The Book of Numbers is part of the Torah or Books of the Law in the Old Testament. The Book of Numbers is considered to be a bridge between God’s promises in Genesis and Exodus and the entrance of Israel into the Promised Land.
Why is It Called the Book of Numbers in the Bible?
In Hebrew, the name of Numbers is Bamidbar which means “in the wilderness.” The very first verse says, “God spoke to Moses in the Sinai Desert.” Rabbinic literature uses the name Chumash ha-Pekudim which means “the chronicles of the censuses” or “the chronicles of the conscriptions.” Today, we take the name from the Greek Septuagint which refers to the census in Chapters 1 and 26.
The Book of Numbers highlights the time period prior to Israel’s entrance into the Promised Land, recording the journey as they traveled eastward through the Sinai desert and south toward the Sinai Peninsula. Along the way, the Israelites defeated enemy after enemy in order to reach the Promised Land.
What is The Book of Numbers About?
The Old Testament in general seems to conflict with Jesus’ message of peace, turning the other cheek, and loving our enemy. As Israel travels across the desert, they receive repeated instructions from God to kill or destroy nations. Is God a blood-thirsty, and vengeful God?
So, what is the Book of Numbers all about? It is about the nation of Israel being holy unto their God. Being set aside as a people distinct and different from all others. The Book of Numbers is about the continuing process of holiness and Israel inheriting the Promised Land.
God is a God of love and of justice. Jesus spoke repeatedly of judgment afflicting those who reject Jesus. It is self-imposed judgment. The same is true in the Old Testament. The nations Israel destroyed or drove out were ones whose societal and religious practices were abhorrent to God – things like sacrificing children to their gods, incest, sexual immorality, and worshipping idols.
As you read the Book of Numbers, note that God warned the Israelites repeatedly to have nothing to do with these nations because the Israelites ended up taking up their abominable practices and their evil and immoral lifestyles. God would warn the Israelites and the other nations. When that failed, self-imposed consequences ensued.
In Leviticus 18, the Laws of sexual morality are explained in detail, and God names nations that are practicing sexual immorality – Egypt and Canaan.
You are not to act as they do in the land of Egypt, where you used to live. Nor are you to act as they do in the land of Canaan, where I am bringing you, nor are you to walk in their customs. You are to obey My ordinances and keep My statutes and walk in them—I am Adonai your God. So you are to keep My statutes and My ordinances. The one who does them will live by them. I am Adonai.
God goes on to describe the acts of immorality that violate His laws of purity. He then says that the land itself has been defiled by these practices.
Do not defile yourselves in any of these things, for in all of these ways the nations which I am casting out before you were defiled. The land has become defiled, so I will punish its iniquity, and the land will vomit out its inhabitant
God’s Justice and Mercy
Later in the Book of Numbers, the Israelites defeat a number of Kings and their people. In Chapter 21, Israel defeats the Canaanites, led by King Arad, after they had started the battle. Verse 3 says that “the Lord listened to the voice of Israel and delivered up Canaanites, and they (Israel) utterly destroyed them and their cities. So the name of that place was called Hormah.” Hormah means utter destruction.
After that, they defeated King Sihon of the Ammorites. Sihon started the battle. Next, the King Of of Bashan made the same mistake and the Bible says, “So they struck him and his sons and his entire army until no survivor was left to him, and they possessed his land.” Numbers 21:35 TLV
In this timeframe, this is how battles were fought. When a King decided he wanted a city belonging to another King, he simply went in and killed everyone who opposed him and took over the city. So, the style of warfare employed by Israel was not unusual.
However, there was also a higher reason. The land and the people had to be purified.
As you remember, God is forming an entirely new nation of people set apart as holy unto Him. He established laws, the Torah, and a way of life they must live in order to lead toward the coming Messiah. God’s purposes were eternal. Because of this, He protected Israel. The Book of Numbers is the recording of this process.
What do we mean by God’s Justice? God is a just God. Justice basically means – the way things should be. Prior to Christ, death was the result of sin and unrighteousness. God set a standard of moral rightness and justice. We long for moral justice today just as people have since the beginning. Without justice, there is chaos. When sin entered the world, boundaries, laws, moral codes, and systems of justice had to be established in order to keep us from self-annihilation.
In other words, we pass judgment on ourselves when we fail to obey the law. This is true in the natural and in the spiritual. When Jesus came, He provided a way of escape, a way of forgiveness through faith in Him. However, we still experience the consequences of our own sin and are required to live by Kingdom standards.
God’s justice is a protection for us today just as it was for the Israelites. God didn’t desire death, it was a natural outcome of human choices to practice lawlessness.
Lessons From the Book of Numbers
ORDER – The Book of Numbers tells us that God is also a God of order. He had already seen how easily mankind could descend into chaos and so He set aside one nation to live in His protection. God established the Torah and over 600 other laws. Again, we must remember that the heritage of Israel was to be Jesus. God invited everyone to live in this way.
Here in the Book of Numbers, He establishes order for the trip back to the Promised Land. He established order for the procession in Chapter 2 and the duties of the Levites as they served in the Tabernacle in Chapters 3-4. Chapters 5-8 involve more instruction for being clean or unclean and established the law of the Nazarite
In Chapter 9, the second Passover was celebrated and in Chapter 10, the journey from the Sinai began. By Chapter 11, the people are already murmuring against Moses and in Chapter 12 Miriam and Aaron speak out against Moses. For this reason, God sets them apart as an example and Miriam is afflicted with leprosy. Aaron sees this and begs for mercy and they are both healed and forgiven.
The actions of Aaron and Miriam demonstrate the consequences of stepping outside of the Kingdom Standards which were there to protect them. God’s order extends to all His people throughout every generation. As we see in the Book of Numbers, the standards of God’s kingdom have purpose and we live in those standards today.
FAITH – In Chapter 13 of the Book of Numbers, God told Moses to send spies out into the land of Canaan, on man from every tribe. They were sent out from the land of Paran, up into the mountains Canaan to look over the place where His people would dwell. Upon returning, here is their report:
Forty days later, they returned from reconnoitering the land and went to Moshe (Moses), Aharon (Aaron) and the entire community of the people of Isra’el at Kadesh in the Pa’ran Desert, where they brought back word to them and to the entire community and showed them the fruit of the land. What they told him was this: “We entered the land where you sent us, and indeed it does flow with milk and honey — here is its fruit!However the people living in the land are fierce, and the cities are fortified and very large. Moreover, we saw the ‘Anakim (giants) there. ‘Amalek lives in the area of the Negev; the Hitti, the Y’vusi and the Emori live in the hills; and the Kena‘ani live by the sea and alongside the Yarden (Jordan).
However, here is Caleb’s answer to Moses, “Let us go up at once and take possession, for we are well able to overcome it.” Numbers 13:30 NKJV. The spies retorted, “There we saw giants (the descendants of Anak came from the giants); and we were like grasshoppers in their sight.” Numbers 13:33 NKJV.
As if things weren’t bad enough, the people, after hearing this, refused to enter the Promised Land of Canaan. There was no faith found in the spies or the people. Caleb and Jacob alone had the kind of faith in their God that the entire nation should have had by now, especially after all they had seen and experienced.
Later, in Chapter 20, we see the mistake that cost Moses his entrance into the Promised Land – a failure to obey God’s instructions because of his anger. Again, faith faltered and the consequences came.
OBEDIENCE – Balaam is the perfect example of disobedience, manipulation, and humiliation which follows pride. Balaam was a prophet and a ruler named Balak was trying to get Balaam to come and curse his opponents. God told Balaam not to curse them because they were blessed and that he should not go with the messengers back to Balak. Balaam then told the messengers that “the Lord has refused to give me permission to go with you.” He left out some important details.
Later, God speaks to him again telling him to go with the Messengers who have come after Balak’s second appeal for Balaam to come. God tells Balaam to “do only what I tell you.” Balaam left on his little donkey. On the way, an angel of the Lord appeared to block his way because God needed to talk to him. He could not see the Angel but the donkey could and when the donkey refused to keep Balaam struck him.
God gave the donkey the ability to speak and he did!. Finally, God opened Balaam’s eyes to see the Angel and God spoke saying, “I have come out here to bar your way because you are rushing to oppose me.” The God who always looks at the heart had seen Balaam’s heart of deception and disobedience. Balaam repents and goes on to see Balak.
Put this in modern-day terms. God tells you to talk to someone and tells you exactly what to say. As you’re driving there, you decide to change the message a little so that you don’t offend anyone. You’re on the freeway when suddenly, your car dies and you have to coast off to the side. You try and try to get it to start but it won’t and get out and start pounding on it when your car starts talking to you!
People are driving by slowly, staring at you and then, God starts talking and exposing your deceptive and unfaithful heart!
It’s embarrassing and you look dumber than your car because, after all, your car knew what to do and could see an angel when you couldn’t. Disobedience starts in the heart and ends with a choice to repent or to suffer the consequences as we see in the life of Balaam.
The Book of Numbers Summary
In the last few chapters, we see laws being reviewed, battles won and the tribe of Israel settling East of the Jordan. Aaron dies as does the entire generation that came out of Egypt. God gives instructions through Moses for how to conquer the enemies in the Promised Land.
Numbers is a book of adventure and 3 very important lessons in obedience. First, God is a God of order and justice. Second, God wants a people set apart for Him, holy and obeying out of love. Third, sin brings its own consequences and one of them is death.
We have been saved from sin and death but, when we disobey, we still reap the consequences. It is a necessary part of learning to be like Christ. The Book of Numbers ushers us into the Book of Deuteronomy, the last book of Torah and the one in which we see Moses’ love and instructions to the children of Israel. Enjoy digging into the Book of Numbers!
You might also enjoy reading – The Book of Exodus
Inspiration For Life Today uses verses from different Bible translations. To see more information about the copyright for each one, please visit this page – Scripture Citations.