OVERVIEW OF THE BOOK OF NUMBERS
Author: Moses was the author of the Book of Numbers.
Date of Writing: The Book of Numbers was written between 1440 and 1400 B.C.
Purpose of Writing: The Book of Numbers received its name from the fact that the first chapter begins with God calling the leaders of Israel to "number" the people (i.e., take a census) according to their tribes, of all men 20 or older. The message of the Book of Numbers, is universal and timeless. It reminds believers of the spiritual warfare in which they are engaged, for Numbers is the book of the service and walk of God's people. The Book of Numbers essentially bridges the gap between the Israelites receiving the Law (Exodus and Leviticus) and preparing them to enter the Promised Land (Deuteronomy and Joshua).
Brief Summary: 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 theme of obedience and rebellion followed by repentance and blessing runs through the entire book, as well as the entire OT.
The theme of the holiness of God is continued from the book of Leviticus into the book of Numbers, which reveals God's instruction and preparation of His people to enter the Promised Land of Canaan. The importance of the Book of Numbers is indicated by its being referred to in the New Testament many times. The Holy Spirit called special attention to Numbers in 1 Corinthians 10:1-12. The words "all these things happened to them for examples" refers to the sin of the Israelites and God's displeasure with them. In Rom. 11:22, Paul speaks about the "goodness and severity of God." That, in a nutshell, is the message of Numbers. The severity of God is seen in the death of the rebellious generation in the wilderness, those who never entered the Promised Land. The goodness of God is realized in the new generation. God protected, preserved, and provided for these people until they possessed the land.
Foreshadowings: God's demand for holiness in His people is completely and finally satisfied in Jesus Christ, who came to fulfill the law on our behalf (Matt. 5:17). The concept of the promised Messiah pervades the book. The story in chapter 19 of the sacrifice of the red heifer "without defect or blemish" prefigures Christ, the Lamb of God without spot or blemish who was sacrificed for our sins. The image of the bronze snake lifted up on the pole to provide physical healing (chapter 21) also prefigures the lifting up of Christ, either upon the cross, or in the ministry of the Word, that whoever looks to Him by faith may have spiritual healing.
Practical Application: A major theological theme developed in the New Testament from Numbers is that sin and unbelief, especially rebellion, reap the judgment of God. First Corinthians specifically says-and Heb. 3:7-4:13 strongly implies-that these events were written as examples for believers to observe and avoid. We are not to "set our hearts on evil things" (v. 6), or be sexually immoral (v. 8), or put God to the test (v. 9) or gripe and complain (v. 10).
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).