Introduction to Numbers
Moses is believed to be the author of Leviticus (and the writer of the entire Pentateuch: Genesis through Deuteronomy) by both Jewish tradition and the early Christian church and it estimated to have been written between 1440 and 1400 BC. The English title “Numbers” comes from the corresponding titles in the Greek Septuagint (Arithmoi) and the Latin Vulgate (Numeri) which are based on the two censuses that are taken in this book. The Hebrew title for this book is “Bemidbar” which means “in the wilderness.”
After the Israelites left Egypt, they traveled to Mount Sinai where they remained for a year before heading into the wilderness area to the east of the Jordan River where they camped at Moab. The gotquestions.org survey of this book notes, “Most of the events of the Book of Numbers take place in the wilderness, primarily between the second and fortieth years of the wandering of the Israelites. The first 25 chapters of the book chronicle the experiences of the first generation of Israel in the wilderness, while the rest of the book describes the experiences of the second generation.” The NLT Illustrated Study Bible breaks Israel’s wilderness wanderings as represented in the book of Numbers into 3 stages: “1) the nineteen days in which Israel prepared to depart from Mount Sinai (1:1-10:10); 2) the thirty-nine year journey from Sinai to the plains of Moab (10:11-22:1); and 3) the final months of Israel’s encampment on the plains of Moab shortly before they enter Canaan (chapters 21-36).” For comparison, Exodus covered a year, Leviticus a month, and Numbers more than 38 years.
An overall theme of Numbers is obedience and rebellion which are followed by repentance and blessing. Foreshadowings of Christ contained in this book are: the red heifer of chapter 19, the bronze snake lifted onto a pole in chapter 21, and Balaam’s oracle in chapter 24 which speaks of “the star and the scepter who is to rise out of Jacob.”
The practical application of this book for New Testament believers is stated beautifully by the gotquestions survey, “Just as the Israelites wandered in the wilderness 40 years because of their rebellion, so too does God sometimes allow us to wander away from Him and suffer loneliness and lack of blessings when we rebel against Him. But God is faithful and just, and just as He restored the Israelites to their rightful place in His heart, He will always restore Christians to the place of blessing and intimate fellowship with Him if we repent and return to Him (1 John 1:9).”