NUMBERS, BOOK OF
The fourth book of the Pentateuch. It derives its English name from the two numberings of the sons of Israel mentioned therein. It relates events that took place in the region of Mount Sinai, in the wilderness during the course of Israel’s wandering, and on the Plains of Moab. The narrative primarily covers a period of 38 years and 9 months, from 1512 to 1473 B.C.E. (Nu 1:1; De 1:3, 4) Although occurring earlier than the events in the surrounding material, the happenings narrated at Numbers 7:1-88 and 9:1-15 provide background information that forms an essential part of the book.
Writership. The writership of the book of Numbers has from ancient times been attributed to Moses. Ample evidence in the book itself confirms this. There is no hint of any other life than that experienced by Israel in Egypt and then in the wilderness. In commenting about the time Hebron was built, the writer used the Egyptian city of Zoan as a reference point. (Nu 13:22) The age of Zoan would reasonably be common knowledge to a man like Moses, who “was instructed in all the wisdom of the Egyptians.”—Ac 7:22.
Certain commands recorded in the book of Numbers are unique to the circumstances of a nation on the move. These include the prescribed tribal encampments (Nu 1:52, 53), the order of march (2:9, 16, 17, 24, 31), and the trumpet signals for convening the assembly and for breaking camp (10:2-6). Also, the law concerning quarantine is worded to fit camp life. (5:2-4) Various other commands are stated in such a way as to call for a future application when the Israelites would be residing in the Promised Land. Among these are: the use of trumpets for sounding war calls (10:9), the setting aside of 48 cities for the Levites (35:2-8), the action to be taken against idolatry and the inhabitants of Canaan (33:50-56), the selection of six cities of refuge, instructions for handling cases of persons claiming to be accidental manslayers (35:9-33), and laws involving inheritance and marriage of heiresses (27:8-11; 36:5-9).
Additionally, the recording of the Israelite encampments is definitely ascribed to Moses (Nu 33:2), and the concluding words of the book of Numbers also point to him as the writer of the account.—36:13.
Authenticity. The authenticity of the book is established beyond any doubt. Outstanding is its candor. Wrong conduct and defeat are not concealed. (Nu 11:1-5, 10, 32-35; 14:2, 11, 45) Even the transgressions of Moses himself, his brother Aaron, his sister Miriam, and his nephews Nadab and Abihu are exposed. (3:3, 4; 12:1-15; 20:2-13) Repeatedly, happenings recorded in the book are recounted in the Psalms (78:14-41; 95:7-11; 105:40, 41; 106:13-33; 135:10, 11; 136:16-20). By their allusions to major events and other details in Numbers, Joshua (4:12; 14:2), Jeremiah (2Ki 18:4), Nehemiah (9:19-22), David (Ps 95:7-11), Isaiah (48:21), Ezekiel (20:13-24), Hosea (9:10), Amos (5:25), Micah (6:5), the Christian martyr Stephen (Ac 7:36), the apostles Paul (1Co 10:1-11) and Peter (2Pe 2:15, 16), the disciple Jude (vs 11), and the Son of God (Joh 3:14; Re 2:14) showed that they accepted this record as part of God’s inspired Word. There is also Balaam’s prophecy regarding the star that would step forth out of Jacob, which had its initial fulfillment when David became king and thereafter subdued the Moabites and Edomites.—Nu 24:15-19; 2Sa 8:2, 13, 14.
Value. The book of Numbers forcefully illustrates the importance of obedience to Jehovah, respect for him and his servants, the need for faith and guarding against ungodly men (Nu 13:25–14:38; 22:7, 8, 22; 26:9, 10; Heb 3:7–4:11; 2Pe 2:12-16; Jude 11; Re 2:14), not faithlessly putting Jehovah to the test (Nu 21:5, 6; 1Co 10:9), as well as refraining from murmuring (Nu 14:2, 36, 37; 16:1-3, 41; 17:5, 10; 1Co 10:10, 11) and sexual immorality (Nu 25:1-9; 31:16; 1Co 10:6, 8). Jehovah’s dealings with Israel give evidence of his great power, mercy, and loving-kindness, as well as his being slow to anger, though not withholding punishment when deserving. (Nu 14:17-20) Further, the position and ministry of Moses (Nu 12:7; Heb 3:2-6), the miraculous provision of water from the rock-mass (Nu 20:7-11; 1Co 10:4), the lifting up of the copper serpent (Nu 21:8, 9; Joh 3:14, 15), and the water of cleansing (Nu 19:2-22; Heb 9:13, 14) provided prophetic pictures that were fulfilled in Christ Jesus.
The account provides background material that illuminates other scriptures. It shows on what basis Judean King Hezekiah was able to arrange the Passover on Ziv (Iyyar) 14, instead of Nisan (Abib) 14. (Nu 9:10, 11; 2Ch 30:15) The full discussion of Naziriteship (Nu 6:2-21) explains why Samson and Samuel were not to have their hair cut (Jg 13:4, 5; 1Sa 1:11) and why John the Baptizer was not to drink intoxicating beverages. (Lu 1:15) For additional examples, compare Numbers 2:18-23 and Psalm 80:2; Numbers 15:38 and Matthew 23:5; Numbers 17:8-10 and Hebrews 9:4; Numbers 18:26 and Hebrews 7:5-9; Numbers 18:31 and 1 Corinthians 9:13, 14; Numbers 28:9, 10 and Matthew 12:5.
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HIGHLIGHTS OF NUMBERS
A historical narrative that demonstrates how vital it is to obey Jehovah under all circumstances and to respect his representatives
Covers events during most of the time Israel was in the wilderness en route to the Promised Land
The tribes of Israel are registered and organized
About a year after the Exodus from Egypt, all Israelite males 20 years old and over are registered, with the exception of the Levites (1:1-49)
Each three-tribe division is assigned a place to camp and a position in the order of march (2:1-34)
The Levites are set apart to assist the priests; all Levites over a month old are registered; they are taken by Jehovah in exchange for the firstborn of the other tribes (3:1-51)
The male offspring of Kohath, Gershon, and Merari, the three sons of Levi, from 30 to 50 years of age are numbered and given service assignments (4:1-49)
Another census is taken of the Israelites shortly before they enter the Promised Land (26:1-65)
Israelites receive divine commands regarding their worship and their dealings with one another
Requirements are set out for Nazirites (6:1-21)
The Passover is observed; provision is made so that anyone unclean or on a distant journey can observe it a month after Nisan 14 (9:1-14)
Various regulations are given involving the duties and the privileges of priests and Levites, including the preparation of the water for cleansing and its uses (18:1–19:22)
The offerings are listed that must be presented each day, each Sabbath, at the start of each month, during festivals, and during the seventh month (28:1–29:40)
Jehovah’s commands governing vows are recorded (30:1-16)
Guilty ones must confess and compensate the wronged party (5:5-8)
A procedure is established for handling cases when a wife is suspected of secret adultery (5:11-31)
Arrangements are made for six cities of refuge (35:9-34)
Israelites manifest a lack of appreciation for Jehovah’s provisions, and they disobey his commands
The people complain about eating manna and long for meat; when Jehovah provides quail, many act with extreme greed and are punished with death (11:4-34)
They believe the bad report of the ten fearful spies and want to return to Egypt; Moses has to intercede for them (13:1–14:19)
When that rebellious generation is sentenced to wander and die in the wilderness, the people attempt to enter the Promised Land without Jehovah’s blessing, and they suffer a military defeat (14:26-45)
There is a failure to respect Jehovah’s visible representatives
Miriam and Aaron speak out against Moses; Jehovah strikes Miriam with leprosy (12:1-15)
Korah, Dathan, Abiram, On, and 250 chieftains range themselves against Moses and Aaron; Jehovah executes the rebels, and this gives rise to further murmuring; 14,700 more die (16:1-50)
At Kadesh, the Israelites complain bitterly against Moses and Aaron because of a water shortage; when Jehovah miraculously supplies water, Moses and Aaron fail to sanctify Jehovah’s name and thus lose the privilege of entering the Promised Land (20:1-13)
The Israelites tire out and speak against Jehovah and Moses; they are plagued by serpents, and many die; Moses intercedes for the people, and anyone bitten can be saved by gazing at a copper serpent (21:4-9)
Jehovah blesses Israel but insists on exclusive devotion as the nation prepares to enter Canaan
Jehovah gives Israel victory over the king of Arad (21:1-3)
Israel defeats Sihon and Og, taking possession of their land (21:21-35)
Balak hires Balaam to curse the Israelites; Jehovah forces him to bless Israel instead (22:2–24:25)
Moabite women lure Israelite men into idolatry and fornication; 24,000 are killed for thus falling into apostasy; Jehovah relents when Phinehas tolerates no rivalry toward Him (25:1-18)