Five Books of Moses

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Home > The Old Testament > Organization and Overview of the Old Testament > Five Books of Moses

Subpages:  Genesis  •  Exodus  •  Leviticus  •  Numbers  •  Deuteronomy

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Relationship to Old Testament. The relationship of the Five Books of Moses to the Old Testament as a whole is discussed at Organization and Overview of the Old Testament.

Story. The five books of Moses collectively tell how Israel arrived at the point of entering and conquering Canaan, and why it was proper for Israel to do so:

  • Genesis: The origin of the House of Israel as heir to the Abrahamic Covenant. The origin of mankind, Abraham's genealogy back to Noah and Adam, and the blessings of Adam, Noah, and Shem that Abraham inherits as their descendant. God establishes his special covenant with Abraham. That covenant passes to younger sons Isaac and Jacob. The covenant then passes to all of Jacob's heirs as a group when Joseph forgives, gathers, and nourishes all of the descendants of his father Israel.
  • Exodus: Israel delivered from bondage and established as God's covenant people. Israel is in bondage to Egypt and is unable to be delivered by man. God delivers Israel on Passover and again at the Red Sea. God establishes Israel as his covenant people at Mount Sinai, but Israel rebels by worshiping the golden calf. The plans for and construction of the Tabernacle and the Ark of the Covenant.
  • Leviticus: Ritual cleanliness and holiness. Laws governing offerings. Laws regarding temporary uncleanness and regarding grievous defilement or unholiness. Consecration of the priests and laws regarding Sabbaths and feasts. Ceremony on the Day of Atonement including reconciliation of the congregation of Israel with God.
  • Numbers: Rebellious Generation 1 is replaced by Faithful Generation 2. Generation 1 that left Egypt with Moses is prepared to enter Canaan. But this generation repeatedly rebels against God and is cursed to wander and die in the desert for 40 years. At the conclusion of 40 years the last members of of Generation 1 die, Israel's rebellions against God end, and faithful Generation 2 is prepared to enter Canaan.
  • Deuteronomy: Renewal of the Sinai Covenant with Generation 2. Moses recounts God's dealings with Israel over the 40 years since the Passover and exhorts Israel to obey God. Moses sets out the specific requirements of the Law. The Sinai Covenant is then renewed with Generation 2, and covenant blessings for obedience and covenant cursings for disobedience are specified. Moses takes steps to perpetuate this covenant into future generations and then dies.

Message. Themes, symbols, and doctrinal points emphasized in the Five Books of Moses include:

  • Sinai Covenant. The Sinai Covenant between God and Israel.

Historical setting[edit]

This section should be brief and explain facts about the historical setting that will help a reader to understand the book. Click the "edit" link to edit or add content to this section. →

See Genesis for a discussion of historical events before Moses led the children of Israel from Egypt.

Because the events of the Exodus as related in the books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy are so closely related, a single combined discussion of the historical setting of those four books is located here.

The discussion on this page builds upon the conclusion stated in the broader treatment of Israel's history at Historical Overview of the Old Testament (and discussed in the first several footnotes of that page) that the Exodus occurred in 1446 BC and that the House of Israel was in Egypt for a total of 430 years.

The events related in Exodus - Deuteronomy fall into four time periods:

1. The Back Story before Moses's Call.

Semitic culture and language dominated the Fertile Crescent, including both Ur of the Chaldees where Abraham was raised, and the land of Canaan from which the House of Israel moved to Egypt. CITE.

Joseph was sold into slavery in Egypt in 1899 BC during Egypt's 12th dynasty.[1] As recounted in Genesis 45-50, Joseph set up his father's family, the House of Israel, at Goshen in a choice region of the Nile River delta in 1876 BC. (Gen 46:28-47:11). Over time the Israelites, who were non-Egyptian Semites, became very numerous. (Ex 1:7-9).

In the mid 1700's BC the Egyptian Nile delta was invaded by the Hyksos, who it is generally believed were also non-Egyptian Semites from the Fertile Crescent. The Hyksos invasion initiated two centuries of political instability and internal warfare known as Egypt's Second Intermediate Period. Kamose, the last king of the 17th dynasty, is generally beleived to have finally driven out the Hyksos invaders. His brother Ahmose then founded the 18th dynasty and initiated the New Kingdom period of much greater political stability. This history explains why an 18th dynasty Egyptian king or Pharaoh during the next century (mid 1500's to mid 1400's BC) would be concerned about a large population of Semites (the Israelites) who were still living in the Nile delta. (Ex 1:8-10).[2]

It seems likely (but is not certain) that the oppression of Israel recounted in Exodus 1-2 began under Ahmose (r. 1539-1515) after the Hyksos had been removed as a military threat. During Ahmose's reign, Aaron was born in 1529 BC, and his younger brother Moses was born three years later in 1526 BC. (Ex. 7:7; Num 33:39; Deut 34:7).[3]

Forty years later, following Moses's murder of the Egyptian, Moses fled to Midian at age 40 (Ex. 2:11-22; Acts 7:23) in about 1486 BC, or during the reign of Thutmose I (r. 1493-1483). Caleb was also born about this time in 1485 BC. (Josh 14:7).[4]

Moses spent the next 40 years in Midian as Jethro's son in law. (Acts 7:29-30; Ex 7:7).

2. Years 1-2: The Sinai Covenant with Generation 1.

As related in Exodus 3-7a, God spoke to Moses out of the burning bush and commissioned him to deliver Israel from bondage in probably late 1447 BC when Moses was age 80. (Ex 3:1-10; 7:7; Acts 7:29-30). Moses then returned to Egypt and requested, without success, that Pharaoh allow Israel to leave Egypt. Pharaoh at this time would have been either Thutmose III (r. 1479-1425 BC according to the Low Chronology) or Amenhotep II (r. 1454-1428 BC according to the High Chronology).[5]

The plagues upon Egypt related in Exodus 7b-13a likely began a couple months before the tenth and final plague in which all firstborn died on the night of Month 1, Day 14 during March-April 1446 BC. Israel departed Egypt the next morning on Month 1, Day 15. (Ex 12:2, 6-14, Num 33:3-4). As related in Exodus 13b-15a, Israel traveled during the first portion of the next month and a half to the Red Sea, where the army of Pharaoh was drowned. As related in Exodus 15b-18, Israel spent the remainder of that month and a half traveling from the Red Sea to Mount Sinai. Along the way, Israel murmured about the bitter waters at Marah, the lack of food which resulted in manna, and the lack of water at Horeb. Israel also defeated Amalek in a war and was joined by Moses's father in law Jethro.

Israel camped at Mount Sinai for almost an entire year, arriving on Year 1, Month 3, Day 1 (Ex 19:1 NIV) and departing on Year 2, Month 2, Day 20. (Num 10:11-12).

The account in Exodus 19-24a tells how the congregation of Israel heard the voice of God deliver the Ten Commandments (Ex 20; Deut 4:9-13) and how Israel then covenanted to obey God by entering into the Sinai Covenant. (Ex 24:3-8).

The account in Exodus 24b-31 relates that Moses then ascended Mount Sinai for 40 days (Ex 24:18), during time which he received instructions for the construction of the Tabernacle and ceremonial clothing for the priests.

The account in Exodus 32-34 relates that Moses came down from the mountain to find that Israel had already fallen into idolatry and was worshiping a golden calf. Moses breaks the two stone tablets and punishes Israel for its breaking of the Sinai Covenant. Moses then ascended Mount Sinai for a second 40 days, during which God renewed the broken Sinai Covenant with Moses on behalf of all Israel. (Ex 34:27-28). These two trips of 40 days each occupied most of Months 3-5, not counting any additional time that Moses spent in camp before, in between, or after these two trips up the mountain.

The account in Exodus 35-40 tells how Israel spent the remainder of Year 1 at Mount Sinai constructing the Tabernacle and ceremonial clothing for the priests. The Tabernacle was then erected on the first day of Year 2. (Ex 40:17).

The account in Numbers 7-10a recounts the offerings given by each of each of the Twelve Tribes at the dedication of the Tabernacle during Year 2, Month 1, Days 1-12 (Num 7:1, 10-12, 78), and to the keeping of the Passover on Year 2, Month 1, Day 14 (Num 9:1, 6), the first anniversary of Israel's deliverance from Egypt.[6]

The events related in Leviticus also occurred during Year 2, Month 1 (Ex 40:17; Num 1:1).

The account in Numbers 1-6 covers the first twenty days of Month 2. (Num 1:1; 10:11). On Month 2, Day 1 Moses receives the instruction to conduct a military census of the men of Israel who are of fighting age. A census is also taken of Levite men who are of appropriate age for religious service, and arrangements are specified for setting up camp around the Tabernacle and for traveling as a host (Num 3-4).

The account in Numbers 10b-14 begins on Month 2, Day 20 as Israel breaks camp and moves out from Mount Sinai after having camped there for nearly a year. (Ex 19:1 NIV; Num 10:11). The subsequent events related during Year 2 consist of a series of rebellions by Israel. This culminates in the refusal by Israel to go up and possess the Promised Land of Canaan. In response God decrees that Israel shall wander in the desert for 40 years and that no one in this rebellious Generation 1 who is above the age of 20 (except for Joshua and Caleb) will live to enter the Promised Land (Num 13-14).

3. Years 3-39: Forty Years of Wandering and Transition. The next 38 years are covered in only five chapters that are entirely lacking in information about dates (Numbers 15-19). The principal story during this time is of Korah, who leads a rebellion against the authority of Moses and Aaron (Num 16).

4. Year 40: The Renewed Covenant with Generation 2. The account in Numbers 20-25 relates how Israel's rebellions continued all the way into at least the middle of the 40th and last year of wandering. This account begins with the deaths of Moses's sister Miriam in Year 40, Month 1 (Num 20:1) and Moses's brother Aaron on Year 40, Month 5, Day 1 (Num 20:29; 33:38). These deaths are followed by more rebellions. The last occurs at Baal-Peor in which Israel engages in idolatry and fornication with Midianites, and as a result 24,000 Israelites die of plague and others are executed (Num 25:1-9). During this time the prophet Balaam also blesses Israel against its enemies (Num 22-24).

The account in Numbers 26-36 tells how Israel prepared to finally enter the Promised Land, during no more than six months in the second half of Year 40, once all of the rebellious Generation 1 had finally passed away. Following the plague at Baal-Peor, a second military census is taken of the men of Israel who are of fighting age. The report of the census includes the fact that no one of the rebellious Generation 1 is still alive in Israel (except for Joshua and Caleb) (Num 26:64-65). With Israel now composed only of Generation 2, there are no more stories of rebellion, and Israel prepares a second time to enter the Promised Land. Earlier that year Moses was denied entry into the Promised Land (Num 20:12-13), and he appoints Joshua to succeed him and to lead Israel into Canaan (Num 27:12-23). Israel takes revenge upon Midian (Num 31). Inheritances east of the Jordan River are requested and appointed to Reuben, Gad, and half the tribe of Manasseh (Num 32).

All of Deuteronomy 1-30 consists of a single covenant renewal address by Moses at age 120 (Deut 31:1) on Year 40, Month 11, Day 1 (Deut 1:3) at the conclusion of his life and of Israel's 40 years of wandering in the wilderness.

Deuteronomy 31-34 concludes with a few additional events over the last two months of Year 40, most of which are designed to ensure that Israel's covenant relationship with God will continue after Moses is gone. Joshua is appointed to succeed Moses and is blessed with a portion of Moses's spirit (Deut 31:3-8; 34:9). Moses finishes writing the Law and commands that it be read to the entire congregation of Israel so that it will not be forgotten during the Feast of Tabernacles in every seventh or Sabbatical year (Deut 31:9-13). Moses delivers his Song of Moses that is to be remembered and sung by Israel (Deut 32:44-47). Moses also leaves his last blessing upon the Twelve Tribes of Israel (Deut 33). Finally, Moses dies and is mourned for thirty days (Deut 34:5-8)

The book of Joshua then begins as Joshua leads Israel across the Jordan River on Year 41, Month 1, Day 10 (Josh 4:19), just 70 days after Moses's covenant renewal address in Deuteronomy 1-30.

A broader treatment of the history of ancient Israel is found at Old Testament: Historical Overview.


This section is for detailed discussion such as the meaning of a symbol, how a doctrinal point is developed throughout a passage, or insights that can be further developed in the future. Contributions may range from polished paragraphs down to a single bullet point. The focus, however, should always be on understanding the scriptural text consistent with LDS doctrine. Click the "edit" link to edit or add content to this section. →

Outline and page map[edit]

This section contains a brief outline for the entire five Books of Moses. Items in blue or purple text indicate hyperlinked pages that address specific portions of those books. Click the "edit" link to edit or add content to this section. →

The outline below is summarized on this single-page handout (along with Joshua, Judges, and Ruth).


I. Adam-Noah cycle (1-11b)

A. The Creation (1)
B. Adam and Eve in the Garden: The Fall (2-3)
C. Non-birthright genealogy and stories of murder (4)
D. Birthright genealogical list from Adam to Noah's three sons (5)
E. Pervasive wickedness and God's intent to destroy mankind (6a)
A'. Noah and the Flood: Re-creation (6b-9a)
B'. Noah's nakedness: Canaan cursed to serve Shem (9b)
C'. Non-birthright genealogical list from (10)
E'. Non-birthright genealogical list from (11a)
D'. Birthright genealogical list from Shem to Abraham (11b)

II. Abraham cycle (11c-25a)

• Terah's descendants: his three sons Abraham, Nahor, Haran, and Haran's son Lot (11c)
A. Abraham among the Canaanites: Abrahamic Covenant formed and renewed (12-15)
B. Birth of Ishmael, Hagar flees from Sarah and returns (16)
C. Symbolic covenant of circumcision, Abrahamic Covenant renewed (17)
D. Canaanites rejected: God destroys Sodom (18-19a)
• Terah's descendants through his 3rd son Haran: Lot's sons Moab and Ammon (19b)
A'. Abraham among the Canaanites (20, 21b, 23)
B'. Birth of Isaac, Hagar is cast out by Sarah (21a)
C' Symbolic sacrifice of Isaac, Abrahamic Covenant renewed (22a)
• Terah's descendants through his 2nd son Nahor: twelve sons and Bethuel's daughter Rebekah (22b)
D'. Canaanites rejected: Isaac marries Rebekah rather than a bride from Canaan (24)
• Terah's descendants through his 1st son Abraham, and death of Abraham (25a)

III. Jacob cycle (25b-35)

• Descendants of Ishmael (25b)
A. Isaac's two sons: Jacob and Esau (25c)
B. Isaac deals humbly with Canaanites, treaty of peace (26)
C. Jacob tricks Isaac, obtains the birthright blessing, and flees from Esau (27-28)
• Jacob's ladder: Abrahamic covenant given to Jacob
D. Laban tricks Jacob re wife after first 7 years (29a)
E. Jacob blessed with children during second 7 years (29b-30a)
E'. Jacob blessed with flocks during final 6 years (30b)
D'. Jacob flees Laban and then is reconciled with Laban (31)
C'. Jacob deals humbly with and Esau and is reconciled (32-33)
• Jacob wrestles: Name changed to Israel
B'. Jacob's sons deal trickily with Canaanites, Jacob's family flees (34-35a)
A'. Jacob's sons, deaths of Rachel and Isaac (35b)

IV. Joseph cycle (36-50)

• Descendants of Esau (36)
A. Joseph's two dreams that brothers will serve him (37a)
A'. Brothers' plans to get rid of Joseph (37b)
B. Judah a poor steward and seduced by Tamar (38)
B'. Joseph a good steward and resists Potiphar's wife (39)
C. Joseph interprets two prisoner dreams (40)
C'. Joseph interprets two Pharaoh dreams (41a)
D. Pharaoh prepares for the famine (41b)
E. Brothers' first trip to buy grain from Egypt, brothers bow, Simeon hostage (42)
E'. Brothers' second trip to buy grain from Egypt, they agree to be servants, Judah a ransom (43-45)
F. Family's third trip to Egypt, Joseph nourishes family, Jacob a guest (46-47a)
D'. Pharaoh profits from the famine and Egyptians impoverished (47b)
• Jacob and Joseph's last days in Egypt (47c-50)


I. Israel Enslaved, Delivered, and Gathered (Exodus 1-18)

A. Israel in bondage, Moses delivered and commissioned (1-7a)
  • Pharoah brings Israel into bondage (1-2)
  • God commissions Moses to Deliver Israel (3-4a)
  • Moses returns to Egypt (4b)
  • Pharaoh refuses to let Israel go, increases burden (5)
  • God reaffirms Moses's commission (6-7a)
B. Israel delivered from Egypt (7b-15a)
  • Miracle of serpents and plagues #1-9 (7b-10)
  • Plague #10: Passover and departure (11-13a)
  • Deliverance: Miracle of Egyptians swallowed up in Red Sea (13b-15a)
C. Murmuring along journey from Red Sea to Sinai (15b-18)
  • Murmuring, waters healed at Marah (15b)
  • Murmuring, quail and manna provided in Wilderness of Sin (16)
  • Murmuring, water provided at Horeb (17a)
  • War with Amalek (17b)
  • Jethro visits Moses (18)

II. Sinai Covenant and Tabernacle: Israel commissioned (Exodus 19-40)

A. Sinai Covenant revealed and accepted (19-24a)
  • Sinai Covenant revealed and accepted in general terms (19a)
  • Moses's authority to intermediate with God (19b-20a)
  • Sinai Covenant revealed and accepted in specific terms (20b-24a)
B. Tabernacle and priesthood revealed (24b-31)
  • Tabernacle (24b-27a)
  • Priests (27b-29)
  • Miscellaneous (30-31)
A'. Sinai Covenant broken and renewed (32-34)
  • Israel worships the golden calf, Moses's first intercession (32a)
  • Moses punishes Israel, Moses's second intercession (32b)
  • God punishes Israel, Moses's third intercession (33)
  • Sinai Covenant Renewed (34)
B'. Tabernacle and priests implemented and accepted (35-40)
  • Tabernacle and Vessels Made (35b-38)
  • Priests' clothing made (39a)
  • Tabernacle completed and accepted (39b-40)


A. Laws governing offerings (1-7)
B. Holy people: consecration of Aaron and sons as priests (8-10)
C. Laws governing uncleanness (11-15)
D. Day of Atonement (16)
C. Laws governing defilement (unholiness) (17-22)
B. Holy time: observance of sabbaths and feasts (23-26)
A. Laws governing vows and devotions (27)


I. Final preparations of 1st generation at Sinai (1-10a)

  • First cycle (1-6)
  • First military census (1)
  • Order of the host in camp (2)
  • First Levite census and arrangements in camp (3)
  • Second Levite census and arrangements when traveling (4)
  • Laws (5)
  • Nazarite vow (6a)
  • Priestly blessing upon Israel (6b)
  • Second Cycle (7-10a)
  • Dedicatory offerings by tribes (7)
  • Arrangement of the menorah lamps (8a)
  • Installation of the Levites (8b)
  • Second Passover (9a)
  • Journey pattern (9b)
  • Two silver trumpets (10a)

II. Entry into Canaan denied to the rebellious (10b-25)

  • Rebellions in Year 2 (10b-15)
  • Departing Sinai (10b)
  • Rebellion at Taberah: murmuring and fire (11a)
  • Rebellion at Kibroth-Hattaavah: quail (11b)
  • Rebellion at Hazeroth: Miriam and Aaron challenge Moses's authority (12)
  • Rebellion at Kardesh-Barnea: rejection of promised land and refusal of entry (13-14)
  • Covenant continues: religious instructions for Canaan (15)
  • Rebellions and wandering continue for 38 years (16-19)
  • Rebellion of Korah (16)
  • Aaron's budding staff (17)
  • Covenant continues: priests and Levites (18)
  • Covenant continues: water of separation (19)
  • Rebellions continue until Year 40 (20-25)
  • Rebellion at Meribah: water flows from the rock (20a)
  • Travels toward Canaan (20b-21a)
  • Rebellion and fiery serpents (21b)
  • Travels toward Canaan (20b)
  • Balaam blesses Israel (22-24)
  • Last rebellion at Baal-Peor: idolatry and fornication (25)

I'. Preparation of 2nd generation (26-36)

  • First cycle (26-30)
  • Second military census, all of first generation is dead (26)
  • Daughters of Zelophehad and female inheritance (27a)
  • Joshua commissioned to succeed Moses (27b)
  • Offerings and holy days summarized (28-29)
  • Women's vows (30)
  • Second cycle (31-36)
  • Revenge on Midian (31)
  • Reuben and Gad request Trans-Jordan inheritances (32)
  • Journey summary: list of all camp locations (33)
  • Boundaries of promised land (34)
  • Levite cities and cities of refuge (35)
  • Daughters of Zelophehad, female inheritance clarified (36)


A. Speech 1: Whereas: God's Dealings with Israel over 40 years and exhortation to obey (1-4a)
B. Speech 2: Whereas: Reasons to obey God's law and exhortation to do so (4b-11)
C. Speech 2: Therefore: Specific requirements of the Law spelled out (12-26a)
D. Speech 2: Renewal of Sinai Covenant with Generation 2 with blessings and cursings (26b-28)
E. Speech 3: Renewal of Sinai Covenant with Generation 2 with blessings and cursings (29-30)
F. Steps to perpetuate the covenant in future generations (31-34)

Unanswered questions[edit]

This section is for questions along the lines of "I still don't understand ..." Please do not be shy. The point of these questions is to identify things that still need to be addressed on this page. Click the "edit" link to edit or add content to this section. →

Prompts for life application[edit]

This section is for prompts that suggest ways in which a passage can influence a person's life. Prompts may be appropriate either for private self reflection or for a class discussion. Click the "edit" link to edit or add content to this section. →

Prompts for further study[edit]

This section is for prompts that invite us to think about a passage more deeply or in a new way. These are not necessarily questions that beg for answers, but rather prompts along the lines of "Have you ever thought about ..." Prompts are most helpful when they are developed individually, thoughtfully, and with enough background information to clearly indicate a particular direction for further study or thought. Click the "edit" link to edit or add content to this section. →


This section is for listing links and print resources, including those that are also cited elsewhere on this page. A short comment about the particular strengths of a resource can be helpful. Click the "edit" link to edit or add content to this section. →

References cited on this page.

  • Steinmann. Andrew E. From Abraham to Paul: A Biblical Chronology. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2011. (ISBN 0758627998). BS637.3 .S74 2011. Builds on the earlier work of Finegan and Thiele and may become a third standard reference; likewise addresses the difficult issues but also presents a comprehensive timeline including the easy issues.


Footnotes are not required but are encouraged for factual assertions that average readers cannot easily evaluate for themselves (such as the date of King Solomon’s death or the nuanced definition of a Greek word). In contrast, insights rarely benefit from footnoting, and the focus of this page should always remain on the scriptures themselves rather than what someone has said about them. Links are actively encouraged on all sections of this page, and links to authoritative sources (such as Strong's Bible Concordance or the Joseph Smith Papers) are preferable to footnotes.

  1. Steinmann, From Abraham to Paul, 80-81.
  2. Steinmann, From Abraham to Paul, 80-82.
  3. Steinmann, From Abraham to Paul, 82.
  4. Steinmann, From Abraham to Paul, 82.
  5. Steinmann, From Abraham to Paul, 83.
  6. Steinmann, From Abraham to Paul, 83.

Home > The Old Testament > Organization and Overview of the Old Testament > Five Books of Moses

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