Book of the Week 4: Numbers

Hebrew Name: Bemidbar

Author: Moses                                                                                  

OT or NT: Old Testament

Number of Chapters: 35

Basic Facts

  1. Numbers is the fourth book of the Bible.
  2. Numbers is part of the “Pentateuch”: the first five books of the Bible including Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.
  3. The Pentateuch is also referred to as the “Torah,” meaning “to guide or teach.”
  4. The name Numbers comes from the Greek term arithmoi, which means “numbers.”
  5. The Hebrew name for the book of Numbers is Bemidbar, which means “in the desert [of].”

Story of the Book

Numbers' name is derived from the two censuses that God commanded Moses to take of the people of Israel in the wilderness following the exodus, before the people of Israel entered into the promised land. The book is divided into four basic sections:

  1. The Israelites prepare for their journey to the promised land. 
  2. Israel approaches the land and sends in spies, most of whom bring back a bad report and advise against entering into the land (except for Joshua and Caleb, who give a good report), and some of the Israelites rebel against God. 
  3. Israel is condemned by God to wander in the wilderness for 40 years until the entire generation, except for Joshua and Caleb, is dead. 
  4. The people approach the promised land to enter into it a second time with the story of Balaam blessing Israel instead of cursing them, God commands Moses to take a second census of the nation, and the Israelites encamp east of the Jordan river opposite of the city of Jericho.

Jesus Foreshadowed in Numbers

The book of Numbers tells the story of multiple instances when the people of Israel, in whole or in part, rebel against God. When the people rebel, God punishes them accordingly. He even punishes the entire nation and tells them that they must wander in the wilderness for 40 years and that only Joshua and Caleb from among that entire generation of Israel would ever enter into the promised land. One such instance of rebellion is recorded in Numbers 21:4-9. The people of Israel complained against God, God sent venomous snakes to bite them, and many people died. God commanded Moses to set up a bronze snake, and anyone who was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake lived and did not die.

Later, in John 3:14, Jesus applies this symbolism to himself when he says to Nicodemus, “as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.” In this way Jesus was foreshadowed: as God gave deliverance to the Israelites when they were bitten by snakes and died, but looked to the bronze snake and live, now anyone who sins and looks to Jesus will not die, but he will live—in other words, he will be saved.