Numbers: Fourth Book of Moses


The events in the book of Numbers cover a span of about 39 or 40 years in Israel’s history – from 1440 B.C., when they left their encampment at Mount Sinai, to 1400 B.C., when they entered the land of Canaan by crossing the Jordan River near Jericho.

As part of their preparations, the Lord gave strict guidelines to the Israelites regarding purity in the camp. He wanted them to have a life-style distinct from the nations around them.  He wanted them to be a holy people.  Similarly, we should concern ourselves with purity in the church.

The Israelites were prevented from entering the promised land because of their unbelief.  Throughout history, God’s people have continued to struggle with a lack of faith.  We must prevent unbelief from gaining a foothold in our lives, for it will keep us from enjoying the blessings that God has promised.

When the people complained against God and criticized Moses they were severely punished.  Over 14,000 people died as a result of rebellion against Moses.  As a result of Korah’s rebellion, Korah, Dathan, and Abiram and their households died, along with 250 false priests. Dissatisfaction and discontent, if allowed to remain in our lives, can easily lead to disaster.  We should refrain from complaining and criticizing our leaders.

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The Moabites and Midianites could not get Balaam to curse Israel, but they did get him to give advice on how to draw the Israelites to idol worship.  Balaam knew what was right, but he gave in to the temptation of material regards and sinned.  Knowing what is right alone is never enough.  We must also do what is right.

Writer of Numbers

Numbers is one of the first five books of the Old Testament – books that have been traditionally been assigned to Moses as the author. He is the central personality of the book, and the book itself contains references to his writing (33:2). He must have written Numbers sometime just before his death as the Hebrew people prepared to enter the land, about 1400 B.C.

Theological Contribution

The book of Numbers presents the concept of God’s correcting wrath upon His own disobedient people. Through their rebellion, the Hebrews had broken the covenant. Even Moses was not exempt from God’s wrath when he disobeyed God. But God did not give up on His people. While He might punish them in the present, He was still determined to bless them and bring them ultimately into a land of their own.

Special Consideration in Numbers

The Israelite warriors counted in the two censuses in the book of Numbers have been a puzzle to Bible scholars. In each case, they add up to an army of more than 600,000. If this is correct, then the total Israelite population must have been more than 2,000,000 people. Such a figure seems out of line for this period of ancient history when most nations were small.

One possible explanation is that the word translated thousands in English could have meant something like units, tents, or clans in the Hebrew language. If so, a much smaller number was in mind. But other scholars believe there is no reason to question the numbers since the Israelites did increase dramatically during their years of enslavement in Egypt.

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