An Introduction to the Book of Numbers

Written by Paul J. Bucknell on December, 18, 2020

An Introduction to the Book of Numbers

The Backdrop of the Book of Numbers

The greatest truths that stream through Numbers are not about man’s great faith and activities. Instead, we see God’s total unacceptance of sin and unrestrained determination to accomplish what He has promised. The Lord set His objectives even from before captivity’s time (Gen 15:13-18). The Lord determined to bring His people out of Egypt and into the Promised Land. They did not want to leave Egypt, but He drove them out. They later refused to go into the Promised Land because of their fear, but the Lord drove them into the land. Although many found their grave along the way, God determinedly produced a generation that would follow Him and take part in a mission that He was determined to fulfill.

Today, we likewise live under the charge of the Great Commission. Are we ready to fulfill it in this generation, or does the Lord need to raise another generation more true to Him because of our unfaithfulness and lack of belief?

An Outline of the Book of Numbers

Numbers has three central foci. Their descriptions are below.

(1) Mobilizing His People (Numbers 1-9)

(2) Displeased With His People (Numbers 10-19)

(3) Readying a New Generation (Numbers 20-36)

(1) Mobilizing His People (Num 1-9)

A Time of mobilizing the people and clarifying the law

Although God called the Israelites to meet with Him at Mount Sinai to establish His covenant with them, we see another emphasis of readying the people for possessing the land of Canaan. The Lord authoritatively organized His people. Total submission was critical for success. Their trust and submission meant more than their physical preparedness, the caliber of weapons, size of ammunition cache, or well thought–out strategy.

(2) Displeased With His People (Num 10-19)

A Test of Their Faithfulness to the Lord’s Commands

Numbers is a book of tests, and unfortunately, this group failed to pass. God tested and proved His people that they were ready for the demanding job. In a negative sense, the people tested and proved God. The Lord is not asking us to see whether we have enough faith for a certain action but merely to obey Him. Obedience always precedes real success.

Numbers could have been a much shorter book! Disobedience puts off the accomplishment of certain tasks, which would have made everything easier.

(3) Readying a New Generation (Num 20-36)

Readying the Second Generation for His Mission

Although some might get lost sympathizing with the generation that died in the desert, we must be eternally grateful that God rose up a new generation that would bring God’s great promises to fulfillment. This second chance for His people came from God’s pure grace.

The Lord again readies them as in the first section but also again tries their hearts. He brings them through smaller battles and testings to see if there is any sign of faith. Most of this time was spent in Moab next to the Jordan River (see Deuteronomy). Numbers focuses on the preparations and the display of faith among His people in contrast to their parents’ generation. We do not see perfect people; God still hates and judges their sin. But we see God, with perfect patience and wisdom, equipping them for a task that would be scoffed at as impossible by the world. They were weak and frail but considered ready.

They passed the test.

An Outline of the Book of Numbers

Marks of Time, Space and Numbers

1/14/01 Passover/Left Egypt (Ex 12:2)

1/15/01 Left Egypt (Ex 12:2)

1/1/02 Tabernacle erected (Ex 40:17)

1/14/02 Observe Passover (Nu 9:1-3) *

2/1/02 The Census (Nu 1:1)

2/20/02 Left Sinai (Nu 10:11-12)

1/?/40 Returned to Kadesh (Nu 20:1)

5/1/40 Aaron died on Mt. Hor (Nu 33:38)

11/1/40 Renewed Covenant in Moab (De 1:3)

1/10/41 Crossed the Jordan (Joshua 4:19)

1/14/41 Ate the Passover in Canaan (Joshua 5:10)

* Note the forty years in the wilderness here.

First census (Nu 1:46) 603,550

Second census (Nu 26:51) 601,730

THE CHALLENGE

The younger generation often criticizes the older one for lack of faith and boldness. The accusation is often true, but what about the younger generation? Will you be more faithful and true to what the Lord has set before you? This is your turn!

Thoughts on Leadership from Numbers

STEPPING INTO THE UNKNOWN

Underlying these many preparations looms a great meeting with God. Know God before you fight His battles. But be prepared.

Once knowing Him, He will push you out into places you haven’t ever been to before. The Lord leads His people into places they rather not go. The Christian’s duty is to go.

We are not our own and do not live according to our own preferences. We are here for the Lord’s battles.

Perhaps Joshua was not as ideal as Moses, but sin, including Moses’ sin, never makes it easy on any assistant.

Thankfully, God is never so shortsighted or disabled that the sin of a great leader limits Him. His plans incorporate our errors as well as His judgments. God was secretly training Joshua from early on. He also changed the style and responsibilities of leadership Moses used to better suit Joshua and the people’s sin.

We find Joshua very suited for the job, even much more than he thought so himself. God preserved His Name and cared for His people’s well-being, leading them into the Promised Land and accomplishing His mighty judgments through Joshua, the servant of Moses.

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