Notes on Numbers

The traditional Hebraic title for the book of Numbers is “Bemidbar” meaning “In The Wilderness.” It is titled to honor the census that takes place in its opening chapters, followed by a reiterating of the Israelites in the Sinai wilderness following the embodiment of the Lord in a cloud.

Eventually, at Chapter 11, the Israelites complain – at least in their slavery in Egypt they had food and shelter. Continually throughout Numbers, the Israelites complain to Moses and Aaron, who fall on their face before the people, and God proves himself to them. For example, he utterly destroys the Amalekites in Chapter 14, however still the Israelites complain about a lack of food. Thus, the Lord decides to condemn them to wander in the wilderness until a new generation can be brought into the promised land. Eventually even Moses disobeys God by not speaking to a rock, thus he is forbidden from entering Canaan. On the steppes of Moab after crossing the Jordan across from Jericho, Balaam betrays the Israelites. Joshua is appointed as Moses’s successor. As with the opening of the book, Numbers closes with a census of the Israelites.

Numbers is an odd collection of reiterated prohibitions from Leviticus, as well as a long series of censuses taken, and in the middle it tells the story of the Israelites in their unfaithful acts toward God, and His routine demonstrations to them of His power and the need for their faith in the promise of Canaan, a land of their own.

For this reading I used Robert Alter’s masterful translation of the Torah.

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