Survey of Numbers

Book Type: Book of Law (or Book of Moses); fourth book of the Old Testament; fourth book of the Bible; fourth book of the five-part Jewish collection known as the Torah.

Author: Moses is the traditional author of this book; Numbers is part of the "Law of Moses."

Audience: Moses wrote Numbers to the Jewish people during their 40-year wilderness journey in the Sinai Peninsula. Numbers addresses many issues which took place between the times the Jews received the law (the books of Exodus and Leviticus) and their preparation for entering the Promised Land (the book of Deuteronomy). The title Numbers is derived from its emphasis on counting the Jewish people in the early chapters of the book.

Date: During the 40 years in the wilderness, approximately 1440–1400 BC.

Overview: This book consists of 36 chapters in two general sections. The first 25 chapters address the account of the Jews who came out of Egypt with Moses. The remaining chapters address the younger generation, which has been largely raised in the wilderness years as they anticipated and prepared for entering the Promised Land.

For the older generation of Israel, the first 10 chapters address the organization and orientation of the Jews around the Lord's tabernacle. Each tribe had its own place and responsibilities related to the tabernacle and its items. The tabernacle represented the place where the Lord's presence remained. Every Israelite tribe had an important role to play in relation to its movement.

Beginning in chapter 11, Numbers records many of the ways Israel disobeyed the Lord in the wilderness. First, they repeatedly complained to God, despite His daily, miraculous provisions (Numbers 11:1—12:16).

Second, Israel rebelled against the Lord (Numbers 13–19). One of these incidents involved a group of men, led by Korah, who rejected the authority of Moses and demanded equal status. As punishment, God destroyed Korah and his family. In another failure, Israel's fearful resistance to God at Kadesh including both Moses and Aaron, was especially devastating (Numbers 20). Because of these rebellions, none of this generation—those 40 years old or older—would enter the Promised Land except Joshua and Caleb.

Third, the complaining continued yet again during the journey (Numbers 21). This incident is particularly important, since it serves as foreshadowing of Jesus Christ. God sends serpents into the camp, and only those who look at a specially-made bronze serpent are healed from their bites. This salvation by faith, in something "lifted up" for the people, reflect the message and ministry of Jesus many centuries later (John 3:14–15). Along the way, Balaam blessed Israel repeatedly when called to curse them (Numbers 22:2—24:25). Chapter 25 then records a final rebellion by the Israelites with the false god Baal.

For the younger generation of Jews, a renewal was expected before entering the Promised Land. This began with many preparations before entering the land described in chapters 26—32.

In chapter 33, a review of the wilderness journey is presented by Moses. It includes their locations and major activities as a way of remembering the Lord's goodness and provision during the wilderness years. From 33:50 through the end of Numbers, the remaining text focuses on God's instructions for taking the Promised Land.

Key Verses (ESV):

Numbers 6:24–26:
"The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you; the LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace."

Numbers 12:6–8: "And he said, 'Hear my words: If there is a prophet among you, I the Lord make myself known to him in a vision; I speak with him in a dream. Not so with my servant Moses. He is faithful in all my house. With him I speak mouth to mouth, clearly, and not in riddles, and he beholds the form of the Lord. Why then were you not afraid to speak against my servant Moses?'"

Numbers 14:30–34: "Not one shall come into the land where I swore that I would make you dwell, except Caleb the son of Jephunneh and Joshua the son of Nun. But your little ones, who you said would become a prey, I will bring in, and they shall know the land that you have rejected. But as for you, your dead bodies shall fall in this wilderness. And your children shall be shepherds in the wilderness forty years and shall suffer for your faithlessness, until the last of your dead bodies lies in the wilderness. According to the number of the days in which you spied out the land, forty days, a year for each day, you shall bear your iniquity forty years, and you shall know my displeasure."