What is the book of Numbers about?

by Glen Podd – 20 February 2017


Meaning What is the book of numbers in the Bible about?

The book of Numbers is so called because it contains two numberings of Israel, one at Mount Sinai (Chapter 1) and one in Moab (Chapter 26). At first mention it is not a well-known book of the Bible generally speaking, having only one or two well-quoted verses: "Be sure that your sin will find you out" (Numbers 32:23), and "The Lord bless you and keep you, the Lord make his face shine on you an d be gracious to you, the Lord turn his face towards you and give you peace’” (Numbers 6:24-26).
However at a closer look it is filled with familiar stories that are important historically as well as spiritually. 
It records the ongoing grumbling of the people to Moses, the attempted rebellion against his leadership, the bronze snake that people had to look to to stay alive, Balak and Balaam, and the calamitous decision not to enter the promised land the first time round. 


It was written by Moses, along with Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus and Deuteronomy. 


Main events 

Numbers records a 40-year period of wandering in the desert. At the end of Exodus the children of Israel had arrived at Mount Sinai and received the Law from Moses. Numbers continues the story of their journey from Sinai to Moab on the eastern shore of the Jordan, the promised land laying before them. 
Chapters 1-10 For 19 days they camp at Sinai where the census takes place and receive further laws. 
Chapters 10-12 They travel from Sinai to Kadesh. It only took 11 days to get to the edge of the promised land. 

Chapters 13-21 Israel refuse to enter the promised land as a result of the bad report by the ten spies, failing to listen to the good report of Joshua and Caleb. As a result they spend 40 years wandering as nomads around the desert with Canaan in sight! 
Chapters 22-36 In Moab a further census takes place and there are further laws, and the tribes of Reuben, Gad and half of Manasseh choose to settle on the east of the Jordan. The numbers of fighting men are roughly the same as the first census 40 years earlier but the key difference is that the doubting soldiers who failed to enter the land have all died and a new younger, hungrier and faith-filled generation of soldiers make up their numbers. 


Main characters 

The main characters are Moses, Aaron, Miriam along with Korah (all three of whom rebelled against Moses’ leadership and paid the price), Balaam and his talking donkey and Joshua, who is introduced by Moses as the new leader who would take Israel into the promised land (Chapter 27). 



The message of Numbers is threefold: 

1. Saved to serve (Numbers 1) 

In Genesis we see man ruined. In Exodus we see man redeemed. In Leviticus we see man worshipping and now in Numbers we see man in service. 
“Take a census of the whole Israelie community by their plans and families, listing every man by name, one by one. You and Aaron are to number by their divisions all the men in Israel twenty years old or more who are able to serve in the army” (Numbers 1:2-3). 
Having been saved we are called to worship and to give ourselves in service, not to sit back and bask in our salvation. 
“Continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12).

“whole Israelite Community”, no-one is exempt. Everyone is just as important,“clans and families”. Our ethnic, social and cultural identity is valued, “by name, one by one”. Our individuality is important.

2. Order in service (Numbers 2 to 10) 

God is a God of order. We see it in His person (Trinity), His creation and His people. Israel needed order. Imagine a million people or more out in the desert with no order! God gives them that order to help them survive:
In the camp (Numbers 2). In the Tabernacle (Numbers 3 and 4). Each of the Levite clans has its particular responsibility. In a pure camp (Numbers 5). Proceedures for dealing with disease, restitution for wrongs and unfaithfulness. In a Nazarite life (Numbers 6). Procedures for taking and living a vow of separation to God In offerings (Numbers 7). Procedures for dedication in the Tabernacle. In priestly service (Numbers 8). Procedures for setting the Levites apart. On the march (Numbers 10:11-36). 
3. Pitfalls in service (Numbers 11 to 21) 
As in Exodus there was much to be addressed in Israel’s character, attitudes that led to more murmurings: 
Against the way God led them (Numbers 11:1-3). The food he fed them with (Numbers 11:4-35). Against the leader he set over them (Numbers 12). Against the land He promised them (Numbers 13 and14).
Doubt has a great effect on our lives. It can cause paralysis, indecisiveness, fear and backsliding. It makes us feel we are walking on uncertain ground. In Numbers 13 and 14 we see Israel’s most significant moment of doubt that was to have a devastating effect on their future for a generation. 
Moses had sent 12 spies into the promised land to explore. Two reported with excitement at how good it was, as God had promised, but ten reported how impossible it would be to take as the people in the land were stronger than they were. The people listened to the ten and refused to enter, leading them to wander for 40 years in the wilderness as a nomadic nation until all the doubting fighting men had died. Let us doubt our doubts and believe our beliefs but never believe our doubts and doubt our beliefs! 

Answers to Questions
Webpage icon Time to get up and get going
Webpage icon What is the book of Judges about?
Webpage icon Jesus was just a good man, not God
Webpage icon What you need to know about the church
Webpage icon The fall of mankind explained
Webpage icon The book of Joshua
Webpage icon Fasting
Webpage icon The book of Job
Webpage icon The Holy Spirit
Webpage icon Death before the fall
Webpage icon Is God morally relative?
Webpage icon Is hell a real place?
Webpage icon What the Bible says about suffering
Webpage icon Do all religions worship the same God?

Romford Christian Fellowship, an Elim Pentecostal Church. Registered charity 251549 (England) Website by Church Edit