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.
III. Numbers 22:1-36:13 On the Plains of Moab, Preparing for Canaan
A. 22:1-25:18 Threats to Israel
22:1-24:25 Balaam’s blessing
25:1-19 The sin at Baal Peor:This is the second threat to Israel; the temptation to worship other gods and mixed marriages. Notice how this story is similar to the golden calf story (Ex 32). There are two stories in this chapter. Verses 1-5 are a pre priestly story of worshiping other gods. Verses 6-18 is a priestly story which tells about an Israelite man who brings a Midianite woman into his family. Notice that the first story warns against worshiping other gods and Moses and the judges are responsible for the maintenance of worship. In the second story, intermarriage is warned against and the priests are responsible for maintaining Israel’s purity.
Verses 1-5: Notice that God wants the “chiefs” or heads of the tribes killed as punishment, but Moses kills the guilty persons. Why do you think that is? Moses has not followed God’s command, but there is not comment on this in the text. Some commentators believe that Moses is extending God’s command from the spy story(14:11-25) that only the guilty should be punished.
Verses 6-19: the actions of Phinehas echo the actions of Aaron in 16:41-50. Both stories have priests acting in ritual intercession to protect the people. Commentators believe the “covenant of peace” given to Phinehas may refer to wholeness and health as the Hebrew word “shalom” is often used this way. In addition the “covenant of peace” may also have protected Phinehas from revenge from Zimri’s clan. In addition, Phinehas’ clan are made priests forever, just as King David’s descendants will be.
The NRSV, in verse 11, refers to God being jealous. What do you think that means? Commentators suggest it refers to, at least in part, to divine passion. God cares what Israel does.
B. 26:1-36:13 Instructions for Inheritance: Inheritance is the general theme of these chapters.
26:1-65 The census of the second generation: This is a census of the second generation. Some believe that the first generation did not entirely die off until the sin at Baal Peor. Notice that it is Moses and Eleazar who take the census (rather than Moses and Aaron as before.). Notice verse 11, the clan of Korah continues after the sin of Korah. The clan of Judah also survives in spite of the sin and death of some members. Notice also in the clan of Manasseh, daughters are mentioned. Manasseh is the seventh tribe and the daughters are the seventh generation. These daughters represent a transition which we will see in 27:1-11 and 36:1-13. A woman,Serah the daughter of Asher is also mentioned.
The census is to determine the proportion of inheritance for each tribe, except in verse 55 inheritance is to be determined by casting lots. This keeps the story congruent with Joshua 14:2; 15:1;16:1:17:1. Why do you think this census is important to include in the story is Israel?
27:1-23 Inheritance, Death, and Succession: Verses 1-11:The daughters of Zelophehad challenge the status quo and God listens.before this, only sons could inherit. Verses 12-14 the death of Moses is announced. Moses will get to see the promised land before he dies. Moses doesn’t actually die until Deut 34:1-8. Notice the the story of succession of Moses by Joshua is not like the succession of Aaron by Eleazar. The priestly transfer of authority was not charismatic. The transfer of authority from Moses to Joshua is charismatic. Also notice that Joshua receives only “some” of Moses authority. Moses spoke to God, face to face. Joshua stands before the high priest and is ordained/commissioned. Eleazar will determine, via the Urim and Thummim what the Lord wants for Israel. So Joshua is subordinate to the high priest. The Urim and Thummim were probably divining stones.
28:1-30:16 Priestly offerings, calendar and lay vows: This section describes the priest’s duties for sacrifices.
Chapter 28 begins with a divine command given to Moses, as has happened before. The daily offering happens morning and evening. The Christian practice of morning and evening prayers comes out of this tradition of daily offering. The offering on the Sabbath was equal to the daily offering and the daily offering was also offered on the Sabbath. So on the Sabbath there was a double offering.
First daily offerings are described, then weekly Sabbath offerings, then monthly offerings and finally yearly sacrifices are described. The yearly sacrifices have previously been described in Lev 23. The instructions in Leviticus are for the people and in Numbers the instructions are for the priests.
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.