|NUMBERS, BOOK OF |
Fourth book of Old Testament that teaches the identity of the people of God, God's provision for authority over His people, and God's plan for their fulfillment as a nation. It answers the questions: “Who are the people of God?” “Who is in charge here?” and, “What are we doing?” Title The book title is “Numbers” in our English Bibles based upon the Vulgate (Latin translation) title, Numeri, and the Septuagint (Greek translation) title, Arithmoi. This title is based on the “numbering” of people (Numbers 1:19;
Numbers 26:4). The Hebrew bible uses the first word in the book, Bemidhbar (“in the wilderness”), as the title. This is a helpful description giving the setting for much more that happens to God's people than taking censuses. In fact, most commentators use a geographical outline to summarize the book. This outline is simply stated:
Numbers 1:1-10:10 What happened at Sinai;
Numbers 10:11-20:13 What happened in the wilderness; and
Numbers 20:14-36:13 What happened from Kadesh to Moab.
Contents It seems most productive to consider the contents of the book in the light of the three questions asked above. The following should illuminate this.
I. Who are the People of God?
A. Those who are ready to defend the camp through military means (Numbers 1:1;
B. Those who dwell in a camp with provision for God's presence in their midst (Numbers 2:1);
C. Those who participate in a religious system under the authority of the Aaronite priesthood and ministry of the Levites (Numbers 3:1;
D. Those who uphold the laws of ritual purity to keep the camp from becoming physically or morally contaminated or are willing to undertake appropriate rituals to restore wholeness (Numbers 5:1;
E. Those who furnish the tabernacle of God's presence with appropriate furnishings and utensils (Numbers 7-8);
F. Those who worship according to sacred rituals established by God (Numbers 9:1;
G. Those who are willing to migrate according to God's instructions (Numbers 10:1);
H. Those who depend upon the priesthood to mediate the awesome presence of God (Numbers 18:1);
I. Those who recognize that secular authority is dependent on religious authority (Numbers 27:1);
J. Those who have an allegiance to justice beyond the idea of a family-blood feud (Numbers 35:1).
II. Who is in charge of the People of God?
A. Moses is prime authority under God's direction and through God's intervention in vindicating him after rebellions (Numbers 11-12;
B. Aaron is a prime spiritual authority due to God's active support (Numbers 17:1);
C. Even Moses and Aaron are inadequate without God's support (Numbers 20:1);
D. God Himself is final authority (Numbers 21:1);
E. God will guide the priesthood in directing Israel away from apostasy and toward Him (Numbers 25:1).
III. What are the People of God to accomplish?
A. They are to examine and investigate the land of promise (Numbers 13-14);
B. They are to be victorious over God's enemies through ritualized “holy war” (Numbers 21:1);
C. They are to recognize that no rival religious authority can spoil God's plan regarding the land of promise (Numbers 22-24);
D. They are to keep the land of promise within the tribes and people it was promised to (in spite of extraordinary circumstances) (Numbers 27:1);
E. They are to provide for “bonus” land beyond the initial promise (Numbers 32:1);
F. They are to provide for keeping the land of promise secure (Numbers 36:1).
In this way, the reader is able to see that every aspect of life during the wilderness wandering was permeated with the centrality of God. Under God's instructions Israel conscripted an army; God's presence radiated both a sense of awe and well-being in the center of the camp; God's promise of a landed inheritance gave them a goal to strive for and an identity; and God was the ultimate authority and spoke both indirectly through His human representatives and directly through His miraculous power. The rebellion narratives (Numbers 11:1-12:16;
Numbers 21:4-9; and
Numbers 25:1-18), as well as the account of Balaam the wizard (22–24), serve to show how God's plan and provision cannot be thwarted by any rival possibility or power. Israel needed to stay on God's side to find success. See Aaron; Balaam; Eleazer; Joshua; Moses; Pentateuch; Holy War; Sacred Calendar; Tabernacle; Tribal Confederation.
Johnny L. Wilson