Study Guide

Book of Numbers Themes

  • Community

    No man is an island. We're all in this together. You can't eat just one. For the ancient Israelites, these were more than feel-good mottos (and catchy invitations to eat potato chips). Being part of a group was a way of life. Each individual person's identity came from his or her place in the group. And when someone committed a personal sin, it could spill over into the community and affect everyone. No worries. God's got some rules to keep everyone in line and living together in harmony. Kumbaya.

    Questions About Community

    1. Why is God so concerned with individual sin? Do our personal actions really affect the people around us?
    2. Describe God's relationship to the Israelite community. Is he like a friend? A parent? A teacher? Something else?
    3. Why are so many laws concerned with keeping order in the community? Can a large group function without rules?
  • Compassion & Forgiveness

    The God of Numbers isn't exactly a warm and friendly deity. He regularly smites his people for their insolence and kills off hundreds of thousands of them in the wilderness. But God isn't totally without compassion. Even though they're a bunch of disobedient, wild children, God sticks by Israel through thick and thin. In the end, he brings them through to the Promised Land, but only after showing tons of patience with their law-breaking ways.

    Questions About Compassion & Forgiveness

    1. If the people are so bad, why doesn't God just wipe them out like he wanted to?
    2. Would you describe God as compassionate in this book of the Bible?
    3. Do you think the Israelites' complaints are justified or should they just be glad that they're not slaves anymore?
  • Justice & Judgment

    One of the perks of creating a universe is that you get to be in charge. That means you can set rules for the people you made (from clay… which isn't easy). And if the people break those rules? Well, you also conveniently happen to be judge, jury, and executioner. In Numbers, God doles out divine justice for law-breakers nearly every other page. But it's not just because he's some big meanie who likes to see us suffer. God wants his people to trust in him and know that he's with them. When they start to doubt this… well, that's when bad things happen. Poisonous snakes, anyone?

    Questions About Justice & Judgment

    1. Do you think God's judgments are too harsh? Or does the punishment fit the crime?
    2. Why does God demand so much of his people?
    3. Why do the people keep sinning? Don't they know they're about to get smited?
    4. Imagine you're God. Would you rather be feared or loved?
  • Rules & Order

    In case you hadn't noticed, the Bible is pretty big on law and order. In fact, the first five books of the Bible contain exactly 613 different laws that Jews everywhere are supposed to be following. We guess you could say that God is kind of a control freak. On the other hand, every society needs rules. Without them, things would fall into chaos. And then how would we know whether to use turtledoves for guilt or burnt offerings? Thank goodness for rules.

    Questions About Rules & Order

    1. How do rules and order help keep a community functioning and peaceful? How do they make things harder?
    2. Is the Bible the ultimate authority on rules? What about all the things the Bible doesn't address? How about rules that just seem outdated?
    3. Are God's rules set in stone (well, aside from the ten commandments) or is God flexible sometimes on enforcement?
  • Visions of the Promised Land

    A land flowing with milk and honey—that's what God promised his people two books ago. In Numbers, the Israelites keep working towards their goal of finding a permanent (and totally awesome) home west of the Jordan River. Though they won't end up getting there for two more books, this story is full of hopes, dreams, and lots of drama about this super special land.

    Questions About Visions of the Promised Land

    1. What's so special about the Promised Land anyway? Are milk and honey that delicious?
    2. The Israelites seem pretty cool with evicting the current inhabitants of the land they'd like to live in. Why?
    3. How does this ancient promise of land tie in with the conflicts in the Middle East today?
  • Warfare

    War! What is it good for? Um, well, showing off the might and power of God for one. Oh, and taking over people's lands. And stuff. And bodies. Yup—war gets all kinds of things done. The Book of Numbers has no issue at all with bloody battles and warfare. The Israelites are on the hunt for the Promised Land and they're not afraid to attack some foreigners to get it. Some of these passages leave us feeling a little yucky today, but thousands of years ago, fighting and dying for God and community was just a way of life.

    Questions About Warfare

    1. Notice the progression in the Israelites' war capabilities. They start out politely asking to pass through lands and end up killing women and children. Why do you think that is?
    2. What wartime actions does God command, and which are the decisions of people on the ground? Does this make a difference?
    3. Abraham Lincoln famously worried not that God was on his side, but that "[he was] on the God's side." Do people still believe that God is siding with them today in violent conflicts? Why would God help people wage war anyway?