Numbers continues the book of Exodus’ regarding the Israelite’s stay in the wilderness of Sinai until their arrival at Moab. The title of the book comes from the two numberings of the people recorded here: the generation of Exodus ant he generation that grew up in the wilderness. The two census (numberings) took place nearly thirty-eight years apart.
Two key passages to pay attention to:
Numbers 14:22-23 – “Because all these men who have seen My glory and the signs which I did in Egypt and in the wilderness, and have put Me to the test now these ten times, and have not heeded my voice, they certainly shall not see the land of which I swore to their fathers, nor shall any of those who rejected Me see it.”
Numbers 20:12 – “Then the LORD spoke to Moses and Aaron, ‘Because you did not believe Me, to hallow Me in the eyes of the children of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land which I have given them.'”
Chapter number 14 of Numbers becomes a critical turning point when Israel rejects God by refusing to go and conquer the Promised Land. God judges Israel “According to the number of the days in which you spied out the land, forty days, for each day you shall bear your guilt one year, namely forty years, and you shall know My rejection.”(Numbers 14:34)
Observations of the Book of Numbers
1. Numbers is also referred to as the “Book of the Journeyings”, the “Book of Murmurings”, and the “Fourth Book of Moses”.
2. The books preceding and following (Leviticus and Deuteronomy respectively) Numbers cover the time frame of one month. Numbers covers a period of thirty-nine years.
3. At the outset of the book, Israel as a nation is in it’s infancy. Only thirteen months have passed since the Exodus from Egypt.
4. Numbers records the tragic story and consequences of Israel’s unbelief. Because of this, an eleven-day journey turned into a forty-year ordeal.
5. The book spans Israel’s movement from the last twenty-one days at Mt. Sinai, the wandering around Kadesh Barnea, and finally the arrival in the plains of Moab in the fortieth year.
6. God miraculously feeds and sustains some two-and-a-half million people in the desert by providing them with manna, meat, water, and leaders. He also promises in 14:34 that they will “bear their guilt for forty years” and “will know His rejection”.
7. God must teach His people the consequences of irresponsible decisions. The forty years in the wilderness transformed them from a rabble of ex-slaves into a nation ready for the Promised Land.
Numbers can be divided into three sections:
The Old Generation (1:1 – 10:10)
Still encamped at the foot of Mt. Sinai, the generation that witnessed the miraculous acts of deliverance and preservation of God receives further direction. God’s instructions are very explicit, reaching every aspect of their lives. He is the Author of order, not of confusion. This is seen in the way He organizes the people around the tabernacle.
The same is true in the New Testament:
I Corinthians 14: 33 – “For God is not the author of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints.”
I Corinthians 14:40 – “Let all things be done decently and in order.”
Turning from the outward conditions of the camp in chapters 1-4 to the inward conditions in chapters 5-10, Numbers describes the spiritual preparation of the people.
The Tragic Transition (10:11 – 25:18)
Israel follows God step-by-step until Canaan is in site. Then, in the crucial moment at Kadesh Barnea, they draw back in unbelief. Their murmurings had already become incessant.
Numbers 11:1 – “Now when the people complained, it displeased the Lord; for the Lord heard it.”
God does not tolerate their unbelief after sending out the twelve spies at Kadesh Barnea. The people’s rebellion at Kadesh marks the pivital point of the book of Numbers. The generation of the Exodus will not be the generation of the conquest. Unbelief brings discipline and hinders God’s blessings. The old generation is doomed to literally kill time for forty years by wandering in the wilderness. They are judged by disinheritance and death as their journey changes from one of anticipation to one of aimlessness.
Only Joshua and Caleb, the two spies who believed God, enter Canaan.
The New Generation (26 – 36)
Once the transition to the new generation is complete, the people move to the plains of Moab, directly east of the Promised Land.
Four major events take place during this time period:
1. They receive new instructions
2. A new census (numbering) is taken
3. Joshua is appointed as Moses’ successor
4. Some of the people settle in the Transjordan
Numbers seems to record a number of twos. It records two generations, the old generation that came out of Egypt and the new that will enter Canaan. There are two numberings and also two sets of instructions. Numbers also illustrates the kindness of God as well as the severity of God.
Romans 11:22 – Therefore consider the goodness and severity of God: on those who fell, severity; but toward you, goodness, if you continue in His goodness. Otherwise you will also be cut off.”
The principles of God do not change from law to law, from the Old Testament to the New Testament. Numbers teaches that God’s people can move forward only as they trust and depend on Him. It is still so today.