Study Guide

Book of Numbers Rules & Order

Rules & Order

Take a census of the whole congregation of Israelites, in their clans, by ancestral houses, according to the number of names, every male individually; from twenty years old and upward, everyone in Israel able to go to war. You and Aaron shall enroll them, company by company. A man from each tribe shall be with you, each man the head of his ancestral house. (Numbers 1:2-4, NRSV)

Take ye the sum of all the congregation of the children of Israel, after their families, by the house of their fathers, with the number of their names, every male by their polls; From twenty years old and upward, all that are able to go forth to war in Israel: thou and Aaron shall number them by their armies. And with you there shall be a man of every tribe; every one head of the house of his fathers. (Numbers 1:2-4, KJV)

Right away, God needs a head count. Whoa, this dude likes order. It's actually helpful for everyone to know how many people they're dealing with. Especially how many men are eligible to go to war because that's definitely coming.

The Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying: The Israelites shall camp each in their respective regiments, under ensigns by their ancestral houses; they shall camp facing the tent of meeting on every side. (Numbers 2:1-2, NRSV)

The Lord spake unto Moses and unto Aaron, saying, Every man of the children of Israel shall pitch by his own standard, with the ensign of their father's house: far off about the tabernacle of the congregation shall they pitch. (Numbers 2:1-2, KJV)

Sleeping arrangements can be real pain. Here, God settles the seating plan around the tabernacle so that no arguments break out. An orderly community is a happy community.

When the camp is to set out, Aaron and his sons shall go in and take down the screening curtain, and cover the ark of the covenant with it; then they shall put on it a covering of fine leather, and spread over that a cloth all of blue, and shall put its poles in place. Over the table of the bread of the Presence they shall spread a blue cloth, and put on it the plates, the dishes for incense, the bowls, and the flagons for the drink offering; the regular bread also shall be on it; then they shall spread over them a crimson cloth, and cover it with a covering of fine leather, and shall put its poles in place. They shall take a blue cloth, and cover the lampstand for the light, with its lamps, its snuffers, its trays, and all the vessels for oil with which it is supplied; and they shall put it with all its utensils in a covering of fine leather, and put it on the carrying frame. Over the golden altar they shall spread a blue cloth, and cover it with a covering of fine leather, and shall put its poles in place; and they shall take all the utensils of the service that are used in the sanctuary, and put them in a blue cloth, and cover them with a covering of fine leather, and put them on the carrying frame. They shall take away the ashes from the altar, and spread a purple cloth over it; and they shall put on it all the utensils of the altar, which are used for the service there, the firepans, the forks, the shovels, and the basins, all the utensils of the altar; and they shall spread on it a covering of fine leather, and shall put its poles in place. When Aaron and his sons have finished covering the sanctuary and all the furnishings of the sanctuary, as the camp sets out, after that the Kohathites shall come to carry these, but they must not touch the holy things, or they will die. These are the things of the tent of meeting that the Kohathites are to carry. Eleazar son of Aaron the priest shall have charge of the oil for the light, the fragrant incense, the regular grain offering, and the anointing oil, the oversight of all the tabernacle and all that is in it, in the sanctuary and in its utensils. (Numbers 4:5-16, NRSV)

When the camp setteth forward, Aaron shall come, and his sons, and they shall take down the covering vail, and cover the ark of testimony with it: And shall put thereon the covering of badgers' skins, and shall spread over it a cloth wholly of blue, and shall put in the staves thereof. And upon the table of shewbread they shall spread a cloth of blue, and put thereon the dishes, and the spoons, and the bowls, and covers to cover withal: and the continual bread shall be thereon: And they shall spread upon them a cloth of scarlet, and cover the same with a covering of badgers' skins, and shall put in the staves thereof. And they shall take a cloth of blue, and cover the candlestick of the light, and his lamps, and his tongs, and his snuffdishes, and all the oil vessels thereof, wherewith they minister unto it: And they shall put it and all the vessels thereof within a covering of badgers' skins, and shall put it upon a bar. And upon the golden altar they shall spread a cloth of blue, and cover it with a covering of badgers' skins, and shall put to the staves thereof: And they shall take all the instruments of ministry, wherewith they minister in the sanctuary, and put them in a cloth of blue, and cover them with a covering of badgers' skins, and shall put them on a bar: And they shall take away the ashes from the altar, and spread a purple cloth thereon: And they shall put upon it all the vessels thereof, wherewith they minister about it, even the censers, the fleshhooks, and the shovels, and the basons, all the vessels of the altar; and they shall spread upon it a covering of badgers' skins, and put to the staves of it. And when Aaron and his sons have made an end of covering the sanctuary, and all the vessels of the sanctuary, as the camp is to set forward; after that, the sons of Kohath shall come to bear it: but they shall not touch any holy thing, lest they die. These things are the burden of the sons of Kohath in the tabernacle of the congregation. And to the office of Eleazar the son of Aaron the priest pertaineth the oil for the light, and the sweet incense, and the daily meat offering, and the anointing oil, and the oversight of all the tabernacle, and of all that therein is, in the sanctuary, and in the vessels thereof. (Numbers 4:5-16, KJV)

Whoa. Can you tell the tabernacle is important? There are tons of rules for how it is supposed to be cared for, taken down, and transported through the desert. Because the Israelites believed that God himself dwelt in this tent, it's not like they could just throw everything in cardboard boxes and head out. The more rules you see around something, the bigger deal it is to everyone.

The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: Take the Levites from among the Israelites and cleanse them. Thus you shall do to them, to cleanse them: sprinkle the water of purification on them, have them shave their whole body with a razor and wash their clothes, and so cleanse themselves. Then let them take a young bull and its grain offering of choice flour mixed with oil, and you shall take another young bull for a sin offering. You shall bring the Levites before the tent of meeting, and assemble the whole congregation of the Israelites. When you bring the Levites before the Lord, the Israelites shall lay their hands on the Levites, and Aaron shall present the Levites before the Lord as an elevation offering from the Israelites, that they may do the service of the Lord. The Levites shall lay their hands on the heads of the bulls, and he shall offer the one for a sin offering and the other for a burnt offering to the Lord, to make atonement for the Levites. Then you shall have the Levites stand before Aaron and his sons, and you shall present them as an elevation offering to the Lord. Thus you shall separate the Levites from among the other Israelites, and the Levites shall be mine. Thereafter the Levites may go in to do service at the tent of meeting, once you have cleansed them and presented them as an elevation offering. (Numbers 8:5-15, NRSV)

The Lord spake unto Moses, saying, Take the Levites from among the children of Israel, and cleanse them. And thus shalt thou do unto them, to cleanse them: Sprinkle water of purifying upon them, and let them shave all their flesh, and let them wash their clothes, and so make themselves clean. Then let them take a young bullock with his meat offering, even fine flour mingled with oil, and another young bullock shalt thou take for a sin offering. And thou shalt bring the Levites before the tabernacle of the congregation: and thou shalt gather the whole assembly of the children of Israel together: And thou shalt bring the Levites before the Lord: and the children of Israel shall put their hands upon the Levites: And Aaron shall offer the Levites before the Lord for an offering of the children of Israel, that they may execute the service of the Lord. And the Levites shall lay their hands upon the heads of the bullocks: and thou shalt offer the one for a sin offering, and the other for a burnt offering, unto the Lord, to make an atonement for the Levites. And thou shalt set the Levites before Aaron, and before his sons, and offer them for an offering unto the Lord. Thus shalt thou separate the Levites from among the children of Israel: and the Levites shall be mine. And after that shall the Levites go in to do the service of the tabernacle of the congregation: and thou shalt cleanse them, and offer them for an offering. (Numbers 8:5-15, KJV)

Some more important guidelines for how exactly the Levites are prepared for holy service. Because being priestly assistants was such a big deal, God definitely has a ritual for that.

Also on your days of rejoicing, at your appointed festivals, and at the beginnings of your months, you shall blow the trumpets over your burnt offerings and over your sacrifices of well-being; they shall serve as a reminder on your behalf before the Lord your God: I am the Lord your God. (Numbers 10:10, NRSV)

Also in the day of your gladness, and in your solemn days, and in the beginnings of your months, ye shall blow with the trumpets over your burnt offerings, and over the sacrifices of your peace offerings; that they may be to you for a memorial before your God: I am the Lord your God. (Numbers 10:10, KJV)

Rules for work and rules for play. This time, God lays out a bunch of commands about how the Israelites are to celebrate and worship him. Let the structured partying begin!

The standard of the camp of Judah set out first, company by company, and over the whole company was Nahshon son of Amminadab. Over the company of the tribe of Issachar was Nethanel son of Zuar; and over the company of the tribe of Zebulun was Eliab son of Helon. Then the tabernacle was taken down, and the Gershonites and the Merarites, who carried the tabernacle, set out. Next the standard of the camp of Reuben set out, company by company; and over the whole company was Elizur son of Shedeur. Over the company of the tribe of Simeon was Shelumiel son of Zurishaddai, and over the company of the tribe of Gad was Eliasaph son of Deuel. Then the Kohathites, who carried the holy things, set out; and the tabernacle was set up before their arrival. Next the standard of the Ephraimite camp set out, company by company, and over the whole company was Elishama son of Ammihud. Over the company of the tribe of Manasseh was Gamaliel son of Pedahzur, and over the company of the tribe of Benjamin was Abidan son of Gideoni. Then the standard of the camp of Dan, acting as the rear guard of all the camps, set out, company by company, and over the whole company was Ahiezer son of Ammishaddai. Over the company of the tribe of Asher was Pagiel son of Ochran, and over the company of the tribe of Naphtali was Ahira son of Enan. This was the order of march of the Israelites, company by company, when they set out. (Numbers 10:14-28, NRSV)

In the first place went the standard of the camp of the children of Judah according to their armies: and over his host was Nahshon the son of Amminadab. And over the host of the tribe of the children of Issachar was Nethaneel the son of Zuar. And over the host of the tribe of the children of Zebulun was Eliab the son of Helon. And the tabernacle was taken down; and the sons of Gershon and the sons of Merari set forward, bearing the tabernacle. And the standard of the camp of Reuben set forward according to their armies: and over his host was Elizur the son of Shedeur. And over the host of the tribe of the children of Simeon was Shelumiel the son of Zurishaddai. And over the host of the tribe of the children of Gad was Eliasaph the son of Deuel. And the Kohathites set forward, bearing the sanctuary: and the other did set up the tabernacle against they came. And the standard of the camp of the children of Ephraim set forward according to their armies: and over his host was Elishama the son of Ammihud. And over the host of the tribe of the children of Manasseh was Gamaliel the son of Pedahzur. And over the host of the tribe of the children of Benjamin was Abidan the son of Gideoni. And the standard of the camp of the children of Dan set forward, which was the rereward of all the camps throughout their hosts: and over his host was Ahiezer the son of Ammishaddai. And over the host of the tribe of the children of Asher was Pagiel the son of Ocran. And over the host of the tribe of the children of Naphtali was Ahira the son of Enan. Thus were the journeyings of the children of Israel according to their armies, when they set forward. (Numbers 10:14-28, KJV)

There's a reason that Moses felt the need to call out a super specific marching order like this. It's possible that arguments over who's gonna leave camp first and who's gonna walk closest to the tabernacle were breaking out. God finally settles this once and for all.

The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: Speak to the Israelites, and get twelve staffs from them, one for each ancestral house, from all the leaders of their ancestral houses. Write each man's name on his staff, and write Aaron's name on the staff of Levi. For there shall be one staff for the head of each ancestral house. Place them in the tent of meeting before the covenant, where I meet with you. And the staff of the man whom I choose shall sprout; thus I will put a stop to the complaints of the Israelites that they continually make against you. (Numbers 17:1-5, NRSV)

The Lord spake unto Moses, saying, Speak unto the children of Israel, and take of every one of them a rod according to the house of their fathers, of all their princes according to the house of their fathers twelve rods: write thou every man's name upon his rod. And thou shalt write Aaron's name upon the rod of Levi: for one rod shall be for the head of the house of their fathers. And thou shalt lay them up in the tabernacle of the congregation before the testimony, where I will meet with you. And it shall come to pass, that the man's rod, whom I shall choose, shall blossom: and I will make to cease from me the murmurings of the children of Israel, whereby they murmur against you. (Numbers 17:1-5, KJV)

Yet another way for God to enforce the rules. The Almighty has appointed leaders in the community, yet they're not being respected. He devises this whole staff test in order to show everyone who's really in charge and who the people should be listening to.

Those who touch the dead body of any human being shall be unclean seven days. They shall purify themselves with the water on the third day and on the seventh day, and so be clean; but if they do not purify themselves on the third day and on the seventh day, they will not become clean. All who touch a corpse, the body of a human being who has died, and do not purify themselves, defile the tabernacle of the Lord; such persons shall be cut off from Israel. Since water for cleansing was not dashed on them, they remain unclean; their uncleanness is still on them. (Numbers 19:11-13, NRSV)

He that toucheth the dead body of any man shall be unclean seven days. He shall purify himself with it on the third day, and on the seventh day he shall be clean: but if he purify not himself the third day, then the seventh day he shall not be clean. Whosoever toucheth the dead body of any man that is dead, and purifieth not himself, defileth the tabernacle of the Lord; and that soul shall be cut off from Israel: because the water of separation was not sprinkled upon him, he shall be unclean; his uncleanness is yet upon him. (Numbers 19:11-13, KJV)

Touching a dead body could be pretty gross. It was also kind of unavoidable what with all the plagues going around. This seven-day ritual functions almost like a quarantine to prevent the spread of disease. After all, if someone had been bitten by a zombie, you wouldn't let them back into your makeshift post-apocalyptic hideout right away, would you?

The daughters of Zelophehad[…] stood before Moses, Eleazar the priest, the leaders, and all the congregation, at the entrance of the tent of meeting, and they said, "Our father died in the wilderness; he was not among the company of those who gathered themselves together against the Lord in the company of Korah, but died for his own sin; and he had no sons. Why should the name of our father be taken away from his clan because he had no son? Give to us a possession among our father's brothers." Moses brought their case before the Lord. And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying: The daughters of Zelophehad are right in what they are saying; you shall indeed let them possess an inheritance among their father's brothers and pass the inheritance of their father on to them." (Numbers 27:1-7, NRSV)

Then came the daughters of Zelophehad[…] stood before Moses, and before Eleazar the priest, and before the princes and all the congregation, by the door of the tabernacle of the congregation, saying, Our father died in the wilderness, and he was not in the company of them that gathered themselves together against the Lord in the company of Korah; but died in his own sin, and had no sons. Why should the name of our father be done away from among his family, because he hath no son? Give unto us therefore a possession among the brethren of our father. And Moses brought their cause before the Lord. And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, The daughters of Zelophehad speak right: thou shalt surely give them a possession of an inheritance among their father's brethren; and thou shalt cause the inheritance of their father to pass unto them. (Numbers 27:1-7, KJV)

Rules are meant to be broken. The daughters of Zelophehad question the wisdom of only allowing men to inherit property. God decides that they're right and changes his divine mind and laws. You go, girls.

These six cities shall serve as refuge for the Israelites, for the resident or transient alien among them, so that anyone who kills a person without intent may flee there. But anyone who strikes another with an iron object, and death ensues, is a murderer; the murderer shall be put to death. Or anyone who strikes another with a stone in hand that could cause death, and death ensues, is a murderer; the murderer shall be put to death. Or anyone who strikes another with a weapon of wood in hand that could cause death, and death ensues, is a murderer; the murderer shall be put to death. The avenger of blood is the one who shall put the murderer to death; when they meet, the avenger of blood shall execute the sentence[…] If anyone kills another, the murderer shall be put to death on the evidence of witnesses; but no one shall be put to death on the testimony of a single witness. Moreover you shall accept no ransom for the life of a murderer who is subject to the death penalty; a murderer must be put to death. (Numbers 35:15-18, 30-31, NRSV)

These six cities shall be a refuge, both for the children of Israel, and for the stranger, and for the sojourner among them: that every one that killeth any person unawares may flee thither. And if he smite him with an instrument of iron, so that he die, he is a murderer: the murderer shall surely be put to death. And if he smite him with throwing a stone, wherewith he may die, and he die, he is a murderer: the murderer shall surely be put to death. Or if he smite him with an hand weapon of wood, wherewith he may die, and he die, he is a murderer: the murderer shall surely be put to death[…] Whoso killeth any person, the murderer shall be put to death by the mouth of witnesses: but one witness shall not testify against any person to cause him to die. Moreover ye shall take no satisfaction for the life of a murderer, which is guilty of death: but he shall be surely put to death. (Numbers 35:15-18, 30-31, KJV)

More rulesthis time for murderers. God draws a distinction here between a person who accidentally kills someone (he ran into my knife… ten times) and someone who kills intentionally. He also sets up special cities that an accidental murderer can run and hide out in. George Zimmerman, take note.

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