“The Lord is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, forgiving iniquity and transgression, but he will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, to the third and fourth generation.” – Numbers 14:18
When I was training to run a marathon, I was taken by the goal of becoming a member of the 1% club. Only 1% of people living can truthfully say that they have completed the 26.2 mi. race. When we come to the book of Numbers, I encourage you to keep reading! It breaks my heart to admit it (because we need it so deeply), but for you to read every word of Numbers means that you are well on your way to joining the ranks of those who have read every single word of the Bible.
Numbers follows Exodus in the development of the story of salvation. Exodus comprises the first year of Israel’s deliverance from Egypt, where Numbers covers the next 39 years of their 40 years of wandering in the wilderness. The book gets its name from the census that God commands in the first chapter, and then a second census is taken of the next generation that is led by Joshua into the promised land. Between the two censuses, an entire generation (except Joshua and Caleb) dies in the wilderness. Thus, it is also correct to think of the book of Numbers as an account of the number of funerals that Moses performs throughout the entirety of the book as more than 600,000, an entire generation, dies in the wilderness.
Some of the most memorable and repeated stories in the Bible are first recorded in Numbers. The report of the spies of the beauty of Canaan and the land’s terrifying and mighty inhabitants is in Numbers 13. The terrifying story of Korah’s rebellion and then, a day later, the mutiny Moses faced from all of the people of Israel is in Numbers 16. The quarrel at Meribah that led to Moses’ costly disobedience is in Numbers 20. The rebellion that led to God’s judgment and the fiery serpents is in Numbers 21. You even have a talking donkey in Numbers 22. Ali and I are deeply enjoying the time we are spending talking with our girls about all that they are reading. If you have boys, what a book for them! You have the earth splitting, enemies the size of giants, a heroic priest saving people as he runs into the plague, poisonous snakes, and even a talking animal. This reading beats Percy Jackson and Harry Potter, because all of this is true!
Here are a few things to think about when you read Numbers:
- As we were sharing about Numbers with our girls, Ali gave our family some great instruction. We need to read Numbers understanding what life is like for everyone apart from Christ. Without Jesus, we are the fearful spies who do not trust the Lord to be our strength. We are like the 250 Levites who thought of themselves as the holy people of God, even as they disobeyed him. We are so prone to grumble and complain and presume upon the Lord, even when God provides for our daily needs.
- Jesus uses the account of Moses lifting the bronze serpent as a clear picture of the cross. A resource we use with our girls, The Bible Project, explains it best, that the picture of God’s judgment, the bronze serpent that he lifted on a pole, becomes a source of life.
All of Numbers points us to the gospel. Left to ourselves, we are just like the rebellious Israelites. If we get what we deserve we would never enter the promised land of heaven. But thanks to God’s mercy and grace, he has made a way for our sin to be forgiven. Jesus explains in John 3:14-15: “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.” So if you have never been saved, in faith and repentance look to him. If you do know Jesus, keep looking to Him, for in so doing He will give you the strength to live each day for His glory.