Numbers gets its name from two national tallies, found at the start and end of the book. By comparing the tallies, we can see growth in the faithful tribes and a sad shrinking of unfaithful tribes in Israel. Numbers illustrates the importance of faithfulness to God and His laws, combining narrative with a reinforcement of laws that particularly related to vows and faithfulness. Faith is commonly thought of as a New Testament concept, first introduced by Jesus Christ but this is not the case. God has always sort faith in His followers.
God had chosen the nation of Israel to join with Him in a special relationship, akin to a spiritual marriage. The previous books of Exodus and Leviticus record this process. Israel promised to be faithful to the relationship, for example see Exodus 24v7, “And he [Moses] took the book of the covenant and read in the audience of the people: and they said, All that the LORD hath said will we do and be obedient.” However, God knew Israel would struggle with faithfulness to Him because humans naturally want to do their own thing, rather than submitting to God’s will. God caused Numbers to be written as a record of His faithfulness and the faith He sought in His special people Israel. Numbers also records Israel’s failure to be faithful, so that future generations could learn from the errors of their ancestors.
The below breaks down the book into thematic sections:
Israel questioned God’s faithfulness and acted faithlessly
- Numbers 3v4 two priests waltz into God’s holy place and offer ‘strange’ fire, thereby disobeying God.
- Numbers 11v1-15 Israel complain, expressing their desire for Egyptian luxuries and implying God had let them down by bringing them into the desert. The narrative says the people, “…lusted with great lust. And the sons of Israel also turned and wept, and said, Who shall give us flesh to eat?”, “…our soul is dried away; there is nothing but this manna (food that God gave them) …”
- Numbers 11v32-33 Israel were provided meat when God sent a huge swarm of quails. They had ‘lusted’ for meat and when it came they were so greedy and thankless God struck them with plague. Many of these faithless, lusting people died and, “…[God] called the name of that place Graves of Lust.”
- Numbers 13v31-33 After spying out the territory God had promised them, Israel said, “We are not able to go up against the people, for they are stronger than we.” Israel showed a complete lack of faith in God’s promise to care for them.
- Numbers 14v1-12 Israel accused God of faithlessness by saying, “Why has the LORD brought us into this land to fall by the sword…”
- Numbers 14v22 Israel tested God and did not listen to Him, even though they had previously vowed to do so.
- Numbers 16 details a rebellion against God’s chosen leaders.
- Numbers 20v1-13 is yet another occasion where Israel complains about their situation and blames God for not caring about their needs.
- Numbers 25 records how Israel engaged in sexual relations with the Moabites and practiced their idol worship.
God sort faithfulness in His people
- Numbers 5v5-10 shows that any sin was an act of unfaithfulness to their relationship with God. God seeks confession from the guilty person and provides a way of rebuilding the relationship.
- Numbers 5v11-31 explains ‘the law of jealousy’ and deals with the issue of adultery. This law highlights the need for fidelity in our natural relationships and is extended to the faithfulness required in a spiritual relationship with God.
- Numbers 6v1-21 is a special vow called the Nazarite vow. It exemplified all the principles previously spoken of in the book i.e. fidelity, holiness, faithfulness to God. The vow could be made voluntarily but once made it had to be kept faithfully.
- Numbers 10v9 God asks Israel to display faithfulness in battle, relying on Him to save them from their enemies.
- Numbers 14v11 God said to Moses, “…how long will it be before they [Israel] believe Me, for all the signs which I have shown among them?”
- Numbers 15v39-40 God asks the people to sew a ribbon of blue on their clothes as a reminder, “…so that you do not seek after your own heart and your own eyes, after which you prostitute yourself, that you may remember and do all My commands, and be holy to your God.”
- Numbers 18 reiterates God’s requirements for priests and Levites. This reinforcement is given following a rebellion against God’s laws in Numbers 16.
- Numbers 19 contains laws for ritual purification. The rituals actually promote excellent hygiene. However, the main purpose was to teach lessons regarding spiritual cleanliness /faithfulness.
- Numbers 28 and 29 is a reminder for Israel to faithfully perform the sacrifices and offerings previously detailed
- Numbers 30 is a chapter dedicated to the principles of vows/promises that an Israelite could choose to make. God didn’t force a vow but once made it had to be kept.
- Numbers 33v50-56 is a command from God to drive out the wicked inhabitants of Canaan. This exercise required implicit faith in God.
- Numbers 35 says, “You [Israel] are not to defile the land where you will be living, because I'm living among you. I am the LORD, who lives in Israel." God wanted to dwell amongst a faithful nation.
God demonstrated His faithfulness
- Numbers 8v17-19 is a reference to God’s destruction of Israel’s Egyptian slave masters and how He had delivered Israel to become His people (spiritually married to God – refer to Numbers 6v27 where they would receive God’s name as a surname).
- Numbers 9v1-14 is a command to keep the Passover feast. This feast was a symbolic reminder to Israel of their exodus from Egypt, how God had saved them with a mighty hand and how He would continue being faithful.
- Numbers 9v15-23 A special tent was set up as a place to worship God. God caused a pillar of cloud and fire to hover above it alternatively. “…there was a cloud covering by day, and a fire cloud appeared by night.” This was physical evidence of God’s constant presence and faithful care for His people.
- Numbers 10v1-10 two ceremonial silver trumpets were made. When the trumpets were used, Israel were told, “…you shall be remembered before the LORD your God…they shall be to you for a memorial before the LORD.” This was another reminder of God’s faithful care for Israel.
- Numbers 11v11-30 Moses cries for help to lead Israel and God faithfully responds, providing a solution. God didn’t forsake Moses.
- Numbers 11v31 God responds to earlier complaints and provides Israel meat to eat, in the form of a quail swarm.
- Numbers 21v4-9 Israel had sinned and God sent a plague of deadly snakes. As soon as the people sought God for help, He enabled a way for the victims to survive.
- Numbers 21v21-35 God brings victory to the army of Israel in defeating the Amorites and the king of Bashan.
- Numbers 22-24 is the story of Moab attempting to put a curse on Israel. However, God intervenes and causes the pronouncements to become prophecies of God’s future blessings for Israel.
- Numbers 31 records how God gave victory to Israel’s army over the nation of Midian. This was punishment for cursing Israel and purposely seducing them to commit whoredom and idolatry.
- Numbers 32 is an exciting chapter where the first of Israel’s tribes receive from God some of the promised land to settle in.
- Numbers 33 is a journal of all Israel’s travels in the wilderness over 40 years. In all this God shows how He had been with them and protected them.
- Numbers 34v1-15 specifies the borders of the promised land and is a concrete step towards Israel receiving the inheritance God had promised them.
Numbers 36 is the final chapter in the book and deals with a story of marriage and inheritance in the promised land. It is such a fitting conclusion, given the theme of the book is faithfulness to a relationship with God. The laws given by God, under Moses’ leadership, have served a purpose and no longer need following in all their ritual. However, the principles are unchanging and God is still inviting people to join His spiritual family and benefit from His wonderful promises. If we want to have a relationship with God, we can learn a lot of valuable lessons from the book of Numbers.
“Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering (for He [God] is faithful who promised)…” Hebrews 10v23