Numbers is about the wilderness wanderings of the people of Israel from Mount Sinai to the border of Canaan, the Promised Land.
The book starts out at Mount Sinai and ends on the plains of Moab. Its narrative picks up where Exodus left off and connects with Deuteronomy, which starts on the east side of the Jordan in the wilderness.
Many contrasting themes are woven throughout Numbers: God’s faithfulness and human failures, God’s guidance and human stubbornness, God’s purpose and human disobedience, God’s provision and human complaints, and God’s holiness and human sinfulness.
God’s twofold plan was to reveal His faithfulness through provision and deliverance and to relate His law, which prepared Israel to maintain a covenant relationship with the Lord, and to fulfill the task of being God’s people in the midst of an ungodly world.
As the “children of Israel” journeyed from the foot of Mount Sinai to the land of Canaan, they grumbled, whined, and complained at every turn. First they complained about the food. Next, about Moses’ authority. God punished some but spared the nation because of Moses’ prayers.
Numbers also gives a clear example of God’s patience. Again and again He withholds judgment and preserves the nation. But His patience must not be taken for granted, for His time of judgment will come.
When the nation arrived at Kadesh, twelve spies (one for each tribe) were sent into Canaan to assess its strength. Ten returned with fearful stories of giants. Only Caleb and Joshua encouraged them to “go up at once, and possess it” (13:30).
Because of their unbelief, God declared that the present generation would not live to see the Promised Land. Instead, they wandered in the wilderness for forty years with a continuous pattern of grumbling, defiance, discipline, and death.
Numbers is probably the last book most people would choose for devotional reading. However, for any reader willing to put forth some effort in study, Numbers is far from dull.
The events in this book took about forty years and can be outlined as follows: