Numbers is the English translation for the name given to this, the fourth book of the Torah, of the Latin, which was a translation of the Greek title of this book.  The title in the Hebrew is bemidmar, or "In the wilderness"  (1:1).  The translators found the census at the beginning (chapters 1-4) and end (chapter 26) of the journey compelling enough to define the book, but most of the book chronicles 38 years of wondering in the wilderness.

The law having been given, and the the construction of the tabernacle being completed, the story continues from that of Exodus and Leviticus. The action moves from Sinai to the southern border of Canaan and back into the wilderness for 38 years.  A census is taken on the first day of the second month of the second year after leaving Egypt. The census is by command of Yahweh Himself.  The census is of the male population from 20 years old upward, determining their strength to fight their enemies.  The total was 603,550 (1:46).

The early part of the book takes up the implementation of new laws.  Then the narrative moves to battles these numbered men will fight -- both with enemies and with God.  In chapter 26 there is another census to count the children of those numbered the first time, and the total of that new army is 601,730.  The only survivors from the first census were Moses, Joshua and Caleb.  But Moses was to die before the people crossed into Canaan near Jericho.  After the second census, the new army was tested as the first inheritances were given of land east of the Jordan River to the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and half of the tribe of Manasseh.


The census lists not only show a first-hand knowledge of individual heads of families and counts of their male adults, but these same lists compare favorably to ancient lists found in literature of other cultures of the time.  There are over 80 references to things being spoken to Moses, so if the author is not Moses, it is a scribe in his employ.  In 33:2, Moses is specifically told to write the account down.  And so, this book is verifiably of Moses or his "secretary."


I. Israel in the Wilderness  (1:1 - 22:1)

A. The First Census at Sinai (1:1 - 4:39)
1. Census of Israel's fighting men (1:1-54)
2. Arrangement of the camp (2:1-34)
3. Priestly function of Aaron's sons (3:1-4)
4. Charge and census of Levites (3:5-39)
5. Census of firstborn males (3:40-51)
6. Census of Levitical workforce with duties (4:1-49)
B. The First Priestly Scroll  (5:1 - 10:10)
1. Separation of the unclean (5:1-4)
2. Compensation for offences, and priestly honorarium (5:5-10)
3. A Trial of jealousy  (5:11-31)
4. Law of the Nazarite   (6:1-21)
5. The priests' blessing (6:22-27)
6. Offering of the tribal princes (7:1-89)
7. The golden lampstand (8:1-4)
8. Consecration of Levites and their retirement  (8:5-26)
9. The first commemorative and first supplementary Passover   (9:1-14)
10. The cloud over the tabernacle  (9:15-23)
11. The two silver trumpets (10:1-10)
C. From Sinai to Paran (10:11 - 14:45)
1. Departure from Sinai   (10:11-36)
2. Taberah and Kibroth-hattaavah (11:1-35)
3. Rebellion of Miriam and Aaron (12:1-16)
4. The Story of the spies  (13:1 - 14:45)
D. The Second Priestly Scroll (15:1 - 19:22)
1. Ceremonial details (15:1-41)
2. The rebellion of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram (16:1-35)
3. Incidents vindicating the Aaronic priesthood (16:36 - 17:13)
4. Duties and revenues of the priests and Levites (18:1-24)
5. The water of purification for those defiled by the dead (19:1-22)
E. From Zin to the steppes of Moab (20:1 - 22:1)
1. Wilderness of Zin (20:1-21)
2. The area of Mount Hor (20:22 - 21:3)
3. The journey to the steppes of Moab (21:4-22:1)

II. Foreign Intrigue against Israel (22:2 - 25:18)

A. Balak's failure (22:2 - 24:25)
1. Balaam summoned by Balak (22:2-40)
2. The oracles of Balaam (22:41 - 24:25)
B. Balak's success (25:1-18)
1. Sin with Baal-peor (25:1-5)
2. The zeal of Phinehas (25:6-18)

III. Preparation for entering the land  (26:1 - 36:13)

A. The second census (26:1-65)
B. The law of inheritance (27:1-11)
C. Appointment of Moses' successor (27:12-23)
D. The third priestly scroll  (28:1 - 29:40)
1. Introduction (28:1-2)
2. Daily offerings (28:3-8)
3. Sabbath offerings (28:9-10)
4. Monthly offerings (28:11-15)
5. Yearly offerings (28:16 - 29:40)
a. Feast of Unleavened Bread (28:16-25)
b. Feast of Weeks (28:26-31)
c. Feast of Trumpets (29:1-6)
d. Day of Atonement (29:7-11)
e. Feast of Tabernacles (29:12-40)
E. The validity of women's vows (30:1-16)
F. The war with Midian (31:1-54)
1. Destruction of Midian (31:1-18)
2. Purification of warriors (31:19-24)
3. Dividing of the spoils of war (31:25-54)
G. The settlement of two and a half tribes (32:1-42)
H. The route from Egypt to the Jordan River (33:1-49)
I.  Directions for settlement in Canaan (33:50 - 35:34)
J. Marriage of heiresses  (36:1-13)


  1. The King James Reference Bible, Thomas Nelson Publishing, pp. 224-225
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