known that Moses occupies a special position, striking Miriam, who was likely the instigator of the complaint, with leprosy. Only by Moses’ intercession is she later healed.
20 Arriving at Kadesh, Israel camps at the threshold of the Promised Land. Jehovah now instructs Moses to send spies to scout out the land. Entering from the south, they travel north clear to “the entering in of Hamath,” walking hundreds of miles in 40 days. (13:21) When they return with some of the rich fruitage of Canaan, ten of the spies faithlessly argue that it would be foolish to go up against so strong a people and such great fortified cities. Caleb tries to quiet the assembly with a favorable report, but without success. The rebellious spies strike fear into the Israelites’ hearts, claiming the land to be one that “eats up its inhabitants” and saying, “All the people whom we saw in the midst of it are men of extraordinary size.” As murmurings of rebellion sweep through the camp, Joshua and Caleb plead, “Jehovah is with us. Do not fear them.” (13:32; 14:9) However, the assembly begins to talk of pelting them with stones.
21 Then Jehovah intervenes directly, saying to Moses: “How long will this people treat me without respect, and how long will they not put faith in me for all the signs that I performed in among them?” (14:11) Moses implores him not to destroy the nation, as Jehovah’s name and fame are involved. Jehovah therefore decrees that Israel must continue to wander in the wilderness until all those registered among the people, from 20 years old and up, have died off. Of the registered males, only Caleb and Joshua will be permitted to enter the Land of Promise. In vain the people try to go up on their own initiative, only to suffer a terrible defeat meted out by the Amalekites and the Canaanites. What a high price the people pay for their disrespect of Jehovah and his loyal representatives!
22 Truly, they have much to learn in the way of obedience. Fittingly, Jehovah gives them additional laws highlighting this need. He lets them know that when they come into the Promised Land, atonement must be made for mistakes, but the deliberately disobedient must be cut off without fail. Thus, when a man is found gathering wood in violation of the Sabbath law, Jehovah commands: “Without fail the man should be put to death.” (15:35) As a reminder of the commandments of Jehovah and the importance of obeying them, Jehovah instructs that the people wear fringes on the skirts of their garments.
23 Nevertheless, rebellion breaks out again. Korah, Dathan, Abiram, and 250 prominent men of the assembly gather in opposition to the authority of Moses and Aaron. Moses puts the issue to Jehovah, saying to the rebels: ‘Take fire holders and incense and present them before Jehovah, and let him choose.’ (16:6, 7) Jehovah’s glory now appears to all the assembly. Swiftly he executes judgment, causing the earth to split apart to swallow up the households of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram, and sending out a fire to consume the 250 men, including Korah, offering the incense. The very next day, the people begin to condemn Moses and Aaron for what Jehovah did, and again He scourges them, wiping out 14,700 complainers.
24 In view of these events, Jehovah commands that each tribe present a rod before him, including a rod with Aaron’s name for the tribe of Levi. The next day Aaron is shown to be Jehovah’s choice for the priesthood, for his rod alone is found to be in full bloom and bearing ripe almonds. It is to be preserved in the ark of the covenant “for a sign to the sons of rebelliousness.” (Num. 17:10; Heb. 9:4) After further instructions for the support of the priesthood by means of tithes and concerning the use of cleansing water with the ashes of a red cow, the account returns us to Kadesh. Here Miriam dies and is buried.
25 Again at the threshold of the Land of Promise the assembly gets to quarreling with Moses because of the lack of water. Jehovah counts it as quarreling with Him, and He appears in His glory, commanding Moses to take the rod and bring out water from the crag. Do Moses and Aaron now sanctify Jehovah? Instead, Moses twice strikes the crag in anger. The people and their livestock get water to drink, but Moses and Aaron fail to give the credit to Jehovah. Though the heartbreaking wilderness journey is almost over, they both incur Jehovah’s displeasure and are told they will not enter the Land of Promise. Aaron dies later on Mount Hor, and his son Eleazar takes over the duties of high priest.
26 Israel turns to the east and seeks to go through the land of Edom but is rebuffed. While making a long detour around Edom, the people get into trouble again as they complain against God and Moses. They are tired of the manna, and they are thirsty. Because of their rebelliousness Jehovah sends poisonous serpents among them, so that many die. At last, when Moses intercedes, Jehovah instructs him to make a fiery copper serpent and place it on a signal pole. Those who have been bitten but who gaze at the copper serpent are spared alive. Heading north, the Israelites are impeded, in turn, by the belligerent kings Sihon of the Amorites and Og of Bashan. Israel defeats both of these in battle, and Israel occupies their territories to the east of the Rift Valley.
27 Events on the Plains of Moab (22:1–36:13). In eager anticipation of their entry into Canaan, the Israelites now gather on the desert plains of Moab, north of the Dead Sea and to the east of the Jordan across from Jericho. Seeing this vast encampment spread out before them, the Moabites feel a sickening dread. Their king Balak, in consultation with the Midianites, sends for Balaam to use divination and put a curse on Israel. Although God directly tells Balaam, “You must not go with them,” he wants to go. (22:12) He wants the reward. Finally he does go, only to be stopped by an angel and to have his own she-ass miraculously speak to rebuke him. When at last Balaam gets around to making pronouncements about Israel, God’s spirit impels him, so that his four proverbial utterances prophesy only blessings for God’s nation, even foretelling that a star would step forth out of Jacob and a scepter would rise out of Israel to subdue and destroy.
28 Having infuriated Balak by his failure to curse Israel, Balaam now seeks the king’s good graces by suggesting that the Moabites use their own females in enticing the men of Israel to share in the lewd rites involved in the worship of Baal. (31:15, 16) Here, right on the border of the Promised Land, the Israelites begin to fall away to gross immorality and the worship of false gods. As Jehovah’s anger blazes forth in a scourge, Moses calls for drastic punishment of the wrongdoers. When Phinehas, son of the high priest, sees the son of a chieftain bring a Midianite woman into his tent right inside the camp, he goes after them and kills them, striking the woman through her genital parts. At this, the scourge is halted, but not before 24,000 die from it.
29 Jehovah now commands Moses and Eleazar to take a census of the people again, as had been done nearly 39 years earlier at Mount Sinai. The final count shows that there has been no increase in their ranks. On the contrary, there are 1,820 fewer men registered. None remain that had been registered at Sinai for army service, except Joshua and Caleb. As Jehovah had indicated would happen, all of them had died in the wilderness. Jehovah next gives instructions concerning the division of the land as an inheritance. He repeats that Moses will not enter the Land of Promise because of his failure to sanctify Jehovah at the waters of Meribah. (20:13; 27:14, footnotes) Joshua is commissioned as successor to Moses.
30 Through Moses, Jehovah next reminds Israel of the importance of His laws concerning sacrifices and feasts and of the seriousness of vows. He also has Moses settle the account with the Midianites because of their part in seducing Israel over Baal of Peor. All the Midianite males are slain in battle, along with Balaam, and only virgin girls are spared, 32,000 of these being taken captive along with plunder that includes 808,000 animals. Not one Israelite is reported missing in battle. The sons of Reuben and of Gad, who raise livestock, ask to settle in the territory east of the Jordan, and after they agree to help in conquering the Promised Land, the request is granted, so that these two tribes, together with half the tribe of Manasseh, are given this rich tableland as their possession.
31 After a review of the stopping places on the 40-year journey, the record again focuses attention on the need for obedience to Jehovah. God is giving them the land, but they must become His executioners, driving out the depraved, demon-worshiping inhabitants and destroying every last trace of their idolatrous religion. The detailed boundaries of their God-given land are stated. It is to be divided among them by lot. The Levites, who have no tribal inheritance, are to be given 48 cities with their pasture grounds, 6 of these to be cities of refuge for the unintentional manslayer. Territory must remain within the tribe, never being transferred to another tribe by marriage. If there is no male heir, then the daughters who receive an inheritance—for example, the daughters of Zelophehad—must marry within their own tribe. (27:1-11; 36:1-11) Numbers concludes with these commandments of Jehovah through Moses and with the sons of Israel poised at last to enter the Land of Promise.
Highlights of Numbers
Respect Jehovah, Urges the Book of NumbersJEHOVAH GOD deserves the wholehearted respect of his worshipers. They must obey him and loyally cooperate with his appointed servants. How well this is stressed in the Bible book of Numbers!
This book’s name is based on the two censuses, or numberings, of the Israelites recorded in chapters 1 through 4 and 26. Numbers was written by Moses on the plains of Moab in 1473 B.C.E. and primarily covers 38 years and 9 months, reaching back to 1512 B.C.E.—Numbers 1:1; Deuteronomy 1:3.
Recorded in the three sections of Numbers are events at Mount Sinai (1:1–10:10), later in the wilderness (10:11–21:35) and on the plains of Moab (22:1–36:13). But what can these incidents teach us? Are there principles in Numbers that can benefit Jehovah’s Witnesses today?
Contents Promote Respect for God
The Israelites have been at the base of Mount Sinai for about a year when Jehovah commands Moses to take a census. Except for the Levites, all the males 20 years of age and upward are registered, and their number is 603,550. In place of the firstborn, God takes the Levites for tabernacle service. Instructions are given as to the line of march, in which Judah, the most populous tribe, is to take the lead. At God’s command, the Levites are then registered and assigned sacred duties.—Numbers 1:1–4:49.
Jehovah’s commands on quarantine are followed by his giving laws such as those pertaining to cases of jealousy as to wifely faithfulness and vows made by Nazirites. Then some details are given concerning tabernacle service. At the erection of the tabernacle and the inauguration of the altar, tribal chieftains had made valuable offerings. After the pattern given in a vision from Jehovah, Moses had a lampstand made. When its lamps were lit and the Levites were cleansed, they could begin serving.—Numbers 5:1–8:26.
Instructions on the Passover are reviewed. The making and breaking of camp is directed by a miraculous cloud over the tabernacle. The people encamp and pull away “at the order of Jehovah.” For convening the assembly and other purposes, two silver trumpets are to be used.—Numbers 9:1–10:10.
On the 20th day of the second month in the second year after the departure from Egypt, the cloud above the tabernacle begins to move and Israel is on the march. Cases of unjustified complaint occur. One of these is a cry for meat, but greediness manifests itself when Jehovah supplies quail. Miriam and Aaron complain against their brother Moses, and as punishment Miriam is temporarily stricken with leprosy. How this should prompt us to show respect for God-given authority!—Numbers 10:11–12:16.
Twelve spies are sent into the Promised Land and return with luscious fruits 40 days later. But ten spies make so much of the inhabitants’ size and of their fortified cities that the discouraged Israelites want to return to Egypt. In vain the faithful spies Joshua and Caleb urge them to exercise faith in Jehovah. When the people talk of stoning Moses, Aaron, Joshua and Caleb, God says that he will strike and drive away the entire nation. But Moses intercedes and Jehovah decrees that the people will wander in the wilderness for 40 years, until all those 20 years of age and older have died. The only exceptions are to be Joshua, Caleb and the tribe of Levi. Next, the Israelites try to invade the Promised Land, only to suffer a disheartening defeat.—Numbers 13:1–14:45.
Various laws involving offerings, Sabbath violation and the use of fringes on garments are given next. Then Korah, Dathan, Abiram, On and 250 chieftains speak against Moses and Aaron. The result of this gross disrespect? Jehovah destroys Korah and the 250 by fire, whereas the other rebels perish when the earth opens up, swallowing them along with their families and possessions. The very next day the Israelites murmur against Moses and Aaron, and for this lack of respect 14,700 die in a scourge from Jehovah. To end the murmuring and show that he has chosen Aaron of the tribe of Levi, God causes Aaron’s rod to bud. This is followed by regulations involving the duties of priests and Levites and the cleansing of the people from defilement.—Numbers 15:1–19:22.
At Kadesh there is a cry for water. Because Moses and Aaron do not sanctify Jehovah for miraculously providing it, they are told that they will not enter the Promised Land. Leaving Kadesh, the people arrive at Mount Hor, where Aaron dies and his son Eleazar is made the high priest. The Israelites next defeat the king of Arad. Later, they speak against God and Moses, and this time Jehovah sends poisonous serpents among them as a punishment. Those bitten are cured only by gazing at a copper serpent that God tells Moses to make and set upon a pole. Thereafter, Israel defeats Amorite King Sihon and Og the king of Bashan, taking possession of their lands.—Numbers 20:1–21:35.
Events on the plains of Moab are related next. Moabite King Balak hires Balaam to curse the Israelites, but three times he blesses them instead. Balaam is instrumental in causing Baal-worshiping women to lead Israel into sexual immorality and idolatry. Jehovah destroys 24,000 wrongdoers before Phinehas stops the plague by executing an immoral Israelite man and a Midianitess.—Numbers 22:1–25:18; 31:15, 16.
After another census is taken and a precedent is set as to the inheritance rights of daughters, Moses views the Promised Land and commissions Joshua as his successor. Instructions are provided on daily, weekly, monthly and yearly offerings, as well as on the making of vows. Then vengeance is taken on the Midianites for their part in causing the Israelites to sin against God.—Numbers 26:1–31:54.
The tribes of Reuben, Gad and Manasseh are granted inheritances east of the Jordan but on condition that they share in conquering the land west of that river. Next, there is a list of Israel’s many encampments from Egypt to the plains of Moab. The Israelites then receive commands related to residence in the Promised Land. Among other things, they are to destroy the appendages of false religion and drive out the inhabitants. Boundaries of the land are defined, chieftains are designated to help Joshua and Eleazar to apportion it, and 48 cities are assigned to the Levites. Six refuge cities are set aside and instructions are provided on handling cases involving unintentional manslaughter and murder. Finally, laws are given on the marriage of heiresses.—Numbers 32:1–36:13.
As you read Numbers, you may well be impressed by its emphasis on showing respect for Jehovah and those appointed to carry responsibility among his people. But you may wonder about some points. So the following questions and answers may be of interest.
Events at Mount Sinai• 5:11-31—What actually happened to a wife guilty of adultery?
No affliction was brought on by the water itself. But it was drunk before Jehovah, who knew whether the woman was guilty of adultery. If she was, he would make her belly swell and her thigh fall away. Evidently the thigh is used here euphemistically for the procreative organs. (Compare Genesis 46:26.) “Fall away” suggests that these organs atrophied, making conception impossible. This would harmonize with the fact that if the woman was innocent her husband was to make her pregnant.
• 8:25, 26—Does the principle of the law on Levite retirement apply to Jehovah’s people today?
The priests were assisted by all the qualified males of the three main Levite families. In time, the Levites would become numerous, but the number of service openings at the sanctuary was limited. Doubtless, then, both out of consideration for age and to prevent overcrowding of such offices, Jehovah instructed that male Levites reaching 50 should be retired from obligatory service, although they could still assist voluntarily. However, this establishes no rule for spiritual Israelites and their companions because they are not under the Law. (Romans 6:14; Ephesians 2:11-16) If old age should incapacitate a Christian for a certain responsibility, he may be shifted to a form of service that he can perform. For Jehovah’s Witnesses there is no retirement from preaching the good news of the Kingdom.
Wandering From Place to Place• 12:1—Why did Miriam and Aaron speak against Moses because of his Cushite wife?
This was more than an objection to the wife of Moses. The actual motive was a desire for greater power, especially on Miriam’s part. Moses’ wife, Zipporah, had been away but had rejoined him, and Miriam feared being replaced as first lady in the camp. (Exodus 18:1-5) So she got Aaron to join her in criticizing Moses for marrying a Cushite and in challenging his unique position before God. For this, Jehovah castigated both Miriam and Aaron, but the fact that only she was stricken with leprosy may suggest that she was the instigator. Aaron’s right attitude was shown by his confession and plea in behalf of leprous Miriam. (Numbers 12:10-13) As for Zipporah, she was the daughter of Reuel the Midianite. (Genesis 25:1, 2; Numbers 10:29) At Habakkuk 3:7 “the land of Midian” is paralleled with Cushan, which evidently is another name for Midian or relates to a neighboring country. Moreover, certain Arabic tribes were called Kusi or Kushim. So it seems that “Cushite” was not limited to descendants of Ham through Cush but was also applied to some inhabitants of Midian. Therefore, Zipporah could be called a Cushite.
• 21:14, 15—What was “the book of the Wars of Jehovah”?
Undoubtedly, this was a reliable historical record of the wars of Jehovah’s people. It may have begun with Abraham’s successful action against the four kings who had captured Lot and his family. (Genesis 14:1-16) The Scriptures refer to various uninspired writings, some of which were used as source material by inspired Bible writers.—Joshua 10:12, 13; 1 Kings 11:41; 14:19, 29.
On the Plains of Moab• 22:20-22—Since Jehovah told Balaam to go with Balak’s men, why was He angry when that prophet went with them?
Jehovah told Balaam that he could not curse the Israelites, but the greedy prophet went with the intention of doing so in order to be rewarded by Moabite King Balak. (2 Peter 2:15, 16; Jude 11) For that reason God’s anger blazed against Balaam. Of course, Jehovah disapproved of any cursing of Israel. But Balaam, like Cain, was headstrong in disregarding God’s will. (Genesis 4:6-8) After Jehovah changed each intended malediction into a blessing, Balaam’s perversity moved him to suggest that Balak use women of Moab and Midian to seduce the Israelites and involve them in Baal worship. (Deuteronomy 23:5; Numbers 31:15, 16; Revelation 2:14) This brought God’s wrath upon Israel and resulted in the death of 24,000. Later, greedy Balaam died at the hands of those he sought to curse. (Numbers 25:1-9; 31:8) What a warning against greed!
• 25:10-13—How was this promise regarding the priesthood fulfilled?
The high priesthood seems to have continued in the line of Phinehas until the time of High Priest Eli, a descendant of Ithamar. This change probably was made because of a temporary disqualification in Phinehas’ line. But King Solomon replaced Ithamar’s descendant Abiathar with High Priest Zadok, who descended from Phinehas. (1 Kings 1:1-14; 2:26, 27, 35) As far as the historical record shows, apparently the line of Phinehas thereafter continued in the high priesthood for many years.
• 30:6-8—Can a Christian woman’s husband set aside her vows?
No, for Jesus’ followers are not under the Law. Jehovah now deals with persons individually with regard to vows, and a Christian husband is not authorized to cancel or forbid them. Of course, a Christian wife should not make vows that conflict with God’s Word or her Scriptural duties toward her husband.—Ecclesiastes 5:2-6.
Of Great Value to UsA valuable link in the record leading to the establishment of God’s Kingdom is provided by the book of Numbers. It also points to Jesus Christ. For instance, the animal sacrifices and use of the red-cow ashes pointed to the far greater provision for cleansing through Jesus’ sacrifice. (Numbers 19:2-9; Hebrews 9:13, 14) The incident involving the copper serpent foreshadowed Jehovah’s grand provision for eternal life through Christ.—Numbers 21:8, 9; John 3:14, 15.
The book of Numbers can help us to avoid idolatry and sexual immorality. It alerts us to the danger of murmuring against God, his appointees and his provisions. And surely this thrilling account should move us to show utmost respect for our loving God, Jehovah.
Jehovah’s Word Is Alive
Highlights From the Book of NumbersFOLLOWING their Exodus from Egypt, the Israelites were organized into a nation. Shortly thereafter, they could have entered the Promised Land, but they did not. Instead, they had to wander for some four decades in a “great and fear-inspiring wilderness.” (Deuteronomy 8:15) Why? The historical narrative in the Bible book of Numbers tells us what happened. It should impress upon us the need to obey Jehovah God and respect his representatives.
Written by Moses in the wilderness and on the Plains of Moab, the book of Numbers covers a period of 38 years and 9 months—from 1512 B.C.E. to 1473 B.C.E. (Numbers 1:1; Deuteronomy 1:3) Its name is derived from the two censuses of the Israelites, taken some 38 years apart. (Chapters 1-4, 26) The narrative is divided into three sections. The first part relates events that happened at Mount Sinai. The second covers what took place during Israel’s wandering in the wilderness. And the final section considers events on the Plains of Moab. As you read this account, you may want to ask yourself: ‘What do these incidents teach me? Are there principles in this book that can benefit me today?’
AT MOUNT SINAI(Numbers 1:1–10:10)
The first of the two numberings takes place while the Israelites are still at the base of Mount Sinai. Males 20 years old and upward, except the Levites, total 603,550. The census is evidently taken for military purposes. The entire camp, including women, children, and the Levites, may amount to over three million people.
Following the census, the Israelites receive instructions regarding the order of march, details concerning the duties of Levites and tabernacle service, commands on quarantine, and laws relating to cases of jealousy and vows made by Nazirites. Chapter 7 contains information about offerings made by tribal chieftains in connection with the inauguration of the altar, and chapter 9 discusses the Passover observance. The assembly is also given instructions about setting up and breaking camp.
Scriptural Questions Answered:2:1, 2—What were “the signs” around which the three-tribe divisions were to encamp in the wilderness? The Bible does not give a description of what these signs were. However, they were not regarded as sacred symbols or given religious significance. The signs were used for a practical purpose—to help a person find his proper place in the camp.
5:27—What is meant by the ‘falling away of the thigh’ of a wife guilty of adultery? The term “thigh” is used here to denote the procreative organs. (Genesis 46:26) The ‘falling away’ of it suggests the degeneration of these organs, so that conception would be impossible.
Lessons for Us:6:1-7. Nazirites were to abstain from the product of the vine and all intoxicating beverages, requiring self-denial. They were to let their hair grow long—a sign of submission to Jehovah, just as women were to be in subjection to their husbands or fathers. The Nazirites were to remain clean by staying away from any dead body, even that of a close relative. Full-time servants today show a spirit of self-sacrifice when it comes to self-denial and submission to Jehovah and his arrangement. Some assignments may involve going to a distant land, which may even make it difficult or impossible to return home for the funeral of a close family member.
8:25, 26. To fill the positions of the Levite service properly, and out of consideration for their age, older men were commanded to retire from compulsory service. However, they could volunteer to assist other Levites. While there is no retirement from being a Kingdom proclaimer today, the principle of this law teaches a valuable lesson. If because of advanced age a Christian cannot fulfill certain obligations, he may engage in a form of service that is within his power to perform.
FROM PLACE TO PLACE IN THE WILDERNESS(Numbers 10:11–21:35)
When the cloud above the tabernacle eventually rises, the Israelites begin a march that will bring them to the desert plains of Moab 38 years and one or two months later. You may find it beneficial to follow their route on the map on page 9 of the brochure “See the Good Land,” published by Jehovah’s Witnesses.
On the way to Kadesh, in the Wilderness of Paran, there are at least three cases of complaint. The first one is quelled when Jehovah sends a fire to consume some of the people. Then the Israelites cry out for meat, and Jehovah supplies quail. Miriam and Aaron’s complaint against Moses results in Miriam being temporarily stricken with leprosy.
While camping at Kadesh, Moses sends out 12 men to spy out the Promised Land. They return 40 days later. Believing the bad report of ten of the spies, the people want to stone Moses, Aaron, and the faithful spies Joshua and Caleb. Jehovah proposes to strike the people with pestilence, but Moses intercedes, and God declares that they will become wanderers in the wilderness for 40 years—until those numbered have died.
Jehovah gives additional regulations. Korah and others rebel against Moses and Aaron, but the rebels are destroyed by fire or are swallowed up by the earth. The following day the entire assembly murmurs against Moses and Aaron. As a result, 14,700 die in a scourge from Jehovah. To make his selection of high priest known, God causes Aaron’s rod to bud. Jehovah then gives further laws pertaining to Levite obligations and the cleansing of the people. The use of red-cow ashes prefigures the cleansing through Jesus’ sacrifice.—Hebrews 9:13, 14.
The sons of Israel return to Kadesh, where Miriam dies. The assembly again complains against Moses and Aaron. Their reason? Lack of water. Because Moses and Aaron fail to sanctify Jehovah’s name when miraculously providing water, they lose out on entering the Promised Land. Israel pulls away from Kadesh, and Aaron dies at Mount Hor. While going around Edom, the Israelites tire out and speak against God and Moses. Jehovah sends poisonous serpents to punish them. Moses once again intercedes, and God instructs him to make a copper serpent and set it upon a pole so that those bitten are cured by gazing at it. The serpent foreshadows the impalement of Jesus Christ for our eternal benefit. (John 3:14, 15) Israel defeats Amorite Kings Sihon and Og and takes possession of their lands.
Scriptural Questions Answered:12:1—Why did Miriam and Aaron complain against Moses? The real reason for their complaint was apparently Miriam’s desire for greater power. When Moses’ wife, Zipporah, rejoined him in the wilderness, Miriam might have feared that she would no longer be viewed as leading lady in the camp.—Exodus 18:1-5.
12:9-11—Why was only Miriam stricken with leprosy? Very likely, she was the one who instigated the complaint and persuaded Aaron to join her. Aaron displayed a right attitude by confessing his wrong.
21:14, 15—What was the book mentioned here? The Scriptures refer to various books that the Bible writers used as source material. (Joshua 10:12, 13; 1 Kings 11:41; 14:19, 29) “The book of the Wars of Jehovah” was such a writing. It contained a historical account of the wars of Jehovah’s people.
Lessons for Us:11:27-29. Moses provides an excellent example regarding how we should respond when others receive privileges in Jehovah’s service. Rather than jealously seeking glory for himself, Moses was happy when Eldad and Medad began acting as prophets.
12:2, 9, 10; 16:1-3, 12-14, 31-35, 41, 46-50. Jehovah expects his worshipers to show respect for God-given authority.
14:24. A key to resisting worldly pressures toward wrongdoing is to develop “a different spirit,” or mental attitude. It must be one that is not like that of the world.
15:37-41. The unique fringe of the Israelites’ dress was intended to remind them that they were a people set apart to worship God and to obey his commandments. Should we not also live by God’s standards and stand out as different from the world?
ON THE PLAINS OF MOAB(Numbers 22:1–36:13)
As the sons of Israel encamp on the desert plains of Moab, the Moabites feel a sickening dread of them. Moab’s King Balak, therefore, hires Balaam to curse the Israelites. But Jehovah forces Balaam to bless them. Moabite and Midianite women are then used to lure Israelite men into immorality and idolatry. As a result, Jehovah destroys 24,000 wrongdoers. The scourge finally ends when Phinehas demonstrates that he tolerates no rivalry toward Jehovah.
The second census reveals that none of the men counted in the first are still alive, except for Joshua and Caleb. Joshua is commissioned to be Moses’ successor. The Israelites receive procedures for various offerings and instructions on the making of vows. The people of Israel also take vengeance upon the Midianites. Reuben, Gad, and the half tribe of Manasseh settle east of the Jordan River. Israel is given instructions on crossing the Jordan and taking possession of the land. Detailed boundaries of the land are defined. The inheritance is to be decided by lot. Levites are assigned 48 cities, and 6 of these are to serve as cities of refuge.
Scriptural Questions Answered:22:20-22—Why did Jehovah’s anger blaze against Balaam? Jehovah had told the prophet Balaam that he should not curse the Israelites. (Numbers 22:12) However, the prophet went with Balak’s men with the full intention of cursing Israel. Balaam wanted to please the Moabite king and receive a reward from him. (2 Peter 2:15, 16; Jude 11) Even when Balaam was forced to bless rather than curse Israel, he sought the king’s favor by suggesting that Baal-worshiping women be used to seduce Israelite men. (Numbers 31:15, 16) Thus, the reason for God’s anger against Balaam was the prophet’s unscrupulous greed.
30:6-8—Can a Christian man set aside his wife’s vows? With regard to vows, Jehovah now deals with his worshipers individually. For example, dedication to Jehovah is a personal vow. (Galatians 6:5) A husband does not have the authority to set aside or cancel such a vow. A wife, though, should avoid making a vow that conflicts with God’s Word or her duties toward her husband.
Lessons for Us:25:11. What an example of zeal for Jehovah’s worship Phinehas set for us! Should not the desire to keep the congregation clean move us to report any knowledge of gross immorality to Christian elders?
35:9-29. The fact that an unintentional manslayer had to leave his home and flee to a city of refuge for a period of time teaches us that life is sacred and that we must have respect for it.
35:33. The earth polluted by the spilled blood of the innocent can be atoned for only by the blood of those spilling it. How appropriate that Jehovah will destroy the wicked before the earth is transformed into a paradise!—Proverbs 2:21, 22; Daniel 2:44.
God’s Word Exerts Power
We must show respect for Jehovah and for those appointed to positions of responsibility among his people. The book of Numbers makes this truth ever clearer. What an important lesson for maintaining peace and unity in the congregation today!
The incidents related in Numbers show how easily those who neglect their spirituality can fall into wrongdoing, such as murmuring, immorality, and idolatry. Some of the examples and lessons from this Bible book can serve as a basis for local needs parts on the Service Meeting at congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Indeed, “the word of God is alive and exerts power” in our life.—Hebrews 4:12.
Numbers ‒ Importance and benefits
WHY BENEFICIAL32 Jesus referred to Numbers on several occasions, and his apostles and other Bible writers clearly demonstrate how meaningful and beneficial its record is. The apostle Paul specifically compared Jesus’ faithful service to that of Moses, which is largely recorded in Numbers. (Heb. 3:1-6) In the animal sacrifices and in the sprinkling of the ashes of the young red cow of Numbers 19:2-9, we again see pictured the far grander provision for cleansing through the sacrifice of Christ.—Heb. 9:13, 14.
33 Similarly, Paul showed that the bringing forth of water from the rock in the wilderness is full of meaning for us, saying: “They used to drink from the spiritual rock-mass that followed them, and that rock-mass meant the Christ.” (1 Cor. 10:4; Num. 20:7-11) Fittingly, it was Christ himself who said: “Whoever drinks from the water that I will give him will never get thirsty at all, but the water that I will give him will become in him a fountain of water bubbling up to impart everlasting life.”—John 4:14.
34 Jesus also made direct reference to an incident recorded in Numbers that foreshadowed the marvelous provision that God was making through him. “Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness,” he said, “so the Son of man must be lifted up, that everyone believing in him may have everlasting life.”—John 3:14, 15; Num. 21:8, 9.
35 Why were the Israelites sentenced to wander 40 years in the wilderness? For lack of faith. The apostle Paul gave powerful admonition on this point: “Beware, brothers, for fear there should ever develop in any one of you a wicked heart lacking faith by drawing away from the living God; but keep on exhorting one another each day.” Because of their disobedience and because of their faithlessness, those Israelites died in the wilderness. “Let us therefore do our utmost to enter into [God’s] rest, for fear anyone should fall in the same pattern of disobedience.” (Heb. 3:7–4:11; Num. 13:25–14:38) In warning against ungodly men who speak abusively of holy things, Jude referred to Balaam’s greed for reward and to Korah’s rebellious talk against Jehovah’s servant Moses. (Jude 11; Num. 22:7, 8, 22; 26:9, 10) Balaam was also referred to by Peter as one “who loved the reward of wrongdoing,” and by the glorified Jesus in his revelation through John as one who ‘put before Israel a stumbling block of idolatry and fornication.’ Certainly the Christian congregation today should be warned against such unholy ones.—2 Pet. 2:12-16; Rev. 2:14.
36 When immorality arose in the Corinthian congregation, Paul wrote them about “desiring injurious things,” referring specifically to Numbers. He admonished: “Neither let us practice fornication, as some of them committed fornication, only to fall, twenty-three thousand of them in one day.” (1 Cor. 10:6, 8; Num. 25:1-9; 31:16) What about the occasion when the people complained that obeying God’s commands entailed personal hardship and that they were dissatisfied with Jehovah’s provision of the manna? Concerning this, Paul says: “Neither let us put Jehovah to the test, as some of them put him to the test, only to perish by the serpents.” (1 Cor. 10:9; Num. 21:5, 6) Then Paul continues: “Neither be murmurers, just as some of them murmured, only to perish by the destroyer.” How bitter the experiences of Israel as a result of their murmuring against Jehovah, his representatives, and his provisions! These things that “went on befalling them as examples” should stand forth as a clear warning to all of us today, so that we may go on serving Jehovah in the fullness of faith.—1 Cor. 10:10, 11; Num. 14:2, 36, 37; 16:1-3, 41; 17:5, 10.
37 Numbers also provides the background against which many other Bible passages can be better understood.—Num. 28:9, 10—Matt. 12:5; Num. 15:38—Matt. 23:5; Num. 6:2-4—Luke 1:15; Num. 4:3—Luke 3:23; Num. 18:31—1 Cor. 9:13, 14; Num. 18:26—Heb. 7:5-9; Num. 17:8-10—Heb. 9:4.
38 What is recorded in Numbers is indeed inspired of God, and it is beneficial in teaching us the importance of obedience to Jehovah and respect for those whom he has made overseers among his people. By example, it reproves wrongdoing, and by happenings with prophetic import, it directs our attention to the One whom Jehovah has provided as the Savior and Leader of His people today. It provides an essential and instructive link in the record leading to the establishment of Jehovah’s righteous Kingdom in the hands of Jesus Christ, the one He appointed as Mediator and High Priest.
References consulted on: Watchtower Library 2013 CD-ROM
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