The book of Numbers (Numbers 1)

Bilderesultat for book of numbers

Like the books of Exodus and Leviticus, Numbers repeatedly asserts that God gave specific laws and commands to Moses (e.g. Numbers 1:1, 3:44, 15:1). Combined with statements about Moses’ writing (e.g. 33:1-2, cf. Exodus 17:14, 24:3-4, 34:27) and the assumption that a single author composed the first five books of the Bible, Moses is traditionally considered among conservative evangelical scholars to have been the primary writer/compiler of Numbers. It is probable that scribes and/or editors later added portions of the book (see e.g. Numbers 12:3).

Quite likely Moses wrote/compiled Numbers after the exodus period – probably around 1440 to 1400 B.C.

Israelites who survived the period of the desert wandering, as well as their subsequent generations, read Numbers. No doubt they used this book to spur their memories regarding Israel’s sns and failings, as well as to remember God’s ongoing faithfulness toward His disobedient people.

Numbers, which in Hebrew means “in the desert”, records Israel’s journey from Mount Sinai to the plains of Moab, on the border of the promised land. In the process we read stories, census lists, lists of offerings, a pagan prophet’s oracles, more laws, a genealogy, a record of locations visited, details about the boundaries of Canaan – a truly diverse hodgepodge of topics. Yet various highlights stand out:

  • God’s willingness not only to live with the Israelites but also to speak directly with Moses (7:89).
  • God’s careful guidance as His people travelled – when to camp and when and where to travel (9:15-23).
  • Israel’s rebellious refusal to trust God and to enter the promised land (chapter 14).
  • God’s willingness to listen and even to change His mind (16:20-22).
  • God’s patience with His continually rebellious people, combined with various punishments.
  • Moses’ disobedience that prevented him from entering Canaan (chapter 20).
  • God’s love of holiness and hatred of such sins as idol worship and sexual immorality (chapter 25).

As you read: Despite the Israelites’ ongoing disobedience, God had long before promised Abraham that his descendants would possess Canaan. God’s commitment to keep that promise links together the narratives of Numbers. Notice His responses to the people’s disobedience and His methods of preparing them for upcoming battles. Keep in mind, too, that the law-related passaes continue to emphasize the people’s relationship with God.

Pay close attention to all the Israelites’ misadventures and try to imagine how tired Moses must have become in dealing with their complaints and rebellion. Again and again they disobeyed God, challenged Moses and gave generations of readers memorable examples of what not to do. Yet Numbers fills in key details about the Israelites’ journey to Canaan and sets the stage for their upcoming conquest of the promised land.

Did you know that the God-ordained test for an unfaithful wife was a means of protecting innocent women from false accusation by jealous husbands within a male-dominant court system (5:21-22)? Did you know that trumpets – long, straight, slender metal tubes, with flared ends – were blown for order and discipline (10:1-10)? Did you know that God waived His right to receive fulfillment of a dependent woman’s vow in favour of preserving something highly valuable to Him: harmony in the home (30:3-15)?


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