Numbers also reminds us of the pervasiveness of sin and our need for a savior. It can be frustrating to read a book like Numbers because we just want the people to behave and the heroes to act like heroes. But they often do not. The only consistent hero in Numbers is Yahweh, God himself. Everyone else fails or shows themselves to be flawed. How we need to come to God in humility, asking for grace to live in God’s world without making a fool of ourselves! Numbers helps us in these ways and many more.
The LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying, Thus you shall bless the people of Israel: you shall say to them,  The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace. “So shall they put my name upon the people of Israel, and I will bless them.” – Numbers 6:22–27 (ESV)
The worst thing about the Book of Numbers is its name. Those who expect a divine spreadsheet will be disappointed because the book contains much more than that. Numbers contains stories of plagues, miracles, espionage, political intrigue, divination, war, talking animals, and angels. And that is only a start. Far from being a book devoted to lists of names and tabulations, Numbers continues the story of the people of Israel’s exodus from Egypt and narrates the rest of Israel’s time in the wilderness.
This series continues to work through the books of the Bible, landing now at Numbers. An unsuspecting reader coming off of Exodus may expect Numbers to be a generally happy book, narrating how the people of Israel followed the freshly revealed glory of Yahweh into the Promised Land. But Numbers does not do that. Instead, we find in Numbers the story of how an entire generation failed to enter the Promised Land because of disobedience.
The Big Idea of Numbers
I have taught that the big idea of Numbers is that Yahweh is his people’s guide to the promised land. Although the passage cited above does not explicitly address Yahweh’s guidance of the people, it does address his intention and disposition toward his people. It also addresses Yahweh’s guidance and leadership of the people as a whole as he directs their way to Canaan.
The blessing Yahweh commanded the priests to pronounce upon the people represents a distillation of the hope of God’s people at all times and in every place. There is no greater hope than to see the face of God. It is shorthand for the entire experience of being fully in communion with God.
An Outline of Numbers
Numbers can be divided into three main sections according to the people’s location. The story picks up where Exodus leaves off at Mount Sinai, then tracks the people in the wilderness while the first generation dies off, and ends with the journey to Moab as the next generation finally prepares to enter the Promised Land.
Chapters 1-10 cover less than a year’s worth of time while the people are getting organized and ready to depart Mount Sinai. In this section, the people are divided and arranged in camps to prepare for their move. More instructions are given to the priests and Levites with various jobs assigned and various offerings made. The time at Sinai ends with the people celebrating Passover and departing from Sinai under the direction of Yahweh.
Chapters 10-20 cover the people’s journey to and stay around Kadesh Barnea. This is a span of about 38 years. Many interesting things happen during these years. Yahweh strikes down many in a great plague after raining quail on them (ch. 11). Aaron and Miriam find themselves in trouble for questioning Moses’ leadership (ch. 12). Spies are sent into Canaan to scope it out, only to return and recommend that the people not try to take it.