Numbers is the fourth book of the five-volume Pentateuch which opens the Old Testament and establishes the origins of the nation of Israel. The English title “Numbers” comes from the two God-ordered censuses recorded in the book; the first was conducted in preparation for the Israelite’s initial entry into Canaan and the second, after they had wandered in the wilderness for almost forty years. Despite the English title, Numbers isn’t primarily a book of genealogy or lists. In fact, the Hebrew title translates as “In the Wilderness” and is perhaps a more accurate description of its content and scope.
Chronologically, Numbers picks up the Israelites’ journey toward Canaan after the giving of the Law at Sinai and the construction of the Tabernacle. Following Exodus and Leviticus, it contains both narrative and legislation; and as one commentator notes, “this blending of history and legislation is true to life, and, as in Exodus and Leviticus, the laws grew out of the experiences of the people.”1 Numbers also contains several notable pieces of poetry, including the Aaronic Blessing and a Messianic prophesy. Continue reading →