Numbers is the fourth book of the Bible, written by Moses around 1400 B.C. Numbers, named for censuses taken at the beginning and end of the book, continues the story of Moses and the Israelites who have been freed from slavery in Egypt and are on their way to the Promised Land.
However, reading the book of Numbers is a lot like watching a movie about a family road trip gone wrong.
These are some of the main events in Numbers:
>The first 10 chapters of Numbers add to the laws and rituals God gives Israel in the previous book, Leviticus. These laws help Israel enjoy the blessing of God’s presence, despite their sinful nature.
>At several points in the story, the people of Israel complain about being in the wilderness and rebel against God. God decrees that Israel will wander in the wilderness for 40 years, until the current generation of people dies, including Moses. But in His mercy, God promises that the children of the people of Israel will enter the Promised Land.
>In chapter 13, God tells Moses to send 12 spies into the Promised Land to scout it out. Ten of the spies say the land is unconquerable, but two say it can be conquered. God blesses the two who believe in Him, and allows them to enter the Promised Land.
>The book includes several unique stories, including the story of the bronze serpent in chapter 21 and the story of Balak and Balaam in chapters 22-24. These stories may seem odd, but in them, God demonstrates that He is a God who cares deeply for His people, keeps His promises and is a source of life to those who look to Him for healing.
>The book ends at the conclusion of Israel’s 40-year journey in the wilderness. The tribes of Israel begin to sort out the land and prepare to settle there as God leads them.
Throughout Numbers, God shows that He is faithful, sovereign and just. Despite Israel’s repeated rebellion, God promises to keep His covenant with Israel and continually shows Israel and the surrounding nations that He is in control. However, if Israel chooses to rebel against Him, they must face the consequences of their rebellion.
Here are some passages that are helpful in understanding the overall message of the book.
>God’s blessing in Numbers 6:24-26: “‘“‘The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make His face shine on you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn His face toward you and give you peace.’” So they will put my name on the Israelites, and I will bless them.”’”
>God’s declaration that Israel would wander 40 years before entering the Promised Land in Numbers 14:30-33: “‘“Not one of you will enter the land I swore with uplifted hand to make your home, except Caleb son of Jephunneh and Joshua son of Nun. As for your children that you said would be taken as plunder, I will bring them in to enjoy the land you have rejected. But as for you, your bodies will fall in this wilderness. Your children will be shepherds here for forty years, suffering for your unfaithfulness, until the last of your bodies lies in the wilderness.”’”
>Balaam’s messianic prophecy in Numbers 24:17a: “‘I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near. A star will come out of Jacob; a scepter will rise out of Israel.’”
HOW DOES THIS FIT INTO GOD’S STORY?
From the beginning of God’s story, it has been God’s plan to live in relationship with His people, Israel. But Israel continues to rebel against God.
However, though God’s plan to save the world is delayed by Israel’s sin and rebellion, it is not totally abandoned.
The stories told in Numbers are referred to by future prophets, poets and apostles in Scripture as a warning that God is faithful, but in His justice, He will allow those who rebel against Him to endure the consequences of their rebellion.