Numbers: the 40-year journey to the promised land

What is Numbers about? An overview and summary of Numbers.Overview of Numbers

Numbers tells the story of Israel’s wanderings through the wilderness en route to the promised land of Canaan. Numbers begins with Moses and Aaron taking a census of the whole nation, which is how the book gets its name. It is the fourth movement in the Pentateuch (the five books of Moses).

Numbers’ narrative spans 40 years. The story begins at Mount Sinai (after the Levitical law is delivered), and follows the children of Israel through the wilderness. They reach the promised land, but doubt God’s promises when they see the land’s mighty inhabitants. Because they do not believe God, He prevents them from entering the land for another 40 years. Numbers concludes with the Israelites on the Plains of Moab, just across the river from the promised land. This is where Moses gives his final commission to the people—which is recorded in the next book, Deuteronomy.

Theme verse of Numbers

“The LORD said to Moses, “How long will this people spurn Me? And how long will they not believe in Me, despite all the signs which I have performed in their midst?” (Nu 14:11)

Numbers’ role in the Bible

Numbers shows us how a holy God dwells with His people. Israel rebels against God, and even Moses disobeys Him, but God is faithful to bring this nation to the promised land. God keeps His promises: the promises He made to Abraham in Genesis along with His promises to bless and punish Israel.

Although few of us are in the nation of Israel’s position today, the stories in Numbers still serve as good examples to us. Paul teaches that the events in Numbers are recorded for our instruction, that we may endure and escape temptation (1 Co 10:11–13).

Quick outline of Numbers

  1. Moses numbers the people (Nu 1–4)
  2. Commands concerning the priests and tabernacle (Nu 5:1–9:14)
  3. Israel journeys from Sinai to Canaan (Nu 9:15–12:16)
  4. Israel doubts God and is prohibited from entering Canaan (Nu 13–14)
  5. Israel wanders in the wilderness for 40 years (Nu 15–25)
  6. Moses prepares the people to enter the land (Nu 26–36)

More pages related to Numbers

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 Bible verse art by Laura Kranz.