Leaving the Wilderness Behind: Why Study the Book of Numbers
Some of your favourite Bible stories and characters are found in this book. Yet it also serves as a solemn warning about the perils of disobeying God. In all cases it is folly and madness to say ‘No’ to Him.
Welcome to the Book of Numbers, the fourth of the five books of Moses, known as the Pentateuch or Torah (the Law). The stories are great and the lessons even greater.
The name in the original Hebrew is wayyedabber or ‘and he said.’ The reason for the name ‘Numbers’ is that it has to do with two censuses. The first is of the ‘generation of the exodus’ (Chapter 1), namely the children of Israel who miraculously departed from Egypt. The second census or numbering was of the ‘generation of the wilderness,’ the generation of Israelites born in the wilderness (chapter 26) to the ‘generation of the exodus.’ Though the exodus generation was headed towards the promised land of Canaan, they never reached it. Numbers will explain the dire reason why.
1. Moses the lawgiver;
2. Aaron the high priest;
3. Joshua the good spy, successor to Moses;
4. Caleb, the other good spy, who survived the wilderness like Joshua
5. Balaam, the prophet/seer who tried to curse Israel and inadvertently blessed them instead.
Christ in Numbers:
The reason that Numbers is in the Christian Bible is that it points the way to the coming Messiah, Jesus Christ. Here are some types of Christ found in this book:
Star out of Jacob: One of the most beautiful Messianic description is the ‘star out of Jacob’ (24:17);
City of Refuge: Christ is also our ‘city of refuge,’ where we can flee and be protected from the ‘avenger of blood;’
Brazen serpent: When Israel murmured in the wilderness against God and Moses, the Lord judged them by sending fiery serpents who had a fatal bite. When Moses appealed to the LORD for deliverance, the solution was the ‘brazen serpent’ which was used to bringing healing and deliverance from judgment (21:8). In other words, God took the problem, namely the serpent, and turned it into the solution. Whoever looked on the brazen serpent would live. Jesus uses the serpent analogy to speak of Himself (John 3:14); He, the sinless One, took our sins upon Himself, so that all who look on Christ shall live. II Corinthians 5:21 ‘For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.’ See also Romans 8:3-4.
The Rock: When Israel lacked water at Rephidim, God commanded Moses to strike the rock and water would proceed (Exodus 17:6). Another incident of running out of water was at Kadesh in the wilderness of Zin; this time God commanded Moses to ‘speak to the rock’ in order to obtain water. Unfortunately, Moses did not listen to the LORD. Instead, he struck the rock, like he did at Rephidim. Water came anyway but at a dreadful price. God told Moses that because of this sin Moses would not enter the promised land. Why was this judgment so severe? Because Christ is the Rock (I Corinthians 10:4) and He only needs to be struck once (crucified) for our sins; afterward, you speak to the Risen Saviour, not strike out again.
Manna: Like the manna, the bread from heaven, fed Israel in the wilderness (Numbers 11:6-9) for 40 years, Christ is the true Bread of Heaven (John 6:31-33). Whoever eats this bread lives for ever.
The high price of doubt and unbelief. This includes wandering, wilderness, unfulfilled divine promises, and death. So we see that they could not enter in because of unbelief - Hebrews 3:19
14:22-23: ‘Because all these men who have seen My glory and the signs which I did in Egypt and in the wilderness, and have put Me to the test now these ten times, and have not heeded My voice, they certainly shall not see the land of which I swore to their fathers, nor shall any of those who rejected me see it."
Key Events in Numbers:
Chapter 01: The first census is taken of all Israelite men of military age 20 years or older who were born in Egypt and part of the exodus; the total was 603,550 (1:46). If every one of them had a wife and child, that would be 1.8 million. Sadly, this generation would not inherit the land. This is the ‘Generation of the Exodus.’
Chapter 13: The 12 spies explored Canaan for 40 days. They discovered its fertility but also the might of the local inhabitants.
Chapter 14: After 10 of the 12 spies gave an evil report of the land, the people rebel. God said this was the 10th time the generation of the exodus tempted God and therefore they would not enter the promised land. The sole exception would be Joshua and Caleb. Unbelief leads to rebellion.
Chapters 22-24: Balaam the seer was hired by Balak, king of Moab, to curse Israel. Despite his attempts, the curses turned to blessing.
Chapter 26: The second census was of the ‘generation of the wilderness,’ who were the children of the ‘generation of the exodus.’ The latter generation had died due to their unbelief so it was now time for a new stocktake.
Simple Outline of Numbers:
1-12 Generation of the Exodus
13-20 Wanderings in the Wilderness
21-36 Generation of the Wilderness; forward-march to Canaan
Lesson for Life:
Joshua and Caleb provide a sterling template of how to enter into the land of promise. Why did they succeed while the other 10 spies failed (and killed soon thereafter)? First, they followed God with a whole heart (14:24). Second, they did not have a religious spirit but a spirit of faith (13:30). While the 10 spies complained about the challenges, Caleb spoke words of faith: ‘Let us go up at once, and possess it; for we are well able to overcome it.’ (13:30). Confession activates faith. Third, they gave a good report of the land (13:27; 30). It is easy to focus on circumstances and problems, but the faithful, whole-hearted believer focuses on the ‘good report.’ Proverbs 15:30 says a good report makes the bones fat and Paul exhorts us to focus on the good report (Philippians 4:8).
Follow these three steps, straight out of Numbers, and you will leave the wilderness behind as you make tracks to the promised land.