The book of Numbers describes 40 years of disobedience by the Israelites as they wandered in the wilderness. If you want to be a disobedient nomad, here is what it looks like – idolatry, complaining, fear and disobedience. Numbers also includes two numberings of this disobedient people across two generations in chapters 1 and 26 and two sets of instructions in chapters 5–9 and 21–36.
You will also notice the centrality of the presence of God, as God places the Tabernacle, the place of His presence, in the middle of all the tribes. This served as the central focus of the people in the wilderness and made it clear that God would never leave or forsake His people.
In Numbers, God is glorifying Himself through the wanderings of the Israelites in the wilderness, so that He might demonstrate His superior goodness in the salvation sinners, the damnation of the wicked, and for the preservation of His people, both for His eternal glory, and their eternal joy.
The clear and consistent teaching of Scripture is that Moses wrote the Pentateuch (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy). For more information on Pentateuchal authorship, see the authorship section for Genesis
The book of Numbers was written sometime between Israel’s Exodus from Egypt (1445 B.C.) and Moses’ death (1405 B.C.). Numbers records events that took place near the end of Moses’ life, making 1445–1405 B.C. the most likely time of writing.
“Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Speak to the children of Israel: “When a man or woman commits any sin that men commit in unfaithfulness against the Lord, and that person is guilty, then he shall confess the sin which he has committed. He shall make restitution for his trespass in full, plus one-fifth of it, and give it to the one he has wronged. But if the man has no relative to whom restitution may be made for the wrong, the restitution for the wrong must go to the Lord for the priest, in addition to the ram of the atonement with which atonement is made for him. Every offering of all the holy things of the children of Israel, which they bring to the priest, shall be his. And every man’s holy things shall be his; whatever any man gives the priest shall be his.”’ ”
“Now when the people complained, it displeased the Lord; for the Lord heard it, and His anger was aroused. So the fire of the Lord burned among them, and consumed some in the outskirts of the camp.”
“Now while the children of Israel were in the wilderness, they found a man gathering sticks on the Sabbath day. And those who found him gathering sticks brought him to Moses and Aaron, and to all the congregation. They put him under guard, because it had not been explained what should be done to him. Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘The man must surely be put to death; all the congregation shall stone him with stones outside the camp.’ So, as the Lord commanded Moses, all the congregation brought him outside the camp and stoned him with stones, and he died.”
When many of the Israelites were dying from the bites of fiery serpents, the Lord said to Moses, “Make a fiery serpent, and set it on a pole; and it shall be that everyone who is bitten, when he looks at it, shall live” (Num. 21:8). Jesus Christ predicted His own fulfillment of this verse: “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:14–15). Like the Israelites, every unregenerate man is a dying man, infected with the poison of sin. Like the bronze serpent that Moses lifted up on a pole, Christ was lifted up on a cross. As the bitten person who looked at the bronze serpent lived, so the sinner that looks to Jesus Christ for salvation will have eternal life.
When Balak wanted Balaam to curse the Israelites, God would not allow it, and caused Balaam to bless them instead. After he had blessed the children of Israel three times, Balaam prophesied of the coming Christ in Numbers 24:17:
“I see Him, but not now;
I behold Him, but not near;
A Star shall come out of Jacob;
A Scepter shall rise out of Israel,
And batter the brow of Moab,
And destroy all the sons of tumult.”
Balaam’s prophecy was fulfilled 1,400 years later, when the wise men saw Jesus’ star in the east, and came to worship Him (Matt. 2:1–2).
What is the theme of Numbers?
On which side of the tabernacle did each of the twelve tribes camp?
What was the Nazarite vow?
What did God want Aaron the priest to say when he blessed the children of Israel?
“The Lord bless you and keep you;
The Lord make His face shine upon you,
And be gracious to you;
The Lord lift up His countenance upon you,
And give you peace”
How long did the Levites continue their service in the tabernacle of meeting?
25 years - starting at 25 years old and ending at 50 (Num. 8:23–26).
How did the Lord lead the children of Israel through the wilderness?
With a cloud by day and with fire by night (Num. 9:15–23).
How did God punish the children of Israel for grumbling and complaining in Numbers 11:1?
He consumed some of them with fire.
What did God say when Moses questioned the feasibility of providing the people with food?
“Has the Lord’s arm been shortened? Now you shall see whether what I say will happen to you or not” (Num. 11:23).
What did the Lord do to the people when they yielded to craving?
He struck them with a very great plague (Num. 11:33–34).
What was Miriam and Aaron’s reason for speaking against Moses?
He had married an Ethiopian woman (Num. 12:1).
What affliction came upon Miriam for her sin against Moses?
She became leprous (Num. 12:10).
What did the twelve spies bring back from their trip?
A large cluster of grapes, some pomegranates, and some figs (Num. 13:23).
What report did the spies bring back about the Promised Land?
They said that the land flowed with milk and honey, but that the inhabitants were strong (Num. 13:27–29).
What did Caleb encourage the people to do after they heard the report?
To go up at once and take possession of the land (Num. 13:30).
What did the other ten spies say after hearing Caleb’s proposal?
“We are not able to go up against the people, for they are stronger than we” (Num. 13:31).
Why were the Israelites not allowed to enter the Promised Land?
Because, notwithstanding the wonders that God had done for them in Egypt, they put Him to the test ten times, and did not heed His voice (Num. 14:20–23).
What was God’s promise to Caleb?
That he would enter the Promised Land, and that his descendants would inherit it (Num. 14:24).
How was the man punished who gathered sticks on the Sabbath?
He was stoned to death (Num. 15:32–36).
What was the sin of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram?
They rebelled against the authority of Moses and Aaron (Num. 16:1–3, 12–14).
How were Dathan and Abiram punished for their rebellion?
The ground swallowed them up (Num. 16:25–34).
How were Korah and his remaining followers punished?
Fire came out from the Lord and consumed them (Num. 16:35).
Why did God send fiery serpents among the people?
Because they spoke against Him and against Moses (Num. 21:4–6).
What did Moses make to save those who were bitten?
A bronze serpent on a pole (Num. 21:8–9).
Who was Balaam the son of, and where did he live?
He was the son of Beor, and he lived in Pethor (Num. 22:5).
What did Balak want Balaam to do?
To curse the children of Israel (Num. 22:4–6).
Why did Balaam’s donkey refuse to obey?
She saw the Angel of the Lord standing in the way with a sword in His hand (Num. 22:23–27).
What did the Angel of the Lord tell Balaam to do?
To go with the princes of Balak, but only speak what he was told by the Angel of the Lord (Num. 22:35).
What did Balaam do when he took up his oracle the first time?
Instead of cursing Israel, he blessed them bountifully (Num. 23:5–12).
Who did God choose to take the place of Moses?
Joshua the son of Nun (Num. 27:18–19).
To whom did Moses say, “But if you do not do so, then take note, you have sinned against the Lord; and be sure your sin will find you out”?
The children of Gad and Reuben (Num. 32:6, 23).