Numbers is the book of wanderings. It takes its name from the two numberings of the Israelites - the first at Mount Sinai and the second on the plains of Moab. Most of the book, however, describes Israel's experiences as they wander in the wilderness. The lesson of Numbers is clear. While it may be necessary to pass through wilderness experiences, one does not have to live there. For Israel, an eleven-day journey became a forty-year agony.

The title of Numbers comes from the first word in the Hebrew text, Wayyedabber, "And He Said." Jewish writings, however, usually refer to it by the fifth Hebrew word in 1:1, Bemidbar, "In the Wilderness," which more nearly indicates the content of the book. The Greek title in the Septuagint is Arithmoi, "Numbers." The Latin Vulgate followed this title and translated it Liber Numeri, "Book of Numbers." These titles are based on the two numberings: the generation of Exodus (Num.1) and the generation that grew up in the wilderness and conquered Canaan (Num. 26). Numbers has also been called the "Book of the Journeyings," the "Book of the Murmurings," and the "Fourth Book of Moses."

The Author of Numbers

The evidence that points to Moses as the author of Numbers is similar to that for the previous books of the Pentateuch. These five books form such a literary unit that they rise or fall together on the matter of authorship.

The Time of Numbers

Leviticus covers only one month, but Numbers stretches over almost thirty-nine years (c. 1444-1405 BC). It records Israel's movement from the last twenty days at Mount Sinai (1:1; 10:11), the wandering around Kadesh Barnea, and finally the arrival in the plains of Moab in the fortieth year (22:1; 26:3; 33:50; Deut. 1:3).

Their tents occupy several square miles whenever they camp since there are probably over two-and-a-half million people (based on the census figures in Numbers 1 and 26). God miraculously feeds and sustains them in the desert - He preserves their clothing and gives them manna, meat, water, leaders, and a promise (14:34).

About Numbers

Israel as a nation is in its infancy at the outset of this book, only thirteen months after the exodus from Egypt. In Numbers, the book of divine discipline, it becomes necessary for the nation to go through the painful process of testing and maturation. God must teach His people the consequences of irresponsible decisions. The forty years of wilderness experience transforms them from a rabble of ex-slaves into a nation ready to take the Promised Land. Numbers begins with the old generation (1:1-10:10), moves through a tragic transitional period (10:11-25:18), and ends with the new generation (26-36) at the doorway to the land of Canaan.

The Old Generation (1:1-10:10): The generation that witnessed God's miraculous acts of deliverance and preservation receives further direction from God while they are still at the foot of Mount Sinai (1:1-10:10). God's instructions are very explicit, reaching every aspect of their lives.