Numbers is more than a book about "numbers" or numerical issues. It contains the story of Israel's journey from Mount Sinai to the plains of Moab on the border of Canaan. The translators of the Septuagint gave it the name "Numbers" because of the books census lists found in chs. 1 and 26. The Hebrew name, bemidbar, means more properly "in the desert".
The beginning of Numbers (1:1 - 10:10) deals with Israel's preparation to leave Mount Sinai. Yet, they refused to enter the promised land (10:11 - 20:21), with the climax of the book appearing in chapter 14. Israel did not trust God, for when he
said that he would give the nation the land of Canaan (13:1) they still would not trust Him and feared men over the Lord (13:31-33). Israel complained, saying "wouldn't it be better for us to go back to Egypt?" (14:3). Moses and Aaron attempted to tell the nation, "...do not rebel against the LORD. And do not be afraid of the people of the land, because we will swallow them up. Their protection is gone, but the LORD is with us. Do not be afraid
of them," (14:9). Sadly, not only did Israel not listen, but they even "talked about stoning them" (14:10).
Israel rebelled despite their recent redemption from the Egyptians, found in Exodus. Furthermore, God had recently made a covenant with them at Mount Sinai, however, Israel still disobeyed
and did not trust God. God's decision was "for forty years - one year for each of the forty days you explored this land - you will suffer for your sins and know what it is like to have me against you," (14:34). Moses was not spared from
this disobedience (cf. Num. 20:1-13) and was not allowed to enter the promised land. The rest of Numbers (20:22 - 36:13) may be seen as more preparation to enter the land of Canaan.
Relationship to the New Testament
Interesting to note is 1 Corinthian's use of Numbers. Paul says in two places that Israel's disobedience was to serve as an example of "warnings" or what not to do (10:6, 11).
He then relates these issues to dealing with temptation, noting that "God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it," (10:13).
Furthermore, Hebrews 3:7 - 4:11 also deals with Israel's disobedience. More specifically it quotes Psalms 95:7-11, although this passage also deals with the events in the book of Numbers. The author of Hebrews warns its readers of unbelief, using
Israel as an example. He encourages them to "take care" lest they have "an evil, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God" like the Israelites of old (Heb. 3:12). In the end, after using Israel as an example, the writer
of Hebrews exhorts his readers: "Let us therefore make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one may fall through such disobedience as theirs," (Heb. 4:11).
- Bill T. Arnold and Bryan E. Beyer (eds.), Encountering the Old Testament. (Baker, 1999)
- Zondervan NIV Study Bible (Zondervan, 2002)