The Herald of Jehovah's Kingdom
The Herald of Jehovah's Kingdom
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Bible Study

 
Numbers
 
    The Israelites sojourned in the wilderness forty years. The Exodus and Leviticus accounts barely go beyond the first year, and Deuteronomy takes up the record only at the tail end of the fortieth year. The historical gap of thirty-eight years and nine months is bridged by the book of Numbers. (Num. 1:1; Deut. 1:3) Since this book embraces the bulk of the forty-year period and sets out the journeyings of the Israelites during their wilderness trek, the Jews call it Bemidebdr, meaning "in the wilderness". It is the fourth word of the opening verse of the book of Hebrew Bibles. It is a truer designation of the book as a whole than the name "Numbers", carried over to English Bibles from "Numeri" of the Latin Vulgate and "Arithmoi" of the Septuagint. This latter name can logically apply to only five chapters at most (1-4, 26). The Jews, in keeping with their custom, also call the book by its opening word, Vayedabber ("and he spoke").

    Note that here also, as in Leviticus, the book opens with the conjunction "and", definitely connecting it with what has gone before. It is clearly a part of what was originally one book, previously proved as being written by Moses. He is expressly identified in Numbers as its writer: "And Moses wrote their goings out according to their journeys by the commandment of the LORD." "These are the commandments and the judgments, which the LORD commanded by the hand of Moses." (Numbers 33: 2; 36:13) In subsequent books of the Bible Numbers is recognized as a part of the Mosaic Law. In proof, compare Joshua 4:12 with Numbers 32: 20-22, 29; 2 Chronicles 31: 3 with Numbers 28:1-31; and Matthew 12 : 5 with Numbers 28: 9,10.

    Unlike that of Exodus and Leviticus, the completion of Numbers had to await the arrival of the Israelites at the plains of Moab, near the close of the fortieth year. Numbers, as previously explained, spans a period of thirty-eight years and nine months. The opening chapters might have been written early in that period, but from at least the twentieth chapter on the account deals with the fortieth year. In fact, it is not possible to state specifically when any of the first five books of the Bible were written by Moses. Just because the closing events of Numbers occurred on the plains of Moab near the end of the forty-year trek does not argue that the entire book of Numbers was necessarily written there. If one followed that principle he must argue that all five of these initial Bible books were written in the eleventh month of the fortieth year, because all were originally one book and the closing events were at the end of the fortieth year.

    It should be remembered that Moses did not sit down at five separate times and write the first five books. He gave no such division to his writings. Nor did he wait till the end of the forty-year period and then write all at once what is now the first five books. At the beginning of the forty-year sojourn he was commanded to write. (Exodus 17:14) Doubtless soon thereafter he started to obey that command. It is reasonable that after recording what is now Genesis and bringing the account up to his time Moses kept the record up to date by additions from time to time. On this basis it has been stated in previous lessons that the material now known as Exodus and Leviticus was probably put into writing at Mount Sinai. Like reasoning would argue that the material in Numbers was added to the divine record as time passed, and not all compiled in a few days at the end of the long period of time it covers. Before leaving this point of time, it is noteworthy that the Numbers account is not strictly in chronological order. The first fifteen verses of the ninth chapter cite events occurring not in the period between the close of Leviticus and the beginning of Deuteronomy, but in the month previous, supposedly covered by Leviticus.—Numbers 1:1; 9:1.

    Numbers combines historical narrative and legislative writing, and even some Hebrew poetry of great power and beauty (6:24-26), to bring to its readers the essentials of the wilderness sojourn. Outstanding in its account is the closely-knit organization of the trekking "city" of millions of Israelites. The men of war were numbered. Each tribe was assigned its place of encampment around the tabernacle; each tribe was assigned its place in the order of march. Trumpet signals governed camp affairs. Moses was in charge by Theocratic appointment, and under him were seventy organizational servants to expedite camp operation. Over and above all, the great Theocrat watched and directed. He it was that governed their movements, indicating by the cloud by day and the fire by night when they should march and when they should remain encamped.

    Especially organized were the Levites. They were numbered separately from the men of war, for by God's decree they were to have blanket exemption from military duty. They were charged with the care of the tabernacle; they were not subject to military training and service. (1:47-54) The Levites were thirded according to their descent from the three sons of Levi (Gershon, Kohath and Merari); and their duties relative to the tabernacle, and their position in camp, were decided by this division by families. Their time of service was fixed, from twenty-five years of age to fifty years, after which they kept a charge as supervisors and counselors. (8:23-26) Another service instruction embraces those within the age brackets of thirty to fifty years, and specifies their labor assignment in trans-porting the tabernacle. (4: 3, 23, 30) The longer period of service mentioned in the eighth chapter probably takes into consideration the five-year training and probationary period, from the age of twenty-five to thirty. Full privileges of priestly service started at thirty years of age, and were limited to Aaron and his descendants.

    Much of the material recorded in Numbers deals with laws concerning offerings, feasts, jealousies, inheritances, Levitical cities and cities of refuge, vows, and other regulations. The remaining contents of the book are historical in the main, and detail the Israelites' journeyings in the wilderness, their trials and tribulations, their rebellions and punishments, their murmurings and siftings, and their deliverances and conquests. In murmuring spirit the people lust for flesh; they commit the sin of Baal-peor; they are visited by plagues; twice there is rebelliousness against Theocratic rule (Miriam and Aaron against Moses; and some Levites, headed by Korah and Dathan and Abiram, grasping for the priesthood appointed unto Aaron and his sons) ; Jehovah grants victory over the Amorites and Sihon and Og; King Balak's efforts to have Balaam curse Israel result only in blessing; the Midianites are spoiled and Balaam is slain; and even Moses loses the privilege of entering the Promised Land, because of transgression. (20:10-12) Aaron shares in this latter sin, and he too is therefor precluded from entry into Canaan. In the fortieth year Bleazar is installed in Aaron's office of high priest, and Joshua is given a charge as Moses' successor. In the final numbering of the Israelites on the plains of Moab there were 601,730 (males twenty years and over, and Levites excepted) ; only two of these, Caleb and Joshua, the two faithful of the twelve sent to spy out Canaan land, were also numbered in with the original 603,550 nearly thirty-nine years before. Thus to the letter was Jehovah's sentence against a rebellious generation carried out. (14: 26-35) Finally instructions were given to assign forty-eight cities in the Promised Land to the Levites, six of which were to be set aside as "cities of refuge" for the accidental manslayer to flee to for refuge.

    The authenticity of Numbers is proved by the following facts: Many of the regulations of Numbers are suitable only to life in the wilderness and in camp, which shows the material was recorded under those conditions. (33: 2) The writer's candor testifies to the truthfulness of the record. He does not conceal the sins of his nation or of his own tribe. Moreover, the record exposes the unfaithfulness of the writer's nephews (slain by the Lord for offering strange fire) and the seditious conduct of his own brother and sister. He does not even spare himself, relating his sin that excluded him from entering the Promised Land. —20: 7-12, 24.

    The canonicity of Numbers is further confirmed by references to incidents recorded in this book or by direct quotations made by other inspired witnesses of Jehovah. The prophet Micah refei's to the record in Numbers, at Micah 6: 5. Jesus points to Numbers and Moses, at John 3:14 and 5:46. Paul confirms the Numbers record concerning the serpents which destroyed the people (1 Cor. 10: 9) and the sin of Baal-peor (1 Cor. 10: 8) ; Peter and John both refer to the sin of Balaam recorded in Numbers, whereas Jude refers to Korah's rebellion as well as to Balaam. (2 Pet, 2:15,16; Rev. 2:14; Jude 11) Further-more, it being originally a part of one roll, its canonicity also stands proved by the evidence adduced for the other four books of that original roll, now collectively known as the Pentateuch.