Introduction to the Book of Numbers

God refined the young nation of Israel and led them to the promised land

Book of Numbers
Ed Freeman

While it is a fairly short distance from Egypt to Israel, it took the ancient Jews 40 years to get there. The book of Numbers tells why. The Israelites' disobedience and lack of faith caused God to make them wander in the desert until all the people of that generation had died--with a few important exceptions. The book draws its name from the census made of the people, a necessary step toward their organization and future government.

Numbers might be a bleak account of the Israelites' stubbornness if it were not outweighed by God's faithfulness and protection. This is the fourth book in the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible. It's a historical account but also teaches important lessons about God fulfilling his promises.

Author of the Book of Numbers

Moses is credited as the author.

Date Written

1450-1410 B.C.

Written To

Numbers was written to the people of Israel to document their journey to the Promised Land, but it also reminds all future readers of the Bible that God is with us as we journey toward heaven.


The story begins at Mount Sinai and includes Kadesh, Mount Hor, the plains of Moab, the Sinai desert, and concludes at the boundaries of Canaan.


 A census or count of the people was needed to prepare them for future tasks. The first census organized the people by tribes, for their journey ahead. The second census, in Chapter 26, counted the men 20 years and older who could serve in the army. Planning is wise if we face a major task.

Rebellion against God brings bad consequences. Instead of believing Joshua and Caleb, the only two spies who said Israel could conquer Canaan, the people did not trust God and refused to cross into the Promised Land. For their lack of faith, they wandered 40 years in the desert until all but a few of that generation had died.

God does not tolerate sin. God, who is holy, let time and the desert take the lives of those who disobeyed him. The next generation, free of the influence of Egypt, were prepared to be a separate, holy people, loyal to God. Today, Jesus Christ saves, but God expects us to make every effort to drive sin from our lives.

Canaan was the fulfillment of God's promises to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. The Jewish people grew in numbers during their 400 years of slavery in Egypt. They were now strong enough, with God's help, to conquer and populate the Promised Land. God's word is good. He rescues his people and stands by them.

Key Characters in the Book of Numbers

Moses, Aaron, Miriam, Joshua, Caleb, Eleazar, Korah, Balaam.

Key Verses

Numbers 14:21-23
Nevertheless, as surely as I live and as surely as the glory of the LORD fills the whole earth, not one of those who saw my glory and the signs I performed in Egypt and in the wilderness but who disobeyed me and tested me ten times--not one of them will ever see the land I promised on oath to their ancestors. No one who has treated me with contempt will ever see it. (NIV)

Numbers 20:12
But the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, "Because you did not trust in me enough to honor me as holy in the sight of the Israelites, you will not bring this community into the land I give them." (NIV)

Numbers 27:18-20
So the LORD said to Moses, "Take Joshua son of Nun, a man in whom is the spirit of leadership, and lay your hand on him. Have him stand before Eleazar the priest and the entire assembly and commission him in their presence. Give him some of your authority so the whole Israelite community will obey him." (NIV)

Outline of the Book of Numbers

  • Israel prepares for the journey to the Promised Land - Numbers 1:1-10:10.
  • The people complain, Miriam and Aaron oppose Moses, and the people refuse to enter Canaan because of the reports of the unfaithful spies - Numbers 10:11-14:45.
  • For 40 years the people wander in the desert until the faithless generation is consumed - Numbers 15:1-21:35.
  • As the people approach the Promised Land again, a king tries to hire Balaam, a local sorcerer and prophet, to put a curse on Israel. On the way, Balaam's donkey talks to him, saving him from death! An angel of the Lord tells Balaam to speak only what the Lord tells him. Balaam is able only to bless the Israelites, not curse them - Numbers 22:1-26:1.
  • Moses takes another census of the people, to organize an army. Moses commissions Joshua to succeed him. God gives instructions on offerings and feasts - Numbers 26:1-30:16.
  • The Israelites take vengeance on the Midianites, then camp on the plains of Moab - Numbers 31:1-36:13.
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Your Citation
Zavada, Jack. "Introduction to the Book of Numbers." Learn Religions, Apr. 5, 2023, Zavada, Jack. (2023, April 5). Introduction to the Book of Numbers. Retrieved from Zavada, Jack. "Introduction to the Book of Numbers." Learn Religions. (accessed June 2, 2023).