Series: Best Book In the BibleEvery Christian knows the importance of reading their Bible, but many are overwhelmed with the task of devouring such a monstrous book! Often times, when Christians lose steam in their yearly reading plans, they can become frustrated and feel defeated. It is for this reason that individual book studies can be a lifesaver. In the Best Book in the Bible series, we will provide entry points into faithful study through “selling” you on why you should fall in love with the various books of the Bible.
There are very few Christians who would list the book of Numbers as their favorite book of the Bible, but one might be surprised to know that much of what one loves about the stories and doctrines of the Bible are expressed vividly in Numbers. Once one realizes that the book chronicles the Israelites’ journey through the wilderness, the vast importance of the book is clearly identified, as it tells the much-needed history of the people of God and what they are to do to remain in obedience to God. The 36 chapters of Numbers are a whirlwind tour through their forty years in the wilderness. Fasten your seatbelts!
Main themes: Sin & Grace
“The Lord bless you, and keep you; the Lord make His face to shine on you, and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up His countenance on you, and give you peace.” (Numbers 6:24-26)
“The Lord is slow to anger and abundant in loving kindness, forgiving iniquity and transgression; but He will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on their children to the third and the fourth generations.” (Numbers 14:18)
(1:1—10:10) The first main division of the book finishes up the massive section in the Pentateuch known as “the law”, consisting of Exodus 20 through Numbers 10. Right at the beginning is a massive list of names, followed by a rehearsal of the actions that much be taken for Israel to remain holy to the Lord. It must be understood that this information is being recorded at the start of their journey from Egypt. Hopes are high and they’re looking forward to flourishing in the Promised Land.
(10:11—12:16) Israel marches to Kadesh-Barnea under the hand of God’s blessing. This is really the high point of the book, but problems immediately arise. By chapter 11, the people are murmuring at God because of the harshness of the conditions. In this, they demonstrate no faith, acting like spoiled children. Chapter 12 records the opposition of Moses’ own confidants, Aaron and Miriam, followed by God’s strict punishment of them—Miriam is struck with leprosy.
(13:1—21:35) In this section, Israel falls off the wagon and is punished for their disobedience. Numbers 14 could be called “The Heartbreak Chapter”, as the twelve spies have been sent out into the land of Palestine, only to return with a negative report. It’s here that we encounter Joshua and Caleb, the only two spies who returned with a good report and manifested true faith in God. However, it is Israel’s mass faithlessness that plunges them into judgment, as they are consigned to wander in the desert wilderness until every adult dies off, leaving their children to be the only ones to cross over into the Promised Land with Joshua and Caleb. Important sections to note are the rebellion of Korah (ch. 16), and Moses’ own rebellion (ch. 20).
(22:1-36:13) In this final section, we see Israel wandering in the plains of Moab. During this part of the trek, they encounter the wicked prophet Balaam, whom God speaks through his donkey to bless Israel. Chapter 25 reveals the beginning of Baal worship by the people of Israel, followed by a severe punishment. In the closing chapters, we see a new generation, preparing themselves to cross over into Palestine; a generation dedicated to obeying the Lord God.
What Makes This Book So Great:
The Hebrew title for this book is “Into the Wilderness”, which is arguably a much better title than “Numbers”, but what must be remembered are the lessons learned by Israel during this period of wandering. For the rest of the Bible, Israel is reminded of their deliverance out of Egypt and through the wilderness. So, a keen understanding of this journey aids the Bible student in understanding a dominant tool used to sanctify God’s people.
In Numbers, one also gets to spend time with some fascinating persons: Moses, Aaron, and Miriam; Joshua and Caleb; even Balaam the prophet. But the real focus of the narrative is God, who providentially leads His people through a period of deep darkness and fulfills His promise to bring them out the other side. Pay close attention to chapter 21, as one sees the beautifully bold picture of Moses holding up the serpent on the staff, healing the snake-bitten people. This imagery is used by Jesus in John 3 to illustrate the necessity of His being lifted up in order to save the world from sin and death.
As with all major books, Numbers is unquestionably long and challenging to read in one sitting. So, I continue to encourage students to break the reading up into sections in order to manage the content easier. As an illuminating exercise, grab a Study Bible that contains inter-textual cross references and note how many other passages make reference to the material in Numbers. You might be astonished to see how often this seemingly insignificant book functions as the backbone of the Biblical narrative.
- Gordon J. Wenham, Numbers. Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries. (Downers Grove: Inter-Varsity, 1981).
A helpful entry-level academic commentary from a seasoned Bible teacher.
- Ronald B. Allen, “Numbers” in the Expositor’s Bible Commentary: volume 2 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1990).
A competent study in an extremely helpful series.
- Timothy R. Ashley, The Book of Numbers. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993).
One of the most thorough commentaries in print.
Note: Find the rest of the Best Book in the Bible series here: EntreatingFavor.com/BestBookSeries