The Old Testament Book of Numbers In the Desert
About the Book of Numbers
The first 5 books in the Bible are called the ‘5 Books of Moses’. The Book of Numbers is the 4th of these books. The *Hebrew name for these books is the ‘Torah’, which means ‘*Law’. These books are very important. They contain God’s instructions about how his people should live.
This book is called ‘Numbers’ because there are many lists of numbers in it. There are two *censuses (Numbers 1:1 to 4:49; Numbers chapter 26). These record the numbers of male *Israelites who were over 20 years old. These were all the men who could fight in a battle. Also, there is a list of men and boys over one month old from Levi’s *tribe. The men from Levi’s *tribe did not fight. They helped the priests. There are other lists, too (Numbers 7:10-83; 28:1 to 29:38; 31:32-52). But these lists are not the most important part of the book.
The *Hebrew name for this book is ‘In the *desert’. This name describes well what the book is about. In fact, the words ‘in the *desert’ are in the first sentence of the book in the *Hebrew language.
The book begins two years after the *Israelites had escaped from the country called Egypt. They had been *slaves there. They had made a camp in the Sinai *desert. God had given the *Law to Moses. They were preparing to go to the *Promised Land.
As they travelled, God was with them. He looked after them. He provided food and drink for them. But the *Israelites complained about life in the *desert. They did not trust God. They did not obey God. So God punished them. They wandered in the *desert for nearly 40 years. All the adults who had left Egypt died in the *desert, except Joshua and Caleb.
However, God did not take the *Promised Land away from the *Israelites. He gave it to their children, who had grown up in the *desert. The first *generation, the adults who had left Egypt, did not enter the *Promised Land. But the second *generation, their children, did enter the *Promised Land. God always does what he has promised.
When the book ends, this second *generation had reached the edge of the *Promised Land.
The book does not just record what happened in the *desert. Also, it contains instructions about how the *Israelites should *worship God. There is information about *purification, *sacrifices, and the duties of priests. Also, there are many lists of names and numbers.
The author of the book
Many people believe that Moses wrote the first 5 books in the Bible (the ‘Torah’, which means ‘*Law’). This includes the Book of Numbers. This is the traditional opinion. There are several reasons to believe this.
1. Moses recorded events that happened. He wrote about them. The *Old Testament records many times that he did this (for example, Numbers 33:1-2; also Exodus 17:14; 24:4; 34:27).
2. Moses could write well. He had received a good education. He had lived in the palace of the king of Egypt.
3. Moses was the people’s leader. He saw most of the events in the *desert.
4. The *New Testament records that Moses was the author of the ‘Torah’, the first 5 books of the Bible (for example, Matthew 19:8; John 5:46-47; Romans 10:5).
There are other opinions about who wrote the ‘Torah’ (the first 5 books in the Bible). Some writers think that several people wrote it. They think that some of these people were priests. They think that these people wrote it many centuries after Moses’ death. Probably, they would have used information that Moses provided. This information may have been what Moses wrote. It may have come from stories that people told about these events.
But the ‘Torah’ (the first 5 books in the Bible) is an accurate and true account of what the *Israelites did in the *desert. Also, it is an accurate and true record of the laws that God gave to Moses.
The structure of the book
The book is not one complete story with a beginning, middle and end. It contains many stories about events in the *desert. Also it contains lists, instructions, poems and *prophecies.
It may be easier to study this book if we divide it into three parts. This follows the *Israelites on their journey.
1. The *Israelites at the start of their journey (chapters 1-10).
2. The *Israelites travel through the *desert (chapters 11-20).
3. The *Israelites prepare to enter the *Promised Land (chapters 21-36).
The first part describes what happened at Sinai. The second part describes what happened in the *desert. This was near to a place called Kadesh. The third part describes what happened in the region next to the country called Canaan, the *Promised Land.
What does this book teach us about God?
This book teaches us some very important things about God.
1. God is with us always, if we are his people. He guides and protects us.
God guided the *Israelites by means of a cloud (Numbers 9:15-23). They carried the *Ark with them wherever they went. The *Ark showed them that God was with them always. He protected them from their enemies (Numbers 10:33-36).
2. God wants us to trust him.
God had chosen Moses as the *Israelites’ leader. But they opposed Moses many times. They complained about the food in the *desert (Numbers 11:4-6). They refused to enter the *Promised Land. They believed that the people there were stronger than them. They did not trust God to help them (Numbers chapters 13 and 14).
God loved them. But he had to discipline them (to teach or to control, sometimes by means of a punishment) (Numbers 14:26-35). God disciplines those people whom he loves (Hebrews 12:6).
3. There is only one real God. We must *worship him only.
God never allowed the *Israelites to *worship false gods (Numbers chapter 25).
4. God always *keeps his promises.
God had promised to give to the *Israelites their own land. He rescued them from the *Egyptians. He guided them through the *desert. They arrived at the *Promised Land. But they were afraid to enter it.
However, God did not take back his promise. Instead, he gave the *Promised Land to their children.
5. God is *holy.
God is different from people, whom he made. He is good completely. But all people are *sinful. *Sin is like dirt because it spoils our lives. *Sin makes us dirty inside, in our hearts and minds. In other words, it ruins our thoughts, our attitudes and our behaviour.
The *Israelites washed themselves in special ways before they *worshipped God. They made their bodies clean. They offered *sacrifices. They believed that the blood from these *sacrifices washed their *sins away. So they felt *clean inside their hearts. There were many special rules about how to *worship God. All these rules showed that God is *holy.
But we do not need to follow these special rules still. We do not need to kill animals as *sacrifices. God has given us a new way to come to him. That way is by means of his son, that is, Jesus *Christ. When people killed Jesus on a *cross, he became the *sacrifice for our *sins. This *sacrifice was for all people, for all time. Jesus’ blood washes our *sins away. When we believe in Jesus, God forgives our *sins. Jesus suffered the punishment for our *sins.
Jesus is *holy. When we believe in Jesus, God considers us *holy, too. We can come to God at any time, in any place. God is our friend because of what Jesus did.
Chapters 1-10: The *Israelites at the start of their journey
The *Israelites had camped near Sinai Mountain. They were preparing to travel to the *Promised Land. Before they left, God told Moses to do four things.
1. *Celebrate the *Passover (Numbers 9:1-14).
2. Count the soldiers (Numbers chapter 1).
3. Tell each *tribe where to camp round *God’s Tent (Numbers chapter 2).
4. Give duties to the priests (Numbers chapters 3 and 4).
This part of the book describes these four things. But the accounts are not in the order that these things happened. The events in chapters 7:1 to 9:15 happened before the events in chapters 1 to 6. But all these events happened during a period of less than 50 days (Numbers 1:1; 10:11).