Introduction to the Book of Numbers

Explains the purpose, structure, and important themes in Numbers. The book brings into focus God's love for Israel and his faithfulness.

Introduction to the Book of Numbers
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Summary Facts About Numbers

  • Numbers is the fourth book of the Pentateuch (Torah).
  • Numbers was written by Moses around 1400 BC.
  • Hebrew title of this book is literally, "in the wilderness."
  • Number is a historical narrative that recounts the events of Israel during their time in the wilderness from Sinai (when Israel received the law) to Canaan, the Promised Land.

Purpose of Numbers

  • Theologically, it brings focus to Yahweh's love for Israel and his faithfulness to his promises.
  • Practically, it shows patterns of worship and behavior that are necessary for holy living in the Promised Land.
  • God's people needed to repent and renew their commitment to God and his law in order to receive God's promised inheritance.

Structure of Numbers


  • The first census is taken after the exodus and focuses on the "exodus generation" that had experienced and survived the exodus.
    • These events are recorded in Numbers 1–25.
    • Census accounted for all men at least 20 years old.
    • God judged this generation and prevented them from entering the Promised Land. Only Joshua and Caleb were able to enter.
  • The second census was taken for the next generation that would enter the Promise Land.
    • These events are recorded in Numbers 26–36.


  • Mount Sinai (Numbers 1–10)
  • Kadesh Barnea (Numbers 10–20)
  • Plains of Moab (Numbers 20–36)

Themes of Numbers

God's Protection

  • God provided Israel from the Midianites and Balak. (Numbers 21–24)
  • Moses intercedes on behalf of Israel, peading with God not to destroy Israel. (Numbers 14)
  • Israel's victory over the king of Arad through prayer.(Numbers 21)


  • God promised Abraham to give his descendants a specific land. (Genesis 12)
  • The censuses were to prepare Israel to travel to their new land.
  • God's concern for purity (Numbers 5) and punishment for impurity (Numbers 19) showed Israel the requirement for holiness to inherit the Promised Land.

Death and Pollution

  • Israelites experienced death as a form of judgment. (Numbers 11)
  • Death was applied not only to Israel's leaders but to the entire people also. (Numbers 14)
  • God cannot tolerate any type of pollution in his people.
  • An entire generation of people died in the wilderness and did not experience the blessings of their Promised Land.
  • To give an object lesson on how pollution, sin, and death must be kept away from God's people, laws were given to explain what a person must do if he physically contacts the dead. (Numbers 19)

Introduction to the Pentateuch