Simple Bible Reading Guide
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"The revelation of Your words sheds light, giving understanding to the simple." —Psalms 119:130
God's word is intended for all people. For thousands of years God has communicated to millions of simple people through His word. In fact, many things are hidden from the learned and clever but revealed to the merest children (Lk 10:21). Of course, God's word is sometimes so difficult to interpret that we need the Church to teach us. Therefore, highly academic Bible study has its place, but it is not the principal approach to God's word. The word is not primarily for an educated elite but for everyday people praying and reading by the power of the Spirit.
Nevertheless, not many books about the Bible are written to help the average person. What most people need is something short, simple, and practical that encourages, motivates and guides. We need something that will help us read the Biblical texts and not just about the text. This is the purpose of this simple Bible reading guide. "We have aimed to please those who prefer simple reading, as well as to make it easy for the studious who wish to commit things to memory, and to be helpful to all (2 Mc 2:25).
Note: The breakdown of the Bible into chapters (although not always adequate) has served God's people for centuries. So in general we will use a chapter-by-chapter structure for our comments.
Be sure to read each chapter of the Bible along with the introductory comments.
P.S. We have prayed before Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament about our choice of the verses in this reading guide. We hope the Scriptures will have a prophetic, life-changing power for you.
Nm 1 — GOING NOWHERE
"The Lord said to Moses in the meeting tent in the desert of Sinai: 'Take a census of the whole community of the Israelites.' " Numbers 1:1-2
Numbers is structured around two censuses (Chapters 1 and 26). In the first census, "the total number of the Israelites of twenty years or more who were fit for military service, registered by ancestral houses, was six hundred and three thousand, five hundred and fifty" (1:45-46). The results of the second census were "six hundred and one thousand seven hundred and thirty" (26:51). After thirty-eight years of wandering in the desert, the decrease in population indicates that the Israelites were worse off than when they started.
Prayer: Father, may my life be marked by growth and not by meaningless or harmful changes.
Nm 2 — CHURCH ADMINISTRATION
"The Lord said to Moses and Aaron: 'The Israelites shall camp, each in his own division, under the ensigns of their ancestral houses. They shall camp around the meeting tent, but at some distance from it.' " Numbers 2:1-2
Moses counted all the people and arranged them in campsites according to tribe. The Israelites were well organized but, ironically, were wandering in the desert. In today's computerized times, we are the most efficiently administrated church in history. Nonetheless, being God's people involves much more than organization.
Prayer: Father, may all our church administration be in the service of evangelization.
Nm 3 — LEVITES ARE NOT JEANS
"The Lord said to Moses, 'It is I Who have chosen the Levites from the Israelites in place of every first-born that opens the womb among the Israelites. The Levites, therefore, are Mine.' " Numbers 3:11-12
The worship of the Lord at the Dwelling was extremely important to the Israelites. Because the Lord called the Levites to assist the priests at the Dwelling, the Levites are given special attention throughout Numbers. Chapters one, three, and four go into detail about the census and duties of the Levites.
Prayer: Father, may worship of You be the center and essence of my life.
Nm 4 — A MIRACLE
"Among the Levites take a total of the Kohathites, by clans and ancestral houses, all the men of the Kohathites between thirty and fifty years of age; these are to undertake obligatory tasks in the meeting tent." Numbers 4:2-3
Congratulations! You have survived the first three chapters of Numbers. However, you will need special help from God to make it through chapter four and to persevere in reading the book. Believe it or not, reading the book of Numbers can change your life in a remarkable way.
Prayer: Father, when You change my life through the book of Numbers, it will be a miracle. Alleluia!
Nm 5 — ADULTERY, ETC.
"He shall bring his wife to the priest and shall take along as an offering for her a tenth of an ephah of barley meal. However, he shall not pour oil on it or put frankincense over it, since it is a cereal offering of jealousy, a cereal offering for an appeal in a question of guilt." Numbers 5:15
Numbers chronicles the wanderings of the Israelites through the desert for thirty-eight years. Chapter five wanders from expelling lepers to restoring ill-gotten goods to resolving suspicions of adultery. Compare this with Jesus' treatment of lepers and the adulteress (see Mk 1:40ff; Jn 8:3ff).
Prayer: Jesus, may I receive the healing and mercy of the new covenant.
Promise: "If, however, the woman has not defiled herself, but is still pure, she will be immune and will still be able to bear children." 5:28
Nm 6 — PRIESTS AND RELIGIOUS
"As long as he is a nazirite he is sacred to the Lord." Numbers 6:8
Nazirites were dedicated to the Lord in a special way. Religious orders are in the tradition of the Nazirites. Samuel, Samson, John the Baptizer, and possibly Paul took the Nazirite vow.
Prayer: "This is how you shall bless the Israelites. Say to them: The Lord bless you and keep you! The Lord let His face shine upon you, and be gracious to you! The Lord look upon you kindly and give you peace!" 6:23-26
Promise: "This is how you shall bless the Israelites. Say to them: The Lord bless you and keep you! The Lord let His face shine upon you, and be gracious to you! The Lord look upon you kindly and give you peace!" 6:23-26
Nm 7 — LEADING AND GIVING
"An offering was made by the princes of Israel, who were heads of ancestral houses." Numbers 7:2
The leaders in our society have the responsibility to lead in giving to God's work.
Prayer: Father, may I give Your Church and its work not a penny less than You want me to.
Promise: "When Moses entered the meeting tent to speak with Him, he heard the voice addressing him from above the propitiatory on the ark of the commandments, from between the two cherubim." 7:89
Nm 8 — I LOVE LEVITES
"The Lord said to Moses: 'Take the Levites from among the Israelites and purify them.' " Numbers 8:5
Back to the Levites. The writer of Numbers felt compelled to explain in detail the purification of the Levites. He even clarified the age limits for levitical service in the meeting tent. This emphasis on the Levites is an indirect way of showing that the community's public worship of God is the most important part of life.
Prayer: Father, may I live to worship You.
Promise: "Thus shall you set aside the Levites from the rest of the Israelites, that they may be Mine." 8:14
Nm 9 — TRAVEL GUIDE
"Whenever the cloud rose from the tent, the Israelites would break camp; wherever the cloud came to rest, they would pitch camp." Numbers 9:17
Yahweh wants to guide every step we take. He did this for the Israelites in the desert by providing a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. "A voice shall sound in your ears: 'This is the way; walk in it,' when you would turn to the right or to the left" (Is 30:21).
Prayer: Father, direct my every step, thought, and decision.
Promise: "Thus, it was always at the bidding of the Lord that they encamped, and at His bidding that they set out." 9:23
Nm 10 — A MOVING EXPERIENCE
"The Israelites moved on from the desert of Sinai by stages, until the cloud came to rest in the desert of Paran." Numbers 10:12
Do you remember when you moved from one house or city to another? Maybe you had three kids, two dogs, and who knows what else. It was an unforgettable experience. In this chapter, the Israelites moved a few hundred thousand people from Sinai into the desert.
Prayer: "Arise, O Lord, that Your enemies may be scattered, and those who hate You may flee before You" (10:35).
Promise: "If you come with us, we will share with you the prosperity the Lord will bestow on us." 10:32
Nm 11 — THE SPIRIT AND THE FLESH (Gal 5:17)
"We remember the fish we used to eat without cost in Egypt, and the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic. But now we are famished; we see nothing before us but this manna." Numbers 11:5-6
After being set free from slavery and miraculously delivered at the Red Sea, the Israelites complained about the manna instead of thanking the Lord. They upset Moses so much that he prayed for God to take his life. The Lord instead gave Moses seventy elders anointed by the Spirit.
Prayer: Father, pour out Your Spirit on me. May I be part of the answer rather than part of the problem.
Promise: "Taking some of the spirit that was on Moses, He bestowed it on the seventy elders; and as the spirit came to rest on them, they prophesied." 11:25
Nm 12 — MAKING MATTERS WORSE
"They complained, 'Is it through Moses alone that the Lord speaks? Does He not speak through us also?' And the Lord heard this." Numbers 12:2
The people were complaining about the manna. Joshua was jealous of two men who received the Spirit without attending the prayer meeting (11:29). The people, after stuffing themselves with quail, were struck with a plague (11:33). Next, Aaron and Miriam became jealous of Moses. Miriam was struck with leprosy, but Moses prayed and she was healed. Lord, have mercy!
Prayer: Father, I repent and stop the multiplication of evils.
Promise: "The presence of the Lord he beholds." 12:8
Nm 13 — BOY SCOUTS
"All the people we saw there are huge men, veritable giants [the Anakim were a race of giants]; we felt like mere grasshoppers, and so we must have seemed to them." Numbers 13:32-33
Moses sent out twelve men to scout the promised land of Canaan. They confirmed that it was a land of milk and honey. But, except for Caleb and Joshua, they did not confirm the Lord's promise that the Israelites would possess the land. The scouts were intimidated by the sight of the giants who lived there.
Prayer: Father, give me faith like Caleb's.
Promise: "They cut down a branch with a single cluster of grapes on it, which two of them carried on a pole, as well as some pomegranates and figs." 13:23
Nm 14 — SHUT OUT
"Here in the desert shall your dead bodies fall. Of all your men of twenty years or more, registered in the census, who grumbled against me, not one shall enter the land where I solemnly swore to settle you, except Caleb." Numbers 14:29-30
The Israelites became so discouraged that they started making plans to go back into slavery. The Lord thought of wiping them out rather than letting them return to slavery. Moses interceded for the people and the Lord pardoned them. However, none of the many thousands would live long enough to enter the promised land, except the faith-filled Caleb.
Prayer: Father, may I not deprive myself of the fulfillment of any of Your promises.
Promise: "Do not rebel against the Lord! You need not be afraid of the people of that land; they are but food for us! Their defense has left them, but the Lord is with us. Therefore, do not be afraid of them." 14:9
Nm 15 — OBEDIENCE SCHOOL
"When you use these tassels, let the sight of them remind you to keep all the commandments of the Lord, without going wantonly astray after the desires of your hearts and eyes. Thus you will remember to keep all My commandments and be holy to your God." Numbers 15:39-40
The Lord did everything possible to call the Israelites to obedience. He even "put tassels on the corners of their garments" as a reminder to obey the Law (15:38). Obedience, especially in matters of worship and observance of the Sabbath, was the way into the promised land.
Prayer: Father, may I learn obedience from what I suffer (Heb 5:8).
Promise: "I, the Lord, am your God Who, as God, brought you out of Egypt that I, the Lord, may be your God." 15:41
Nm 16 — CRIME AND PUNISHMENT
"He has allowed you and your kinsmen, the descendants of Levi, to approach Him, and yet you now seek the priesthood too. It is therefore against the Lord that you and all your band are conspiring." Numbers 16:10-11
The Israelites, like most of us, seem to be constantly rebelling. For example, the Korahites tried to appropriate to themselves the priesthood. Fire consumed two hundred and fifty of them when they tried to exercise the priestly office by offering incense. The Lord expects us to obey Him.
Prayer: Father, forgive me of my sins "not only because of Your just punishment but most of all because they offend You Who are all-good and worthy of all my love" (Act of Contrition).
Promise: "He whom the Lord then chooses is the holy one."16:7
Nm 17 — THE LAITY AND THE PRIESTHOOD
"The Israelites cried out to Moses, 'We are perishing; we are lost, we are all lost! Every time anyone approaches the Dwelling of the Lord, he dies! Are we to perish to the last man?' " Numbers 17:27-28
In addition to the Korahites, 14,700 people died because of their pretensions to the priesthood. To settle the issue, Moses got one staff from each ancestral house. "The next day, when Moses entered the tent, Aaron's staff, representing the house of Levi, had sprouted and put forth not only shoots, but blossoms as well, and even bore ripe almonds!" (17:23) The Lord made His point.
Prayer: Father, clarify for us the differences between the priesthood of the laity and that of the clergy so each of us can be what You have called us to be.
Nm 18 — WHO AM I?
"It is I Who have taken your kinsmen, the Levites, from the body of the Israelites; they are a gift to you, dedicated to the Lord for the service of the meeting tent. But only you and your sons are to have charge of performing the priestly functions in whatever concerns the altar and the room within the veil." Numbers 18:6-7
This is the last of three chapters differentiating the priests from the Levites. We all need to know clearly and exactly our part in God's plan. We must do nothing less or more than the Lord has assigned us (1 Cor 3:5).
Prayer: Father, make me happy to be what You've created me to be. May I not compare myself with others.
Promise: "I give you the priesthood as a gift." 18:7
Nm 19 — SEEING RED
"Tell the Israelites to procure for you a red heifer that is free from every blemish and defect." Numbers 19:2
We should keep asking for God's grace to keep reading the book of Numbers. Only by His grace can we unearth the hidden treasures of this book. For example, there is a great revelation in this chapter. The red heifer prefigures Christ. "If the blood of goats and bulls and the sprinkling of a heifer's ashes can sanctify those who are defiled so that their flesh is cleansed, how much more will the blood of Christ, Who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself up unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from dead works to worship the living God!" (Heb 9:13-14)
Prayer: Jesus, I praise You for Your sacrificial death and the outpouring of the living waters of the Spirit.
Nm 20 — THREE STRIKES, YOU'RE OUT
"The Lord said to Moses and Aaron, 'Because you were not faithful to Me in showing forth My sanctity before the Israelites, you shall not lead this community into the land I will give them." Numbers 20:12
Miriam and Aaron died and did not enter the promised land. Even Moses was deprived of entering because he was unfaithful when drawing forth water from the rock. No one would receive God's promises, if Jesus hadn't made the way.
Prayer: Jesus, by faith in You, may I claim every promise the Father has ever made to me.
Promise: "Water gushed out in abundance for the community and their livestock to drink." 20:11
Nm 21 — COMPLAINT DEPARTMENT
"Moses accordingly made a bronze serpent and mounted it on a pole, and whenever anyone who had been bitten by a serpent looked at the bronze serpent, he recovered." Numbers 21:9
The people complained for the hundredth time. "In punishment the Lord sent among the people saraph serpents, which bit the people so that many of them died" (21:6). "Moses prayed for the people, and the Lord said to Moses, 'Make a saraph and mount it on a pole, and if anyone who has been bitten looks at it, he will recover' " (21:7-8). The bronze serpent prefigured Jesus. "Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that all who believe may have eternal life in Him" (Jn 3:14-15).
Prayer: Jesus, You are the new Moses, the eternal High Priest, the new Manna, the Rock bringing forth water. You are Savior, Lord, and God. I adore You.
Promise: "The Lord, however, said to Moses, 'Do not be afraid of him; for into your hand I will deliver him with all his people and his land.' " 21:34
Nm 22 — MISTER ED, THE TALKING ASS
"Now the Lord opened the mouth of the ass, and she asked Balaam, 'What have I done to you that you should beat me these three times?' " Numbers 22:28
Despite the chosen people's sinful complaining and aimless wandering, they were still the chosen people. The Lord protected them from the curse of Balaam by giving an ass the power to talk.
Prayer: Lord, just when I was beginning to think the book of Numbers was boring, I read about a talking ass. Thank You for Your sense of humor.
Promise: "God said to Balaam, 'Do not go with them and do not curse this people, for they are blessed.' " 22:12
Nm 23 — UNSTOPPABLE BLESSINGS
" 'Even though you cannot curse them,' said Balak to Balaam, 'at least do not bless them.' But Balaam answered Balak, 'Did I not warn you that I must do all that the Lord tells me?' " Numbers 23:25-26
Balaam tried three times to curse the Israelites. He always blessed them instead. We who have followed Jesus also are always blessed, even when others try to curse us. "Indeed, everything is ordered" to our benefit (2 Cor 4:15). Alleluia!
Prayer: Father, may I exude confidence despite my weakness because of Your power (2 Cor 12:9).
Promise: "God is not man that He should speak falsely, nor human, that He should change His mind. Is He one to speak and not act, to decree and not fulfill? It is a blessing I have been given to pronounce; a blessing which I cannot restrain." 23:19-20
Nm 24 — THE STAR OF DAVID
"The utterance of Balaam, son of Beor, the utterance of the man whose eye is true, the utterance of one who hears what God says, and knows what the Most High knows, of one who sees what the Almighty sees, enraptured and with eyes unveiled." Numbers 24:15-16
Balaam kept uncontrollably blessing the Israelites. He finally prophesied the coming of the Messiah Jesus: "I see Him, though not now; I behold Him, though not near: a Star shall advance from Jacob, and a Staff shall rise from Israel" (24:17).
Prayer: Jesus, bright Morning Star (Rv 22:16), I worship You.
Promise: "Blessed is he who blesses you, and cursed is he who curses you!" 24:9
Nm 25 — OUR OWN WORST ENEMY
"Phinehas, son of Eleazar, son of Aaron the priest, has turned My anger from the Israelites by his zeal for My honor among them." Numbers 25:11
Balaam could not curse the Israelites, but they cursed "themselves by having illicit relations with the Moabite women" (25:1). Twenty-four thousand died until Phinehas stopped the slaughter by killing a couple who were flaunting their sin.
Prayer: Jesus, if I believe in You, I don't have to die for my sins, because You already did. I give my life to You in gratitude.
Promise: "I (God) hereby give him (Phinehas) My pledge of friendship, which shall be for him and for his descendants after him the pledge of an everlasting priesthood, because he was zealous on behalf of his God and thus made amends for the Israelites." 25:12-13
Nm 26 — A LOST GENERATION
"Among them there was not a man of those who had been registered by Moses and the priest Aaron in the census of the Israelites taken in the desert of Sinai. For the Lord had told them that they would surely die in the desert, and not one of them was left except Caleb." Numbers 26:64-65
The results of the second census were a little less than that of the first census taken almost forty years previously. The Israelites had not been fruitful and not multiplied (Gn 1:28). A whole generation was lost.
Prayer: Lord, may we save ourselves "from this generation which has gone astray" (Acts 2:40).
Nm 27 — THE REIGN OF DEATH (Rm 5:17)
"The Lord said to Moses, 'Go up here into the Abarim Mountains and view the land that I am giving to the Israelites. When you have viewed it, you too shall be taken to your people, as was your brother Aaron." Numbers 27:12-13
Death so decimated the Israelites that they had to make new laws concerning heiresses and heirs who would inherit a person's property when much of the family had already died. Even Moses died after seeing the promised land from a distance but not entering it.
Prayer: Father, may I not miss out on heaven. May I live with You forever.
Promise: "He laid his hands on him and gave him his commission." 27:23
Nm 28 — PRAISE HIM ANYWAY ALWAYS
"This is the oblation which you shall offer to the Lord: two unblemished yearling lambs each day as the established holocaust, offering one lamb in the morning and the other during the evening twilight." Numbers 28:3-4
Numbers reaches the conclusion that, when "all else fails," we should worship the Lord daily, weekly, monthly, and on special occasions throughout the year.
Prayer: Christ, the Lamb and the Passover (1 Cor 5:7), I worship You.
Nm 29 — HIGH HOLY DAYS
"These are the offerings you shall make to the Lord on your festivals, besides whatever holocausts, cereal offerings, libations, and peace offerings you present as your votive or freewill offerings." Numbers 29:39
Jesus did not come to abolish the Law and the feasts of the Law (Mt 5:17). For example, the New Testament Day of Atonement is Good Friday, Passover is fulfilled in Easter, the feast of Weeks is our Pentecost, and the feast of Booths is possibly fulfilled in our Christmas.
Prayer: Father, may communal worship of You be the center of my life.
Nm 30 — LOVE IS FOR A LIFETIME
"When a man makes a vow to the Lord or binds himself under oath to a pledge of abstinence, he shall not violate his word, but must fulfill exactly the promise he has uttered." Numbers 30:3
This chapter on the validity and annulment of vows indicates that some of the Israelites, like many of us, were not keeping their word to God. Paul said: "As God keeps His word, I declare that my word to you is not 'yes' one minute and 'no' the next. Jesus Christ, Whom Silvanus, Timothy, and I preached to you as Son of God, was not alternately 'yes' and 'no'; He was never anything but 'yes' " (2 Cor 1:18-19).
Prayer: Father, may I be faithful to my baptismal vows, confirmation commitment, and marriage vows or religious profession.
Nm 31 — COMPUTERIZED CHAOS
"Moses sent them out on the campaign, a thousand from each tribe, with Phinehas, son of Eleazar, the priest for the campaign, who had with him the sacred vessels and the trumpets for sounding the alarm." Numbers 31:6
This chapter is the sequel to 25:13. The fact that five chapters interrupt the sequence shows the disorder of this book, which tries to be so numerical and orderly. The disorder here is not only in literary composition but also in the lives of the Israelite people. We in the technological age have this same combination of exterior order and interior chaos.
Prayer: Father, give me deep peace and order in my life.
Promise: "Moses, then, and the priest Eleazar accepted the gold from the clan and company commanders, and put it in the meeting tent as a memorial for the Israelites before the Lord." 31:54
Nm 32 — SECOND BEST IS NOT BEST
"So Moses gave them [the Gadites and Reubenites, as well as half the tribe of Manasseh, son of Joseph, the kingdom of Sihon, king of the Amorites, and the kingdom of Og, king of Bashan,] the land with its towns and the districts that surrounded them." Numbers 32:33
The tribes of Gad, Reuben, and Manasseh asked Moses for land outside the promised land. Are you settling for less than God's best?
Prayer: Lord, may I never give up the best by settling for the good.
Promise: "Your servants will do as you command." 32:25
Nm 33 — SETTING THE STAGES
"The following are the stages by which the Israelites journeyed up by companies from the land of Egypt." Numbers 33:1
The book of Numbers likes to catalog the stages of the journey from Egypt to the promised land. We also like to outline stages of inner healing, moral development, academic progress, and spiritual growth. It makes us feel more secure and in control, but this can be a mirage. When we outline stages, we often focus on ourselves and our works rather than on God's power.
Prayer: Father, may I not focus on my progress but on Your power.
Promise: "You shall take possession of the land and settle in it, for I have given you the land as your property." 33:53
Nm 34 — CONSIDER IT DONE
"The Lord said to Moses, 'Give the Israelites this order: When you enter the land of Canaan, this is the territory that shall fall to you as your heritage.' " Numbers 34:1-2
God told the Israelites to apportion the land before they even set foot on it. The Lord also wants us to be confident that we will enter our land of promises. We should plan as if it's already done.
Prayer: Father, may my faith lead the way and cause events in my life.
Nm 35 — ASYLUMS
"When you go across the Jordan into the land of Canaan, select for yourselves cities to serve as cities of asylum, where a homicide who has killed someone unintentionally may take refuge." Numbers 35:10-11
The book of Numbers ends on a sad note. The Israelites hoped that the promised land would be a place of life and peace. Even before the people entered the promised land, however, the Lord told Moses to formulate rules for capital punishment and cities of asylum.
Prayer: Jesus, give me Your peace in a way which is not as the world gives peace (Jn 14:27).
Nm 36 — TECHNICAL KNOCKOUT
"These are the commandments and decisions which the Lord prescribed for the Israelites through Moses, on the plains of Moab beside the Jericho stretch of the Jordan." Numbers 36:13
Numbers ends with a technicality concerning the property of heiresses in the jubilee year. The jubilee year was supposed to be a year of freedom, but this became possible only in Jesus (Lk 4:19).
Prayer: Jesus, may I end this life on earth focused on You.
Nihil obstat: Reverend Ralph J. Lawrence, January 22, 1996
Imprimatur: †Most Reverend Carl K. Moeddel, Vicar General and Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, February 5, 1996
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