Yet again, Moses authored this book and to clarify, authored the first 5 books (also known as “Pentateuch” or “the Law”). In fact, he wrote Numbers in his final year of life. And it picks up after Leviticus. Do you see some order here? Nice, right?
The whole book occurs in the wilderness—a barren land mentioned often throughout the book. The beginning of Numbers takes place at Sinai but then they moved on to Kadesh, and from there, the plains of Moab.
Now, Numbers is divided into two time frames: the year after the Exodus and then 40 years after the Exodus. It also explores two different generations: those that left in the Exodus and those born after. We will use this distinction in our own breakdown of Numbers. Let’s go!
THE FIRST GENERATION (CH. 1-25)
Israel walks in obedience.
Chapters 1-10 cover the rest of the preparations God had for Israel. There are guidelines in there regarding the priests and the tabernacle. God spoke to the nation regarding righteous living, through Moses, and the people complied.
“Thus did the people of Israel; they did according to all that the Lord commanded Moses.” Numbers 1:54
They were finally matching God’s rhythm but their surrender to the Lord didn’t last forever.
Israel walks in disobedience.
Chapter 11 shares a complaint from the people. They began to grumble and wish they were again in Egypt because they had no meat. God’s anger burned but Moses interceded on their behalf and God provided quail. Yet, while they ate the quail, a plague struck the people for their disobedience.
And it didn’t stop there. In chapter 12, Miriam and Aaron (Moses’ siblings) opposed Moses in front of the people. They wanted to be recognized for their platform and yet, Moses did not come against them. In fact, the Bible says he was meek, more than anyone else on Earth. But he didn’t have to—God was going to take care of the pride and resentment in their hearts. God called them out in front of the people and they were admonished for it.
The spies sent into Canaan.
Chapter 13 shares the story of the spies sent into Canaan (the promised land). Moses wanted them to bring back a report of the land promised to them. However, it didn’t go well. While there, they saw incredible fruit of the land but they also saw strong men and fortified cities. When they returned to Moses, all but one recommended they not go and take the land. Caleb alone believed that they could take the land. Not because of what his eyes saw but because He believed God could give them the promised land.
Again, the people grumbled against the Lord and wished to be in Egypt again. Frustrating to read, right? But let’s be honest, we do the same in our journey.
For their lack of belief and disobedience God foretold that the nation would wander in the wilderness for 40 years altogether so that those who showed such unbelief would die in the wilderness and never see the promised land. Everyone 20 years old and over would die wandering, except Caleb and Joshua, because they believed and were faithful.
To give you some perspective, it’s believed roughly 2.5 million Israelites were part of the encampment and they all walked in circles for nearly 40 years. They were so close in proximity to Canaan and yet so far according to the timeline. It’s a cautionary tale that unbelief can trap you in the wilderness.
Perhaps some of the people’s disobedience had rubbed off on Moses, or perhaps he allowed anger to get the best of him once again. But Moses disobeyed God in chapter 20. When God told Moses to speak to the rock for water to come forth he instead struck the rock. Why is this such a bog deal, you might ask? Well, when Moses went to the rock he called out the people from a place of frustration and brought forth water in a way that wasn’t as God had spoke. It showed a lack of reverence and trust in God. Unfortunately, the act caused Moses a great suffering—he would never see the promised land either.
Continued disobedience from the people.
The people continued in their disobedience with their final act taking place in chapter 25. Here, we are told that men from Israel engaged in sexual immorality with Moabite women and then engaged in idol worship. A plague struck the people killing thousands who had engaged in the rebellion. After this plague, a new generation takes the stage.
THE SECOND GENERATION (CH. 26-36)
A new generation is rising up in Israel. The first generation is dying off and preparations are being made to enter the promised land—Canaan. Joshua is announced in front of the nation to be the successor of Moses—the man who led Israel into Canaan. God also gave reminders for festivals and offerings to honor in the new land.
In chapter 33 Moses recounted the journey the nation had been on for the last several decades since leaving Egypt. But it was more than a recount of where they had been; it was a recounting of God’s faithfulness. All those years in the wilderness God fully cared for them, even in their disobedience.
The book closes out with an anticipation of taking their new home, Canaan. God gave the people boundaries for their nation in the promised land. Tribal chiefs were named and cities designated for the tribes. Things are about to change for the nation!
WHAT WE CAN LEARN
When you sow disobedience there are consequences to these choices. Not because God is a spiteful God but because there are natural results that sin produces. Don’t choose disobedience—believe in God! Walk in obedience; sow this and fruit will produce in your life. Go where God goes and rest where His presence is.
“At the command of the Lord the people of Israel set out, and at the command of the Lord they camped.” Numbers 9:18
** An almost exact phrase is given in 10:23 which indicates importance. When something is repeated in such a short window, God is wanting us to pay attention. Note the importance of keeping your eyes on God and moving where He is.