The Bool of Numbers is the story of the Israelites as they traveled through the wilderness to the Promised Land from Mount Sinai. Moses led the Israelite people from their bondage in the land of Egypt to the borders of Canaan. Along the way God tested the people in the wilderness to see if they would remain faithful. Numbers is an account of their successes and their failures along the way. In the book of Exodus we read of their disobedience with the Golden Calf but the Lord always showed a persistent patience with His people and the raising of a new generation. Within the stories found in this book we see an exposition of God’s laws, an account of God’s nature, His faithfulness to His covenant, and the unfolding of His plan for His people.
The title of the book comes from the Greek and Latin word for Numbers. This title is based upon the attention to the numberings that are a major focus of chapters 1 through 4 and chapter 26. In the Hebrew language the title comes from the word “midbar” which means desert or wilderness. This word is more descriptive of the total contents of the book. The Book of Numbers gives an account of the 39 years of the wanderings of the Israelite people in the wilderness. Another title which was given to this book by the early Church fathers was from the Hebrew word “dabar.” This word means to speak or to teach. This was also a favorable title as it reflected “And the LORD spoke unto Moses in the wilderness of Sinai.” For this book, as all scripture is a record of the Word of God.
Author and Date
The first five books of the Bible are known as the Pentateuch and are the books of law. The Book of Numbers is the fourth of the five books. Moses is believed to be the Author of all the first five books of the Bible. Two verses in this book ascribe to Moses as the author, 33:3 and 36:13.
It is said that the Book of Numbers was written in the last year of the Life of Moses. The evens from chapter 20:1 to the end of the book occurred in the 40th year after the Israelites left Egypt. The Book of Numbers ends with the Israelite people poised on the eastern side of the Jordan River across from Jericho where the conquest of Canaan began. The date of this writing is around 1405 before the birth of Christ. Numbers is a foundational book to the fifth book Deuteronomy. Deuteronomy was written in the 11th month of the 40th year, (Deuteronomy 1:3)
Background and Setting
We find that most of the story takes place in the wilderness. We find the word “wilderness” 48 times in the Book of Numbers. The land is very sparse with little rainfall and therefore cannot be cultivated. The land was best used for the tending of flocks and was known as the wilderness of Sinai. It was at the Mount of Sinai that the people of God entered into covenant with God in what is called the Mosaic Covenant. (Exodus 19-24) From chapters 10 through 12 the Israelites traveled form Sinai to Kadesh. In chapters 13 through 20 describes the events in and around Kadesh. Kedesh was located in the wilderness of Paran. From chapters 20 to 22 the Israelites traveled to the plains of Moab. From chapter 22 to 36 all of the events occurred north of Moab. That area was flat and was a fertile place in the middle of the wasteland.
All of the events recorded in the first 14 chapters probably occurred in the year after the Exodus. (1444) After chapter 20 is dated in 1406 and 1405 the 40th year after the Exodus. The missing events of the 37 years is probably due to the disobedience of the Israelite people and the judgments of God.
In the Book of Numbers we are dealing with two generations of God’s people. The first generation are the ones who came out of Egypt during the Exodus. Their story begins in Exodus chapter 2 and follows through Leviticus into the 14th chapter of Numbers. They were numbered for their fighting men for the war of conquest to take the land of Canaan. But when they arrived upon the border of Canaan they refused to enter. Because of their rebellion against God all above the age of twenty, except Joshua and Caleb, were sentenced to die in the wilderness. The generations of course overlapped but as the second grew to adulthood the first died out. Again the warriors were numbered and this new generation did go into the Promised Land to conqueror and possess it. Their story begins in chapter 26 and moves through the Book of Deuteronomy to the Book of Joshua.
There are three divisions in the Book of Numbers based on Israel’s response to the Word of God. First is the obedience chapters, 1-10. Second the disobedience chapters, 11-25. And last the renewed obedience in chapters 26-36.
In the second year after the Israelites had left Egypt on the first day of the second month Moses was sitting in the tent of meeting. It was there that the Lord spoke to Moses. This is important as Moses was chosen by the Lord to be the leader of the Israelite people. In the Book of Numbers this sentence appears eighty times. “The LORD spoke to Moses.” The Lord spoke to Moses on behalf of His chosen people.
Moses was in the tent of meeting which was the God’s Tent that God had instructed Moses and the people to build that He might dwell with them. (Exodus 25:8) Wherever the Israelites went they took the tent of meeting with them, as this was the place they worshiped the Lord God. The tent of meeting was God’s way of showing the people that he was always with them.
The tent consisted of two separate rooms with a curtain between the two. The larger room was called the Holy Place and the smaller the Most Holy Place. It was inside this smaller room that the Ark of the Covenant was kept. Inside the Ark were two stones on which God had written His laws. (Exodus 34:1)
The Lord told Moses to count all the men that were twenty years and older that were able to fight. This was a census of all the people and the purpose was to know that able men to fight for their nation. It also allows us to know that everyone matters to God. The Promised Land was in the land of Canaan and was not an empty land but filled with people who were not worshipful to God but served pagan gods. They would not give possession of the land to the Israelite people without a fight. Israel would need a strong army to defeat these people.
Every group of the people had to be counted. There were families that made up the clans which made up the tribes of the sons of Jacob. (Genesis 35:23-26) The Nation of Israel was made up of twelve tribes. It was an important responsibility to count all the people, a large task for Moses and Arron to accomplish. They would need help so the leaders of each tribe was to assist them.
|Reuben||Elizur son of Shedeur|
|Simeon||Shelumiel son of Zurishaddai|
|Judah||Nahshon son of Amminadab|
|Issachar||Nethanel son of Zuar|
|Zebulun||Eliab son of Helon|
|Ephraim son of Joseph||Elishama son of Ammihud|
|Manasseh son of Joseph||Gamaliel son of Pedahzur|
|Benjamin||Abidan son of Gideoni|
|Dan||Ahiezer son of Ammishaddai|
|Asher||Pagiel son of Ocran|
|Gad||Eliasaph son of Deuel|
|Naphtali||Ahira son of Enan|
These were the men that God chose as they were the leaders of their ancestral tribes of the nation of Israel. These were the leaders of Israel. In this list are the two sons of Joseph which and are considered as half tribes. The tribe of Levi was not counted as God had a special plan and responsibility for the Levite tribe discussed later.
In the Jewish culture the names given to people are very important. If one knows the meaning of the name given, then they will have an insight into their character. There are 24 names in the list of leaders. Many of these names have the letters EL associated with the name. El is the Hebrew name for God. An application of this is El Shaddai which would be God Almighty. Another would be El Zur meaning God the rock. In the list we find the name Elishama and that name would mean My God Listens. Another name from the list is Zurishaddai meaning the all-powerful God is my rock. In the list we find six names that contain Abi (father) or Ahi (brother). The names would make reference that God is like a father or a brother. Incorporating characteristics of God into their names show the significance of the importance of God to His people.
With the leaders of the tribes chosen they counted the men in each tribe who were twenty years old and older. These men would be able to fight in Israel’s army.
|Ephraim son of Joseph||40,500|
|Manasseh son of Joseph||32,200|
Moses and Arron along with the twelve leaders of the tribes counted the numbers from each family and clan. After all had been registered there were 603,550 fighting men in the army of Israel. This number does not include the women and girls or the boys who were younger than twenty years of age. Neither did it include the old or the ill. And it also did not include the tribe of Levi as they were not to be soldiers. This would mean that there were between two and five million people in the Israelite nation.
God had a different purpose for the people of the tribe of Levi. They were not to be soldiers as their responsibility was to care for God’s Tent. The tribe of Levi came from the third son of Jacob. (Genesis 29:34) Levi had three sons and their names were Gershon, Kohath, and Merari. (Genesis 46:11) Moses and Arron both were descendants of Levi’s son Kohath. (Numbers 3:14-24) Arron became the first High Priest and the important duties of caring for the Tent of God were his responsibility. Arron’s sons also became priests. The men of Levi’s tribe were to help the priest in their duties for the care of the Tent of Meeting. Arron, who was the High Priest, was the leader of the tribe of Levi. When the Israelite nation moved it was the responsibility of the Levite tribe to move the tent and all of its furnishings.
The Tent of Meeting was the most important place in the Israelite camp. God is everywhere but He was present in the tent in a special way. It was there in the Tent of Meeting that the priest would worship God as this was the holy center, the holy place of the Israelite nation. The Israelite nation gave great respect to the Tent of Meeting and if they came to close to it they would die. The Lord God is holy and righteous and sin cannot be in His presence. All men are sinful and before coming to God their sins had to be atoned for through their sacrifices.
It is different for the Christians that they can come close to God. It is not because the Christian is any better that the Israelite people but because they can approach God through His Son. Jesus became the ultimate sacrifice for sin. He suffered the punishment for sin which is death. Jesus died on the cross that the sin of the world would be paid for. Today there is no need to make animal sacrifices for the atonement of man’s sin as the blood of Jesus has accomplished that and satisfied God’s requirement. If man would but confess his sin to the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ man can be forgiven of his sin against God. Man must believe and accept that Jesus died on their behalf for the penalty of their sin. As we invite Jesus to come into our lives that we may have eternal life through Him we can approach God through Him at any time. (Hebrews 10)
As the tribe of Levi was special to God and served Him in His Tent the Christian can belong to God in a special way as His priest. (1 Peter 2:5)