You will find and introduction and an outline to Numbers, here.
A prayer before reading:From the liturgy of John Chrysostom, 4th century:
Shine within our hearts, loving Master, the pure light of Your divine knowledge, and open the eyes of our minds that we may comprehend the message of your Gospel. Instill in us, also, reverence for Your blessed commandments, so that having conquered sinful desires, we may pursue a spiritual life, thinking and doing all those things that are pleasing to You. For You, Christ our God, are the light of our souls and bodies, and to You we give glory together with Your Father who is without beginning and Your all holy, good, and life giving Spirit, now and forever and to the ages of ages. Amen.
I. Numbers 1:1-10:10 Forming a Community at Sinai
A. 1:1-6:27 Holiness and the Camp
1:1-2:34 The first census and the arrangement of the camp
3:1-4:49 The Role of the Levites in cult, camp and on the march
5:1-6:27 Camp legislation to prevent defilement: While chapters 1-4 explain how the holiness of God affects the arrangement of the camp and the social organization, chapters 5-6 contain legislation to preserve the holiness of the camp. Remember one of the concerns in Numbers is how Israel can live in the holy presence of God. In the Bible, the holiness of God is contrasted with the secular or profane nature of Israel. This is often presented in terms of holy/common and pure/impure and health/disease. Holiness is associated with purity and health and life; the profane with impurity, infections, contamination, pollution and death. The presence of unclean or impure individuals threatens the well being of the community and is an affront to God.
In chapter 5, verses 1-4 have to do with ritual impurity. 5:5-6:21 is concerned with moral offenses. Verses 5-10 concern broken community relationships. Verses 11-21 focus on marriage- a narrower focus. Notice the assumption in these verses that adultery is sacrilege, so an adulterous woman is not ritually unclean but ethically unclean. There are many words and terms in these verses that we, as modern readers, don’t understand. For modern readers the focus on the female adulterer rather than the male is disconcerting. Some scholars point out, though, that this ritual places limits on what a jealous husband can do. The judge in this case is God rather than men.
6:1-21 focus on Nazirites. Nazirites were men and women who made a vow to God to be separate or dedicated to God for a period of time. Commentators think that the holiness of Nazirites was thought to exceed that of regular priests. Nazirites represent another relationship, which if broken would threaten to defile the camp. So these verses deal with how to manage accidental defilement and how to end the vow
verses 22-27 is the well known Aaronic blessing. In Hebrew the first line has three words, the second 5 and the last line 7 words. Scholars think this may be one of the oldest portions of Scripture.
B. 7:1-10:10 Holiness and the Tabernacle:Now the focus narrows even more, from the camp to the tabernacle itself and the rituals for the care and dedication of the sanctuary. Chapters 7 and 8 have to do with the dedication of the tabernacle and the Levites. Chapters 9 and 10 tell of the celebration of Passover and a theophany in the tabernacle which prepares them for the wilderness march.
7:1-8:26 The dedication of the Tabernacle and the Levites: In chapter 7 the rituals move from outside the tabernacle to instruction inside. The first offerings are for wagons and oxen to transport the tabernacle. Then there is the listing of the gifts each tribe brought. The gifts brought by each leader include all the offerings for sacrifices except for the guilt offering.
In chapter 8 Moses is instructed by God, first about Aaron and the menorah (v1-4) and then about the role of the Levites (5-26). The Levites have previously be separated out for special notice. These verses tell about the dedication of the Levites and their purification ritual. There is a distinction between Levites and Aaronide priests. The Aaronide priests are consecrated, i.e. made holy so they may handle sacred objects and officiate at the alter. Levites are not consecrated but are purified. Purification separates the Levites from the rest of the congregation but does not make them holy like priests. Levites do not handle sacred objects, sacrifice or enter the tabernacle. Levites guard the tabernacle and carry it.
9:1-10:10 Passover and preparation for the wilderness journey
Read More About It.
The following are several good general reference works to aid your reading of the Torah.
Anderson, Bernhard W. “Leviticus” in The New Oxford Annotated Bible with the Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical Books Metzger, Bruce M., Roland E. Murphy, eds.(New York: Oxford University Press) 1994.
Anderson, Bernhard W., Katheryn Pfister Darr, Understanding the Old Testament Abridged fourth Edition. (Upper Saddle River,New Jersey: Prentice Hall) 1998.
Dozeman, Thomas B. “The Book of Numbers”, in The New Interpreter’s Bible, Volume 2 Keck, Leander E., ed. (Nashville”Abingdon Press) 1994.
Hallo, William W. “Numbers and Ancient Near Eastern Literature” in The Torah: A Modern Commentary Plaut, W. Gunther, ed. (New York: Union of American Hebrew Congregations) 1981.
Olson, Dennis T. “Numbers” in HarperCollins Bible Commentary Mays, James L. ed.(San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco) 2000.
Plaut, W. Gunther “Numbers” in The Torah: A Modern Commentary Plaut, W. Gunther, ed. (New York: Union of American Hebrew Congregations) 1981.