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Bible Articles and Lessons: N

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Num, overview

Author: Moses (date of writing: c 1440-1400 BC).

Period: c 1440-1400 BC.

Title: The English title is taken from the Latin translation (Numeri) of the Greek word Arithmoi, the title given to this book in the Septuagint. The traditional Hebrew title, "be-midbar" ("In the wilderness..."), is taken from the opening phrase of the book.

Summary: Numbers is the fourth book of the Pentateuch. It is a historical book, and its Greek and Latin names reflect the fact that two censuses of the Israelites are recorded in Numbers. The Hebrew title more closely reflects the contents of the book, which primarily tells of the rebellion of the Israelites in the wilderness after the exodus from their bondage in Egypt. Because of this rebellion, only two of the adults leaving Egypt were to enter into the promised land of Canaan. The book covers a thirty-eight-year period.

If the book were considered only as a historical record of the wanderings, then much of its message would be missed. One major theme throughout: God's character is demonstrated in His dealings with His people -- for example, His complete holiness in the incident of Moses smiting of the Rock to produce water (Num 20:7-13), and His righteous jealousy in Num 25:1-13. His justice can be seen in the establishment of the covenant of peace with Phinehas. His faithfulness is shown in Num 23:19. He established a covenant with Israel, and the events of this book show His faithfulness to that covenant even in the face of adversity from His people.

Numbers has the first of many instances when God's people choose to ignore Him and to worship other "gods". This reveals that God will punish wrongdoing but be merciful to those who seek to follow His laws. In Num 16:1-50, God punished the rebellion of Korah, Dathan and Abiram, but accepted Moses' atoning intervention.

Numbers shows that God has established high standards, and He expects His people to maintain them. At the same time He is just and merciful, and He is faithful to His covenant. He continually dwelt with His people during their wilderness wanderings. The declaration made in Exo 29:45-46 is repeated in Num 35:34 -- God dwells with His people. He leads them (Num 9:15-23) and He delivers them from adversity (Num 21:1-54). It is only proper that He expects faithfulness in return.

Num 1:1 -- 10:10 Practical instructions for the wilderness journey.
Num 10:11 -- 12:16 From Sinai to Paran
Num 13:1 -- 20:13 At Kadesh
Num 20:14 -- 22:1 From Kadesh to Moab
Num 22:2 -- 32:42 The Plains of Moab
Num 33:1 -- 36:13 Sundry Matters

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