A Quick SnapShot of Numbers
Author: Traditionally Moses
- Teaching to Prepare: Numbers 1.1-10.10
- Wandering in the Wilderness: Numbers 10.11-20.29
- Onward to Canaan: Numbers 21.1-36.13
Numbers is the fourth book of the Pentateuch. Called by the Jews “In the Wilderness,” because it tells the story of Israel in rebellion to God even after such a miraculous deliverance. It tells the story of God’s judgment and their wandering, how the second generation traveled to the land promised them by God. There were two censuses recorded in the book. From the numbering of the people comes the title that we have in our Bible. There are many arguments about the size of the freed people from Egypt. Some estimations are fixed as high as three million. Whatever the number, the intent of the book of Numbers is to continue the story of how God took a freed, rebellious people, loved them, judged them, and brought them to the shores of his promise to them. The book falls into three discernible sections.
What Happened: An Expanded Outline of Numbers
Teaching to Prepare: Numbers 1.1-10.10
Before the second generation of Israel began her journey to the land of promise, Moses taught them about the acts of God in the life of the nation. He took a census which totalled 603,550 men who were old enough to serve in the military. Moses gave instructions about how the people should organize themselves around the tabernacle. The tribe of Levi was assigned its duties. A test was provided for a wife who was thought to be unfaithful to her husband. The Nazarite vow was established. The tribal leaders from each of the twelve tribes made an offering to God. Passover was celebrated with a pillar of fire which appeared over the tabernacle. The Israelites left Mt. Sinai.
Wandering in the Wilderness: Numbers 10.11-20.29
Verse 11 picks up the storyline from Exodus 19.2 when they camped at Mt. Sinai. They packed up and began the move toward the land promised to them. The people complained about their hardships and the food that was being supplied. God sent fire and an abundance of quail as a judgment. Miriam became a leper because of her speaking against the leadership of Moses. Twelve spies were sent into the land from Kadesh-barnea. The spies returned with reports that caused horror in their camp. That night they began to complain to Moses. God sentenced the generation to die in the wilderness. Moses was instructed to continue to give instruction about offerings to be presented to God when they reached the promised land. A man who broke the Sabbath was executed. Korah decided that Moses should no longer be the leader and rebelled against him. The earth opened and swallowed the agitators. The next day Israel continued its grumbling and accused Moses and Aaron of killing the Lord’s people. God struck the complainers with a plague. The staff of Aaron budded, which authenticated his priesthood. Moses defined the responsibility of the priests and how they would be paid for their services. Moses communicated instructions about being ceremonially clean. Moses struck the rock which produced water, which kept Aaron and him from entering the land with the Israelites. Israel wanted to travel through Edom, but they were denied. Aaron died.
Onward To Canaan: Numbers 21.1-36.13
A bronze snake countered a plague of poisonous snakes. The Amorites were defeated by Israel. The King of Moab tried to destroy Israel by using a prophet named Balaam. Balaam was warned by God, but failed to take heed. Instead of a curse, he blessed Israel. When Balak did not succeed with Balaam, he resorted to corrupt Israel with sexual immorality, which caused 24,000 deaths in a plague. The second census was taken in the new generation, which numbered 601,730 men who were old enough for the military. Moses established that women had the right to inherit property and announced that Joshua would succeed him. Moses provided more information about offerings to give and religious holidays that Israel should keep. He provided the rules for making and keeping vows. Israel defeated the Midianites. The Reubenites and Gadites asked for land in Transjordan. Moses recited the events that had happened from the time they left Egypt until their arrival at the Jordan River. The boundaries of the land were defined. The Levite towns were defined along with the cities of refuge. Finally, the daughters of Zelophehad’s inheritance were confirmed.
Questions Numbers Answers
- When we rebel, how does God react?
- How does God’s judgment and grace work together?
Theology of Numbers
A Theological Glance at Numbers
The book of Numbers demonstrates that in the face of rebellion, God still keeps his promises. He had made covenant with them and he was faithful to that covenant. We can see both the grace and judgment of God in this book, as God continued to woo Israel to have relationship with him. God judged a generation because they rejected his equipment to conquer the land (Num. 10.11-36), because of their constant desire to go back to Egypt (Num. 11.1-35). They rejected the leadership of Moses (12.1-15), who God had chosen to lead them to the land. They ultimately rejected the conquest of the promised land (Num. 12.16-14.45). These actions caused Israel to wander in the desert (Num. 15.1-22.1) until the disbelieving generation was dead.
In addition to these failures, there were other external and internal obstacles: the external threat of the curses of Balaam (Num. 22.2-24.25) and the internal threat of Israel’s idolatry and immorality (Num. 25.1-18). There will always be external and internal obstacles which try to distract us from continuing covenant with God.
- Rebellion exacts punishment.
- Punishment occurs to both leaders and followers.
- Even though we rebel, God still brings about what he desires, with or without us.
- Being organized is spiritual.
Toward the New Testament
Each generation must receive God. The previous generation can only pass on the possibility of acceptance of God. A generation can turn away from God, but the good news of Numbers is that God does not turn his back on his children in their rebellion. This is a running theme in the Old Testament. Man rebels and God reaches out and offers a path to return. The climax of this continued action of God is the crucifixion of Jesus. As a new generation of believers comes along, they can place themselves in the position of the new generation of Numbers. Our constant call is to respond to the call of God and to obey him.
The map below is the suggested route that Israel took from Egypt to the Mt. Sinai, to Kadesh-barnea, to the eastern side of the Jordan River.
Questions for Reflection
- Are Old Testament Priests and today’s pastors the same?
- If so, how so? If not, how not?
- What is your mental picture of Israel wandering in the wilderness?
- Is your picture realistic or is it based on “folk theology?”
- How does Israel’s journey to the shores of the land of promise parallel your journey?
- The Message of Numbers: Journey to the Promised Land (Bible Speaks Today)
- The IVP Bible Background Commentary: Old Testament
- Leviticus, Numbers (NIV Application Commentary)
- The Book of Numbers (New International Commentary on the Old Testament)
- Numbers and Deuteronomy for Everyone (The Old Testament for Everyone)