Who wrote it?
Moses was the author of the book of Numbers.
When(ish) was it written?
The book of Numbers was written between 1440 and 1400 BC.
Why was it written?
The message of Numbers is universal and timeless. It reminds us of the spiritual warfare in which we are engaged, for Numbers is the book of the service and walk of God’s people. The book of Numbers essentially bridges the gap between the Israelites receiving the Law (Exodus and Leviticus) and preparing them to enter the Promised Land (Deuteronomy and Joshua).
Some Key Verses
[quote] The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.
– Numbers 6:24-26 [/quote]
[quote] And he said, “Hear my words: If there is a prophet among you, I the Lord make myself known to him in a vision; I speak with him in a dream. Not so with my servant Moses. He is faithful in all my house. With him I speak mouth to mouth, clearly, and not in riddles, and he beholds the form of the Lord. Why then were you not afraid to speak against my servant Moses?”
– Numbers 12:6-8 [/quote]
[quote] Not one shall come into the land where I swore that I would make you dwell, except Caleb the son of Jephunneh and Joshua the son of Nun. But your little ones, who you said would become a prey, I will bring in, and they shall know the land that you have rejected. But as for you, your dead bodies shall fall in this wilderness. And your children shall be shepherds in the wilderness forty years and shall suffer for your faithlessness, until the last of your dead bodies lies in the wilderness. According to the number of the days in which you spied out the land, forty days, a year for each day, you shall bear your iniquity forty years, and you shall know my displeasure.
– Numbers 14:30-34 [/quote]
A Quick Summary
Most of the events of the book of Numbers take place in the wilderness, primarily between the second and fortieth years of Israel’s wandering. The first 25 chapters of the book chronicle the experiences of the first generation of Israel in the wilderness, while the rest of the book describes the experiences of the second generation. The theme of obedience and rebellion followed by repentance and blessing runs through the entire book, as well as the entire Old Testament.
The theme of the holiness of God is continued from the book of Leviticus into Numbers, which reveals God’s instruction and preparation of His people to enter the Promised Land of Canaan. The importance of the book of Numbers is indicated by its being referred to in the New Testament many times. The Holy Spirit called special attention to Numbers in 1 Corinthians 10:1-12. The words “now these things took place as examples” refers to the sin of the Israelites and God’s displeasure with them.
In Romans 11:22, Paul speaks about the “kindness and severity of God.” That, in a nutshell, is the message of Numbers. The severity of God is seen in the death of the rebellious generation in the wilderness, those who never entered the Promised Land. The goodness of God is realized in the new generation. God protected, preserved, and provided for these people until they possessed the land. This reminds us of the justice and love of God, which are always in sovereign harmony (even when we don’t see or understand it in the moment).
God’s demand for holiness in His people is completely and finally satisfied in Jesus Christ, who came to fulfill the Law on our behalf (Matthew 5:17). The concept of the promised Messiah pervades the book. The story in chapter 19 of the sacrifice of the red heifer “without defect or blemish” points to Christ, the Lamb of God without spot or blemish who was sacrificed for our sins. The image of the bronze snake lifted up on the pole to provide physical healing (chapter 21) also points to the lifting up of Christ, either upon the cross, or in the ministry of the Word, that whoever looks to Him by faith may have spiritual healing.
In chapter 24, Balaam’s fourth oracle speaks of the star and the scepter who is to rise out of Jacob. Here is a prophecy of Christ who is called the “morning star” in Revelation 22:16 for His glory, brightness, and splendor, and for the light that comes by Him. He may also be called a scepter, that is, a scepter bearer, because of His royalty. He not only has the name of a king, but has a kingdom, and rules with a scepter of grace, mercy, and righteousness.
What does this mean?
A major theological theme developed in the New Testament from Numbers is that sin and unbelief, especially rebellion, earns the judgment of God. The book of 1 Corinthians specifically says—and Hebrews 3:7-4:13 strongly implies—that these events were written as examples for believers to observe and avoid. We are not to “set our hearts on evil things” (v. 6), or be sexually immoral (v. 8), or put God to the test (v. 9) or gripe and complain (v. 10).
Just as the Israelites wandered in the wilderness 40 years because of their rebellion, God sometimes allows us to wander away from Him and suffer loneliness and lack of blessings. But God is faithful and just, and just as He restored the Israelites to their rightful place in His heart, He will always restore Christians to fellowship with Him if we repent and return to Him (1 John 1:9).
- Take a few minutes to review the Scripture from Numbers 13-14. What verses or ideas stand out to you from these passages? What questions do you have? What would you like to remember and apply to your life?
- A pivot point is a moment when something changes direction. Think back on your own life. What have been some pivot points that you have experienced? What was the result? How has God since worked through whatever decision you made at that time?
- Joshua and Caleb, the two spies who returned with a good report of the land, trusted in God’s promises. What effects can courageous leadership and strong faith have on others?
- After the spies return from their mission, most of the Israelites wanted to go back to what was familiar (slavery in Egypt). Where in your life are you tempted to pivot away from God and what he has said in his Word?
- We all encounter pivot points in our lives as Christ-followers. They happen in our careers, our relationships, and our parenting. Where in your life do you need to pivot toward Jesus and the Gospel? How can your life group community help you? Take some time as a life group to share and pray for one another.