The book of Numbers has a rather simple progression: it begins with the old generation that came out of Egypt (1:1-10:10), moves on to the almost 40 year time of transition as the nation wanders in the wilderness and the old generation dies away because of their unbelief (10:11-25:18), and concludes with the new generation on the precipice of entering the promised land (26-36).
Here are a few hints to help you see the big picture while reading Numbers…
- Unbelief. It has been said that the opposite of faith is doubt. This is not true. Unbelief is the opposite of faith. And unbelief is deadly. We see this in Numbers. The people had constantly complained and grumbled against God since he redeemed them out of Egypt. And now they refuse to believe and obey. Thus God gives them over to their sin and they will die a slow death in the wilderness and their children will inherit the Promised Land.
- Reading 1 Corinthians 10:1-13 as a commentary on Numbers. The entire New Testament draws heavily on the Old Testament and many parts of the NT give further clarification or meaning to OT events. Such is the case here. In 1 Corinthians 10 the Apostle Paul says that the events of Numbers serve as an example to us to instruct us and to warn us about the deadliness of unbelief.
- Moses’ perspective. Reflection is a good thing. There is great wisdom to be gained in taking the time to reflect on life events. What does Moses, the man who must lead these people in their decades of wandering, think about these events as he draws towards the end of his own life? He records his reflections on the desert wanderings in Psalm 90. Moses had seen and lived the consequences of unbelief for those 40 years. That’s a lot of funerals, and a lot of wisdom. Of particular note would be Psalm 90:12, “So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.”