The rest of Scripture unquestionably attributes Numbers and the other books of the Pentateuch to Moses, the prophet we first meet in the book of Exodus. This is expressly supported by Jesus himself (see Mt 8:4; Mk 7:10, 12:26; Lk 16:29-31, 24:44; Jn 5:46-47), the Gospel writers (e.g., Lk 2:22), the apostle Peter (see Ac 3:22-23), the apostle Paul (see Ac 13:38-39, 26:22) and others (see Mt 22:24; Ac 7:37; Heb 3:5). This is also stated throughout the Old Testament (see Jos 1:7, 8:31-35, 9:24, 11:12-15,20, 14:5-10, 20:2, 21:2,8, 22:5,9; Jdg 3:4; 1 Ki 8:53-56; 2 Ki 18:6,12, 21:8; 1 Chr 6:49, 15:15, 22:13; 2 Chr 8:13, 33:8, 34:14, 35:12; Ezra 3:2, 6:18, 7:6; Neh 1:7-8, 8:1,14, 9:14, 10:29, 13:1; Ps 103:7; Dan 9:11-13; Mal 4:4).
Purpose for Writing
The fourth book of Moses tells of the journey of Israel from Mount Sinai to the border of the land of Canaan. It covers the period from the 2nd year to the 40th year after the exodus from Egypt. The name “Numbers” reflects the census of the Israelite people that begins the book. Numbers gives us first of all a chronicle of events during Israel’s 38 years of wandering in the wilderness, events which were to prepare Israel for the land of Canaan. In the book we see the severity of God’s judgments upon those who despise him, but we also see his gracious deliverance in time of danger.
Date of Writing
There is much debate that surrounds the dating of the Israelites’ exodus from Egypt. The traditional dating that is supported by biblical references is roughly 1446 BC. This date is arrived at by counting backward from the 4th year of King Solomon’s reign, dated at 967 or 966 BC by the majority of historians (through archaeological discoveries, particularly a list of Assyrian officials), 480 years (1 Kings 6:1) to 1446 BC. Following the biblical text itself, it seems Moses must have written the first five books of the Bible between the time of the Exodus (when God called him to be a prophet) and the arrival of the Israelites at the edge of the Promised Land 40 years later (when he died), and therefore the date of writing is believed to be between roughly 1446 BC and 1406 BC.
Place of Writing
Since Moses must have written the first five books of the Bible between the time of the Exodus and the arrival of the Israelites at the edge of the Promised Land 40 years later, it is believed that he wrote them as the Israelites wandered in the desert between the two lands.
Numbers follows the Israelites though 38 of their 40 years of wandering through the wilderness. Eventually they would come to the Promised Land, ready to settle in the land as the nation that was bringing forth the coming Savior. However, their wandering serves as a warning and as a gracious reminder for us (1 Cor 10:1-13). The Israelites grumbled and complained even though God blessed them with his presence, food, and eventually the Promised Land. We are often like the Israelites, grumbling for what we don’t have. But just as he treated the Israelites, God is faithful to his promises even though we don’t deserve it. God graciously lives in us through faith, showers us with his blessings, and forgives us through his Son, Jesus.
- Numbers 6:22-27
- Numbers 14:18-19
- Numbers 21:4-9
- Numbers 24:17-19
- The Organization of God’s People in Preparation for the Journey (Num 1:1-10:10; approximately 1 month)
- The Journey from Sinai to the Second Gathering at Kadesh (Num 10:11-19:22; approximately 38 years)
- The Journey from Kadesh to the Plains of Moab, Preparations for the Conquest of Canaan (Num 20:1-36:13; approximately 1 year)