Purpose of Numbers

Numbers, which records the tragic story of Israel’s unbelief, should serve as a dramatic lesson for all of God’s people. God loves us and wants the very best for us. He can and should be trusted. Numbers also gives a clear portrayal of God’s patience. Again and again he withholds judgment and preserves the nation. But his patience must not be taken for granted. His judgment will come. We must obey.

Numbers has two major divisions: 1) the section containing instructions while still at Sinai 2) the wilderness journey, which covers the itinerary from Sinai to the plains of Moab across the Jordan from the Promised Land. The instructions at Sinai deal with the preparation for the journey, and the rest of the book tells of the journey itself.

The section of Numbers that deals with the journey. The key points in this part are the accounts of the complaints, rebellions, and disobedience of the first generation, which led to their deaths. The second subsection narrates the preparation of the second generation for entry into the Promised Land. It begins with a new census (compare ch. 1), noting that the entire first generation, except Joshua, Caleb, and Moses, had died in the wilderness. This section ends with the apportionment of the land among the tribes after they have entered the Promised Land.

One of the most familiar events in Numbers is the negative report of the ten spies, as opposed to the positive one of Joshua and Caleb. This resulted in severe chastisement. From this we learn the profound consequences that can sometimes develop from being faithless and negative.

When God speaks a promise, we need to respond with optimism, not pessimism. The repeated grumblings of the Israelites, even in light of God’s continuous provision, show us the need to maintain an attitude of thankfulness to God, even when we have great needs (Phil. 4:6).

Numbers also shows us the side of God that He is slow to reveal—His anger. Though He is loving and merciful, He is also just. When mankind repeatedly rejects Him, He must issue judgment when His children repeatedly disobey, He must chastise, sometimes severely.

Numbers ends as it begins, with preparation. This new generation of Israelites was numbered and sanctified. After defeating numerous armies, they settle the east side of the Jordan River. Then they faced their greatest test: to cross the river and possess the beautiful land God promised them.

The lesson is clear. God’s people must trust him, moving ahead by faith if they are to claim his promised land.