Numbers has a bit of overlap with Exodus, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy, but primarily it covers the growth of the Israelites—hence the name “Numbers.” In Hebrew the book is called Bemidbar, in reference to the fact that it covers the time when the Israelites were in the Wilderness. It’s not often talked about, but there’s a talking donkey in Numbers, so it has to be worth reading!
- Message and Purpose
- Chapter by Chapter Breakdown
- Important People
- Lessons Learned: God Sends Warnings First
- Randomly Interesting
- Other Posts About Numbers
The fourth book of the Bible is Numbers, and like the other four books of the Pentateuch (
Message and Purpose
When I think of the book of Numbers, I draw a blank, nothing stands out—not people, ideals, nor concepts. I don't remember ever hearing a preacher quote from this book or it being the focus of a Bible Study. I'm excited to dive back in to this book to see what all I've forgotten (apparently I've managed to forget a talking donkey!). I suspect that because I've grown in my faith and become more well read on the books leading up to Numbers since the last time I did any significant Bible study, the book will have more of an impact and leave a lasting imprint in my mind this time.
Where Leviticus was concerned with the rituals and rules God passed to the Israelites during their journey, Numbers is more concerned with the journey itself. In Numbers we see the ups and downs of the people as they gain and lose faith in God like a yo-yo. We are also given a detailed census, by tribe, of the Israelite men over 20 years old and a layout of the camp site. This book also lays to rest two members of the trio of heroes—Aaron and Miriam—and recounts why they (along with Moses) were denied entry to the promised land.
Chapter by Chapter Breakdown
A list of people mentioned in Numbers. I may try to cover some of them over time.
Lessons Learned: God Sends Warnings First
Before I re-read Numbers, I couldn't remember anything about it. Vaguely, I remembered it having something to do with the Israelites' time in the wilderness, but I kept drawing a blank on specifics. After re-reading, I can only imagine that the fist time I read Numbers, I wasn't paying attention. If we're going to read the Word, we should be reading with our full attention and an open heart, but we don't always live up to that—especially when we're new to the faith.
I don't remember a single lesson from church that focused on the book of Numbers, and perhaps as a child, that lead me to believe Numbers was less important. Many churches teach that the Old Testament is essentially obsolete. Some people teach that the Old Testament was written for the Jews and since we are not Jews, we don't need to worry about the Old Testament. Well, it's not false that the writers of the Old Testament were speaking to the Jews, but God knew the Gentiles would eventually be counted amongst His chosen people. If one ignored the Old Testament, how does anything in the New Testament make sense? How do we know Jesus fulfilled the prophecy of the Messiah? How do we know who God is? How do we know why Jesus needed to die on the cross? The Old Testament is the entire foundation of the New Testament and despite what many claim, much of it still applies to us today. 2 Timothy 3:16 says all scripture is profitable for learning.
Numbers is one of the Old Testament gems that I think is too often looked over. There are so many analogies to our life today that can be made from the book of Numbers. From the events that occur with Balaam to the constant complaining of Israel, from idolatry to the refusal to enter the promised land, there is a mountain of information to be gleaned. We all know that the Israelites initially wouldn't enter and subsequently were sentenced to live in the wilderness for 40 years, but without reading Numbers in depth, we don't see how doubtful the Israelites are when it comes to faith. Numbers shows us that even having first hand experience with God, it is still hard for humans to trust Him completely; this is an important realization for us today.
Most of Numbers sets the stage for the Israelites' lack of faith; however, I wonder if it also highlights a lack of faith in Christians today. Short of the virgin birth and people rising from the dead, Numbers is home to one of the most incredible narratives: a talking donkey. After spending a lot of time digging through the story of Balaam and his donkey, I began to wonder why more preachers didn't preach about the miracle that happened or the fact that God would not change once He bestowed His protection upon Israel. The non-believer, Balaam, was a vessel for God despite his lack of faith, but I've never heard a single sermon on the topic. It could just be me, but I think the possibilities are endless.
As I contemplated the matter, I realized that the problem could be in a lack of faith in the preachers or that the preachers suspected in their congregation. It takes a great deal of faith not to write the whole Bible off as fantasy when you start discussing a talking donkey. Of course, if you can believe the virgin birth, Lazarus being risen from the dead, and Jesus being risen from the dead, what's a talking donkey? God created the donkey, just as He created man, why shouldn't He have the power to give the donkey speaking abilities? I just find it interesting that a book chock full of information on lack of faith, may often be avoided due to lack of faith.
Concerning the Israelites' lack of faith, in a shallow reading, they seem quite fickle, and one has to wonder why God chose them to be His people (of course we know it had to do with Abraham's faith not the Israelites'). Yet, as I dug deeper into the text, the situation made much more sense. Like the apostle Peter, the Israelites witness the glory of God first hand but they doubt Him. On numerous occasions, the Israelites remark that they were better off in bondage, which essentially denies God's power the way Peter denied knowing Jesus. These narratives aren't merely to parallel the New Testament or discuss what angers God, they constitute a warning for us.
Following God wasn't an easy task for the Israelites, who could easily see God's presence before them. Following Jesus wasn't easy for the apostles of the New Testament who actually touched Him. These people weren't speculating about existence of God, they saw Him in front of them. The trouble wasn't believing in Him; it never was. The problem has always been in obeying Him; Adam and Eve fell victim to the same trouble. If it was difficult for people who knew God existed, who talked to God directly, or saw His miracles, how difficult do you think it is today to obey Him when the devil is ruling the Earth?
The passages in Numbers are meant to remind us of how idiotic we sound when we question God or criticize His plan. The Israelites of old were freed from bondage and promised a land overflowing with milk and honey, but thought bondage would be better because of the difficult path from one to the other. Today, we have been freed from the bondage of sin and promised eternal life in paradise. We too can confuse God's more difficult path with the devil's carefree and simple path. However, if we trust God and endure to the end, like Joshua and Caleb, instead of giving into fear the way the Israelites who died in the wilderness did, we will be rewarded.
The layout of the camp given early on in numbers is also quite interesting. It's hard to say if the symbolism there is really meant to depict a cherub, if it meant something else, or nothing at all (though it seems odd to include the information if it meant absolutely nothing). The encampment definitely makes the shape of a cross, which seems to be extremely telling. For one, strategically, it would have made more sense to have an equal number of soldiers on each side. The area was full of semi-nomadic groups who's locations the Israelites could not have been certain of. Many of these groups attacked Israel without warning which could have come from any direction. Further the cross did not have significance to the Israelites at the time so why should they form one in the wilderness? I am hoping that as I continue reading, God will solve this mystery for me.
Other Posts About Numbers