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
B. 26:1-36:13 Instructions for Inheritance
26:1-65 The census of the second generation
27:1-23 Inheritance, Death, and Succession
28:1-30:16 Priestly offerings, calendar and lay vows:
Chapter 29 is more priestly duties and continues the calendar. In Leviticus 23 the roles of lay persons and Numbers 28 and 29 outline the roles of priests in the yearly calendar of events. Notice how often the number seven appears. 29:7-11 describe the day of Atonement. Verse 12-38 is the Feast of Booths/Tabernacles.
Chapter 30 Instructions concerning vows. A vow is when a person promises to do something for God in exchange for God’s help. A pledge is a promise that involves self denial. This chapter is mostly about vows by women.Why do you think that is? What does this chapter say about vows?
31:1-33:56 Holy War: Chapter 31 is the account of a holy war against the Midianites. Scholars debate whether this account reflects a historical event or not.The total destruction of all the Midianite males with no Israelite casualties causes some to think this is a literary device. This holy war against the Midianites is linked to the previous discussion of external threats to Israel- the story of Balak of Moab and the sin of Israel at Baal Peor (25:1-5, 22:4,7). Notice who is in charge of the war- Moses and the priests, not Joshua. Booty is the main concern for the rules of a holy war in chapter 31. The concern with booty is how to bring the foreign objects and persons into Israel without polluting the community. The concern for the role of women as booty should be read with chapter 25 in mind- the threat of intermarriage. Holy war serves to remove the threat of cultural mixing because it assumes the ending of the defeated culture and religion. Also notice that participating in war, even a holy war makes its participants unclean. In chapter 32 verses 1-5 and verses 33-42 are concerned with the inheritance of the Transjordan by the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and Manasseh. The central section is about the participation in holy war as a condition for inheritance. Notice how the earlier story of the spies (which resulted in the first generation lost the land is recounted and applied to this situation. The tribes of Reuben and Gad come up with a solution, which Moses accepts.Verses 28-32 is the public ratification of the solution.
Dozeman writes, “The priestly writers interpret war as a necessary evil. War maintains purity in a polluted world. Military imagery characterized the people of God as a community…War itself is sanctioned by God (Num 25:16-18;31:1) Priests participate in war…But there is not clear indication that Yahweh is actually present in battle, making it holy. To the contrary, participation in war defiles all participants. Killing in war is dissociated from God. Warriors and all objects of war require the most severe processes of purification before reentry into the camp is allowed. War, according to the priestly writers, exacts an enormous price. Killing separates participants from God, even when the cause is deemed just (i.e., sanctioned by God). ….war is a debated topic among the writers of Numbers. No single view is presented as the authoritative teaching.”
“Interpretation of war stories in Numbers is complicated by their metaphorical use to address theological themes of faithfulness to God and of the need for Israelites to be separate from the nations. Thus holy war takes on broad theological significance in Numbers…More explicit stories of war may also be theological in their intent. The execution of the herem ban against the king of Arad at Hormah (Num 21:1-3) may be a theological story about faithfulness to God in a time of crisis, as compared to the faithlessness of the first generation in their earlier battle at Hormah. There is no evidence that the herem ban as sacrifice to God was ever practiced. The priestly writers also use war imagery to write theology. (255-256)
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.