Author and Name
The human authorship of Numbers, the fourth book of the Pentateuch, has traditionally been ascribed to Moses. This conclusion is based on statements concerning Moses’ writing activity and the assumption that the first five books of the Bible, the Pentateuch, are a unit and come from one author. This conclusion has been doubted and debated in the biblical scholarship of the last 100 plus years. I affirm Moses as the source and primary author of the Pentateuch.
The English name of the book comes from the numbering or the census of the people in chapters 1-4,26.
The Story of the Journey
Following their miraculous Exodus out of Egypt, the people of God’s promise journeyed to Mount Sinai. As written in the book of Exodus and Leviticus, at Mt. Sinai, God revealed his moral law (10 commandments), civil law, the designs of the Tabernacle which was constructed, and the ceremonial law (book of Leviticus). The subsequent book of Numbers continues the story of the journey from out of Egypt to Mt. Sinai toward the Promised Land.
The book of Numbers records the final preparations as the Israelites leave Mt. Sinai. Moses takes a census of all the tribes, primarily to see how many men are available and conditioned for military service. Moses dedicates the Levites and instructs the Nazirite vows and laws. During this time, the Israelites celebrate the 2nd Passover one year after their exit from bondage.
The book of Numbers then reveals the sad series of events in which the people grumbled about the difficulty of the journey and the impossibility of conquering the land of the promise. On the edge of the Promised land, at Kadesh Barnea, Moses sent out 12 spies to do reconnaissance in the land. The 12 spies returned and only two of them brought good news. Out of fear and unbelief, 10 out of the 12 reported on the land and stirred up a rebellion against God and Moses. God responded to their disobedience and unbelief with judgment which delayed the entrance into the land by 40 years.
The book of Numbers shows the faithfulness of God. The book ends with a new generation of Israelites on the bank of the Jordan River ready to cross into the land promised to the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Israel’s disobedience and unbelief delayed but did not deter the fulfillment of God’s promise of the land.
The book of Numbers reveals God’s presence with his people in the pillar of cloud and fire over the tabernacle. His presence with His people is the essence of His covenant promise, “You shall be my people, and I will be your God”.
The book of Numbers presents a sobering reality: The God of Hesid love sovereignly initiated a covenant relationship with Abraham and his descendants, miraculously delivered his people from bondage, and made them His “treasured possession” is also a God of judgment.