Sunday School Bible Survey:      NUMBERS

Theme: Walking by faith through the wilderness

Key verse: "And they will tell it to the inhabitants of this land: for they have heard that thou LORD art among this people, that thou LORD art seen face to face, and that thy cloud standeth over them, and that thou goest before them, by day time in a pillar of a cloud, and in a pillar of fire by night" (Numbers 14:14).

TITLE: "Appropriately, the Hebrew title of the book, taken from the first verse, means 'in the wilderness of,' since most of the book records the history of the Israelites in their forty years of wandering in the wilderness. The Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament, entitles the book Arithmoi (Numbers) because of the prominence of census figures (chaps. 1-3, 26)" — Ryrie Study Bible.

WRITER: Moses wrote the first five books of the Bible (the Pentateuch). "And Moses wrote their goings out according to their journeys by the commandment of the LORD" (Numbers 33:2). "These are the commandments and the judgments, which the LORD commanded by the hand of Moses unto the children of Israel in the plains of Moab by Jordan near Jericho" (Numbers 36:13).

From the Scofield Study Bible:

The book derives its name from the fact that it records the enumeration of Israel. Historically, Numbers takes up the story where Exodus left it, and is the book of the wilderness wanderings of the redeemed people consequent upon their failure to enter the land at Kadesh- barnea.

Typically, it is the book of service and walk, and thus completes, with the preceding books, a beautiful moral order: Genesis, the book of the creation and fall; Exodus, of redemption; Leviticus, of worship and fellowship; and Numbers, of that which should follow — service and walk.

It is important to see that nothing was left to self-will. Every servant was numbered, knew his place in the family, and had his own definitely assigned service. The N.T. parallel is I Corinthians 12.

The second typical lesson is that, tested by wilderness circumstances, Israel utterly failed. Numbers is in five chief divisions:

  1. The Order of the Host (1:1—10:10)
  2. From Sinai to Kadesh-barnea (10:11—12:16)
  3. Israel at Kadesh-barnea (13:1—19:22)
  4. The Wilderness Wanderings (20:1—33:49)
  5. Closing Instructions (33:50—36:13)

The events covered in Numbers cover a period of 39 years (Ussher).

Failure at Kadesh-barnea: It took the Israelites three months to reach Mount Sinai after their deliverance from Egypt. They remained near Mount Sinai for a whole year (Num. 10:11, 12). From Mount Sinai they proceeded to Kadesh-barnea from whence the twelve spies were sent into Canaan. The spies returned after forty days, and God punished them for their evil report — forty years, a year for each day (Num. 14:32-37). It was their unwillingness to trust God that kept the children of Israel out of the Promised Land. "They trusted God to bring them out of Egypt but failed to trust Him to bring them into Canaan" — John Phillips (Exploring the Scriptures).

Murmuring and rebellion: The sin of murmuring is mentioned often in the book of Numbers. The children of Israel murmured against Moses and against Aaron (14:2; 16:41). They murmured about the manna (11:6). Moses' sister Miriam and his brother Aaron criticized him because he had married an Ethiopian woman (12:1). Korah, a first cousin of Moses and Aaron, led a rebellion against them (16:1-3). "The gainsaying of Core" (Jude 11) resulted in the death of Korah and all his followers and their families. The LORD opened up the earth and swallowed up the rebels, their families, and all their possessions (16:30-34). Then a fire from the LORD "consumed the two hundred and fifty men that offered incense" (16:35).

But the stiffnecked Israelites continued to murmur. "But on the morrow all the congregation of the children of Israel murmured against Moses and against Aaron, saying, Ye have killed the people of the LORD" (16:41). So, the LORD sent a plague, and "they that died in the plague were fourteen thousand and seven hundred, beside them that died about the matter of Korah" (16:49).

The error of Balaam: Numbers 22-24 records the sad story of the false prophet Balaam, who was hired by Balak, the king of Moab, to curse the Israelites. But Balaam discovered that he could not curse them. "How shall I curse, whom God hath not cursed?" (23:8). Later, Balaam gave Balak certain subtle and immoral advice which nearly ruined Israel (25:1-9). This horrible sin is referred to several times in both the Old Testament and the New Testament. The apostle Paul refers to it in I Corinthians 10:8. Balaam's name does not appear in Numbers 25 because the sin of "the people" is the point of attention (25:1, 2). But Numbers 31:16 identifies Balaam as the villain who gave the wicked counsel.

These are simple Sunday School survey notes. They are not for sale. The author used many outlines from popular Bible teachers such as C.I. Scofield and J. Vernon McGee, and he has tried to give credit when using their material.

—  Pastor James J. Barker  —