Numbers overview

Numbers overview


The Israelites had seen God part the Red Sea and perform awe-inspiring miracles in Egypt:   surely an army of giants wouldn’t scare them!

Numbers overview grapesTwelve Jewish spies had reported good news and bad news.  The good news:  the land “flowed with milk and honey” and produced huge crops.  The bad news:  the people were huge too.  “We were like grasshoppers compared to them.”

At the sound of the bad news, the people rebelled and refused to obey God’ s command to invade the land.  As a consequence, they roamed the wilderness for 40 years until the next generation rose up, ready to trust and obey the Lord.

The book of Numbers in the Bible gets its name from two occasions when Moses took a census of the people:  once before the years of wandering, and once at the end.  Both tallies included around 600,000 adult males.

The book could have been called “Complaining” or “Murmuring, ” because of multiple incidences of people whining against Moses or God:

  • Numbers 11:1 – The people complained about their “misfortunes” and the Lord sent fire to consume some of them.
  • Numbers 11 – A rabble complained about the lack of meat; God sent an enormous flock of quail, then struck the people with a plague while they were eating.
  • Numbers overview Moses Drawing Water from the Rock - Tintoretto

    “Moses Drawing Water from the Rock” by Tintoretto

    Numbers 12 – Aaron and Miriam jealously questioned the authority of their brother, Moses; Miriam suddenly contracted leprosy.

  • Numbers 14 – When the ten spies brought a negative report of the land, the people threatened to return to Egypt.  God condemned everyone over the age of 20 to die while wandering in the wilderness for the next 40 years (except for Joshua and Caleb, the two other spies who gave a good report).
  • Numbers 16 – Korah led an insurrection which resulted in the death of 14,700.
  • Numbers 20 – The people complained about the lack of water at Meribah.  God brought water from a rock.
  • Numbers 21 – A lack of bread and water provoked complaining until poisonous snakes invaded the camp.



Writer: Moses
Date: 1500 B.C.
Themes:  census, murmuring, wandering


Ch. 1-9 Camp at Mount Sinai
Ch. 10-21 From Sinai to the Promised Land
Ch. 22-36 The Wilderness Wanderings


Numbers overview The Brazen Serpent Michelangelo Sistine Chapel

The Brazen Serpent by Michelangelo in the Sistine Chapel

Jesus claimed that the entire Old Testament of the Bible spoke of Him (Luke 24:27, 44-45), so a valid and valuable exercise in all Bible study is to search each chapter for references to Christ. Below are listed a few of the “Jesus spottings” in this Numbers overview:




Minority report – Would I have the boldness to speak up for what is right, regardless of what the majority says?  Followers of Jesus will have more and more opportunities to demonstrate this in a post-Christian America.

If God could use a donkey – God can use me.  God miraculously opened the mouth of Balaam’s donkey.  He can use anything or anyone to accomplish His purposes.

A little cheese with your whine? – Followers of Jesus should be known for their gratefulness, and not as a bunch of gripes.


  • Numbers 1:2 “Take a census of all the congregation of the people of Israel, by clans, by fathers’ houses, according to the number of names, every male, head by head. “
  • Numbers 33:1 “These are the stages of the people of Israel, when they went out of the land of Egypt by their companies under the leadership of Moses and Aaron.”
  • Psalm 95:10 “For forty years I loathed that generation and said, ‘They are a people who go astray in their heart, and they have not known my ways’.”
  • Hebrews 3:16-19 “For who were those who heard and yet rebelled? Was it not all those who left Egypt led by Moses? And with whom was he provoked for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness? And to whom did he swear that they would not enter his rest, but to those who were disobedient? So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief.


  • In many Hebrew Bibles, Numbers is titled Bemidbar:  “in the wilderness.”
  • The first anniversary of the Passover was celebrated in Numbers 9.
  • Numbers 33 provides a summary of the the Israelites’ journeys from Rameses in Egypt to the Jordan River.
  • Numbers 31 In the battle against the five kings of Midian, the Israelites won total victory with zero casualties!
  • Numbers 36 God established six cities of refuge where someone could flee who had accidentally killed another.
  • The Jews were so meticulous in their genealogies we are able to trace the line of Jesus back to Adam (Luke 3:??).


We can always find things to complain about.  What are some things on your journey that you are grateful for?

(Numbers overview followup question)

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