A Survey of the Scriptures: Lesson 5 Numbers

A Survey of the Scriptures: Lesson 5 Numbers

Instructions for Israel

Like Leviticus, the book of Numbers doesn’t often show up on lists of favorite Bible books. But Numbers, although rather obscure, contains a great deal of information about the history of Israel as well as many practical lessons that we can apply today. [In fact, several well-known Bible stories come out of Numbers. ]

News about Numbers

Name: The book is called “Numbers” because of the many statistics contained in it, such as tribal populations and the totals of priests and Levites. The Greek title in the translation of the OT (LXX) was arithmoi. The Latin Vulgate picked up on the Greek title and named the book Numeri from which the English acquires the name Numbers. The book also recounts two censuses taken in Israel. Interestingly, the Hebrew name for the book is bemidbar (rbdmb), the fifth word of the book, meaning “in the desert of.”

Theme/content: Besides many statistics and lists of things, Numbers contains information about (a) how Israel as a nation was to order itself as it traveled through the desert; (b) how the priests and Levites were to function as they traveled; (c) how they were to prepare themselves to conquer the Promised Land (Canaan). The book covers a 40-year period from the giving of the Law at Sinai to the eve of the conquest of Canaan. The narrative sections demonstrate the successes and failures of the Lord’s people as they conformed or did not conform to the Law. 1 Numbers continues the account of God’s faithfulness to his promise to Abraham to make his family a great nation. 2

Key word: wandering. Israel wandered in the desert for about 40 years. Do you know why?

{Because of their lack of belief at K-B.

Also remember that Israel was about 2 million people strong. Certain organizational strategies had to be implemented in order to move people efficiently. Israel was arranged by tribes around the Tabernacle, which was at the center of the camp. There was a fixed marching and camping order. Each tribe knew when to leave as the nation broke camp and marched, and where to set up camp when the march ended. 3}

Key chapter: 14 – unbelief at Kadesh-Barnea

Key characters: Moses, Aaron, Joshua, Caleb, Korah, Balaam

An Outline of Numbers

I. The Journey from Sinai to Kadesh-Barnea (1-12)

A. Preparation

B. The journey itself

II. Israel in the Wilderness (13-19)

A. The crises of unbelief at Kadesh-Barnea

B. Laws after the crises

C. The rebellion of Korah and its results

III. The Journey from Kadesh-Barnea to Moab (20-36)

A. Incidents on the way to Moab

B. Incidents with Balaam

C. The census

D. New laws

Purposes of the Book of Numbers:

A. to fill-in the historical period from the Exodus and Sinai revelation to the preparations in Moab to enter the Promised Land

B. to explain that the 38 year period in the wilderness was a consequence for the unbelief of the older generation (Dt 1:35ff)

C. to demonstrate God’s faithfulness and forbearance against the backdrop of Israel’s unfaithfulness, rebellion, apostasy and frustration

D. to narrate the preparation of Israel for entry into the Promise Land by describing the journey from Sinai to the region beyond Jordan, and the legal decisions made in the wilderness 4

Implicit Instruction in Numbers:

1. God hates complaining . (11:1?2)

This was not the first instance of Israel complaining about something. They grumbled at the sight of Pharaoh’s army on the banks of the Red Sea, about the bitter water at Mara, and about the lack of food and water in the desert. Such complaining aroused God’s wrath.

Application: God still hates complaining, especially complaining about providential circumstances. See Phil. 2:14-15.

[Why is complaining such a detrimental attitude/action? It evidences a lack of trust in God. It also tends to spread.

When are you most prone to complain? What could you do to prevent a complaining attitude? Try to be thankful, not blame others, say nothing instead of talk, determine if your complaint is valid.]

2. God hates rebellion . (chs. 13-14, 16)

Chapters 13 and 14 tell the story of the reluctance of the people to enter Canaan after the discouraging report of the 10 spies. What was the result of the peoples’ rebellion at this point?

[That whole generation died as they wandered thru the desert for 40 years.

What did these people base their decision on? 13:31 (on sight, appearance, size, circumstance). What should they have based it on? 14:8?9 (God’s promises). ]

Chapter 16 tells the story of Korah, who, motivated by jealousy, challenged Moses’ leadership. In response, Moses stated that this challenge was really rebellion against God, since God Himself had clearly placed Moses in the leadership position (16:11). God judged the rebels by causing the ground to open and swallow them up. Unfortunately, neither of these incidents cured Israel’s inclination toward rebellion and complaint (16:41).

Applications: We can learn much from these incidents in the life of Israel.

We can trust God no matter what the circumstances.

While it seemed that the odds were against Israel, they still should have entered Canaan when God told them to. They should have realized that the God who plagued Egypt and opened the Red Sea could conquer the land for them. In the same way, we shouldn’t be discouraged when circumstances seem to be against us. We should trust that God will make a way for us when we are following Him.

[Caution: They had something we don’t: direct revelation and a prophet telling them exactly/specifically what to do, where to go, when to go, etc.]

Don’t follow others who don’t follow God.

250 leaders of Israel with their families died in the rebellion of Korah. Watch who you follow—you may end up sharing in their same end.

[Can you think of who suffered by following false prophets? E.g., Brand Davidians-David Koresh; Jim Jones.]

It’s a serious thing to call into question or rebel against legitimate spiritual leadership.

Rebelling against God-given authority is a serious sin. If you’ve got a complaint or gripe against legitimate leadership, you’d better handle it in the right way.

[There are proper times to replace the leader: immorality, doctrinal deviation, not meeting the biblical criteria, etc. But even then you should deal with it in the biblically prescribed manner. ]

God always judges rebellion.

Korah and his followers learned first hand the high price of rebellion.

[If you are in rebellion, you can count on being chastised if you are a Christian. Remember what happened to the rebels in this case. You may experience similar results. ]

3. God hates idolatry. 25:1?4, 9

While staying near Moab, the Israelites were influenced to worship false gods. As a result, “the LORD’s anger burned against them.” This was not the first time, nor would it be the last time, Israel worshipped other gods. The Babylonian captivity (586 BC) was largely the result of idolatry.

Application: While a true Christian will never actually worship other gods, he may be guilty of substituting something in place of God, or of giving something else God’s rightful place. Further, believers must be careful who they let influence them. Limit your exposure to false doctrine.

[Remember that most of Israel were not actually believers at this point. Hence, getting them to do the right thing would be like getting a bunch of unsaved people to run the church right. ]


The book of Numbers has plenty of biblical principles that are applicable to modern believers. God hates complaining, rebellion and idolatry.


1. Summarize the contents of Numbers. Israel in the wilderness. They refuse to enter the Promised Land and start their 40 years wandering in the desert.

2. Why is it sometimes unwise to make decisions based on appearances? Doing so does not take God’s power into consideration. God can do the impossible.

3. Why is rebellion against legitimate authority so serious? Because it’s really rebellion against God, since all power comes from God.

4. Why is it so dangerous to allow the influence of false teachers in your life? Besides being a bad influence on you, you could end up suffering the same end as they do.





  1. Eugene Merrill, “Numbers” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary, vol. 1, pg. 215.
  2. Paul Benware, Survey of the OT, pg. 64.
  3. IBID, pg. 65.
  4. Keathley

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