Bible Book List

Numbers 17-20 Common English Bible (CEB)

Aaron’s budding staff

17 [a] The Lord spoke to Moses: Speak to the Israelites and take from them a staff from each household, from each of the chiefs of their households, twelve staffs. Write each person’s name on his staff. Write Aaron’s name on Levi’s staff, for there will be one staff for the leader of each household. Then you will place them in the meeting tent in front of the chest containing the covenant, where I meet you. The staff of the person I choose will sprout. Then I will rid myself of the Israelites’ complaints that they make against you.

Moses spoke to the Israelites, and each of their chiefs gave him a staff, one staff for each chief and his household, twelve staffs, and the staff of Aaron was with their staffs. Moses placed the staffs before the Lord in the meeting tent. The next day Moses entered the covenant tent, and Aaron’s staff of Levi’s household had sprouted. It grew shoots, produced blossoms, and bore almonds. Moses brought out all the staffs from the Lord’s presence to the Israelites. They saw what happened, and each person took back his staff.

10 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Return Aaron’s staff in front of the chest containing the covenant to serve as a sign to the rebels so that their complaints against me end and they don’t die.” 11 Moses did exactly as the Lord commanded him.

12 The Israelites said to Moses, “We are perishing. We are being destroyed. All of us are being destroyed. 13 Anyone who approaches the Lord’s dwelling will die. Are we doomed to perish?”

The priests’ and Levites’ duties

18 The Lord said to Aaron: You, your sons, and your household will bear the guilt of offenses connected with the sanctuary. You and your sons will bear the guilt of offenses connected with your priesthood. Bring with you your brothers from the tribe of Levi, your father’s tribe, so that they can assist you and serve you and your sons before the covenant tent. They will perform their duties for you and the service for the entire tent. But they will not approach the holy equipment of the sanctuary or the altar, lest both they and you die. They will assist you and they will perform the duties of the meeting tent with regard to all the work of the tent. But no outsider may accompany you. You will perform the duties of the sanctuary and the altar. Then there will no longer be any anger against the Israelites. I have taken your brothers, the Levites, from the Israelites. They are a gift to you, dedicated to the Lord to perform the service of the meeting tent. You and your sons must perform the duties of your priesthood for all the matters of the altar and the area behind the curtain. I give you your priestly service as a gift. But an outsider who approaches will die.

The priests’ compensation

The Lord spoke to Aaron: I now place you in charge of my gifts, including all the Israelites’ sacred offerings. I have given them to you and your sons as an allowance. This is a permanent regulation. This is what belongs to you from the most holy offerings, from the offerings by fire: all their offerings, including their grain offerings, their purification offerings, and their compensation offerings. The most holy offerings that they bring to me will be yours and your sons’. 10 You will eat it as a most holy thing. Every male may eat it. It will be holy to you. 11 This will also belong to you, your sons, and your daughters: I’m giving you the gift offerings and all the Israelites’ uplifted offerings. This is a permanent regulation. Anyone who is clean in your household may eat it. 12 All the choice oil, new wine, and the grain’s first harvest that they give to the Lord, I’m giving to you. 13 The early produce of everything in their land, which they bring to the Lord, will be yours. Anyone who is clean in your household may eat it. 14 Everything that is devoted to the Lord in Israel will be yours. 15 Any oldest male from the womb of any living thing that is presented to the Lord, whether human or animal, will be yours. However, you will redeem the oldest males of humans and of unclean animals. 16 Their redemption price from one month of age you will calculate at five shekels of silver according to the sanctuary shekel, which is twenty gerahs. 17 But the oldest offspring of a cow, sheep, or goat you may not redeem. They are holy. You must dash their blood on the altar and turn their fat into smoke for a soothing smell to the Lord. 18 But their meat is yours. It will be yours just as the breast of the uplifted offering and the right thigh are yours. 19 All the holy gift offerings that the Israelites raise to the Lord I have given to you, your sons, and your daughters. This is a permanent regulation. It is a covenant of salt forever in the Lord’s presence, for you and your descendants.

20 The Lord said to Aaron: You will have no inheritance in their land, nor will you have a share among them. I am your share and your inheritance among the Israelites.

The Levites’ compensation

21 I have given all the one-tenth portions in Israel to the Levites as an inheritance. They are a reward for performing their service in the meeting tent. 22 The Israelites will no longer be able to approach the meeting tent, or they will be responsible for their sin and die. 23 The Levites will perform the service of the meeting tent, and they will be responsible for their own sins. This is a permanent regulation for all time. But they will not inherit land among the Israelites 24 because I’ve given the Israelites’ one-tenth portion, which they have raised to the Lord as a gift offering, as an inheritance to the Levites. Therefore, I’ve said to them, “They won’t inherit land among the Israelites.”

25 The Lord spoke to Moses: 26 Speak to the Levites and say to them: When you receive from the Israelites the one-tenth portion that I have given you from them as your inheritance, you also must present a gift offering to the Lord from it, a tenth from the one-tenth portion. 27 It will be considered your gift offering, like the grain of the threshing floor and what fills the winepress. 28 In this way you will also present a gift offering to the Lord from all the one-tenth portions that you take from the Israelites. You will provide from it a gift offering to the Lord for Aaron the priest. 29 You will present each gift offering to the Lord from all your gifts, from its best portions and its holiest parts.

30 You will say to them: When you have presented the best portion, it will be considered for the Levites equivalent to the produce of the grain and the produce of the winepress. 31 You and your household may eat it anywhere, because it is payment for your service in the meeting tent. 32 You will not bear guilt after you have presented the best portion. But you must not make the sacred gifts of the Israelites impure, on penalty of death.

Instructions about the red cow and the water of purification

19 The Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron: This is the regulation in the Instruction that the Lord commanded. Tell the Israelites that they must bring you a red cow without defect, which is flawless and on which no yoke has been laid. You will give it to Eleazar the priest, and he will take it outside the camp and slaughter it in front of him. Eleazar the priest will take some of its blood with his finger and sprinkle it seven times in front of the meeting tent. Then he will burn the cow in front of him, its skin, flesh, and blood, with its dung. The priest will take cedarwood, hyssop, and crimson cloth and throw them into the fire where the cow is burning. Then the priest will wash his clothes and bathe his body in water. Afterward the priest will enter the camp, but he will be unclean until evening. The one who burned the cow will wash his clothes in water and bathe his body in water, but he will be unclean until evening. A person who is clean will gather the ashes of the cow and place them outside the camp in a clean place. They will be kept for the water of purification for the Israelite community as a purification offering. 10 The one who gathers the ashes of the cow will wash his clothes but will be unclean until evening. This will be a permanent regulation for the Israelites and for the immigrant who lives among them.

Contact with a dead body

11 The person who touches the dead body of any human will be unclean for seven days. 12 That person must be cleansed with water on the third and seventh days to be clean. If he fails to be cleansed with water on the third and seventh days, he will not be clean. 13 Anyone who touches the body of a human who has died and doesn’t cleanse himself defiles the Lord’s dwelling. Such persons must be cut off from Israel because the water of purification wasn’t sprinkled on them. They remain unclean.

14 This is the instruction: When anyone dies in a tent, all who go into the tent and all who are in the tent are unclean for seven days. 15 Any open jar without a sealed cover on it is unclean. 16 Anyone in the open field who touches a person slain by the sword, or who died naturally, or a human bone or a grave, will be unclean for seven days. 17 For the unclean person, they will take some of the ashes of the purification offering and place fresh water with it in a jar. 18 Then a clean person will take hyssop, dip it into the water, and sprinkle it on the tent, on all the jars, on the people who were there, and on anyone who touched bone, the slain, the dead, or the grave. 19 On the third day and the seventh day the clean person will sprinkle it on the unclean, so that he will have purified him on the seventh day. He will then wash his clothes, bathe in water, and be clean at evening. 20 Any person who is unclean and didn’t cleanse himself will be cut off from the assembly, because he has defiled the Lord’s sanctuary. He didn’t have the water of purification sprinkled on him. He is unclean. 21 This will be a permanent regulation for them. The one who sprinkles the water of purification will wash his own clothes. Anyone who touches the water of purification will be unclean until evening. 22 Whoever the unclean person touches will be unclean, and the one who touches the unclean will be unclean until evening.

Lawsuit over water and Moses’ disobedience

20 In the first month,[b] the entire Israelite community entered the Zin desert and the people stayed at Kadesh. Miriam died and was buried there. Now there was no water for the community, and they assembled against Moses and Aaron. Then the people confronted Moses and said to him, “If only we too had died when our brothers perished in the Lord’s presence! Why have you brought the Lord’s assembly into this desert to kill us and our animals here? Why have you led us up from Egypt to bring us to this evil place without grain, figs, vines, or pomegranates? And there’s no water to drink!”

Moses and Aaron went away from the assembly to the entrance of the meeting tent and they fell on their faces. Then the Lord’s glory appeared to them. The Lord spoke to Moses: “You and Aaron your brother, take the staff and assemble the community. In their presence, tell the rock to provide water. You will produce water from the rock for them and allow the community and their animals to drink.”

Moses took the staff from the Lord’s presence, as the Lord had commanded him. 10 Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly before the rock. He said to them, “Listen, you rebels! Should we produce water from the rock for you?” 11 Then Moses raised his hand and struck the rock with his staff twice. Out flooded water so that the community and their animals could drink.

12 The Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you didn’t trust me to show my holiness before the Israelites, you will not bring this assembly into the land that I am giving them.” 13 These were the waters of Meribah,[c] where the Israelites confronted the Lord with controversy and he showed his holiness to them.

The Israelites confront Edom

14 Moses sent messengers from Kadesh to the king of Edom: “This is what your brother Israel says: ‘You know all the adversity that has happened to us. 15 How our ancestors went down to Egypt and lived in Egypt for a long time. The Egyptians oppressed us as they had our ancestors, 16 and we cried out to the Lord. He heard our voice, sent a messenger, and brought us out of Egypt. Now here we are in Kadesh, a city on the edge of your border. 17 Please let us cross through your land. We won’t pass through any field or vineyard, or drink water from any well. We will walk on the King’s Highway and not turn to the right or to the left until we have crossed your border.’”

18 Edom said to him, “You won’t cross through, or I will come out against you with a sword.”

19 The Israelites said to him, “We’ll go up by the road. If we drink from your water, either we or our livestock, we’ll pay for it. It’s a small matter. We would only ask to cross on foot.”

20 But he said, “You won’t cross.” Then Edom came out against them with a powerful army and a strong hand. 21 Edom refused to allow Israel to cross his border. And Israel turned away from him. 22 They marched from Kadesh.

Aaron’s death at Mount Hor

The entire Israelite community came to Mount Hor. 23 The Lord said to Moses and Aaron at Mount Hor on the border of the land of Edom: 24 Aaron will join his ancestors, for he may not enter the land that I’ve given to the Israelites, because you rebelled against my command at the waters of Meribah. 25 Take Aaron and his son Eleazar, and bring them up Mount Hor. 26 Strip Aaron of his clothes and put them on Eleazar his son. Then Aaron will die there.

27 Moses did as the Lord commanded. They went up Mount Hor in the sight of the entire community. 28 Moses stripped Aaron of his clothes and put them on Eleazar his son. Aaron died there at the top of the mountain. Then Moses and Eleazar descended from the mountain. 29 When the entire community saw that Aaron had died, the entire household of Israel wept thirty days for Aaron.


  1. Numbers 17:1 17:16 in Heb
  2. Numbers 20:1 March–April, Nisan
  3. Numbers 20:13 Or confrontation
Common English Bible (CEB)

Copyright © 2011 by Common English Bible

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