Book of Numbers

Boyd’s Bible Dictionary:

(distribute). (1) Hebrews used alphabetic letters for notation. They also had preferential numbers, as “three,” “seven,” “ten,” “seventy,” and so forth (Gen. 4:2424If Cain shall be avenged sevenfold, truly Lamech seventy and sevenfold. (Genesis 4:24); Ex. 20:5-175Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me; 6And showing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments. 7Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain; for the Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain. 8Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. 9Six days shalt thou labor, and do all thy work: 10But the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates: 11For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it. 12Honor thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee. 13Thou shalt not kill. 14Thou shalt not commit adultery. 15Thou shalt not steal. 16Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor. 17Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbor's. (Exodus 20:5‑17); Num. 7:1313And his offering was one silver charger, the weight thereof was an hundred and thirty shekels, one silver bowl of seventy shekels, after the shekel of the sanctuary; both of them were full of fine flour mingled with oil for a meat offering: (Numbers 7:13); Rev. 15:11And I saw another sign in heaven, great and marvellous, seven angels having the seven last plagues; for in them is filled up the wrath of God. (Revelation 15:1)). (2) Fourth book of Bible and Pentateuch. Authorship ascribed to Moses. Numbers 1-10:10 describe the departure from Sinai; Numbers 10:11-1411And it came to pass on the twentieth day of the second month, in the second year, that the cloud was taken up from off the tabernacle of the testimony. 12And the children of Israel took their journeys out of the wilderness of Sinai; and the cloud rested in the wilderness of Paran. 13And they first took their journey according to the commandment of the Lord by the hand of Moses. 14In the first place went the standard of the camp of the children of Judah according to their armies: and over his host was Nahshon the son of Amminadab. (Numbers 10:11‑14) the marches to borders of Canaan; Numbers 15-16 contain laws; Numbers 20-36 describe events leading to the passage of Jordan and the conquest.

Concise Bible Dictionary:

This is so-called because of the numbering of the Israelites, twice given in detail: Numbers 1 and Numbers 26. The book may be summarized under four divisions.
1. The arrangements for the departure of the people from Sinai (Num. 1-9).
2. The journey from Sinai to the borders of Canaan (Num. 10-14).
3. Laws and a few events during the thirty-eight years’ journeyings (Num. 15-19).
4. The events of the last year, with a list of all the halting places from Egypt (Num. 20-36).
As a whole the book may be said to give the service and walk of the people, their trials and testings under responsibility: typical of the spiritual service and walk of Christians now in the wilderness. In the Hebrew the title of the book is “In the Wilderness.”
Numbers 1-2. The book opens with the numbering of the people, and then the arrangement of the tribes around the tabernacle. Each tribe had an individual place and interest before the Lord: type of God’s saints being acknowledged and their place appointed in reference to His testimony. There were twelve tribes besides the Levites, who were reserved for the service of the tent of testimony, and would be located round the court. All were placed as appointed, and each was to pitch his tent near the standard to which he belonged. See CAMP.
Numbers 3. The Levites were to be offered to God in lieu of the firstborn, all of whom God took to Himself when He smote the firstborn of the Egyptians. As the number of the firstborn exceeded that of the Levites, the residue were redeemed: a type of the saints looked at as firstborn ones, and as redeemed, being wholly claimed as God’s, and given to Aaron (that is to Christ), to serve in God’s house, over which He is set as Lord. The Levites were arranged by their families, and the service of each was definitely assigned. The servant ever has his particular service from God, to be exercised under responsibility to the Lord, and he is in no way left to choose for himself as to his service.
Numbers 4 gives instruction as to the moving of the tabernacle and the care to be taken. When journeying the sacred things of the tabernacle in general were to be covered with skins, to preserve from defilement, over a covering of blue: typical of the heavenly character of the assembly as the vessel of the testimony of Christ in the wilderness, in separation from evil. The brazen altar was covered with purple; the table of shewbread was covered with scarlet (Israel’s glory), and the ark alone had blue on the outside (Christ exhibiting the heavenly).
In Numbers 5 laws are given as to the removing out of the camp all lepers, etc.; as to restitution in all cases of trespass; and as to the trial of jealousy (Israel in result became unfaithful in her relations with Jehovah).
Numbers 6. The law of the NAZARITES. This peculiar separation to Jehovah is followed by instructions to Aaron and his sons as to the manner of blessing the people, the words they were to use being given, closing with “They shall put my name upon the children of Israel; and I will bless them.” When unfaithfulness is complete, any witness of the position of God’s people can be maintained only through chosen vessels, in absolute separation to God from natural interests, proprieties of life, and human springs of joy. Such is the testimony of God at such a time. Samson and Samuel are examples.
Numbers 7. Here are given the offerings of the princes at the dedication of the tabernacle and of the altar, each tribe having its appointed day. When Moses entered into the tabernacle he heard “one speaking unto him from off the mercy seat that was upon the ark of testimony, from between the two cherubim” (compare Ex. 29:4242This shall be a continual burnt offering throughout your generations at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation before the Lord: where I will meet you, to speak there unto thee. (Exodus 29:42)). He had access to the mercy-seat and received his directions from there, while the place of approach for the people was at the brazen altar.
Numbers 8-9. Instructions were given as to the lighting of the lamps. (The light of the glory of Jehovah was in Israel; Isaiah 60:11Arise, shine; for thy light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee. (Isaiah 60:1) shows that it will be made good in the kingdom.) The offering up of the Levites as a sacrifice (compare Rom. 15:1616That I should be the minister of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles, ministering the gospel of God, that the offering up of the Gentiles might be acceptable, being sanctified by the Holy Ghost. (Romans 15:16)), and the age and time of their service are prescribed. Before Israel started on their journey from Sinai, they were to keep the passover, the memorial of their redemption from Egypt. Those that were ceremonially unclean were graciously provided for by being allowed to keep it on another day. Then instructions were given as to their movements, depending on the cloud that covered the tabernacle. They were to proceed only when the cloud moved, thus they were to be guided by Jehovah. Whether it were a day, or a month, or a year, that the cloud rested, they were to move only at the command of the Lord: a striking type of the guidance which God accords now.
This ends the first division of the book.
Numbers 10. Details are given as to the use of the silver trumpets for summoning the people, and the tribes commence their journey. This was on the twentieth day of the second month of the second year. They went three days’ journey. Moses begged of Hobab his father-in-law to go with them to be “instead of eyes;” but he refused. This was well; for they might have depended on him instead of upon God, who had provided the cloud of glory to guide them. The pillar of cloud was above, and the ark went before them. The Lord was invoked at starting: “Rise up, Lord, and let thine enemies be scattered; and let them that hate thee flee before thee.” And at resting: “Return, O Lord, unto the many thousands of Israel.”
Numbers 11. The people began their murmurings, and the fire of the Lord broke in among them. Then they despised the manna and turned back to the things of Egypt. Moses’ heart failed him; the burden was greater than he could bear, and he asked God to kill him. Then God bade him appoint seventy men, to be elders of the people, and officers over them, on whom He put of Moses’ spirit. God gave the people quails, but His anger was kindled and He smote them with a great slaughter.
Numbers 12. Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses, the meekest of men; the Lord vindicated Moses and smote Miriam with leprosy, but at the intercession of Moses it was removed from her, though she was shut out of the camp seven days. It was sin against God in His apostle, and was a type of God’s people Israel, who, though occupying a privileged place, deny the rights of Christ to act in grace toward those who have no such place.
Numbers 13-14 detail the searching of the land by the spies, and the consequences of their want of faith. Forgetting God, and judging from their own standpoint, the spies (except Caleb and Joshua) gave an evil report of the land. The whole congregation exclaimed, “Would God that we had died in this wilderness,” and proposed to return into Egypt. At the intercession of Moses, God graciously said that He would pardon the people, but that all the earth should be filled with the glory of Jehovah. Their failure under responsibility was now completely manifested, and God decreed that all of twenty years old and upwards should die in the wilderness, save Caleb and Joshua, and that their little ones should be brought into the land. In further rebellion they said they would go up into the land, but they were smitten by the Amalekites and Canaanites. This is the beginning of their wandering in the wilderness.
Numbers 15-19—the third division of the book—show that God had in no way deviated from His purpose, and give some of the laws of the offerings when they should come into the land of their dwellings. See OFFERINGS. Then is recorded the rebellion of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram, that which is spoken of in the New Testament as the gainsaying of Core. It was the assumption of the priesthood by the Levites and rebellion against the anointing of God. See Korah.
By the budding of Aaron’s rod God bore witness as to whom He had chosen for the priesthood, and He gave instructions as to the responsibility and the portions of the priests and Levites; the people were not to draw nigh the tabernacle. See AARONIC PRIESTHOOD, and LEVITES. Then is given the law of the Red Heifer, a provision for defilement in the wilderness. See HEIFER.
Numbers 20 opens with the Israelites at Kadesh, the place from whence the spies had been sent thirty-eight years previously. Here Miriam dies and is buried. The people murmur against Moses because they have no water. He is told to speak to the rock, with the rod of priestly grace in his hand, but he smites the rock as with his own rod of judgment, and calls the people rebels: for this failure he is forbidden to lead the people into Canaan. The lawgiver did not rise to the grace of God. See MOSES. From here they had to make a long detour to the Akaba Gulf of the Red Sea because the Edomites would not suffer them to pass through their land. Aaron dies in Mount Hor, and is succeeded by Eleazar.
Numbers 21. Arad and the Canaanites are smitten. The further journeying led the people again to murmur, and God sent among them fiery serpents. On the prayer of the people for the removal of the serpents, Moses made by divine directions a SERPENT OF BRASS and put it on a pole, and whosoever looked (having been bitten) lived. After skirting the east of the land of Edom, the Israelites encountered the Amorites, who, refusing to let them pass, were smitten by Moses, and Heshbon was taken. The Israelites smote also Og the king of Bashan, and took his land.
Numbers 22-25 give the history of Balak hiring Balaam the prophet to curse Israel. In spite of Israel’s failure in walk, the Lord turned the attempt to curse them into the pronouncing of blessings. Balaam saw in his successive visions the elect people of God, and announced their sanctification (Num. 23:8-108How shall I curse, whom God hath not cursed? or how shall I defy, whom the Lord hath not defied? 9For from the top of the rocks I see him, and from the hills I behold him: lo, the people shall dwell alone, and shall not be reckoned among the nations. 10Who can count the dust of Jacob, and the number of the fourth part of Israel? Let me die the death of the righteous, and let my last end be like his! (Numbers 23:8‑10)); justification (Num. 23:19-2419God is not a man, that he should lie; neither the son of man, that he should repent: hath he said, and shall he not do it? or hath he spoken, and shall he not make it good? 20Behold, I have received commandment to bless: and he hath blessed; and I cannot reverse it. 21He hath not beheld iniquity in Jacob, neither hath he seen perverseness in Israel: the Lord his God is with him, and the shout of a king is among them. 22God brought them out of Egypt; he hath as it were the strength of an unicorn. 23Surely there is no enchantment against Jacob, neither is there any divination against Israel: according to this time it shall be said of Jacob and of Israel, What hath God wrought! 24Behold, the people shall rise up as a great lion, and lift up himself as a young lion: he shall not lie down until he eat of the prey, and drink the blood of the slain. (Numbers 23:19‑24)); acceptance and consequent blessing (Num. 24:5-95How goodly are thy tents, O Jacob, and thy tabernacles, O Israel! 6As the valleys are they spread forth, as gardens by the river's side, as the trees of lign aloes which the Lord hath planted, and as cedar trees beside the waters. 7He shall pour the water out of his buckets, and his seed shall be in many waters, and his king shall be higher than Agag, and his kingdom shall be exalted. 8God brought him forth out of Egypt; he hath as it were the strength of an unicorn: he shall eat up the nations his enemies, and shall break their bones, and pierce them through with his arrows. 9He couched, he lay down as a lion, and as a great lion: who shall stir him up? Blessed is he that blesseth thee, and cursed is he that curseth thee. (Numbers 24:5‑9)); the rise of a Star out of Jacob, and the destruction of the hereditary enemies of Israel (Num. 24:17-2417I shall see him, but not now: I shall behold him, but not nigh: there shall come a Star out of Jacob, and a Sceptre shall rise out of Israel, and shall smite the corners of Moab, and destroy all the children of Sheth. 18And Edom shall be a possession, Seir also shall be a possession for his enemies; and Israel shall do valiantly. 19Out of Jacob shall come he that shall have dominion, and shall destroy him that remaineth of the city. 20And when he looked on Amalek, he took up his parable, and said, Amalek was the first of the nations; but his latter end shall be that he perish for ever. 21And he looked on the Kenites, and took up his parable, and said, Strong is thy dwellingplace, and thou puttest thy nest in a rock. 22Nevertheless the Kenite shall be wasted, until Asshur shall carry thee away captive. 23And he took up his parable, and said, Alas, who shall live when God doeth this! 24And ships shall come from the coast of Chittim, and shall afflict Asshur, and shall afflict Eber, and he also shall perish for ever. (Numbers 24:17‑24)). The evil advice of Balaam, however, led the children of Israel into sin by allying themselves with the daughters of Moab, and so falling into idolatry. The zeal of Phinehas, who in a signal case executed judgment, is commended of God.
Numbers 26-27. The people are again numbered, with a view to inheriting the land, but all the men of war included in the first numbering, save Caleb and Joshua, had died. Details are given as to the distribution of the inheritance. Moses, being told of his approaching death, pleads with God to appoint a leader for the people, and Joshua is put in that place.
Numbers 28-30. Directions are given as to the whole system of regularly instituted offerings, and as to ratification or otherwise of vows.
Numbers 31. The Midianites are smitten, among whom Balaam is slain: special directions are given as to the division of the spoil.
Numbers 32. Moses accedes to the request of the Reubenites and Gadites to have their possession on the east of the Jordan, provided in the first instance they go armed before their brethren over Jordan: type of Christians stopping short of the purpose of God in regard to them through refusing to accept death with Christ.
Numbers 33-36. The various stations are recorded at which the Israelites had halted in their journeyings. Details follow as to the borders of the promised land; the forty-eight cities for the Levites; and the cities of refuge. The book closes with instruction as to the inheritance of daughters, so that the position belonging to each tribe should remain as allotted; ending with the words, “These are the commandments and the judgments which the Lord commanded by the hand of Moses unto the children of Israel in the plains of Moab by Jordan near Jericho.” Here, close to the land, Moses rehearsed to them all their evil ways, but spoke with certainty of their possessing the land, and named those who should aid in dividing it. God was about to fulfill to the children of Israel His promise made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in grace, which abounded over all their sin, and has abounded toward His people ever since.
In conclusion, a few words may be added on the spiritual import of the Book of Numbers. It literally considers the children of Israel in two aspects: first, in view of the wilderness; and secondly, in view of possessing the promised land. The link between the two numberings is Caleb and Joshua, the representatives of faith. The book is the obverse of Exodus, in which we have the actings of God—His redemption of the people; His resources for them in the wilderness; the declaration of His will; and the setting up among them of the tabernacle—all this was God’s side. On the other hand, we have in Numbers the side of the people—they are taken into consideration, and hence their perversities and God’s chastisements are prominent. These lead, in their spiritual significance, to the conclusion that the means necessary to conduct a people through the wilderness are the water of purification (Numbers 19), and priestly ministration (Numbers 20): Christ in death and Christ risen; the red heifer, and the budding rod. This part closes in Numbers 20.
Then after the death of Aaron the high priest, which is the proper end of responsibility and its testing, we have a second part of the book, in which are seen the means by which the elect of God are brought to light, namely, the brazen serpent, and the springing well—the acceptance of the cross, and the power of the Spirit. In this part of Numbers there is but little reference to priesthood. We have following this the prophesies of Balaam, which speak of the elect people of God. The people are then numbered in view of possessing the land of promise, and Joshua succeeds Moses as leader. He is, what Moses was not, the type of a risen Christ.
In spiritual experiences the second part of the book runs concurrently with the first, for while in the type Israel did not come to the brazen serpent until they had been thirty-eight years in the wilderness, Christians begin their spiritual course with the cross, which is the antitype of the brazen serpent (John 3:14-1514And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: 15That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life. (John 3:14‑15)). The state of man in the flesh has been condemned in the cross, and the Christian begins in the Spirit; and in that way is able to appreciate the water of purification and priestly refreshment, while finding that no good dwells in the flesh.