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Numbers: Direction of Israel Edit

The book of Numbers takes place after the events of Genesis, Exodus, and Leviticus. Genesis gives the account of Creation, the corruption, destruction, and dispersion of man, and the choosing of the nation of Israel. Genesis also tells how Jacob, his twelve sons, and their families ended up in Egypt. Exodus tells of Israel’s departure from Egypt and their receiving the law from God on Mount Sinai.[1] Leviticus goes into the complexities of how God wanted the Israelites to live; it deals mostly the sacrificial system that when observed would cover their sins before a holy and just God.[2]  Numbers records the means by which God directed the children of Israel as they left Sinai to travel to the Promised Land.

Author Edit

Moses is the human author of the book of Numbers. “Universal Jewish and Christian tradition attributes the Book of Numbers (along with the rest of the Pentateuch) to Moses, though little in Numbers explicitly confirms it”[3] Geisler says that Moses is logically the author of Numbers, since he was the only one who would have been familiar with the desert which the Israelites traversed.[4] He also states that Numbers claims to be written by Moses.[5] The proof that the Bible itself gives testimony of Mosaic authorship is conclusive proof for anyone coming to the text with an open mind.

Date Edit

Numbers is fairly clear about the date during which it was written. Numbers 36:13 says, “These are the commandments and the judgments, which the Lord commanded by the hand of Moses unto the children of Israel in the plains of Moab by Jordan near Jericho.” This indicates that the book of Numbers was written after the journey through the wilderness.[6] The date for this would have been between 1445-1405 B.C. [7] Because it was written by Moses, Numbers would have to have been written prior to his death; this would have confirmed the writing date to be at least 1405 B.C. Geisler states: “The events of the Book of Numbers cover thirty-eight years-the period between thirteen months after the Exodus (1:1) and the end of the forty-years wandering. It could not have been completed until then (1405 B.C.).”[8]

Historical BackgroundEdit

The contents of the book of Numbers takes place in the triangular peninsula of Sinai. When the children of Israel refused out of fear to go into the Promised Land, God cursed them to wander the wilderness for forty years until an entire generation had passed away. The Sinai Peninsula was the wilderness in which the Israelites began their forty years of wandering.[9] Most of their wandering, however, was done in Kadesh-barnea.[10] The book of Numbers also gives a listing of the children of Israel according to tribes. “After the making of the covenant and the giving of the Law at Sinai, the Lord instructed Moses to take a census of all the tribes of Israel by clans and families.”[11] These tribes were positioned around the tabernacle as they traveled.[12] At the conclusion of the book, the children of Israel are encamped at the border of the Promised Land prepared to claim it as their own.[13]

To Whom It Was WrittenEdit

The book of Numbers was written to the two generations of Israelites who made up the congregation of the children of Israel. Because of the disobedience of the older generation, that generation would die during the forty years in the wilderness. The younger generation would then take the place of the older and enter the land of Canaan. The book is mostly for the younger generation, to warn them of their fathers’ sins and the consequences of them.[14]

Why It Was WrittenEdit

Numbers was written as a historic book describing the wandering of Israel in the wilderness. However, it shows God’s direction and perseverance for his people.[15] It is said in The Bible Knowledge Commentary:

The Book of Numbers seems to be an instruction manual to post-Sinai Israel. The “manual” deals with three areas: (a) how the nation was to order itself in its journeying’s, (b) how the priests and Levites were to function in the condition of mobility which lay ahead, and (c) how they were to prepare themselves for the conquest of Canaan and their settled lives there.[16]

Numbers is more a book of history than are the other books of the Pentateuch. Leviticus is a good book to use as a contrast because it precedes Numbers. Geisler states:

In contrast to Leviticus, the book of worship, Numbers is a book of the People’s walk with God. Leviticus stresses their purity; Numbers their pilgrimage. Leviticus is ceremonial while Numbers is historical. Leviticus gives a call to fellowship with God; Numbers is a call to faithfulness to God. The emphasis shifts from sanctification before God to direction by God.[17]

During the years of wandering covered in Numbers, the people were leaving Mount Sinai and preparing to march to the Promised Land. Numbers gives the organization of Israel into groups that would enable quicker and easier travel. The people were gathered into tribes which were placed around the tabernacle. The Levites were dedicated to the work of taking care of the tabernacle and teaching. A census was also taken for the purpose of assigning responsibilities. Men twenty years old and older were numbered for serving in Israel’s military force. Men thirty and older would work in the “Tent of meeting.”[18] I Corinthians 14:33 say, “For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace…” The people were organized according to tribe and placed around the tabernacle; this prevented chaos when they traveled.

Numbers records the repeated grumblings and rebellion of the Israelites. They complained about the food.  God sent quail, and then He sent a plague to punish them.  Miriam and Aaron questioned Moses’s right to leadership, and judgment fell.  The twelve spies were sent out, and ten brought back an evil report which their lack of faith.  However through all of this, God was faithful to fulfill His promise. He did not give up on them, even though the first died in the wilderness. The younger generation remembered what had happened to their fathers and prepared to enter the land.[19]  That generation, too, had periods of unfaithfulness and backsliding.  Balak the enemy of God’s people had his prophet give false counsel to the Israelites causing them to take wives among the heathen.  Twenty-four thousand people died due to this sin of compromise.  Moses, himself, is forbidden because of disobedience to enter the promised land.

Numbers is important to study for the history it contains.  It shows how God provided for Israel during their wanderings, how He judged those who heeded Him not, and how He directed those who were obedient. Christians can learn these principles from reading Numbers; this makes it important for Christians today.


[1] Wolf, Herbert. An Introduction to the Old Testament Pentateuch. Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 1991, pg. 149

[2] Wolf, Herbert. An Introduction to the Old Testament Pentateuch. Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 1991, pg. 191

[3] Eugene H. Merrill, “Numbers,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, ed. J. F. Walvoord and R. B. Zuck, vol. 1 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985), 215.

[4] Norman L. Geisler. A Popular Survey of the Old Testament. Grand Rapids, MI. Baker Book House, 1977. Pg. 71

[5] Ibid.

[6] Eugene H. Merrill, “Numbers,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, ed. J. F. Walvoord and R. B. Zuck, vol. 1 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985), 215.

[7] Ibid

[8] Norman L. Geisler. A Popular Survey of the Old Testament. Grand Rapids, MI. Baker Book House, 1977. Pg. 72

[9]Walter A. Elwell and Barry J. Beitzel, Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1988), 1564.

[10]

[11] Eugene H. Merrill, “Numbers,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, ed. J. F. Walvoord and R. B. Zuck, vol. 1 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985), 216.

[12] Norman L. Geisler. A Popular Survey of the Old Testament. Grand Rapids, MI. Baker Book House, 1977. Pg. 73

[13] Wolf, Herbert. An Introduction to the Old Testament Pentateuch. Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 1991, pg. 222

[14] Norman L. Geisler. A Popular Survey of the Old Testament. Grand Rapids, MI. Baker Book House, 1977. Pg. 72

[15] Norman L. Geisler. A Popular Survey of the Old Testament. Grand Rapids, MI. Baker Book House, 1977. Pg. 72-73

[16] Eugene H. Merrill, “Numbers,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, ed. J. F. Walvoord and R. B. Zuck, vol. 1 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985), 215.

[17] Norman L. Geisler. A Popular Survey of the Old Testament. Grand Rapids, MI. Baker Book House, 1977. Pg. 73

[18] Wolf, Herbert. An Introduction to the Old Testament Pentateuch. Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 1991, pg. 220

[19] Wolf, Herbert. An Introduction to the Old Testament Pentateuch. Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 1991, pg. 220

For further studies, see also: Edit

Genesis Outline

Exodus Outline

Leviticus Outline

Deuteronomy Outline

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