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Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh, [1857-78], at

Numbers Introduction


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The Fourth Book Of Moses(Numbers)


Contents, and Arrangement of the Book of Numbers

The fourth book of Moses, which the Jews call either Vayedabber (וידבר), from the opening word, מספרים (Ἀριθμοί, Numeri, lxx, Vulg.), or פקודים recensiones (= liber recensionum), and to which the heading במדבר (in the wilderness) is given in the Masoretic texts with a more direct reference to its general contents, narrates the guidance of Israel through the desert, from Mount Sinai to the border of Canaan by the river Jordan, and embraces the whole period from the second month of the second year after the exodus from Egypt to the tenth month of the fortieth year.

As soon as their mode of life in a spiritual point of view had been fully regulated by the laws of Leviticus, the Israelites were to enter upon their journey to Canaan, and take possession of the inheritance promised to their fathers. But just as the way from Goshen to Sinai was a preparation of the chosen people for their reception into the covenant with God, so the way from Sinai to Canaan was also a preparation for the possession of the promised land. On their journey through the wilderness the Israelites were to experience on the one hand the faithful watchfulness and gracious deliverance of their God in every season of distress and danger, as well as the stern severity of the divine judgments upon the despisers of their God, that they might learn thereby to trust entirely in the Lord, and strive after His kingdom alone; and on the other hand they were to receive during their journey the laws and ordinances relating to their civil and political constitution, and thereby to be placed in a condition to form and maintain themselves as a consolidated nation by the side of and in opposition to the earthly kingdoms formed by the nations of the world, and to fulfil the task assigned them by God in the midst of the nations of the earth. These laws, which were given in part at Sinai, in relation to the external and internal organization of the tribes of Israel as the army and the congregation of Jehovah, and in part on various occasions during the march through the desert, as well as after their arrival in the steppes of Moab, on the other side of the Jordan opposite to Jericho, with especial reference to the conquest of Canaan and their settlement there, are not only attached externally to the history itself in the order in which they were given, but are so incorporated internally into the historical narrative, according to their peculiar character and contents, as to form a complete whole, which divides itself into three distinct parts corresponding to the chronological development of the history itself.

The First part, which extends from ch. 1-10:10, contains the preparations for departing from Sinai, arranged in four groups: - viz., (1) the outward arrangement and classification of the tribes in the camp and on their march, or the numbering and grouping of the twelve tribes around the sanctuary of their God (ch. 1 and 2), and the appointment of the Levites in the place of the first-born of the nation to act as servants of the priests in the sanctuary (ch. 3 and 4); (2) the internal or moral and spiritual organization of the nation as the congregation of the Lord, by laws relating to the maintenance of the cleanliness of the camp, restitution for trespasses, conjugal fidelity, the fulfilment of the vow of the Nazarite, and the priestly blessing (ch. 5 and 6); (3) the closing events at Sinai, viz., the presentation of dedicatory offerings on the part of the tribe princes for the transport of the tabernacle and the altar service (ch. 7), the consecration of the Levites (ch. 8), and the feast of Passover, with an arrangement for a supplementary Passover (Num 9:1-14); (4) the appointment of signs and signals for the march in the desert (ch. 9:5-10:10). In the Second part (Num 10:11-21), the history of the journey is given in the three stages of its progress from Sinai to the heights of Pisgah, near to the Jordan, viz., (1) from their departure from the desert of Sinai (ch. 10:11-36) to their arrival at the desert of Paran, at Kadesh, including the occurrences at Tabeerah, at the graves of lust, and at Hazeroth (ch. 11 and 12), and the events at Kadesh which led God to condemn the people who had revolted against Him to wander in the wilderness for forty years, until the older generation that came out of Egypt had all died (ch. 13 and 14); (2) all that is related of the execution of this divine judgment, extending from the end of the second year to the reassembling of the congregation at Kadesh at the beginning of the fortieth year, is the history of the rebellion and destruction of Korah (ch. 16-17:15), which is preceded by laws relating to the offering of sacrifices after entering Canaan, to the punishment of blasphemers, and to mementos upon the clothes (ch. 15), and followed by the divine institution of the Aaronic priesthood (ch.17:16-28), with directions as to the duties and rights of the priests and Levites (ch. 18), and the law concerning purification from uncleanness arising from contact with the dead (ch. 19); (3) the journey of Israel in the fortieth year from Kadesh to Mount Hor, round Mount Seir, past Moab, and through the territory of the Amorites to the heights of Pisgah, with the defeat of the kings of the Amorites, Sihon and Og, and the conquest of their kingdoms in Gilead and Bashan (ch. 20 and 21). In the Third part (ch. 22-36), the events which occurred in the steppes of Moab, on the eastern side of the plain of Jordan, are gathered into five groups, with the laws that were given there, viz., (1) the attempts of the Moabites and Midianites to destroy the people of Israel, first by the force of Balaam's curse, which was turned against his will into a blessing (ch. 22-24), and then by the seduction of the Israelites to idolatry (ch. 25); (2) the fresh numbering of the people according to their families (ch. 26), together with a rule for the inheritance of landed property by daughters (Num 27:1-11), and the appointment of Joshua as the successor of Moses (ch. 27:12-23); (3) laws relating to the sacrifices to be offered by the congregation on the Sabbath and feast days, and to the binding character of vows made by dependent persons (ch. 28-30); (4) the defeat of the Midianites (ch. 31), the division of the land that had been conquered on the other side of the Jordan among the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and half Manasseh (ch. 32), and the list of the halting-places (ch. 33:1-49); (5) directions as to the expulsion of the Canaanites, the conquest of Canaan and division of it among the tribes of Israel, the Levites and free cities, and the marriage of heiresses (ch. 33:50-36).

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