This week, read: Numbers
At Least Know This
Numbers identifies instructions on offerings, duties of priests and Levites, and other laws. It is interspersed with stories of the children of Israel in the wilderness.
Author and Date
Jesus once referred to the first five books of the Bible as the “Books of Moses” (Mark 12:26). So, through most of church history, people assumed that Moses wrote those books. Modern analysis of the ancient Hebrew text shows that there were many people (or many groups) that edited the book.
Numbers was probably put in its final form during the Babylonian Exile (587-538 BC).
Moses leads the people away from Mount Sinai, into the desert toward Canaan, the Promised Land.
Numbers 1:47-53. The duties of the Levites. This will become important to understand passages later in the Old and New Testament.
Numbers 13: They get to Canaan, which was the land God had promised to them. They sent twelve spies into the land to do reconnaissance. Ten of the spies said the land is filled with armies, and we couldn’t possibly win if we invaded (notice their exaggerations of the armies of Canaan). Two of the spies, Joshua and Caleb, said, “Yes, the armies are big, but our God is bigger.” But by chapter 14, the people had worked themselves into a frenzy and decided not to go to Canaan. You can read what happens.
Chapter 22-24: We see an interesting story of Balaam. In those days, before two armies fought, the kings would send out prophets to shout out curses on the opposing army, and call their gods to fight the opposing gods. So, the king of Moab hears the Israelites are coming, and sends his prophet Balaam out to curse the Israelites. Balaam rides his donkey out to do the cursing, but the donkey starts talking to Balaam, and they have a conversation. As the chapters unfold, you’ll probably get the feeling that it’s one donkey talking to another. This story is referenced in the Old and New Testaments.
Chapter 25: For the first time, the Israelites are seduced into the Baal worship. Baal was a prominent god among the Canaanites. When the Israelites interact with the Canaanites, they quickly get into the Baal worship.
In Numbers 9:15-23. God was present in the cloud that led them—and a pillar of fire at night. This is the visible sign of the presence of God, called the theophany. We see this frequently in the Old Testament—and even into the New Testament. In the book of Acts 2, at Pentecost, “tongues of fire” appeared on the disciples’ heads. This is to show the presence of God—that God was with them and would guide them, just like he guided the children of Israel in the wilderness. Today, most of us don’t have tongues of fire on our heads, but we still have the promise—that God is here and will walk with us always.
Numbers 11: The children of Israel, now having left Mount Sinai, are being fed with manna… but they soon get tired of it, and demand something more. God provided, but the people seem to be rebelling at every opportunity. In chapter 12, even Miriam and Aaron temporarily turn against Moses. God wanted to use the time in the wilderness to teach them to rely on him… but they didn’t seem to want to learn the lesson. I wonder how often we turn our nose up at the lessons God is trying to teach us?
God wanted to teach the Israelites to rely on him. I’m not sure that the people learned the lesson very well, but the idea was to completely rely on God. In the desert, there are no supermarkets or hotels… they had to rely on God for everything. Maybe we, too, are a desert people, called to consistently, persistently, and wholly rely on God for everything.
If you run across a passage that you have questions about, feel free to post questions (or insights that you have received from the Bible reading), then please click here, and then click on the most recent reading guide. You can also feel free to email the question to me.
Our next face-to-face meeting is on February 14, 2019 at 6:30-7:45.